Justina Wamae on love and what drew her into politics

No one would have predicted that a presidential candidate in Kenya would run on a manifesto based on marijuana. Nothing was conventional about the Roots Party.

From the name to the main issue in their manifesto - marijuana - to their wildcard presidential candidate - Professor George Wajackoyah, to mentions of hyena's testicles, Kenyans largely considered them as a source of comic relief and not serious contenders.

But people paid attention when Wamae took the stage at the debates.

Wamae, who turned 35 in May this year, comes across the same way when I meet her in person - vivacious and whip-smart. She says that some people had advised her not to go to the debates, especially when it was announced that the debate would only be between her and one other running mate, and not all four contenders.

"But I realised that the difference between men and women when it comes to opportunities is that men grab the opportunity and run with it. As women we start questioning, 'How about... what are the perks... so I said, let me think like a man, and I ran with it," she says.

"I would have fought and said, 'Let me be on the same platform with the other two', but you have to accept that these people have invested in terms of time, they have been in politics for 35 years. Actually, for me, I'm being given a head start."

The debates gave her a lot more visibility, which she experienced even on the campaign trail afterwards when people in places like Garissa and Oyugis demanded to see "yule mama wa debate".

Who is she and how did she get here?

She grew up in Fort Jesus estate in Kibera, and has one younger brother. Her parents worked in the jua kali hardware business. They're both born-again Christians: her father sings in the choir and her mother is in church leadership, so they weren't at all amused by her decision to campaign with marijuana at the forefront and she fell out with them at first.

"When they would go to church and their friends would tell them that I'm not doing right, the burden would fall on me, over why I am following that course. And actually, that was part of the motivation for me to research more about it, because I wanted my mum and dad and their friends to understand what we were saying," she says.

"Did they understand?" I ask.

"Yes! They were very happy because we told them we're not focusing on consumption. For them, the problem was consumption of marijuana," she says.

Wamae attended Limuru Girls' School and was a class prefect. She jokes that that was where her political career began, managing class politics.

"I joined Daystar in 2006 but in 2007 there was the post-election violence. We had to move out, to Syokimau. It was a very difficult time for us. My parents' hardware business was looted and they lost so much.

Justina Wamae and her husband, Alex Kanyi. [File, Standard]

They both lost their respective Jubilee nominations, and he encouraged her to run as an independent candidate, just like he was doing. "He's the one who made my symbol. I had lost so much focus, I was just crying."

They got married the same year, and have a three-year-old daughter. "After the election, I moved in!" she says with a laugh.

"I even used to laugh and tell people that even if I lost the seat, at least I got a husband."

When not politicking, she is in business with him. "I work for my husband. We are into excavation and supply of building materials," she says. Kanyi, who she says has boundless self-belief and believes in always trying something even if one fails, has been her mentor in business and politics which he also loves.

He enthusiastically supported her bid for running mate with the Roots Party, which she says she wouldn't have gone for if he disapproved as there is no need of fighting over such issues.

She met Wajackoyah after the Roots Party advertised that they were looking for a running mate, and the same reaction that Kenyans had on the marijuana issue was the same one she had at first. After reading up on it, she understood it and they firmed up the manifesto further together.

At one point, Wajackoyah seemingly supported their competition, the Azimio party. Currently, he and Wamae are currently at loggerheads.

"When my principal talked about Azimio, I was equally shocked. Many people are thinking I have abandoned my principal. The first time I was told I was successful, even during the interview, I remember I asked the panelists, and the principal was there, 'What is the end game? And they told me it was till the end, all the way to the ballot box," she says.

She says that the reception from Kenyans even on the ground at rallies changed a lot from then on, becoming negative towards them.

She however says that she has not abandoned Wajackoyah, but they have differences of opinion, since when she joined them, their focus was to run the Roots party ideology to the very end without supporting anyone.

"And I remember I asked him, 'Sir, if the others are not mentioning us, why are we mentioning them?' So that's the unfortunate bit," she says.

However, whichever government comes in, she plans to work with them and apply for a position as PS or CS to serve the public and help create a better Kenya. "Let's see how it goes. I just do my bit and let it flow. I don't push it," she says.