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Politicians pick catchy nicknames to woo voters

By Ndungu Gachane | October 13th 2021


Murang'a Woman Representative Sabina Chege [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

As politicians are busy crafting strategies for next year’s polls, a catchy and simple nickname that will be easy to remember and attractive to the electorate is top on the list.

Many aspirants are including nicknames in their national identity cards for easier recognition on voting day.

Politicians like Wanjiru Chege swore an affidavit to include in her identity card the name Maitu, Kikuyu for mother, to flow with her slogan “Maitu Ndacenjagio” (you can’t replace your mother).

Kiharu politician Karanja Mburu has also sworn an affidavit to include in his ID the name Wamatangi, associated with his charitable deeds in construction of water tanks in communities and in schools, to serve as a reminder to the electorate.

Mburu is seeking to unseat Ndindi Nyoro and banks on his philanthropic deeds to woo voters.

Water Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu Wairagu has also changed his name to Wairagu wa Mai (Wairagu, the water provider), in a strategy to clinch the gubernatorial seat by riding on his ministerial obligation of connecting water to peoples’ homes.

The aspirants may have borrowed a leaf from those who successfully changed their names before winning elective positions in the past. Maragua MP Mary Waithira included the word “Maua” in her name. This was her husband’s business name, and was popular in the constituency.

Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria was initially Francis Mwangi Maingi. He changed names to avoid confusion on the ballot paper, since he was popular during his tenure at the New Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) before venturing into politics. It was at the New KCC where he picked his nickname Mwangi wa Iria.

Kiambu Senator Paul Kimani added “Wamatangi” on his ID to correspond to his popularity of distributing tanks to locals.

Former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu added “Babayao” to his name. In a Kenya Gazette, the former Kiambu governor changed his name from Ferdinand Ndung’u Waititu to Ferdinand Ndung’u Waititu Babayao on March 6, 2017, making his “Babayao” nickname official. He crafted the name during his campaigns for the parliamentary seat in Embakasi.

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Gideon Mbuvi added Sonko to his name to read Mike Mbuvi Sonko on the ballot paper. Sonko later captured the Makadara parliamentary seat, Nairobi senatorial seat and finally the governorship.

Kieni MP, who was earlier known as James Mathenge Simon, changed his name to Kanini Kega, which was the family business name, while Godfrey Kariuki Mwangi, popularly known as Kabando wa Kabando, also picked his nickname as an official name after the 2002 General Election.

Kabando started referring to himself as GKM Kabando in high school, and would later on be called Kabando wa Kabando after he joined the University of Nairobi in 1990 for a Bachelors of Arts in political science. 

Other than changing names, the politicians have crafted catchy slogans while others are mere rhetoric meant to relate with popular names.

Such leaders include Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru, who identified herself with the slogan minji minji (green peas), a Kikuyu popular dish. Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi has in the run-up to his re-election campaigns assumed the moniker King’angi or crocodile, inferring that the politician who has so far been elected on six different political tickets and was a dangerous political reptile.

His competitor, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, is “Laingó” or the fearless warrior, while Senator Mithika Linturi picked “Captain” as his moniker in last election campaigns.

Other Meru politicians with popular monikers are South Imenti MP Kathuri Murungi “Kamashinani”, Tigania East’s Josephat Gichunge “Kabeabea” and East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Mpuru Aburi “Kiumiru.”

Meru Woman Representative Faith Kawira is popularly known as Kawira “Mwangaza”, which was the business name of the business she ran with her former husband. North Imenti MP Rahim Dawood is popularly known by his moniker “Mumeru Mutuune”, which translates to “the red Mmeru.”

But what is in a name? Political commentator Judy Makira, who is also a university lecturer, said the names and slogans could create or destroy a politician’s career and that is why politicians think and consult before coming up with a nickname and adopting it in their identity cards. “Some reasons for changing names are to resonate with the popular and trending issues, which are familiar with the electorate, bearing in mind that the majority are youth who are on social media platforms,” Dr Makira noted.

George Kariuki, a political strategist, says politicians pick names that rhyme with their work as a reminder to voters of their efforts and sacrifices to change the community.

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