By CHARLES A. MATATHIA
A Nairobi based social scientist and freelance writer.
“In politics, number two is never good enough,” says Jonathan Mueke. It is more a call to arms by a parliamentary aspirant who polled in second in a recent survey rather than a statement of self reproach. It is just the thing you expect to hear from a young man who decided at the age of twelve that all he wanted to be was a politician. In standard six, isn’t that the time when we all still want to be doctors and lawyers?
And now, some fifteen or so years later, Jonathan has his eyes on the prize. But long before the launch of his campaign for the Westlands parliamentary seat, Jonathan had been putting his best political foot out. As a Kenyan resident abroad – the United States precisely- Jonathan was between 2004 and 2006 president of the Michigan, USA, chapter of the Kenya Community Abroad. That means nothing to Wanjiku in Kangemi, or wherever else your average Kenyan voter lives, but the political elite have recently (and numerous campaign forays into the diaspora attest to it) discovered the Hummer-sized influence of the Kenyan Community Abroad.
The Kenyan Community Abroad has absolutely no political clout, they cannot even vote to begin with, but they have the one thing that keeps the wheel of politics running: money. It then becomes clear how a young man, with no private resources- earned from kickbacks, bribes, the wrong hands in the right CDF kitty, legalised tax evasion and a six million shilling a year sinecure- can benefit from being a part of this global network of Kenya’s diaspora.
For instance, Jonathan’s campaign raised over 3,500USD in its first couple of months through a Paypal link on his website. What is that, only two hundred and something thousand Kenya Shillings? But wait a minute…this is not money from his friends. It is all from a bunch of random Kenyans out there who feel invested in the political situation back home. But if you are still not impressed by the 3,500 USD, consider Kenya’s limited internet penetration and its predominantly cash economy and you start to view even a mere 500 dollars in online fund-raising as a feat as remarkable as imagining an Ipod in every Kenyan’s hand by the year 2030.
On June 6th 2007, Jonathan launched his campaign at the Office Park in Westlands. The launch was bankrolled by his friends and supporters in America. He has already made two fund-raising tours, in March and July this year, of the USA. In July, particularly, he appointed a campaign team that will set him up with a 10 cities in 2 weeks tour of the USA and that will also raise funds through merchandising. At present, Mueke also has a full time supporting staff of five whose salaries are paid for from a pool into which a group of his friends have committed to contribute 10,000 Kshs a month.
10,000 Kshs a month? I marvel…this guy is a year younger than me and I know that, speaking for myself and many other Kenyans my age, I would be hard pressed to raise a crowd of one to commit 5,000 Kshs a month.
Jonathan, who frowns upon the use of an aspirant’s private funds in financing their campaign, sees the cash and kind resources he has received as investments rather than donations. He opines that the contribution towards his campaign by individuals and communities is suggestive of their willingness to invest in his vision for better governance rather than a token of empathy.
Particularly endearing though is the existence, in his campaign, of volunteers. In Kenya people do not volunteer their time and effort to election campaigns. For a significant majority of Kenyans, the electioneering period is their only opportunity to get that odd five hundred shillings here and that bag of unga there.
Why then would anyone want to give their time and labour for free when the general perception is that parliamentary aspirants are flush with money? “It is a question of goodwill versus artificial (paid for, or rather bought) support,” Jonathan explains. “The campaign is not about (the aspirant), it is about the people.” He adds, “If the people believe in your vision for them, they will support you.” His verdict: the bulk of our politicians are incompetent and unpopular, they have no vision that the voting public can buy into so they resort to buying support.
PART II to follow….