So much about the other contenders, but who is Jonathan Mueke? Mueke was born and raised in the traditionally upper-middle-class Nairobi neighbourhood of Kilimani and went to the nearby Kilimani Primary School. He later joined Nairobi School for his secondary education and soon after left the country to join Wayne State University in Michigan, USA where he, supporting himself through working as a Systems Administrator for the University’s libraries, studied for his B.Sc. in Computer Science. While still in Michigan, USA, he enrolled for and completed an MBA course at Oakland University and managed to, over the years, work as a Systems Developer in Enterprise Messaging for K-Mart Corporation, a Project Leader in Plant Technology and Support for Daimler-Chrysler Corporation and as a Technology Services Manager for FiServ Inc.
But hasn’t he been away for far too long? Isn’t he out of touch with Kenya and its politics? “I returned to Kenya in September 2006,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean that I was away, entirely, for all those years. I always came home at least once every year and a lot more often in the last couple of years- since 2003/4- when I became convinced that I could come and be a parliamentary contender, win and make a difference for this constituency.”
At his age though and the fact that he didn’t grow up in the low income neighbourhoods where most of Westlands’ voters live considered, doesn’t he feel distanced from his constituents? “Eighteen years is a strong foundation,” he remarks. “I was born here. I grew up in Westlands for the first eighteen years of my life. It is true that there are places that I haven’t been to for fifteen or so years, but every time I go there now, it is as though I have always been there. I still have an instinct for these places. And as far as the slums go, I will admit that they aren’t the kind of environment I grew up in but, as always with the human condition, one can empathise… one can listen and learn. A good leader can recognise the challenges of his people and see how to work with them towards useful solutions.”
And where does Mueke stand in terms of Kenya’s party politics? “I am a member of the Labour Party of Kenya (LPK) which I believe to be the party for professionals and workers,” Mueke says. “When I came home and looked around for a party, I found that LPK was an ideological fit for me. I joined them and I am now their National Youth Co-ordinator. And since LPK is a founder member of ODM-Kenya, I am also involved in that too and, in fact, I sit in ODM-Kenya’s National Harmonisation Committee.”
As his party’s National Youth Co-ordinator what are his thoughts on the recently established Youth Fund and the much talked about intergenerational change in the 2007 election. “The youth fund is a noble cause lost in implementation,” is Mueke’s verdict. “It was set up with no consideration for what young people in this country want or need. It is also very clear that it is being used to serve political ends. In Westlands for instance, I can tell you that while those youth groups that enjoy the patronage of Betty Tett- who is in government- have benefited from the funds, groups that are seen to support me have not.
On the intergenerational change that you talk about, I will say that being young is not enough. Look at sitting Members, the likes of Khalif (Wajir West) and Kariuki (Nakuru) what have they done to further a youth agenda? What we must continuously ask ourselves is what values a certain individual can bring to his/ her people, what policy issues do they mean to pursue, do they have a vision for this country? … age, on its own, doesn’t count. Age should not be anyone’s sole platform, let us hear what the issues are.”
Our interview has been running for an hour or so and I want a break. I get up and walk around his office on the fourth floor of a Muthithi Road multi-storey building. Everything in this place, from his internet connection to the desk he uses is donated, er, sorry, an investment by a variety of local firms who support his campaign. I step up to the window and suck in the view of, arguably, Kenya’s most affluent business district. I know to my left is the opulence of Kitisuru, Muthaiga and the man-made-air-conditioning-dam estates of Nyari and Lake View. Straight ahead, beyond the Sarit Centre, is Kyuna and Loresho in all their glory of imposing brick and electric-wire fencing and ornate gates that slide open at the push of a button to reveal car parks with German-motor-show aspirations. To my left is Lavington, not as green as it used to be but still packing a monied punch. Beyond all these lies Kangemi- where the largest vote dwells and Mwimuto, in Kabete constituency and Kawangware in Dagoretti, where the ‘imported’ voters are.
As I stare through that window my mind cannot help but ponder over the ridiculousness of our political process. What will be Jonathan’s place in it all when our political outcomes have never had neither rhyme nor reason and yet he talks of manifestos and ideologies? In my mind the question is not whether or not Jonathan is the right fit for Westlands, whether or not his vision and promise is of the kind that this nation needs- the question I ask is: is Jonathan from the right tribe to win Westlands, is he in the right political party? Isn’t it sad, yet true, that no matter how much has been said lately about the political awareness of Kenyans, the winners in 2007 will only get there through a delicate balancing of the tribal equation and an ability to ride the crest of euphoria?
Within the intervening period between our interview and now, the presidential race has, as Jonathan had anticipated, evolved into a three horse race. Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki have emerged as leading contenders screaming myriad acronyms bereft of any real promise ideological, political or else. As their mantras of PNU, ODM-K, ODM, ETC, enchant the masses, it becomes clear that yet again parliament will be filled with hundreds of opportunists whose only qualification was backing the right horse. The ultimate question on my mind then becomes: Will Jonathan’s horse count in Westlands?