Kibra hopefuls nowhere close to political heavyweights who were once area MPs
A footballer, an aide to a former area MP or a management consultant could become the next member of Parliament for Kibra in the next 10 days.
This seems a downgrade for Nairobi’s famous constituency, which has previously been represented in Parliament by high-profile figures, including a Prime Minister, Vice-President, Kenya’s first elected white legislator and the husband of a Nobel laureate.
Besides soccer star McDonald Mariga, Bernard “Imran” Okoth, a brother of and personal assistant to the late Kibra MP Ken Okoth, and businessman Eliud Owalo, there is Mr Khamisi Butichi, an engineer, human rights activist Editar Ochieng, Mr Malaseh Hamida and 18 other aspirants who have a chance of emerging victor.
Nonetheless, they are a pale shadow of some of Kenya’s top and finest political personalities, who have over the decades defined the area as a high-profile constituency.
They include independent Kenya’s second Vice-President, Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi (1963-69), the country’s second Prime Minister, Raila Odinga (1992-2013), and influential legislator of British extraction Philip Leakey (1979-1992), who briefly served as Cabinet minister.
Mr Yunis Ali (1969-74) and Andrew Mwangi Mathai (1974-79), who were less influential on the national stage than Murumbi, Leakey and later Odinga, were relatively colourful, visible and forceful. Ali, for instance, emerged as a relentless crusader for the land rights of the local Nubian community.
Protesting in Parliament (March 1970) about the poor living conditions of his constituents, the vocal politician invited fellow parliamentarians to tour Kibra so he can prove to them “that Kibra was not part of the beautiful city of Nairobi”.
Mathai, who died last month, was an effective political operative and vote mobiliser. It is during his tenure that Kibra witnessed an avalanche of migrations of “outsiders” into the area.
Mathai was the husband of renowned environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Prof Wangari Maathai.
Exit Murumbi, Ali, Mathai, Leakey and Raila, enters Ken Okoth, a fairly colourful, articulate and brilliant youthful lawmaker, whose rising political star was cut short on July 26 when he succumbed to colorectal cancer.
And when National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi officially declared the seat vacant, several aspirants expressed an interest, including so-called celebrities, like Jubilee’s Mariga, DJ Kriss Darlin and ex-Harambee Star captain Dennis “The Menace” Oliech, who were seeking the Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) ticket, and musician Jackson Makini, popularly known as Prezzo, reported to be vying on a Wiper party ticket.
This trend attracted heated discussion on social media, with Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja protesting at what he perceived as “turning a serious contest in a high-profile constituency into a plaything”.
It later turned out, though, that some like Oliech were merely mocking the entry into politics of Mariga, his perennial football competitor.
Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka would also later explain that Prezzo would be the party’s candidate for Kibra in 2022 and not in the by-election, as Kriss Darlin also exited the scene after losing the ODM party primaries.
Even then, Nairobi County Speaker Beatrice Elachi criticised the crop of candidates eyeing the Kibra seat: “For anyone vying for the Kibra seat, they must set the bar high just like Ken Okoth and his predecessors in this great constituency did,” she said recently on a local media outlet.
Mr Arthur Odera, the former MP for Teso North, concurs: “The next Kibra MP must be seen to deliver on development. He must be someone who can build on the foundation that Ken Okoth laid. Kibra has major challenges, which require a high level of commitment and networking to address meaningfully.”
However, the politician argues that a big political name is not necessarily a panacea for the problems of Kibra residents.
“In a sense, the Kibra issue also requires long-term planning and execution in order to improve infrastructure and sanitary conditions, and alleviate extreme poverty,” he says.
Mr Butichi is an engineer by profession, who unsuccessfully vied for the Ikolomani parliamentary seat in Kakamega County in the 2017 polls under the ANC party.
For Imran, a lot is going for him. Having served as an aide to his late brother and chairman of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Imran is the epitome of the Okoth legacy. He is also a candidate of the dominant party in the constituency.
Meanwhile, Mariga enjoys name recognition and fame, a factor that has easily made him a target of the other opponents. Also behind him is a powerful well-oiled campaign machinery of the ruling party.
Mr Owalo, on the other hand, is an old political hand having spearheaded Mr Odinga’s presidential campaigns in 2013.
Mr Owalo, who holds an MBA from the University of Nairobi, projects himself as “an astute and visionary leader”.
Alongside others, the four candidates come up for an electoral contest to step into the giant shoes of some of Kenya’s finest political bigwigs, who gave Langata prominence and put the constituency in the international limelight.
Initially known as Nairobi South at independence, it was named Langata in 1969 before being split into two — Kibra and Langata — in 2013. The current MP for Langata is Jubilee’s Nixon Korir.