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Rivals display political grit in battle for ‘Mama Nairobi’ tag

The race for the Nairobi woman representative seat, which has attracted seven candidates, has shaped up into a two-horse contest between the Jubilee Party and Orange Democratic Party (ODM) candidates as the August 8 General Election beckons.

It is a competitive and heated race between Ms Esther Passaris as she seeks to unseat incumbent Rachel Shebesh of Jubilee as the woman rep but the county MP is guarding her zone with a comprehensive re-election strategy.

The other candidates in the race are Ms  Rahab Ndambuki of Wiper Party, Ms Nadya Khan of Maendeleo Chap Chap, Ms Khadijah Ruguru (Mzalendo Saba Saba Asili), Ms Winnie Wanja Wainaina (Party of National Unity) and Ms Teresia Omollo of Republican Liberty Party.

Ms Passaris draws support following her business venture, the Adopt-A-Light initiative, a pioneer street and neighbourhood lighting project that took Nairobi by storm a while back.

She contested the Embakasi parliamentary seat during the 2008 by-election occasioned by the killing of the then MP-elect Mugabe Were. She lost to Mr Ferdinand Waititu, who is the current Kabete MP.

In 2013, Ms Passaris contested the Woman Rep seat and came third behind Ms Shebesh, who polled 632,646 votes, almost double those garnered by her nearest challenger, Ms Sylvia Ming’ala of ODM, who got 327,568.

Ms Passaris got 291,384 votes, no mean achievement considering she did not have the backing of a mainstream political party like Ms Shebesh and Ms Ming’ala.


Her joining ODM gives her a high-level political backing and with the support the party has in the city, Ms Passaris is expected to give the incumbent a run for her money.

It is probably based on this 2013 performance that Ms Passaris sees herself as best suited to send the incumbent Shebesh packing. Ms Ndambuki managed 53,202 to end up in fourth position.

But Ms Shebesh, who successfully contested the Nairobi Woman Rep seat after serving as a nominated MP, is unshaken by the competition from the ODM candidate and has maintained that she will retain her seat because her development record speaks for itself.

“I have done a lot to improve the lives of the youth, women, people living with disability and children in Nairobi,” she says, pointing out that none of the candidates lining for the seat can defeat her in the August poll.

The Jubilee candidate enjoys some advantage. She first served as an ODM nominated MP between 2007 and 2013 before she defected to Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA on whose ticket she was elected.

“I have had high-level interaction with voters in the last 10 years and on different platforms, which gives me the mileage I need to effortlessly win,” she says.

One of the projects she cites is the Jenga Talanta Initiative, targeting the youth.

Through this initiative, Ms Shebesh has supported youth across the city to identify and nurture talents.

She has also identified three schools where she has been supplying sanitary pads to all class eight pupils for one year.

Ms Shebesh says the Sh7 million she receives under the Affirmative Action and Social Empowerment Fund created under the Ministry of Devolution has been distributed equally across the county for the benefit of the marginalised groups.


“There is not much you can do but the projects I have initiated have benefited many marginalised groups. I am confident of winning,” said Ms Shebesh.

On women, she says she has improved the table banking and the number of groups that received loans for business has gone up sharply.

In all the 17 constituencies of Nairobi, at least one school has a renovated classroom, ablution blocks and is equipped for the children with disability.

For the youth, she has introduced a value addition programme to help boost their businesses.

There is little doubt that the contest has already narrowed to the two candidates, Ms Passaris and Ms Shebesh, but the other five candidates are putting up a fight. They have been traversing the city, campaigning ahead of the elections, which are just three weeks away.

Yet, the differences in Nasa between who should step down for the other, between Ms Passaris and Ms Ndambuki could also be an added advantage for Ms Shebesh.

During a recent meeting of the Kamba community leaders at Uhuru Park, Ms Ndambuki reiterated that she would be on the ballot box come the August polls, telling the assembled group that Nasa was not an ODM affair and all other affiliate parties should have positions in the top seat.


“Nasa is not made up of ODM alone. We are equal partners as Wiper, ANC, Ford-Kenya and Chama Cha Mashinani. It is unfair for ODM to allocate itself all the top slots in the city. They have the governor, senator, woman representative, yet we are all equal in the coalition,” said Ms Ndambuki.

But Ms Passaris disagrees with this assertion, arguing that focus should be on backing a candidate who can deliver the seat to Nasa.

“We are all in Nasa and I beg that you give all tribes a chance. If anything, we already have a Wiper candidate as the deputy governor of Nairobi and I am a Kikuyu. We must agree to share,” she said at a recent Wiper meeting held at Uhuru Park.

She said such divisions cost the opposition the seat in 2013, as its votes were split between three candidates.

Ms Passaris vows to push for laws in the National Assembly to address rights of women and the deprived.

“I will champion the rights of women, especially the marginalised ones coming from the informal settlements, through relevant Bills that I will bring to Parliament,” said the ODM candidate.

Ms Passaris also insists she has had good working relations with Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, going back to 2007 when she allocated him free campaign space in her Adopt-a-Light billboards.

Nonetheless, the infighting within the constituent parties of Nasa could cost the opposition coalition its bid to sweep everything on board as it seeks to control city politics.

So complicated is the situation that Mr Lawrence Oyugi, the chairman of Nairobi Nasa Supporters has called upon the presidential candidate to intervene and stop the vicious war between the candidates from splitting the votes.

“The situation which exists in Nairobi, if left to simmer, might lead to voter apathy in the city in the battle for the woman representative position,” said Mr Oyugi.