This isn’t a story about politics. This isn’t a story with an amazing happy ending. It’s a story about friends believing in each other, the power of hope and the ability to change landscapes. The tornado of events that took place over the last 6 months had more thrill and intrigue than the rest of my life combined.
I’ve spent the last couple weeks decompressing and evaluating what just happened. Here is what I think took place during my participation in the recent Kenyan election…
Kaka and I have been working together since 2009. It started when our “Up With Hope” project partnered with his youth group “Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group” and we built a community centre and started a recycling business. We clicked as friends immediately. For the past 8 years we have been working to transform the community and have been able to travel together all over Kenya, Africa and beyond to share the impact we have made.
For years as Kaka walked around the community people would say: “Kaka, run for office; we need one of our own in there.” Kaka, which means “brother” in Swahili, grew from a boy to a larger-than- life personality in Mlango Kubwa (Big Door) one of the wards of Mathare, a densely-populated, informal settlement in Nairobi. Kaka has dedicated himself to his community and the change he has brought far overshadows that of any politician or NGO employee who ever entered Mlango Kubwa. From securing the community’s only indoor and outdoor public spaces, to establishing free medical camps, a community breakfast programme, and recycling programmes, Kaka has made miracles happen. He’s a force of nature, so it’s no wonder that when people meet him they are instantly captivated.
In 2016, after years of being asked to run, Kaka decided to campaign for Member of the County Assembly (the equivalent of a Canadian MLA). Because Kaka and I have worked side by side for years, I knew that he would ask for my help, although my only political experience travels back to Canada where I helped out on NDP campaigns and activist causes. Some of the skills did transfer over into Kenya, but the political playing field was a whole different ball game. Still I decided to dedicate myself full time and became Kaka’s campaign manager.
Kaka’s message was clear: “I want to provide hope to those who have given up. I want to help generate ideas that will turn into actions and change people’s lives. I want to build community centres in the whole Mlango Kubwa ward that can be used by all the people of my neighbourhood, young and old. I want to build the lighthouse of my community. I want to be a true leader".
The opposition was tough. They had money and it was always difficult to know who the local voters supported. One of the big differences to me was that in Canada, political parties fundraise and ask supporters to donate to the campaign. Here, voters ask for money in exchange for votes. People didn’t ask about a platform or vision; they asked for t-shirts, hats and money. Even if we gave someone cash, we still had no idea if they would actually support us.
We were driving at the speed of a jumbo jet and the days until election were dropping faster than a wet bag of led. We tried to pump out content with whatever budget we could scrape together-mostly thanks to the donations we received. People from around the world, who had only met Kaka a few times, were so inspired by his efforts that they sent donations to support the campaign.
My favourite part was canvassing on the ground. There was never a dull moment as we would take over the street with a small army of youth and exclaim: “Kaka ni wetu!” (Kaka is our guy). The best part was when I lifted Kaka up onto my shoulders and we all danced and sang with spectators joining in.
We put our hearts into that campaign. We gave it all we had. I guess it wasn’t enough. Or it just wasn’t in the cards. Although Kaka did not win the election, people acknowledged that just having a local 33-year-old in the running, was a huge success for Kenya. An example of youth changing the game and starting to realize that they do have say in this world.
Kaka maintained a strong message of peace and solidarity during the campaign. After the election results were announced, he continued to be a positive voice: “We must continue to engage in developing our communities, ensuring social change and dignity for all residents. We don't have to bleed so that they can lead. We will lead our generation to a better tomorrow. One Love.”
Although the international media showed Mathare as a hotspot for violence, Kaka’s community was peaceful after the election. Peace prevailed thanks to intelligent young minds who know that working together for a better tomorrow is the only way forward. International media which focussed solely on the violence in Kenya, did not show the complexities of the election.
Just a few weeks after the re election of President Uhuru Kenyatta, everyone was shocked to learn that the Supreme Court of Kenya had nullified the results. For the first time in African history, the courts ordered a new vote stating that the election of Kenyatta was not consistent with law, and contained serious “irregularities and illegalities”.
Since the re election is at the federal level, Kaka and I will not be campaigning. We will, however, continue to work towards poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, health care and employment-a bright future for the people of this remarkable community.
Watch the campaign video