Barack Obama’s re-election gave some Kenyans this week a reason to celebrate, seeing the US president whose father was Kenyan as one of their own. But as Obamamania quiets down, the East African nation will surely refocus attention on its own elections, now less than half a year away. RNW caught up with the youngest of Kenya's current presidential aspirants, Kingwa Kamenchu, to discuss her own Yes-we-can attitude.
By Michael Kaloki, Nairobi
She is just 28 years old, but Kamenchu has her heart set on winning the general elections come March 2013. On top of that, the Labour Party (LPK) member intends to lead her country into a bright and prosperous future.
“The people in Kenya are not important in the current political culture. It is important for me to make people the centre of this country,” she says.
Her presidential campaign focuses on points that she believes are in line with the expectations of many Kenyans. According to Kamenchu: “Among the key ones is the issue of unemployment. Secondly, there is the issue of land, which has caused a lot of problems in the countryside.”
The politician notes that her ambitions entail “getting to have the basic needs of Kenyans met”. And that includes the poor. “Everywhere I go, I talk about the marginalized. Certainly there is a lot more that we can do,” she says.
Political analysts have said that matters concerning territorial allocations contributed to the violence in Kenya after the disputed elections in 2007, so prioritizing “the issue of land” seems to be on target.
“Dealing with things on a tribal basis has divided our social fabric. We want to go beyond these tribal issues,” says Kamenchu.
Living and learning
Reflecting on Kenya’s recent history, Kamenchu says: “I did not run in the 2007 general elections, although a lot of people said maybe I should have. I just did not feel that the time was right. However, I did get to support some of my colleagues who were running.”
In fact, Kamenchu had left Kenya in 2009 to pursue a Master's degree in African studies at Oxford University. During her time in the United Kingdom, she became involved in the African Society, a social organization for students interested in discussing African issues. She cites the society’s Pan-Africa conferences, which would unite students from across the UK, as being particularly important.
“The conferences influenced my decision to run for the presidency in a very big way. I decided I will do the thing that can make a positive influence,” she says.
Nonetheless, Kamenchu has for a long time, as she put it, “kept close to what is happening on the political front” in her home country.
“I got involved in politics about ten years ago when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi,” recalls Kamenchu. “I ran to be treasurer when I was in my first year and I ran again to be chair in my second year. While I did not win any of these seats, it opened an opportunity for me to get involved and to learn a lot more.”
Doing it differently
Unlike in previous elections, the use of social media by political aspirants in Kenya has become a significant tool for spreading their messages, especially to urban youth. Kamenchu’s campaign has a presence on Facebook and Twitter, pushing to reach out to more potential voters.
“We are interested in doing things a bit differently. Being a bit more innovative in terms of the answers we are providing,” she says.
Nevertheless, as socio-political commentators have noted, finding funding is a major issue for many politicians in the country.
“Right now I am just fresh from college. I have not had a job in quite a bit,” says Kamenchu. “I have been living off the support of well-wishers. I don’t pretend to have as much experience as most of my opponents. However, if I look back at my years in university politics I see that it has prepared me for national politics.”
Moreover, she believes that not being considered a rich politician acts as an advantage to her presidential campaign.
“The fact that we do not have the resources means that we do not have the problem of being expected to give [out money],” she Kamenchu. “It means that people are giving us more attention than they would give other people.”
Praise and criticism
“A good inspiration to the women, especially to the youth” is how Teresiah Njeri, a student at the University of Nairobi, describes the politician.
But there are also the critics. “I do not support her because she is too emotional,” says Bernard Michael, a college student in Nairobi who favours Kenya’s prime minister and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party member Raila Odinga.
On the topic of alleged over-emotionalism, Kamenchu says: “I cried at the first press conference and people made a big deal about it. The reason I cried is because I spoke about two of my friends that had died. Sad things make us feel bad. There is a time for crying and there is a time for laughing.”
Research polls carried out in the lead-up to the elections have not listed Kamenchu as being among the group of main presidential contenders. However, the statistics are not deterring her. “My goal is to win the presidency,” she states.