Report & Essay

Piga Dada
Kingwa Kamencu

 The following excerpt is taken from one of several elections pieces commissioned last year by Kwani?. Our writers tracked politicians throughout Kenya before, during and after the December poll; their stories will be printed in full in Kwani? 05, due out in August.

Owoko, who proudly refers to herself as the sole candidate of Makadara that truly understands the needs of the people, being one of the ordinary folk herself, takes a matatu into town, crossing over from the South B matatu area next to the former Sunbeam, to take a bus to go to Woodley. She gets off at Adams Arcade. As she passes the bus stop, something catches her eye on the iron structure.
“This is a good poster,” she says, frowning in concentration at a poster of John Kiarie, another aspiring youthful MP but in Dagoretti constituency. She stands hands akimbo eyeing it critically.
“Apart from mine, this is the best one in Nairobi. It’s very creative.” She says of the yellow and orange poster with a big picture of a smiling John Kiarie in jeans, a striped shirt and black coat.
Her poster has been the subject of much debate. Set in a black glossy backdrop, her portrait fades in gradually. Expertly applied make up, perfectly bobbed hair, she is a vision of glamour. But that, pundits say, is not what the people want.
“It’s beautiful but a bit too stylish. She look like she’s going to a beauty pageant. People want to vote for someone who looks like a mother or teacher- some one strong and nurturing. You can’t emphasize beauty too much in politics.” A woman that has been looking at the poster nearby me replies when I ask what she thinks of it.

The next day, Pollyne is in the Lumumba area. We are picked from under a tree by mama Oneko in a blue flowing African dress with white starry patterns. We go down the narrow alley and enter the house. It has a small living room- the women are streaming in and taking their places. By the time they are settled, there are 14 women in the living room and 10 out. Both young and old are here. Some are young with blond braids and low tops baring cleavage and faded gold chains; others are the old ladies with stiff bad weaves. The tiny living room has a brown carpet, four good sofas- two big and two small-, a chandelier, a wall unit with a JVC TV and DVD. On the windows are lacy curtains, crocheted ‘vitambaa’ on the seats and a tiny Christmas tree.

Later someone brings a music DVD with music praising Raila Odinga. It is produced by Harry Kamau. She addresses a large group of Luo women who give her rapt attention and cheer her on despite the fact the she has told them she does not have money to give. As we get out of the house we encounter a band of young men sitting outside the fence who stand up when they see Pollyne. Pollyne studies them, her face expressionless, keeping up an amiable conversation as they walk us to the bus stop.
“Sasa mweshimiwa, tuambie.” They tell her, not looking particularly interested in hearing anything she has to say. She grabs the opportunity to remind them to turn out in large numbers and vote for her.
“Mimi vile ninaweza sema, ni mnipigie kura hiyo siku. Mtokee kwa wingi na mkuje ne mafamilia zenu.”
“Tutafanya hivyo mweshimiwa, tutafanya hivyo.”
Just then a number 10 matatu approaches from afar. Pollyne begins to wave it down.
“Sawa, thanks, mnipigie kura hio siku, pigia dada.” She tells them.
“Lakini mweshimiwa, sasa unatuacha hivyo? Si ununilie vijana ata chai?”
She doesn’t break into a sweat, never mind that they are about 20 young men surrounding us and waiting expectantly for her to produce money.
“Mi ni mtu wenu bana! And ‘m not bribing anyone to vote for me. Nishaa sema agenda zangu and what I hope to do for the constituency. Kina Ndolo wana dough za kubribe wasee. Halafu wakiingia parliament watakula ile pesa yenye inafaa kuwa yenu. But me I don’t want to steal your money when I go in, I want to serve the people. Na nyinyi vijana ni watu wangu. Nani ataniingiza kama sio vijana wenzangu.” By now the matatu has stopped beside her and as she enters it, the young men elicit mild grumbles, saying she should leave them with at least something. Pollyne ignores them and walks into the matatu which leaves off almost immediately, the youths left glaring malevolently in her wake.

Passing the walls outside Posta estate, we see the first sign of Kibaki posters in the area. Apparently it’s a Kikuyu zone; his posters are no where to be seen in Luo zones. Housing estates in Makadara are tribe specific. Makongeni and Lumumba are Luo areas, Maringo is Kikuyu area.
“It depends on who the leaders of the areas and companies were in the past,” Pollyne explains. “Makongeni is full of Luo’s because the heads of the Railways have always been Luo’s and Luyha’s. The white’s said that jango’s had the energy to build the railways. Luo leaders like Tom Mboya and Odinga were put in Kaloleni which was at the time a posh area for Luo’s who looked like they were going somewhere. That was the Runda then. And then after the people here die, they leave their houses to their children who take over them.”

Kingwa Kamencu is a journalist writing for the Media Institute’s magazine- Expression Today (ET) and a contributor with ‘The Standard’ newspaper. He first book, To Grasp at A Star was published by East African Education publishers and has since won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for fiction in 2007

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