Critics, opinion shapers, influence peddlers and skeptics went awash on mainstream and social media when Ferdinand Waititu beat Jimnah Mbaru for the TNA Nairobi governor's ticket last week. While I was ranting and raving about the "stupidity" of Nairobi "east lands" voters, my sister in law Sarah Macharia posted on her face book page a thought provoking story of a clown who ran for office in Sao Paolo, Brazil in 2010.
Sarah states "The clown did not pretend to be who he was not. Instead, he campaigned in his clown outfit (yellow with red polka dots and a red nose.) He identified with the masses and the people loved him while his opponents dismissed him as illiterate. He won with the highest number of votes in Brazilian political history."
This story did not change my position about Waititu. How could they choose the "stone thrower" over the founder the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE)? I was looking forward to a battle of "titans" between Dr. Evans Kidero and Jimnah Mbaru. I thought this was going to be a disaster for TNA until I watched a mini debate between Kidero and Waititu on TV.
It was expected that Dr. Kidero would tear the "clown" into pieces. Not really. Kidero came to the debate rehearsed and looking down on his opponent but Waititu won the debate both in style and substance. He came out as a thoughtful man and not the "moron" that many Kenyans have come to know. He was more convincing on all issues raised while Dr.
Kidero appeared as if he was doing the Waititu a favor.
Who is advising Dr. Kidero? His first debate was a disaster. He was condescending and cold to Waititu. He repeated former US Vice President Al Gore's mistake while debating George W. Bush in October, 2000. Gore jinxed himself by being self obsessed and attempting to lecture Bush on policy matters and figures. Gore sounded like a robot, gave long winded academic answers to simple questions and attempted to portray George Bush as one who did not understand policy and the role of the presidency. Bush gave simple, direct and sometimes comical answers. He won the Presidency.
Dr. Kidero would make a better conventional governor than Waititu. He is polished and politically correct. He is a policy wonk and a CEO. He has mastered the art of saying the right things and obviously expresses himself better. He believes in the rule of law, a definite plus. However he lacks the mojo and the fire to confront Nairobi's real problems.
Waititu says what he believes. He is categorical that he won't demolish slums. He believes that slum dwellers have inalienable rights to exist and enjoy basic amenities like everyone else. He believes adhering to the rule of law won't deter Nairobi land grabbers. He justifies his stone hurling tendencies as necessary evil. He says as governor he won't "throw stones" because he will have the legal apparatus to "instill discipline" at his disposal. He sounds believable!
Kidero believes that Nairobi needs a governor who can attract investors.
Waititu believes that investors will come to Nairobi regardless. He believes Nairobi's biggest problem is the growing gap between the rich and the poor and wants to alleviate poverty. Both candidates are right.
Waititu's message resonates with many because majority of Nairobians are urban poor. They want food on the table now.
Mitt Romney had good ideas about stabilizing the US economy but his plan was perceived as one catering to the rich. Obama believed that building the economy from the middle out/bottom up would benefit everyone. Obama won. Waititu does not compare to Obama but their pro-poor messages are similar.
These two candidates are different. The "rough rider" states that if elected governor all kids in Nairobi will be able to join some form of secondary school. He sees it as a multipronged sword to fight crime and teen pregnancies. Dr. Kidero differs. He argues its evidence of Waititu's lack of understanding of the governor's role. Really?
Dr. Kidero does not think he is out of touch. He was born in Majengo and has relatives in all the slum's villages. He deserves recognition for pulling himself out of the "hood" (ghetto.) Waititu lived in Kibera for 25 years and clearly behaves as if he still lives there. Kidero's success must not be demonized except it is disturbing to hear him blaming the poor for their fate. His debate comments were reminiscent of Mitt Romney's comment that 47% of Americans who would vote for Obama were poor by choice.
Such slips are disastrous. Nairobi needs a leader with the courage to play rough against land grabbers and corrupt officials. It also needs someone who can manage its resources. Waititu is a leader.
Kidero is a manager. Voters must decide what is more urgent.
To beat Waititu, Kidero may have to check with Jimnah Mbaru or else he won't know what "hit" him come March 5th.
Kaberia is a Washington-based consultant on African politics.