24 January 2013

Kenya: Lessons From the Waititu-Kidero Duel


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. 

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