NAIROBI, KENYA – Kingwa Kamencu broke down in tears as she spoke about the state of the nation’s roads during a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, last year. It was during that same conference last September that she announced her plans to run for president.
Emotion choked her voice as she recounted how a close friend had died in a road accident caused by reckless driving. Kenyans have been dying on the roads, she said, yet the government never seems to take any action. She announced that improving road safety would be a priority if she became president.
The 28-year-old Kenyan woman had just returned to the country for holidays from Oxford University, where she recently obtained two master’s degrees on a Rhodes Scholarship, one in creative writing and the other in African studies. She used the press conference to officially launch her presidential bid.
“People said I was weak, that I was pretending, all sorts of things,” she says. “But politicians are human beings, and they too get emotional.”
As a political novice, Kamencu faces challenges competing against experienced male politicians and incumbents in Kenya, where tribal affiliations and money have traditionally dominated politics. But Kamencu and her supporters say that now is the time for her to bring fresh ideas to citizens looking for change. Kamencu says she has overcome tribal, monetary and gender barriers in the past and plans to do so again.
Kenya will hold general elections in March 2013, when Kamencu will be on the ballot with more than 15 presidential candidates. President Mwai Kibaki, who has already served the maximum of two terms, cannot run again.
Tribe or community numbers have always determined the winner of elections in Kenya, says Martin Oloo, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a political commentator. And the coming elections will be no different.
Some of Kenya’s biggest communities are Kikuyu, Luo, Kalenjin and Kamba, he says, and each of them has its own presidential candidate.
Current Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Luo community is the man to beat, according to opinion polls published in early October by Ipsos, a global market research company.
The second most popular candidate according to the polls, current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, is from the Kikuyu community. The third, current Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, hails from the Kamba community.
“And where has she been?” Oloo asks, referring to Kamencu. “Where did you find her?”
After announcing her plans to contest for the presidency in September 2011, Kamencu spent a few months visiting Kenyans displaced by the 2007 and 2008 post-election violence, which stemmed from allegations of electoral fraud.
She then flew to the U.K. in April to complete her degrees. After returning to Kenya in August 2012, she called a press conference during October to announce that she was resuming her campaign.
Her current anonymity as a candidate will be a hindrance, Oloo says, when most of these candidates are veteran politicians receiving money and support from Kenya’s