Run for Office: Athletics stars in the race for 2017 polls
Blind runner, Henry Wanyoike, Wilfred Bungei and Wilson Kipsang have represented the country with distinction at the grandest stage in athletics, bringing back with them a treasure-load of medals, records and above all glory for Kenya.
By conquering the world, they joined an illustrious list of athletics brand ambassadors for their nation with their fame transcending from the tiny villages they were born and bred to critical global acclaim.
The trio are now training to line up for a different race altogether.
One that will see them face the starting gun to the murky waters that are Kenyan politics which are fraught with treacherous routes they have never taken up before during the August 8 General Election.
Their target is to arrive at the finish line ahead of all challengers and be declared Members of Parliament of the 11th Legislative Assembly of Kenya.
Their career Curriculum Vitaes would be enough to convince the electorate to spare them the arduous process of going through party nominations, rocky campaigns where character assassination is a by word and eventually, convincing throngs to line up and vote for them on D-day.
Citizen TV’s CNN award warning journalists; Waihiga Mwaura and Mutwiri Mutuota tracked down the decorated champions to bring you Running For Office, a documentation of how they are preparing for their first race to Parliament and how they hope to cut the tape into the august house.
-Wanyoike for Gitaru-
Wanyoike, the eldest amongst the trio having been born in 1974 is a three-time Paralympics world record holder and visually challenged athlete who has broken many barriers in a career spanning almost two decades.
He is vying to represent Gitaru, Kiambu County as a Member of County Assembly (MCA) and an hour spent with him is like a popularity poll among his people.
Wanyoike’s phone is ringing off the hook having laid the groundwork for his run for office by engaging in many philanthropic activities including sponsoring the Teresia House of Hope since being nominated as a MCA following the landmark 2013 General Election, the first under devolved government.
Wanyoike has visited this school so many times that navigating his way down the slope without his guide Joseph Kibunja has become second nature.
“I want to serve the people of Gitaru first as their MCA and afterwards, if they think I deserve bigger office, I can go for a bigger seat. I have been representing persons living with disability at the County Assembly of Kiambu across 60 wards as a nominated MCA by The National Alliance (TNA), articulating their plight,” the Sydney 2000 Olympics Paralympics champion said.
Wanyoike rates the passage of the bills removing taxes for business and education of children from families of people living with disabilities as his notable successes.
“I saw it fit to start with the Gitaru Ward where I was born and raised and my aim is to drive them to a level they’ve never been before. That is why I decided to run for office here first,” Wanyoike who intends to launch formal campaigns when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) give the limelight asserts.
For now, he has been traversing the ward interacting with the people and popularising his intention with the Paralympics star saying he has not quit his running career.
Wanyoike has postponed his appearance at the April Hannover Marathon to vie for the Jubilee Party nominations but he is lined for a 10K race in Berlin in May.
“I have been balancing training and my duties in the County Assembly. Training is usually early in the morning and I want to help my people through my athletics career. Whenever I go to run, I will be flying the flag for Gitaru Ward and asking donors to consider aiding them,” he explained.
On whether he risks his rich legacy by engaging in the dirty world of Kenyan politics, Wanyoike is adamant he can navigate the choppy waters and emerged unscathed.
“People say politics is a dirty game but it depends on how an individual conducts themselves. You can always be honourable and I congratulate my people for standing with me even when I started by annual race that draws over 15,000.
“It means they want to see development through sports and it will be a blessing for them. I have met people in Gitaru and there are no divisive or insulting politics. Even after the elections, our aim is to live together and for all those years, Gitaru people have had mature politics,” Wanyoike underscored.
Our tour with Wanyoike who has won gold or silver in the marathon, half-marathon, 10 km road race, the 10,000 meters, 5,000 meters and the 1,500 meters ends at the Kanjaru Chief’s Camp where he takes time to address the local Boda Boda (motorcycle taxis) on what he will do to ease their burden should he be victorious after the August 8 polls.
No other Kenyan athlete has ventured so widely and so successfully in the sport like Wanyoike and his time of 2:31:31 at the Hamburg Marathon in 2005 still stands as the world record for blind runners.
-Bungei eyes Emgwen-
Across to the expansive Rift Valley, the cradle of Kenya’s distance running excellence, the Citizen team landed in Kapsabet where Bungei, who until Rio 2016 was the most successful Kenyan captain at the Olympics is campaigning to the next Member of Parliament (MP) for Emgwen Constituency, Nandi County.
He is battling to unseat Alex Kosgey, the scion of former Cabinet Minister and Nandi political doyen, Henry Kosgey who is also seeking a comeback to elective politics in the gubernatorial contest.
Bungei is in no doubt he is facing a formidable force but that has never stopped the 2006 World Indoor men 800m champion from taking to the field, having enjoyed a five-year uninterrupted stay as the top two-lap male athlete on the planet.
His crowning moment came at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in China where he finally landed the elusive outdoor track gold in a performance that even stunned Bungei himself, achieved when everyone had written him off, having gone to China as the third finisher at the Kenyan Trials.
Citizen caught up with him at his humble home in the outskirts of Kapsabet where he has set up his Tortoise Resort, a drive bay restaurant and lodging that acts as his footprint in his native town.
“Many athletes who hail from Nandi have chosen to invest in Eldoret or Nairobi but I decided to start something here at home to give opportunities to my people who have supported me,” the man who used to spend half of his year in Italy during his running days, earning the name Il Capitano (The Captain) offered.
Before declaring interest in the Emgwen seat, Bungei used to enjoy quiet breakfasts with his wife and youngest daughter only occasionally interrupted by his farm and resort managers or other employees.
In the run up to the polls, Bungei is always joined by his campaign team to strategise for the day and when the Citizen crew swung by, it was coincidentally an important day in Kapsabet since Deputy President (DP), William Samoei Ruto, the undisputed political titan in the region was on a whistle-stop tour of the region including the town.
The 37 year-old who has ventured into farming and setting up of his foundation since hanging his spikes is however, keen to campaign on his own platform without appearing to be endorsed as a ‘project’ by seasoned politicians including Ruto.
But like any other aspiring political office holder in the region, his campaign team was crafting a way to accommodate the DP whilst continuing with his campaign activity among various groups in the grassroots.
“Venturing in politics was something I never thought would happen in my life. People I’m a politician because I do motivational talks. In March last year, we decided with a few friends about what needs to be done in this region and that is when I decided to give it a shot,” the 2001 World Championships (Edmonton, Canada) and World Indoor (Lisbon) men 800m silver winner told.
Shortly after hanging his spikes in 2010 and with precious little to do and a fat bank account to boot, the pride of Kenya at Beijing 2008 fell into the dangerous snare of alcoholism that almost cost his own life before he reformed himself and became a standing beacon in the society once again.
“Since I retired I decided to venture into business and my leadership in athletics saw some other athletes and I fight so much to have changes in Athletics Kenya. The path of athletics is not the only way to leadership and mentor men and women.
“The more problems we have in this country can only be solved with legislation and the only people in Kenya who can do that are parliamentarians and that’s why I chose to do this,” Bungei offered.
If elected, he is keen to push for legislation for the country to take care of her retired sportspersons to make them happy with their contribution to the nation.
On Emgwen, he is pledging to make the Constituency to achieve its full potential.
“I have travelled everywhere and talked to the people. The people are hard working and need a leader who can inspire them, mentor them and be with them. As one of their own, the problems of the people of Emgwen, I understand them.
“If I get the seat, I can inspire them to achieve their potential. You need patience and perseverance. If you despair and decide to go, then automatically, you will miss a lot,” he charged.
Bungei has been stirred by the election of former athlete Elijah Langat and active runner, Wesley Korir to office and what they have achieved as he wades into the shadowy political arena.
“I decided to venture into politics not for the money. I still make money from motivational speeches and my businesses and I want to get into politics to inspire change. My slogan is ‘change from within’ because we want to change the direction people do their things in development,” the former Olympics champion held.
Bungei says maintaining the same discipline, patience and relationships with people that turned him from a poor lad in the hamlet of Kabirirsang to a global super star will be the key to the success of his political bid.
After the interview, he had to rush to Nandi Hill junction where the DP addressed a crowd that had gathered where he got a chance to be introduced as an aspirant before he rushed to Nabkoi to meet a group of elders.
What struck in his campaign is his choice of not using his wealth to lavish his team with fuel guzzlers or choppers that politicians use to display their might. Bungei was driving himself around to meet with his prospective constituents with a Toyota ‘Probox’ vehicle!
-Kipsang targets Keiyo South-
Having returned home after just falling short of reclaiming the world marathon record he once held in 2013 at the February Tokyo Marathon, London 2012 Olympics bronze winner, Wilson Kipsang is back to pursue his bid to be the next Keiyo South MP with the same gusto that has seen him sit at the apex of ultimate distance running.
Citizen met him at his base in Iten where his campaigns were mixed with back breaking long runs, hill work and intervals before he went to Tokyo and set a Japanese All Comers record of 2:03:58.
The Kenya Police officer who is studying for a degree in Investigation and Criminology was inspired by his peer and Cherangany MP, Korir to run for office after they shared a platform with the Professional Athletes Association of Kenya (PAAK) where Kipsang is the chairman and the 2012 Boston winner is the spokesperson.
In November 2015, PAAK led by Kipsang and Korir masterminded the 48-hour blockade of AK Riadha House headquarters in Nairobi that saw long-serving leader, the late Isaiah Kiplagat step down from office before he was suspended by world governing body, the IAAF ending his 22 year stay at the helm of the national federation.
Having won London twice and victories at the World Marathon Majors events of New York and Tokyo in addition to the 2013 Frankfurt city race, Kipsang is confident he can mount a challenge that will see him arrive at the tape ahead of all his opponents for the Keiyo South seat.
“I will have enough time from March to August to campaign,” Kipsang who ran the 2:03:32 world record in Berlin in 2013 said.
“I understand when people come and say they do not have food or water. I have also experienced hardship. In primary school from class one to eight, I took at most two meals. After high school I tried to make ends meet by selling charcoal, maize in the market and a small hotel.
“That challenged me to work so hard and the same spirit of hard work in athletics is what I want to do for the people. I’m in a position where I can say I’m good, I have done investments but I don’t want to enjoy the benefits alone,” the 2012 and 14 London champion declared.
Kipsang is drawing from his management of PAAK and various community leadership positions he holds to give him the required push for Parliament.
“What really impressed me was when I travelled to Korir’s constituency and saw what he is doing plus whilst running. I thought to myself this is very good.
“In the past people feared politics a lot. Athletes have never been outspoken. When I came in as an example then people saw what I did and got excited. For the last four years I have been encouraging athletes to take up leadership. It is about time to take up leadership to represent our people,” Kipsang who won the 2011 Lake Biwa Marathon underscored.
If elected, he has one huge aim in mind for the people of Keiyo South.
“Many people here live below the poverty line. They cannot afford the basics and this is very sad. As an athlete who has gotten opportunities through the talent of running to travel around the world.
“I have seen how people have governed themselves to make their lives better. This gave me a big challenge especially when I look at my community. The only way that I can use my talent as an athlete to help my people is through this position that I am aspiring for,” Kipsang who took the third medal at the 2012 Olympics asserted.
-Report by Waihiga Mwaura and Mutwiri Mutuota
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