The NASA coalition’s plan to help young single mothers in accessing housing and other services they need to bring up their families in dignity has been met with an outpouring of support from the long-neglected lot, many of whom have hit the road to campaign for the coalition.
NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga announced the plan to Kenyans in the nationally-televised Presidential Debate on Monday that was boycotted by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga said the plan is part of the overall NASA housing strategy that seeks to provide shelter for low-income earners and settlers of informal settlements in urban areas, but the priority placed on single mothers sparked a vibrant debate, with underprivileged women expressing gratitude that at last one national leader had seen it fit to address their plight.
“I was undecided in the presidential election until the debate but now I am voting for Raila to thank him for recognizing the struggle we single mothers go through bringing up a family on small and sometimes no reliable income,” wrote Monica Wanja on Facebook.
Grace Msalame, a well-known journalist and celebrity who attended the debate, sent out a message to Raila when he stepped out onto the podium to congratulate him for honouring the wishes of Kenyans by participating in the debate after a week of uncertainty.
“I must applaud Mr Odinga for showing up though. An opportunity to seize the moment and share his vision unopposed!” she wrote, giving no hint whether she would support Raila in the election.
However, after the debate, Ms Msalame made clear that Raila had earned her vote. “Thank you for showing up tonight Mr Odinga! Just that act spoke volumes to us voters and thank you for speaking to us Single Mothers. God Bless you for that. And now the Onus is on Us!! #DebatesKE #August8th”.
From the review of commentary on the debate, Raila’s focus on single mothers earned him votes from not only Wanja and Msalame but thousands of other single women and even men who believe that society should better care for the underprivileged amongst us.
In Mathare Slums in Nairobi, the promise spawned a new movement of activism among young female voters who hit the road to campaign for NASA. The women took pride in being the first to be addressed by Raila about his plan during a political rally at the Masinde Grounds on Sunday, just a day before the debate.
An ODM youth organizer who attended the rally, Lizzy Favor Yogo, has recounted in a virally-shared Facebook post how emotional Raila’s address there had been. The rally was addressed by Raila and NASA co-principal Musalia Mudavadi, among other leaders.
Ms Yogo recalled that, as usual with all of Raila’s rallies, “There was no mobilization. Crowds just followed him, and by the time we entered the grounds, it was a sea of humanity descending on the dusty grounds in wild celebratory mood.” Mr Mudavadi was the first to speak, and he charged the crowd with his call for ‘Nasa Hao!’ before inviting Raila.
“Raila spoke about the usual campaign stuff. He also reprimanded a young man who was pushing a young lady near the dais and asked young men to learn to treat women with dignity. Then he switched to a serious parental tone and said something that no previous campaign has ever discussed.
“He turned to the young girls in the rally (up to this point, we hadn’t noticed just how many they were, they were in their thousands!) and told them that he was concerned that society had neglected the young jobless mothers, many with no education, many in informal settlements, many barely out of their teens, who struggled alone with children.
“He said from September, he would change this, and give single mothers a new lease of life, a life of dignity. He said some of the young mothers got children when so young, and with no support, that life had become hopeless, yet this was a huge portion of the population.
“As he spoke, there was deathly silence. Even vijana wa mabango had somehow put down their mabango and gone quiet. When he finished, the applause was electric, and emotional too. The young single mothers in the crowd went into a frenzy”.
But until Raila spoke about the single mothers at the Monday debate, the idea that this huge group that had been suffering in silence needed distinctive policy interventions to address their condition had not been concretized or become mainstream.
Much less known was that this had been one of Raila’s policy platforms, which has seen young women troop to the NASA banner since the coalition launched its Manifesto last month. Ms Yogo says that Raila’s connection with single mothers “reminded me of a quote, made famous by Wafula Buke but attributed to Rosemary Kariuki (JM Kariuki’s daughter), that, ‘Raila is truly the last of our caring fathers’.”