Pauline Waithira, 70, popularly known by her nickname ‘Mama Mboga’, burst into the limelight on June 4 last year during the spirited presidential campaign that pitted William Ruto (then Deputy President and Presidential candidate) and his long-time arch-rival Raila Odinga as the main contenders for the presidency.
On June 4, 2022, she acted as a proxy for Dr Ruto after she was fronted by the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) to accompany their presidential candidate to the Bomas of Kenya as he submitted his credentials to the IEBC for clearance to contest and eventually won.
Her previous moment of fame was on May 23 when UDA took its town hall bottom-up model approach to Kiambu County at Limuru’s Jumuia Conference Centre.
Ms Waithira was used as a poster girl to illustrate how the bottom-up model was entrenched to lift ordinary people from oblivion to self-reliance, thanks to frenetic and market-speaking campaigns that won the hearts of many at the time.
Ms Waithira was one of the guest speakers at an event attended by Dr Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua, who is now the Deputy President. They were accompanied by a large UDA delegation.
Ms Waithira’s oratory skills and humour won the hearts of many people that day and within a short time she made many false friends and now believes that people she thought were friends were not but were using her poor situation to lure more vulnerable voters to the polls.
At the Jumuia Conference Centre, she was a poor village celebrity and journalists were not allowed to interview her. She sat close to power and mingled with who’s who. She had a tiny old phone and for minutes you could see her asking dignitaries sitting on the dais for their numbers and later saving them.
Eventually, she gave Dr Ruto goodies in a traditional ‘kiondo’.
Now, Ms Waithira is a bitter woman because even after being used to marketing UDA and going all the way to victory, she is a poor woman and the trappings of power she enjoyed during the campaign have become elusive and no one is picking her calls, as she told the Nation on Thursday last week.
“I don’t know what you will write after this interview but don’t forget to mention that I am very angry with politicians who used me for political gains during campaigns and have now abandoned me,” she says in jest.
She adds: “I was used to illustrate how poor people will benefit from the Ruto government through bottom up but even after they won the presidential election, I was not even invited to Kasarani Stadium during the inauguration of President Ruto and his deputy. I spent the whole day crying at home, people were laughing at me.”
Ms Waithera says she has nothing to hide, adding that UDA used her to lie to her fellow poor people.
“I have come to realise this tactic was to get the poor people to vote for Ruto en masse in the hope that things would get better,” Ms Waithira, who sells avocados at Kang’angi market in Kiambu County said in a bitter and chagrined tone.
Ms Waithira was recommended by now Kiambu Senator Karung’o Wathangwa as Mr Ruto’s presidential nomination agent, who she claims never picks her calls despite acting as his agent when Karungo submitted his clearance papers to the IEBC at the Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology.
The list of those who do not pick her calls is long, including Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, who had promised her a pick-up truck if UDA won, and Kiambu MP Machua Waithaka, who she claims only gave her a Sh4,000 scholarship for her three grandchildren.
“This is just a small fraction of the people who don’t pick my calls and when they do most of them promise to call me back but they don’t. I went to Kiambu Governor Kimani Wamatangi seeking help after my son Alex Mbugua was admitted to Kiambu Level 5 Hospital and the medical bill was Sh70,000. He kept me at the county headquarters reception for five hours and later assigned me to his secretary and that was the last I heard from him and I vowed never to call him again,” Ms Waithira recalls.
Frustrated, Ms Waithira said that she contacted Githunguri Member of Parliament Gathoni Wa Muchomba and told her about her son’s medical bill, who in turn contacted Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who offered her Sh100,000, which she used to pay her son’s medical bill.
“Gachagua sent Wa Muchomba Sh100,000 after I shared my problems with her and I was left with Sh30,000 which I used to settle other debts I had accumulated through borrowing. I was left with nothing,” Ms Waithira laments.
Ms Waithira has been selling groceries at Kang’ang’i supermarket for the past thirty years.
Born in Githunguri, Kiambu, she has a son and three grandchildren, all of whom live in a double room and pay a monthly rent of Sh6,000.
She laments that life is very difficult and she finds it hard to feed herself, her sick son and three grandchildren, claiming that even eating is a challenge.
“I cannot plan what to eat in the evening because I have nothing. After this interview I will take these avocados from this market to the nearby streets where many people pass by, maybe someone will buy and I will have something to eat for the evening,” she said optimistically.
“Life has become very difficult and we are pleading with President Ruto to look into the cost of living. On a good day I make Sh300 now factor in that one kilogram of sugar is Sh200, one kilogram of maize flour is Sh110 which I use to feed a family of five including myself. Since this morning I haven’t eaten or sold anything. Look at these avocados they are still intact now factor in that I have to look for school fees for my three grandchildren because their father is still sick,” she observes.
Ms Waithira speaks carefully, more afraid to speak openly about how the UDA leadership has forgotten her, hoping that any future good plans they may have for her will be put on hold when they learn of her complaints.
But eventually, she opened up about what was on her mind.
In the two and a half hours Nation sat down with Ms Waithira, she did not sell anything but what was clear is that her nickname ‘Mama Mboga’ is known to most people in the market thanks to the campaign period that gave her broke celebrity status.
She says her wish is to get someone to buy her a piece of land, build her a house and possibly a substantial amount of capital to support her business, because “she is a hardworking Kenyan who has been forgotten by the political system that she worked so hard to bring into power”.
She says she has separated from her former husband and his brothers have refused to give her the land.
Ms Waithira warns Ruto against pushing Kenyans to adopt the controversial housing levy under the Finance Bill 2023, saying it is meant for the rich and is meant to benefit a few people.
”How can you contribute to a housing levy when you are already broke and homeless, if I am struggling with rent and food how will I manage to contribute, Kenyans are already overtaxed why should the government tax them more, they should even consider developing these houses and selling them back to people who can afford it but don’t force people to buy,” she warns.
Ms Waithira also bemoans the appointments made by President Ruto’s government, noting that ordinary people like her have not been appointed as envisaged in the bottom-up model.
“I have not even had someone of my status appointed to any lucrative seat yet we were told this government would be for us, the poor,” she said.
Ms Waithira believes that even Bodaboda rider Calvin Ochieng, who backed Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua, is languishing in poverty.