Website of who’s who in March race set up
When Mr Otieno Okanja was named the compromise candidate for the Siaya governor seat following controversial nominations pitting Dr Oburu Oginga against Mr William Oduol, many people were keen to know who he is.

A quick search on the internet using the main search engines did not yield positive results.

However, his biography and even picture were readily available on a newly-established website that serves as a directory for aspiring politicians.

www.myaspirantmyleader.com is the brainchild of a group of young men, some of them still at university. They call it “a kind Yellow Pages for Kenya’s aspiring politicians”.

The team of 10 members has created a web portal with names of over 600 aspirants for the March 4 General Election.

It is the closest thing that Kenya has ever seen of a political directory.

The compilation of the details goes on all day long in a tiny sixth-floor room in a swanky office block in Westlands, Nairobi. But because they use laptops, they said, they can do it “anywhere”.

“Think of what Yellow Pages are to business. This is the closest to Yellow Pages about politicians and aspiring politicians,” said Mr Alphonce Juma during an interview with the Nation.

The 27-year-old graduate of Information Sciences is the brains behind the website titled My aspirant, My leader (www.myaspirantmyleader.com).

He said the point was to give all aspirants time to explain who they are, why they are vying and what they intend to do if elected.

When the Nation visited Mr Juma, he was over the moon because on the day Mr Okanja was named the compromise candidate for the Siaya governor seat, only this portal had information about him.

Curriculum vitae

“People were not even sure about his name. Some kept asking who the guy is yet he was on our website. I saw journalists tweeting the link to our website. I was very proud. People had asked Google, and we popped up as the first option. We are the only ones who had his details,” Mr Juma added.

He explained that Mr Okanja submitted his curriculum vitae to be put on the portal in both English and in Dholuo languages.

Mr Juma argued that people who attend rallies have no time for the debate about economic numbers or school enrolment figures.

“Many of them show up to be entertained. The politicians excite the passion of the crowd; they want to make the rally exciting. If they switch to explaining their manifestos, many people may miss it. We provide a platform for people to exchange ideas, and to engage the politicians online,” he said.

The idea, he added, is that the public rarely engage in any form of informed debate.

The debates are mostly done by the middle class, many of them with access to computers. Mr Juma said all they do is to ensure there are enough details for the public to know their leaders.

They have most of the aspirants vying for the various seats — president, governor, senator, member of the National Assembly; women representative and member of the County Assembly.

While the portal might be rubbished as a public relations platform for anyone with political dreams, Mr Juma believes that only those who are serious get listed.

“When they visit the website, there is a form which they fill. We then call them back and insist on speaking to the aspirant. We don’t talk to personal assistants. They then send us a picture, and after we verify with some of our friends on the ground, we include them in our list,” said Mr Juma.

Mr Juma and his colleagues do it as a hobby and so far depend on the goodwill of the aspirants to “say thank you for a job well done”.
“We don’t charge,” said Mr Juma.

Mr Juma runs a company called Oracom Web Solutions Limited, which he said pays most of the bills, including a stipend for their social media officer John Siso, 24. There is also Mr Nixon Omondi, 24, a student at Masinde Muliro University, who looks at the information submitted and ensures that it makes sense.

“We are volunteers. If the politicians that we help get an online presence come back to us with a token of appreciation, we share the money out, depending on how much one put in,” said Mr Juma.

The portal has been around for the last six months. Mr Juma and his team have also optimised it for the mobile platform because figures from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) show that most Kenyans — over half of the Kenyans with internet access — get on the internet through mobile gadgets.

To make extra cash from the project, they have also gone into bulk text-messaging, where the aspirants hand in their phone books and then the team dispatches personalised text messages to all the contacts.

Send text messages

“We first send the text messages to the CCK for approval. We get the message back within 48 hours and send it out,” said Mr Juma.

They have also online advertising space but so far no one has bothered to go there.

A Nation survey of the other websites doing the same thing established that these others are not quite up to date.

Some still list Mr Eugene Wamalwa, Mr Raphael Tuju and Mr Cyrus Jirongo as presidential aspirants, when, in fact, the three dropped out of the race. The other portals also have news items on the main page, giving it a cluttered feel.

Mr Juma’s team has a dedicated portal with news updates.