23 year old Suzanne Silantoi Lengewa is the youngest senatorial aspirant in the upcoming Kenyan elections.
Suzanne is among the few young aspirants gunning for a senatorial seat as Kenyans vote in general elections on Tuesday, August 8. With her eyes set on Nairobi County, Suzanne believes she is the fresh face Nairobi needs.
The choice of Nairobi for a young independent aspirant pits her against political heavyweights but Silantoi says she is unfazed and believes she can upset the odds.
Yes, as a person who believes that Nairobi deserves better, I should be gaining experience as a change-maker, a trailblazer. That is what I’m doing.
I’m right where I ought to be, running to be Nairobi Senator, developing my leadership abilities and hopefully, inspiring other young people to be the change they desire. If I left politics to gain experience and focus on career, the world would have moved on by the time I’m ready to run.
Young people must hit when the iron is still hot, She said.
We must strive for an excellent county when we still have the energy to catalyse the excellence. If we wait a moment longer, if we developed our career in something else, settle down, etc, we will wake up to realise we’re too settled in our ways to change.
Those who wait find that they’ve come to like the status quo and are willing to put up with it rather than change it. So, I chose to get into politics to gain experience in leadership by being a leader.
Excerpt From Suzanne’s Interview
What made you decide to run?
In our country, our leaders are not accountable to us. Even with a Public Participation Bill, we still have no way of evaluating our leaders. As young people, we have been hoodwinked. We are pawns, to be used then dumped by politicians.
I want to be there to represent the youth because the current crop of politicians forget about us as soon as they get elected.
Young people are adults who can articulate their own issues, so they should represent themselves. We suffer the most from bad governance.
Why the senatorial seat? Why not MCA or Woman Rep?
A lot of the issues I hope to influence can only be addressed through the Senate.
I have seen the frustration people have due to situations created by our political environment, and I want to do something about it.
It was always a matter of when, not if. As a senator, I would be able to interrogate the county government’s expenditure, to ascertain that resources are not being wasted and to work with the county government to channel resources to areas where they are needed the most.
The Senate makes me not just the gatekeeper and overseer, but also the watchman over the county’s resources. That’s an influential position and a huge responsibility.
Raising money to campaign is not easy. Who is funding your campaign?
Well-wishers who believe in my cause. Funding has been my biggest challenge, but I believe in living within my means, so I run my campaign the same way.
Do people tell you off because of your age?
My age has been a real issue. People only see the 23-year-old. They don’t see that she has ideas, represents something completely different from what is currently there. And this perception comes from old and young people alike.
We have been brought up and socialised to believe that young people have no say, have no right to do anything in the country. I am confident I can change the perception eventually, but there’s still a long way to go.
How do you convince people you’re the right person for the job?
I ask them to list what have achieved from the older and experienced politicians whom we have traditionally voted into office. These so-called experienced politicians have done nothing. Unemployment among the youth is high and we are still plagued by the problem of security.
So, we might as well vote for a fresh face. If the only contribution I make is to encourage young people to realise their potential, I will be more than happy, but I want to lead from the front.
Did you ever consider supporting one of the current aspirants?
I have nothing against the other aspirants. But I feel they represent a political class that has neglected the youth, that uses us only when they need us.
My issue is with what they represent. They bring with them the baggage of their political parties, corruption, division and tribal affiliations. I do not carry that baggage.
The next generation needs to be shown the right way to do things and I am willing to be the pioneer.
How hard has it been to assert yourself in a male-dominated field?
There’s some negative energy out there, but that’s okay because the mind is the first place where the battle for a better Nairobi is going to be won.
There are people who get shocked when they hear I’m running for Senate. They’ll be like, ‘Wow! That’s tough against NASA and Jubilee!’ My challenges include my gender as a woman and age as a youth.
Our society is used to defining what one should be and do, at what stage in life you ought to be at. If I stayed where they want me to be as a woman and a youth, we would all remain stuck in limbo.
What has the campaign been like so far?
The campaign has been excruciatingly tough, but I am happy with the work I have done so far. It’s been emotionally draining, but I am reassured by the people I meet and the experiences they share with me. I no longer have a social life, but that is a small sacrifice I am willing to make.
How confident are you that you will change the current system?
I am not tainted by corruption, and I am confident I won’t be corrupted. It is about having the right people, so I will get the right people in so the systems can run the way they are supposed to.
Who do you consider your strongest opponent?
There are seven people vying for the senatorial seat and I am the only woman. I consider all of them worthy opponents.