Tim Wanyonyi, Westlands Member of Parliament.
The word ‘Kenyan politician’, conjures up images of a crude and sweaty hooligan, more at home in a boisterous wrestling hall, than the solemn chambers of Parliament.
This is probably because the loudmouthed yobs with little between their ears are the ‘waheshimiwa’ seen in the media more often than the calm and composed representatives working diligently outside the limelight.
One of these latter folk is Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi Wetang’ula. Calm, amiable, soft-spoken and gentlemanly to a fault, Tim is an anomaly in Kenyan politics.
“I am a humble person, very patient and very caring. I take myself to the level of the people I am representing when they come to me. I want people to do better because of interacting with me,” he says.
‘Patient’ and ‘caring’ are words that one could swear are antithetical to the Kenyan political realm, a space populated more with violence and strife than the humanism this 45-year-old legislator espouses.
Even as he eschews noisy rallies in favour of more intimate door-to-door campaigns in this electioneering period, Tim prides himself on his ability to listen and act on people’s needs.
An Infotrak survey released at the end of March 2017 placed him as the top-most Nairobi MP likely to be re-elected, at 64.4 per cent. Having survived almost 10 years in politics – five years as a councilor in Nairobi’s City Hall, and then going on to win a parliamentary seat in an urban constituency – shows he cannot be taken lightly. Add to this, achieving all this from the confines of a wheelchair.
Cutting the image of a white dove in a field of jackals, Tim avers that politics was never really a ‘calling’. “I joined politics by default, finding myself there in 2007 when I was drafted into Raila Odinga’s campaign team. I wanted people with disability to be heard, because they are usually never involved. After the campaigns, I found myself being nominated as a councilor to City Hall.”
Terming it a good experience due to the manner in which it introduced him to the crudest politics on the scene, he was determined that diplomacy and intellectualism would be respected and not brawn. “Sometimes chairs would fly but most of the time it was debate.”
At City Hall, Tim took up the disability agenda with zeal, instituting changes to ensure facilities for people with disabilities were introduced to the building, Nairobi streets, and other public areas, and also ensuring laws were put in place to ensure licensing requirements included accommodation of people with disabilities and the old being taken into consideration.
His older brother, NASA co-principal Moses Wetang’ula being a more imposing and better known figure, Tim has over the years had to overtly try to carve out his own identity and niche, first as a lawyer (Moses is also a lawyer), then as a politician.
“I had to change my name when I started practising as a lawyer. We are similar in our ability to be meticulous in what we do, but different in that Moses is more aggressive than I; he is more of a politician.”
Tim outlines the work he has been doing in his constituency. “We have achieved nearly 90 per cent of our goals. All public primary schools in the constituency now have computer labs. We used CDF to refurbish schools. Enrollment has shot up from 800 to 2,000 students.”
The education sector has been his biggest priority in the constituency, with him even setting up a private foundation where he donates 20 per cent of his salary to. The foundation which has sponsored over 200 children in the last five years, assists children who cannot access education due to lack of school fees, to go to school.
Women and youth empowerment have been his other pet projects, setting up table banking programmes for over 100 women groups and training and entrepreneurship programmes for youths in youth groups.
“We have also done a lot towards security. We built police houses at Spring Valley Police Station so that whenever back up is needed at a crime scene in the middle of the night, police officers do not have to come from Eastlands or wherever else they live.”
A grim realist, he also admits he and his full time staff of 15 have encountered challenges including too high expectations, overwhelming needs of constituents and struggling to appear fair so as not to be accused of favouring any ethnic community.
What does he think he has not done yet and would still like to do? “I still feel like my education sector is not fully there yet. We barely have any public secondary schools in the constituency. There are only two boy schools – Hospital Hill and Kangemi High School.
This leads to many of the children here falling out of school and not having anywhere to go. So we have started four schools this year and we want them to be up and running within the next two years.”
Born in Mukhweya in Bungoma town, Timothy Wanyonyi is the seventh born child to Anne and Dominic Wetang’ula, a farmer and teacher respectively. Tim is a family man with two girls and a son.
A car robbery incident in 1998 led to an irreparable spinal injury, which has since confined him to a wheelchair.
Prior to joining politics in 2007, Tim had been practising law for 11 years and championing for rights for persons with disability.
Following his own accident, he founded the Kenya Paraplegic Organisation in 2004, an organisation that helps people with spinal cord problems.
Tim’s role models in politics range from Raila, to Margaret Thatcher; and from James Orengo to Mwai Kibaki and Julius Nyerere. He will defend his seat in the August elections.
“Ten years is a good gauge for you to evaluate your failures or achievements. After that I might become governor somewhere.”
His advice for those newly getting into politics, he says, “Do not do everything at the same time. Focus on the most urgent things. These priorities should be dictated by the needs of your area.”