When you see Nairobi senator Edwin Sifuna criticizing the government, cheering ODM leader Raila Odinga, and trouncing his political opponents, you may think it is something he has done all his life.
However, in an exclusive interview with Willis Raburu, the prominent lawyer bared his soul, revealing the remarkable struggles that paved his path to becoming Nairobi’s senator.
From a jobless stint of 19 months to becoming one of the most vocal legislators in the country, this is his journey as told by WoK:
Sifuna’s odyssey began in 2008 when he graduated from Nairobi University with a law degree. However, his joy was tainted by the political turmoil that engulfed Kenya during the 2008 post-election violence.
The turbulence in the country had dire consequences for his employment prospects, leaving him jobless for a grueling 19 months. “Lawyers were not in demand at the time,” he said.
During this period, he resided in a modest bedsitter in Nairobi’s South B, with rent arrears piling up to six months’ worth. However, he was lucky to have an accommodating landlord.
His fortunes turned when he landed a job as a lawyer for the bread company Supa Loaf at a salary of sh 40 000. Naturally, his first paycheck was used to clear his rent arrears.
The ascent continued as he landed another job at an advertising company. “The job was good because they treated me as a manager from the first day,” Sifuna recalled.
He was in charge of the company’s legal affairs, and he relished a salary of sh 150,000, complete with a company car. This new opportunity allowed him to upgrade to a three-bedroom house.
The downside to this new job was pressure from his boss, whom the vocal legislator described as a ‘boss from hell’. “He would sometimes call and wake me in the middle of the night to inform me of something that needed to be done,” he said.
By 2013, Sifuna was earning a respectable 400,000 Kenyan shillings per month, but the toll on his mental health became too great.
He made the audacious decision to resign and set up his own law firm. “I gave myself a target that if I could only make 50,000 shillings per month, that was enough to sustain me,” Sifuna recounted.
He soon found that he could hit his target within less than two weeks. “At that time, the economy was doing well. People were buying land, and many Chamas were being set up, which needed legal advice. Companies were being registered, tenders were being applied, so business was good,” he said.
Now in control of his time and resources, he turned his attention to politics.
His introduction to politics had occurred during his university days when he met Raila Odinga, the prominent leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
After the 2013 elections, Sifuna visited the former prime minister in his office. “I met Baba in his office. We took tea, then I introduced myself and reminded him how we had met on campus. I told him that we should now prepare for the next elections,” he said.
At that time, Raila’s CORD alliance was being reconstituted.
Sifuna was invited to attend party meetings, where he found himself in the company of political heavyweights. “Looking around the table and seeing the big names seated with me, I had to pinch myself to confirm whether it was real,” he said.
It was then that he decided to vie for a political seat in his home in Kakamega. However, he was denied a ticket by ODM. Crushed and financially strained after party nominations, he returned to Nairobi.
But fate had other plans.
ODM officials recognized Sifuna’s potential and called him back. They told him that they believed he could be a formidable contender for the Nairobi senatorial seat against their opponent, Johnson Sakaja. They offered their support, including campaign funding, and handed him the party ticket.
Although Sifuna didn’t clinch the victory, he garnered a commendable 700,000 votes—a remarkable feat for a political newcomer. Undeterred, he continued to rise within the political ranks.
In 2018, he was appointed as the ODM party Secretary-General, a pivotal role that catapulted him into the limelight.
Come 2022, his election and campaign were smoother, benefiting from the experience gained in 2017.