Restless. Ambitious. Bold. Streetwise. Unpredictable. That is Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati – depending on who you talk to.
And were it not for his burning ambition, perhaps the quick steps he has taken to the high echelons of city politics would not have become a reality.
From a councillor’s seat loser in 2007, to an elected MP in 2013, Arati reiterates he has no apologies for whetting his political appetite.
After losing the ODM nomination for Riruta Ward, he was nominated to the then Nairobi City Council, and two years later, he was gunning for the mayor’s post against then Makongeni councillor George Aladwa. He lost to the better oiled Aladwa by garnering 14 votes against 29.
Arati defends his restlessness and says that is why he is an MP today. “I was rigged out of ODM in 2007. If I wanted to take the normal route, I would have fought again to reclaim the councillor’s seat. But I could not allow fate to confine me there,” said the eloquent MP.
The University of International Business and Economics–Guangzhou graduate, where he also met his wife, has learnt to live with blanket dismissal of his bids. “Most people think I will step down but will be shocked when I go to the ballot,” he said.
During his duel with Aladwa in 2010, Arati claims fortunes changed after Sh14 million was ‘poured’ on the eve of the election. “Money was brought and my team was still being called by my opponents who were backed by Fred Gumo (former Westlands MP). But fourteen of my diehards stuck with me,” said the father of two.
But the MP’s appetite has gone a notch higher. He thinks he can now replace former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as party leader. “I will be taking on Raila. Let the delegates choose. I can assure you I will be on the ballot with him,” said the first time lawmaker in his characteristic broad smile.
He admits the resistance his bid has attracted in ODM. “I have been called a Jubilee mole. Some say I am planted by Raila himself. God knows I haven’t talked to Raila this year, or even consulted him. How can I consult someone I want to dislodge from a position?” asks the MP.
He noted that by offering his candidature, he was exercising his democratic right. “There is this phobia about saying or doing anything against Raila. You only need to be making sense. Otherwise, we are breeding dictatorship in the party,” he said.
So is he still a Raila supporter? “Absolutely yes. Raila is my candidate for president any time. But he needs to be re-energized for future elections,” he avers.
Arati says Raila does not have to be a party leader for him to stick his troops together. “He can still be the candidate. I will not be challenging him for the presidential ticket. The problem with our presidential candidates, is wanting to make key party decisions and still campaign. That has weighed down Raila. Let us run the party for him,” said the MP, explaining the thin line between his bid and loyalty to Raila.
But do you have resources both financial and human, to oust Raila? “ (Prolonged laughter) I have done campaigns under very stringent budgets. I know what I need to be a formidable candidate in this race. You will be seeing me fly from one county to another before February 28, to reach delegates I will not have reached,” he said.
A man whose highest elective seat was chairman of the Kenya Polytechnic Student Union in 2003-04, Arati’s rise from a sukuma wiki (kales) seller in Riruta, only reveals antics of a battle-hardened young man.
Born in a family of seven to a policeman, Arati still shows his ‘marks of poverty’. During this interview at his constituency office in Kileleshwa, he showed the Nation how sharp knives destroyed the skin on his fingers’ skin as he cut sukuma wiki in Riruta.
He has a penchant for small things that make people laugh. Last year, he convened a sukuma wiki cutting competition and last month, he sponsored an eating competition where youth competed to eat bread and soda. “I want people to feel my presence by doing simple things,” he explains.
In the struggle to make a living, the man could not afford Sh1,200 house rent in Riruta Satellite in 2004 and even lost track of the people he owed. “True, I had a lot of debts—from medicine for my ailing brother to market stocks for my kiosk. I was forced to pay on the campaign trail when I met some of the creditors. I am still paying some,” he confessed.
It is perhaps his slipperiness with debts that some people think Arati is the typical Nairobian—quite elusive with debts.
However, he seeks to overcome challenges in his youth to make a point in city politics.
In his constituency, Arati has voted education his biggest pet project. “I want to improve education standards. I want bursary funds to benefit the needy. I want to kill this habit of people selling bursary forms at Sh500,” he says.