“Ma’am, you’ll want to see this,” Rachel told Wanjiku.
“Ni nini? What is it this time?” Wanjiku asked, reaching out for the phone.
“It’s a personal attack,” Rachel told her.
The story was in all the tabloids. The internet was ablaze. “Do you want a killer as your governor?” “The dark side of your ‘favourite’ gubernatorial candidate revealed.” “Did Wanjiku Omollo sacrifice her child for success?” The headlines ranged from labelling her as immoral to insinuating she belonged to a cult. Her opponents finally had her in a corner.
Wanjiku sat down. She didn’t expect this story. When she decided to run for office, she went through her life trying to figure out what could be used against her but didn’t think this would come out. She had her husband, Omollo, comb through his life, too, and neither did he think they would come after her for this.
Omollo joined Wanjiku in the room. The rest of the campaign team had been giving her stares. She could tell from the looks on their faces that some had changed their perception of her while some showed empathy. She asked Rachel to clear the room. She needed time to process this.
“Ma’am, I have to ask this: is there any truth to the article? Ni ukweli?” Rachel asked her.
“Rachel, I have made many hard decisions in my life, and this was one of them,” Wanjiku responded.
“We made that decision,” Omollo corrected Wanjiku.
Wanjiku turned to Omollo and held his hand. He had been her pillar of support back then and still was years later. Omollo’s presence made this crisis more tolerable. They were life partners.
“There’s no gentle way to put this Ma’am. You will lose the support of many of your strongholds. It was one thing when they speculated you had infertility issues, hence why you didn’t have children, but this story makes you look cold-hearted. The opponents will milk this,” Rachel told Wanjiku.
“How do we fight back?” Wanjiku asked Rachel.
“Where did they find this information? Isn’t this a violation of patient confidentiality?” Omollo asked.
“It doesn’t matter. If we go after the hospital now, it will look like we’re trying to cover it up,” Rachel responded.
Rachel called the team back. They needed a strategy to win back popularity. The elections were a few weeks out, and this was a crucial time. Omollo took Wanjiku for a cup of coffee at a nearby café. She needed to clear her head.
“Is it true? Aliabort mtoi?” John, one of the campaign crew members, asked Rachel.
“Does it matter? We need to manage the narrative,” Rachel responded.
“I think it matters because we have portrayed her as an honest candidate,” Nancy, another campaign crew member, responded.
“We can use the dirt we have on James to change the narrative,” someone else suggested.
“Come on, guys, will we stoop that low?” Nancy asked them.
James was the son of Wafunya, the other gubernatorial aspirant. James, in his early twenties, had a substance abuse problem and was involved in a hit-and-run. The victim of the incident died, and Wafunya covered it up. A few weeks later, he committed suicide; perhaps he was ridden with guilt, or he was consumed by the demons that had led to his substance abuse. Wanjiku’s campaign team had unearthed the story months earlier but had committed to running a mature campaign.
“I think playing it mature isn’t going to get us out of this one. They threw the first punch,” John argued for using James’ story.
“How many parents wouldn’t do the same for their children? Na hii ni Kenya, politicians have gotten away with worse,” Nancy told the group.
“I agree with Nancy. In a country with a rising number of cases of substance abuse and alcoholism, many parents will empathize with Wafunya. They will overlook the corruption, and he is dead,” Rachel responded.
“What would be so bad about admitting the story is true?” Nancy wondered out loud.
“Need I remind you of the optics, Nancy? Our society prefers not to talk about such issues openly. We can’t even talk about contraceptives frankly. Plus, she already struggles to look family-oriented without children; admitting to this would be the last nail in the coffin,” John responded.
“Solutions, guys! That’s what we’re paid for,” Rachel told the team.
As Wanjiku’s team sought to find a tactful response, her opponent’s team seized the opportunity to appeal to the voters. They capitalized on the stigma around the issue.
“Recent information about my opponent, Mrs. Wanjiku Omollo, has come to my attention, and I’m sure you have seen it too. As a society, we uphold certain values that would be under threat by people like my opponent. It’s imperative that we carefully evaluate candidates vying for the highest office of the great county of Nairobi. I urge the good people of Nairobi who care about the welfare of the family unit to vote wisely,” read Wafunya’s press statement in part.
The statement got much traction on social media platforms. The people on the platforms seemed to agree with him. There was also a faction that came out in support of Wanjiku. Women were divided. The tabloids were busy churning out one opinion piece after another. The headlines kept popping. “Nairobi Gubernatorial Candidate, Wanjiku’s Abortion Scandal Raises Questions About Personal Ethics.” “Gubernatorial Aspirant’s Abortion Scandal Sparks Outrage Amidst Calls for Resignation.” “Supporters Rally Behind Nairobi’s Gubernatorial Candidate Wanjiku, Amid Abortion Allegations, Citing Privacy Rights.” “Amidst Abortion Controversy, Advocates Highlight Nairobi’s Gubernatorial Candidate Wanjiku’s Commitment to Women’s Rights.”
After coffee with her husband, Wanjiku returned to the campaign offices.
“Ma’am, Wafunya’s team sent out a statement, and this is how the public is responding,” said a campaign team member next to her.
“Do we have numbers on how this affects our chances of winning?” Wanjiku asked.
“We’re still assessing the situation, Ma’am,” John responded.
Wanjiku looked around at the team’s activities. She felt angry that a personal matter had been turned into the highlight of her campaign. She did not regret her decision, but she hated to have to explain it to all these strangers and perhaps convince them it was the right choice for her. Rachel interrupted her thoughts.
“Ma’am, we need to respond quickly.”
“I have chosen to own the story,” Wanjiku told Rachel.
The team heard, and there was a brief moment of silence. Some registered shock and horror, perhaps anticipating more backlash from the public. However, those who knew Wanjiku were less surprised. She had stayed true to honesty and her beliefs throughout the campaign. It sometimes made it difficult for them to work in a society where politicians did the most expedient things. Nancy smiled. She had hoped her gubernatorial candidate would choose that path and prayed that the public would surprise them, too.
“Ma’am, are you sure about it?” Rachel asked and realised after saying it that she shouldn’t have second-guessed her in front of the rest of the team.
“Yes, Rachel. I’m sure. How do we go about it?”
“A press release?” John asked.
“No. We need something more impactful,” Rachel responded.
They had projected that over ten million people would listen to the live broadcast. The numbers would increase with streaming on-demand options. It was a make-or-break moment for Wanjiku. Close friends and family showed her unwavering support, but she was still anxious.
The make-up artist did the final makeup touches on Omollo as she reviewed some talking points. The team had worked tirelessly in a short time frame to choose the right words to deliver her message. She owned the abortion, but she had to choose the right words to avoid polarising the public even further. That was what the team kept saying.
It was time for the interview. They decided to have an interview with a famous and respected female journalist. The journalist was popular with many demographics and commanded respect. She was known to ask difficult questions yet not appear aggressive towards the guests. However, Wanjiku would be the first gubernatorial candidate on the show to talk about a divisive matter where she had a personal experience.
The cameras started rolling. Omollo kissed his wife before they walked to the stage. They had decided to use a personal approach to the interview since the crux of it was personal. The journalist started with soft topics, and for the first twenty minutes, they talked about Wanjiku’s career and her accomplishments. They also spoke about some campaign moments.
“I would like us to get more personal. Now mheshimiwa, recent information surfaced alleging that you had an abortion at the age of twenty-five. Is there any truth to this?”
“Many women in this country and globally often have to make the difficult decision whether to proceed with a pregnancy or terminate it. I was once in that position, and I chose not to carry the child to term,” Wanjiku responded before holding Omollo’s hand and saying, “We chose not to proceed with the pregnancy.”
The journalist paused for what felt like an eternity to Wanjiku. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Rachel looking at her phone. She could tell her confession had stirred up reactions already. It was expected, but she needed to focus on the interview. Her able team would deal with the responses.
“I understand this is a sensitive topic, but could you shed light on the circumstances surrounding the event if you’re comfortable sharing with us.”
Wanjiku and Omollo took turns explaining how they had just found out that she was pregnant when they received the news of Wanjiku’s mom’s demise. They were unsure about being parents, given that Wanjiku was just about to graduate, and Omollo had an entry-level job. Wanjiku didn’t even have a place of her own as she had lived in a school hostel.
After Wanjiku’s mother died, their relatives took their mother’s possessions. Wanjiku had two younger siblings who became her responsibility, so the relatives’ greed made it more difficult for Wanjiku to care for her younger siblings, who needed school fees, shelter, and food. She discussed with Omollo thinking it would be difficult, but discovered his reasoning aligned with hers.
“Mr. Omollo, take us through that moment for you.”
“Well, as my wife has mentioned, we barely had any money even without the task of caring for her siblings. She was also grieving and had just become an orphan. It was a difficult decision for both of us but we felt raising a child wasn’t feasible, given the circumstances.”
“Did you ever have any regrets about your decision?” The journalist asked.
“Not really. The first couple of years after Mom’s death were difficult. We barely made enough to survive. I got a job, and Omollo had one, but our combined salary could hardly sustain the four of us. We went to court to get back our inheritance, but the cases took long. In some cases, the relatives had already spent the money. It was a mess. I have already mentioned this, but that informed my decision to pursue law and, later, justice for women. Later on, we thought of having kids, but we were both too busy in our careers and realised we would be absentee parents, which we didn’t want. Our family is complete as it is, and we also have the rest of our relatives with whom we are close.”
“Thank you for your honesty. We don’t come across many politicians who would share something that personal, given the stakes. So, given your personal experience, how do you anticipate it will affect your approach towards reproductive rights policies?”
“I firmly believe every woman, with the support of doctors and their families, has a right to make the appropriate lifesaving healthcare choices given their unique circumstances. I’m aware that I am privileged to have a partner who agrees with my decision and has been with me every step of the way. We need to create an environment where women can access quality healthcare,” Wanjiku responded.
The journalist asked more questions about her policies, which she articulated well. The interview ended with the journalist commending her honesty and wishing her success in the elections. Wanjiku and Omollo left the stage holding arms.
Everyone at Wanjiku’s campaign team was on edge. The notifications started coming in the moment she admitted to having an abortion. The reactions kept changing as she explained her decision. Given the conservative nature of the society, she received backlash as expected, but there were more moderate reactions than they had expected. Advocates of reproductive rights rallied behind Wanjiku. The women’s groups she supported, children she had fostered, former teachers, and colleagues who knew her came out in her defence. Omollo’s support also caught the public’s attention. Their body language and portrayal of friendship sparked a conversation about partners making decisions together. The conversation on the family unit skewed towards a different direction.
They did internal polling just before the elections, and the numbers were still close. It was going to be a tight race between Wanjiku and Wafunya. Finally, Election Day came.
“How are you feeling?” Omollo asked Wanjiku.
“At peace. We gave it our all and stayed true to ourselves,” Wanjiku responded.
“No, Omollo. I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
“Let’s go make you governor,” said Omollo, and they left for the polling station.
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