Roots Party presidential running mate Justina Wamae grabbed headlines last week when her party leader Professor Wajackoyah summoned her to face disciplinary action for ridiculing the party and congratulating president-elect William Ruto.
Wamae, 35, spoke in an interview about the fallout, Ruto, Roots Party manifesto, Marijuana, and more.
Do you agree with everything that was written in the Roots Party manifesto?
Let me first say what drew me to send an application (to be Prof Wajackoyah’s running mate). In 2017, we saw Prof Ogwada Ogot on national TV trying the conversation on the legalisation of marijuana. And he was so passionate about it. And I began doing my research. Perhaps that explains why I came to be knowledgeable about legalisation and regulation on marijuana. And then in 2019, we saw the then Kibra MP Ken Okoth also advocate for use of medicinal marijuana. Then there was Prof Wajackoyah. So, all these leaders, I can honour them because they are the pioneers of this conversation and how we can make use of this versatile product or plant.
When I sent in my application and was told that I was successful and subsequently named as running mate, I looked up legalisation and regulation of marijuana. But I knew I needed to put effort in terms of destigmatising — moving away from consumption but using this versatile plant for industrial use. Our aim was to liberate the youth from the yokes of unemployment and rid our country of debt and high taxes.
Do you still believe in the manifesto?
Yes. To the 61,969 Kenyans who voted for us, that means that you believed in our agenda. You believed that we were going to create employment.
Do you believe the recent election was free, fair, and credible?
The election was free, fair, and credible in line with the mandate of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). I say so because IEBC has really been engaging all stakeholders in the process. And I remember at one point, the very end, I attended a meeting where all presidential candidates, their running mates and their representatives had been called at the Bomas of Kenya. I believe that what came to Bomas as Forms 34A and what was uploaded in the portal was a true reflection of what Kenyans wanted in terms of leadership.
Your party leader, while at Bomas, said he won’t accept results without the other four commissioners. Was this the party’s decision or his own?
I didn’t hear that part. But what I heard is him congratulating the president-elect (Dr William Ruto of UDA). Being presidential candidates, we had the privilege of our agents going in to sign Form 34C (that has the presidential results), and when they went in, of course they saw the tally and they saw who had won. So, when our agent came back, we asked, “So what is the final verdict?” They told us. So, by mere fact of him greeting the President-elect and telling him “wewe ni mwanaume” (you are a real man), it was a way of sending congratulations.
You have also congratulated the president-elect…
Yes, four days later. My party leader did it on the first day, but I delayed because I wanted to listen to different opinions and what Kenyans think. And then, I saw the international community, our neighbours, and everyone was congratulating Dr Ruto. For me, because my boss had already done it, he (Prof Wajackoyah) had shown leadership and direction.
Have you spoken to Dr Ruto or met him after the results were announced?
No, not in person or on phone.
You seem to be in trouble with your party for congratulating him. What made you do it?
I am not seeking anything from the president-elect. I’m just doing what is noble; just what demonstrates leadership. Even if it were Azimio la Umoja’s (presidential candidate) Raila Odinga who had won, I would have congratulated him. If it were Agano Party, I would too..
Talk is rife that you were being sponsored; being given a residence and cars. What do you say about it?
In an ideal society, people support the party in different ways including by donating cars. But in Kenya, how it was represented made it appear that one, I was homeless and, two, I used to walk. Let me say this with a lot of humility: before I came to the Roots Party, I was in the business of excavation and supply of building materials. I co-own the venture with my husband. Can I afford a lorry, a wheel loader but not a car? These allegations have tainted me.
When did you meet Prof Wajackoyah?
Before I was shortlisted, I had never interacted with him. I used to see him on TV like everyone else. I saw an advertisement and sent out my application. Remember, I’m not saying that I am jobless; I’m in business. But we’re always told to pursue our passion which, to me, is public service.
How did you then meet him?
I first met him at the secretariat that was conducting the interviews. I was told the end game is popularising the party and going to the election, focusing on the legalisation and regulation of marijuana.
What really stood out for you in the campaigns?
The realisation that Kenyans are hopeless and depressed. Kenyans feel that their leadership is failing them. They are wondering what to do. I say this because we would go into a town at 10am and find people drunk already, meaning they are drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Ten o’clock is the time you are supposed to be productive in whatever you do. Kenyans have given up.
What did you learn from being a running mate?
That it is important to be formal in terms of structure. Your intention must be very good but coming off as informal might cost you.
And what do you make of the future of women in politics?
Kenyans are hypocrites. When women are in politics, they are told to keep quiet. But when there is GBV (gender-based violence) at home and someone dies, then they are asked to speak up and not to hide. So, I’m wondering why the doublespeak.
I see many people saying that Ruth, the Agano Party running mate, was given the limelight and underperformed. People are saying that Azimio’s Martha Karua did not bring votes. People are saying Justina Wamae is fighting her boss.
At what point did you start falling out with your party leader?
For me, I stuck to the original script — legalisation and regulation of marijuana. And it is on record. Again, it is on record how I defended our party from being branded a ‘project’. During the debate, I was asked whether we were a ‘project’ and I responded “we’re not”. But before the electorate, we seemed a state project, a narrative that was fuelled by the utterances of our party leader. But the moment we were seen as a project is when Dr Ruto said someone was parachuted at KICC to counter his manifesto launch; the moment on national TV we told Kenyans that we are going to launch our manifesto on July 2 and not June 30, I saw contradiction of some stuff. But I had all along stuck to the agenda and ideologies.
What really is the basis of the differences?
The office of the party leader deviated from the vision, which was legalisation and regulation of marijuana, by seeming to support Mr Odinga.
Do your differences go deeper than what we see?
We are always told that there is a danger of a single story as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained. So, for me, I’ll only be fair and say the difference is on ideology and principles. It was just politics and the elections. I believe we delivered and Kenyans spoke through their votes.
What’s your message to Kenyans who believed in your vision?
Please, be our ambassadors. This idea (on marijuana) made a lot of sense. This idea would have emancipated our country from our debt-burden and high taxes.
When did you last speak to Prof Wajackoyah?
The last time Kenyans saw us on TV at Bomas of Kenya when the President-elect was announced. But then, a lot of things have changed. Politics is dynamic and the election is well-behind us. We’ve not had a debriefing.
What’s your view on the election petition filed in the Supreme Court?
The petition is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe it is going to save the IEBC the cost of monitoring and evaluation. By the fact that they are going through the court processes and procedures, their systems are being put to test. I’m happy that IEBC will be learning from the weak points. And I believe the 2027 election will be better. This was a 7 out 10 in my opinion. Next time, it is going to be a10 out of 10.
Are you content with the party’s performance in the just concluded elections?
Yes, I’m satisfied with the results. What we got is what we deserved. Politics is mainly about strategy, planning, organisation, how best you sell your ideas and agenda.
If the Supreme Court orders a repeat election, what happens to a presidential candidate without a running mate if you fall out with Prof Wajackoyah?
Let me not speculate what will happen. That is for the courts. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
What’s your next move?
The advantage I had was limelight. This is not to say that I am the brightest; Kenya has more bright people. So, I’m going to team up with many youth and women and see how we are going to push for active citizenship.
That said, I have a passion for public service, and I confirm that it is true that I am looking for a job. I will apply for a position because that is my passion. Either way, I’ll still be in the political space advocating for better leadership for this country.