Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Woman in Raila’s Zanzibar photo speaks out

A few weeks ago, a Kenyan woman in Zanzibar broke the Internet. All it took was for Seraphine Wambui Mbote, 37, to post a photo of her standing close to Raila Odinga.

Her arms were around his waist, like a typical excited fan. It was a few hours after media reported that Raila was on holiday in Zanzibar; taking a break from the political heat that had defined his return from USA barley a week before.

There were different interpretations of the scenario, depending on which side of the political divide one stands. Netizens went wild. Comments poured in.

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The dominant question being: “Who is that woman, and what is she doing with a ‘shoeless’ Raila supposed to be on holiday?”

Her entire life was put on scrutiny. She was insulted and mocked, while some praised her. The photo became the most shared image on her page.

What followed were speculations on how the young tour guide managed to penetrate Raila’s tight security. Tabloids crafted tales on possibilities of Mbote being an ‘assassin’ sent to eliminate Raila.

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Others claimed she was a woman of questionable morals who pounces on wealthy men to sustain the flashy lifestyle she portrays on social media. Her cars, fancy house, foreign travels and fast life she bares on her platforms were harshly analysed.

“Who buys for you these things? You are a gold digger,” read one Facebook comment.

Excited fan

Then came the version that she was the same woman seen embracing President Uhuru Kenyatta in the much circulated photo during his campaign in Machakos this year. By the time the day was ending, her name was trending.

“They were all lies. I was cyber bullied for a very innocent photo. Nobody believed me when I explained how I got to be in Raila’s photo, Mbote told Saturday Standard.

It has been three weeks since the photo went viral. For Mbote, they have been agonising days of her attempting to explain the intent of the photo, and how she got to be in it.

“I was in a hotel, and I saw someone resembling Raila. I shouted: Baba! and he turned. I was so excited that I found myself running to hug him,” Mbote says.

She says Raila was seated among his friends. She requested for a photo with him. He accepted. He stood and moved to a place with good lighting. The photo, she says, was taken by one of Raila’s friends.

“There is nothing more. I asked for a photo, and I was so excited that he obliged,” she says.

Her troubles started when she clicked the share button. She believed if people saw her rubbing shoulders with Raila, they would acknowledge she was growing in her travel business. She was wrong.

Her sister Irene Muringe in Nairobi narrates how she was woken up by incessant calls from friends, relatives and strangers begging her family to tell Mbote to pull the photo down.

“They were concerned that she may be engaged in questionable business in Zanzibar,” says Muringe.

Threats to her family arose soon after, with Raila’s supporters warning the family that should anything happen to Raila, the would be responsible.

“I cannot believe that a single photo almost brought down everything I have worked for. I am just a woman who beat all odds to be where I am now,” she says.

She is referring to her ascent into becoming a top tour guide in East Africa, despite getting expelled from high school when she was in Form Two. She proceeded to register as a private candidate for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, and admits her performance was poor.

Her life was defined by turmoil, rebellion and failure. Her close friends remember her one who could not focus, and was often in conflict with school administration. One of her former classmates says from a young age, Mbote showed signs of being shrewd in her dealings, and often wanted the easy way out.

Black sheep

“I was not surprised to see her hugging Raila. That was the kind of life she enjoyed when we were growing up. She loved publicity,” she says.

Mbote denies. She says her entry into tourism was a coincidence after life handed her too many lemons. When she left high school, she joined Kenya National Theatre to try acting, citing working with many producers, including Raphael Tuju.

“I was the black sheep. I had to work extra hard to prove myself,” she says.

She went into hawking food in 2005 when people going to watch shows thinned out; a business she did until a vacancy to work at Baobab resort in Coast arose.

Over the years, she hopped to different hotels. One of her previous employer says it could be due to her impatience and desire to rise too fast that saw her being fired.

“I worked in almost ten high end hotels in a short span, because I was not getting what I was looking for,” she says.

It is while working for high end hotels that she claims she met celebrities like Angelina Jolie and several Kenyan politicians who always accepted her enthusiastic request for photos. Meanwhile, she feels targeted and for wrong reasons.

“I don’t regret putting up that photo. I have not pulled it down even after hundreds of people called to request that I do. I am not ashamed of anything,” she adds.

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