What you need to know:
- In Bomet County, behind Woman Representative Linet Chepkorir alias Toto, stands an unsung hero, boda boda rider Gideon Kiprotich Cheruiyot, whose steadfast support played a pivotal role in her unexpected victory.
- In the Rift Valley political landscape dominated by established figures, her youth, humble background, and limited resources made her the unlikely contender.
- But amidst the scepticism, the 27-year-old boda boda rider, Cheruiyot who is also a part-time plumber saw potential.
In the realm of Kenyan politics, success stories often shine a powerful spotlight on politicians themselves.
But in Bomet, behind Woman Representative Linet Chepkorir alias Toto, stands an unsung hero, boda boda rider Gideon Kiprotich Cheruiyot, whose steadfast support played a pivotal role in her unexpected victory.
As a fresh university graduate, Toto’s journey began when she declared her intention to vie for the Bomet Woman Representative seat in the 2022 General Elections.
In the Rift Valley political landscape dominated by established figures, her youth, humble background, and limited resources made her the unlikely contender.
But amidst the scepticism, the 27-year-old Cheruiyot who is also a part-time plumber saw potential.
Their paths crossed in September 2021 during a fundraiser planning committee meeting.
Cheruiyot noticed Toto's determination to enter politics despite facing financial constraints and public scepticism.
He then volunteered to be her free transport, using his motorcycle fueled by his savings and donations from well-wishers.
For six months, Toto and Chepkorir traversed Bomet county, defying critics who dismissed her candidacy.
Despite facing public attacks, social media trolling, and financial challenges, their collaboration persisted with Cheruiyot's belief in her vision and encouragement during tough times played a crucial role.
The politician’s breakthrough came during a UDA meeting in Karen at Deputy President William Ruto’s (now President) residence in Nairobi where she gained recognition and support and here, her momentum grew, with people offering vehicles and resources for her campaign.
Cheruiyot's motorcycle, initially the symbol of an underdog's campaign, became a testament to their resilience after Toto’s victory in the UDA party nominations and subsequently in the August 2022 elections.
All along, their association remained strictly professional, focused on the campaign trail.
The 27-year-old man, now a trained plumber, was then a student at Sot Technical Training Institute in Bomet East constituency, and a part time boda boda rider, a fact many did not know.
Toto in her maiden speech in parliament acknowledged the contribution made by Mr Cheruiyot in her campaign trail.
“Of the many people who campaigned and voted for me, allow me to mention one person, Gideon Cheruiyot who came to my home when I declared the interest for the seat and asked me if I was serious about it,” Toto said.
“He volunteered to carry me around in the campaigns using his bodaboda which he personally fueled. Gideon wherever you are, may God bless you,” Toto said.
Unknown to many, the man who used to hawk boiled eggs in Bomet town before enrolling at Sot Technical Institute for the plumbing course was previously employed as a milk vendor.
In an interview, Cheruiyot has opened up about how he met the youthful legislator, the decision he made to invest his time and little resources on her without expecting anything in return and the fact that they were not romantically involved as many have assumed.
The Nation found him at his home sitting right on the border of Kaptebengwo and Raia villages in the outskirts of Bomet town, overlooking where Ms Toto’s parents reside.
At the compound, a casual worker is constructing a small chicken coop so as to deter predators and strangers from accessing the kienyeji birds when set free to rummage and forage for food.
The raised temporary structure stands next to the main house, a two roomed facility with a conspicuous blue DSTV disc perched on the left facing eastwards, while a small kitchen and a store are adjacent.
A relatively new motorcycle is parked in the sitting room, two helmets lying beside it, while a 14-inch television is on the wall on the opposite side of the room.
“I met Toto at a hotel in Bomet town in September 2021, as a member of the planning committee for a fundraiser to support a needy youth who was joining college. She was passionate about what she wanted to do (politics) and I took an interest,” Mr Cheruiyot said of his first encounter.
“After that first time, we met again at Kapkimolwo area in Bomet East constituency during another fundraiser and I realised she had a conviction to run for a parliamentary seat at a very young age. She stood out as daring,” Mr Cheruiyot revealed.
But he realised she had a predicament - as much as she wanted to run, people had not taken her seriously, as she was from a very humble background and like any other youth, did not have any means of transport and was broke.
Mr Cheruiyot volunteered his time to carry her around for free with his motorcycle.
He has a photo he treasures that she took with her at a function in Chepalungu constituency where he introduced her to the public on the first day he offered his free services on September 29, 2021.
“I was told that I was dedicating my time, motor cycle and fuel to a loser, a youth who was not going anywhere, one who had no background to talk about and who would not convince anyone to vote for her. It is the criticism that gave me the strength not to look back,” Mr Cheruiyot said.
He reveals that at one point, Toto wanted to surrender following the public attacks she encountered, being trolled on social media, dirty tricks employed by her competitors and the fact she needed money to fund her campaigns which she did not have.
“I encouraged her, and she remained focused on the course, ignored the attacks, soldiered on and sold her agenda while polishing up her public speaking techniques to the chagrin of her competitors,” Mr Cheruiyot said.
Before the Karen meeting, Toto was locked out for over an hour but was later allowed in by security officers who had initially thought that she was a child who had strayed into an elders’ meeting.
Following her insistence that she was an aspirant and had an invitation after being registered and cleared to attend, complete with an electronic pass in her phone, she was allowed into the meeting.
“After the Karen meeting, people started to offer support, including occasional transport by motor vehicles. Someone later offered his Toyota Probox vehicle to carry her around. But we kept using my motorcycle to various destinations,” Mr Cheruiyot revealed.
“Our association was confined to the campaigns, it was a public one and not private as some people have been claiming. It was an open and shut matter and it has remained so since,” Mr Cheruiyot said.
Mr Cheruiyot said, “I was elated when she emerged victorious in the April 14, 2022 UDA party nominations and went on to beat her opponents in the August 9 general elections,” Mr Cheruiyot said.
“To have been part of her initial team of supporters makes me proud that a youth irrespective of one’s background can triumph over elderly and moneyed politicians. It is a matter of faith in God and staying the course,” Mr Cheruiyot added.
Post-election, Cheruiyot sold his motorcycle for Sh20,000 and bought a new one on loan to finance personal needs, including furthering his education.
The new motorbike does not give him much business at the moment as people have associated him with the politician and imagine he is well off financially.
Mr Cheruiyot is confident that Ms Chepkorir who recently announced she was engaged, would not change her character, focus and personal touch with the people at the grassroots as she will be seeking re-election.
“In the course of the campaigns, we gave assurance to the people that they will be empowered through training on how to form and manage cooperative societies and run personal business. It is something she has to focus on and deliver,” said Mr Cheruiyot.
Though he does not have an official role in the Woman Representative’s office and they no longer meet as often as during the campaigns, members of the public still go to him for counsel on how to get in touch with the politician and seek the various support they need.
Mr Cheruiyot revealed that he recently graduated from Sot Technical Training Institute (TTI), with a certificate in plumbing, along with his sister Ms Beatrice Chepkirui who did fashion and design.
“I did not have money to pay for Sh 1,000 registration fees at the college; former Senator Christopher Langat volunteered and paid for it. That is how my college journey began and I my studies were paid for through bursary,” Mr Cheruiyot pointed out.