The whole of 2007, about nine years ago, I worked as an interviewer with the then Steadman. My friend David introduced after he was introduced by another schoolmate who was leaving to join armed forces. This was the year that succeeded my high school and I wasn’t sure whether I would go to college. Steadman offered me an opportunity to collect data from the field on their behalf and I obliged. It was a rare opportunity since people complained of the polls saying they have never been interviewed. I had a chance to be on the other side.
It was an incredible journey I must say. The pay was better than my earlier job, so I was happy to work for them. Steadman, now Ipsos Synovate, had already become a household name in research and market analysis here in Kenya. Every politician wanted to know what the people thought of them. There was a general feeling that polls swayed votes and possibly, I think, these polls had an effect on the aftermath of the election.
How were samples selected for an interview? No idea but this is how we handled the interviews. We did interviews per household in most cases. On rear occasions, we could target individuals in the families. The work was tiresome with strict rules. It was worse where we had to do structured sampling to interview particular persons with attributes such as gender, age group, and education level. Sometimes I spent the whole day to do only four or five questionnaires.
The number of questions in the survey was dictated by the volume of information needed. Most political polls were accompanied by market surveys on particular products with election-related issues embedded in the polls. Here is what you do not know about this job. Much of what we did in the field was never announce to the media. Only political related sections of the questionnaires were published. The other data was directed to the relevant company that sponsored the event. There was no single day we did purely polls without a product embedded in the questionnaires.
The major interviews that I did revolved around market survey such as which media house was dominant! Products that are consumed every day and the other was on mobile phone networks among others. The exercise took two to three days to cover the entire region. Day one I could go to one location, day two to another location so on as colleague also did the same. The locations were predetermined from the head office, and we did not have control where we went to collect data.
This is the time I got to know various places in remote Kwale County where I also met people living lives that you would not want to be associated with. I went to villages that were a couple of miles behind. I remember one village where there was no single toilet in the entire village. If you ask them, they say, we use the nearby bushes.
After a successful stint with Steadman, it was time to go back home and also consider our choices. It was the usual festive season. You know December holidays and stuff. We were all Kenyans with a constitutional duty to take part in the electoral process. It is a democratic right. Much of what I had in my mind was generous support people had for Raila and the desire and expectation of the populous after that. However, there was another opportunity that showed up; an exit poll for Infotrack this time.
The representative from Nairobi called me and asked if I could be available the next day, which was voting day, to do a survey at a remote polling station in Kwale. I readily accepted since I was free. It was a unique type of a study. It was engaging, intense and feedback was required every one hour through a mobile phone. This survey had nothing to do with a market or the market competition and dominance. It was purely what the people had voted. It was like people were voting again after leaving the polling station.
It was highly structured. I had ten questionnaires to fill the whole day. I was required to spend the night in the surrounding area so as to be at the polling station at 6 am, present myself to the presiding officer before stationing myself just outside the gate. The place was remote just like the village I described in the typical morning in a coastal suburb. I had a badge ready prepared for me from Nairobi and a letter from relevant authorities addressed to electoral commission allowing me to carry out the survey. In case I had challenges, I was a phone call away from my bosses.
I was required to interview the first voter who stepped out of the polling station regardless of the gender and age. After that, I was to interview every fifth citizen. If the first vote was male, then the second respondent was to be a female who should be the fifth vote. After I finish with one, I start counting again. The fifth I was to do a preliminary interview to determine whether they were eligible or not. Now the age came in. It was a tedious exercise.
Before this day, I spent the evening with friends discussing the possibilities of the outcome. One thing was sure. Raila was going to floor Kibaki. The basis of this thinking among my friends was the recent poll results that clearly indicated Raila as a favorite. I was with George, who profoundly thought Raila was going to win one question. What if Raila loses? You can be so sure that he will win. He looked at me and said in a loud voice, “Kenyans are not stupid. This is a definite pass for Raila. Kibaki is heading home” My next question to him was, have you ever had anywhere in Africa a sitting president leaving office before his term? He obviously got emotional and left.
Back to the remote area. I diligently did my work. I initially thought this was easy work. I thought I would be done by 11 a.m. I had done eight questionnaires by 4 p.m. I had two more and I was tired. The area I went was predominantly Kamba infested. However, out of 10 polls with three candidates on the ballot box, nine questionnaires favored Raila and only one vote forKalonzo. No one voted Kibaki despite being the sitting president.
My question to you is, “why are you so sure that if you support a particular candidate, everyone is supporting them?” Here are some things I have learned. Constitutionally, a president can only be in office for two terms. I have never seen anyone unseat a sitting president in Africa. We would write history if we sent Uhuru home in 2017. What makes you so sure that he will win? Polls. Raila lost in 2007, and we started destroying our property and life. We cannot afford that this time. Always leave room for the unexpected, be sober and act wisely at all times.
Oooh! Moreover, that marked the end of my interviewer career at Steadman and Infotrack because what happened early 2008 is down in history as the worst election ever witnessed in the country. I lost my job because there was no business anymore.