On Tuesday, August 8, Martin Kamotho Njenga queued patiently, waiting for his turn to vote at the Imara Primary School polling station in Kayole when suddenly, hunger pangs struck.
He left the queue and asked those around him to ‘watch’ his position in the queue as he would be returning shortly.
Mr Kamotho emerged moments later with a polythene bag of githeri and munched his githeri quietly minding his business, occasionally craning his neck as if to check how long the queue was.
Unbeknown to him, a hawk-eyed and a tech-savvy fellow voter was thrilled enough to capture the humorous scenario and shared it on Facebook.
The picture went viral on social media and even offline.
— Thee Trend Setter ™ (@xtiandela) August 10, 2017
Within hours, Mr Kamotho, now famously known as “githeri man”, was catapulted from mundane obscurity to national fame.
“I was doing my job— sweeping and slashing grass in Dandora— on Thursday morning when my aunt called me,” he told the Nation in an interview on Thursday.
“She told me that the media was looking for me,” he went on.
“What did I do?” I asked her. She said that it was about my githeri.
The 41-year-old father of one works as a sweeper at the Nairobi City County office in Dandora.
He was not aware how famous and popular he was until the media showed up, shoving cameras in his face, shooting questions and thrusting him on live television.
Only moments earlier, he had seen the viral memes— doctored pictures— that cheeky Kenyans had made him to appear in different scenarios.
“I saw they had placed me behind Trump disembarking from a plane, making it look like I was his bodyguard. Another one put me next to the Pope…there was also one of me, in State House, in between Uhuru, Ruto, Raila and Kalonzo,” he says.
Mr Kamotho, who seemed intimidated by the attention he was commanding, was genuinely surprised at how it was possible to impose his picture next to the Pope.
He is now a local celebrity in his home area in Kayole’s Thawabu estate.
— The Timeline (@thetimeline256) August 11, 2017
When we found him, curious crowds had gathered around him, eager to see their man “Mato” and why the media was so interested in him.
Perched out of the sunroof in the car that led a convoy to his polling station at Imara Primary School in Kayole where it all began, Mr Kamotho enjoyed a hero’s welcome as excited residents of Kayole stopped to take pictures of him with their mobile phones.
Dressed in the same clothes from the viral picture; a frayed black and white shirt, an oversize jacket and matching trousers, Mr Kamotho wiped his sweaty brow and readied himself for an interview, his legendary githeri clutched in his left hand.
He laughed shyly as he received accolades from neighbours, some of them who were shouting “nyamazeni Kamotho anaongea” (please be quiet, Kamotho is speaking).
— Britania Foods (@britaniafoods) August 11, 2017
“I came with my githeri to the queue because I did not want anyone to take my position in the queue. I wanted to make sure that I voted, whether or not I was hungry,” says Mr. Kamotho.
Mr Kamotho explains that carrying his githeri to the queue seemed the best option as there were no hotels open at that time to sell the usual tea and mandazi.
When his picture first hit social media, Kenyans were excited at the prospect of comic relief that served as a welcome distraction from a rather competitive election.
For a few hours, nobody could put a name to the famous picture and it seemed that Mr Kamotho would remain anonymous.
Even local companies challenged Kenyans on social media to find the githeri man for a prize.
After the interview, Mr Kamotho was whisked away from the preying media and curious public and quickly shoved into the back left of a waiting Toyota Mark X.
It was unclear where he was headed to, with rumour that he would soon be meeting the head of state. Later that afternoon, Mr Kamotho was interviewed live on a local television station.