Kirinyaga leaders have ruled the roost in national politics
The prevailing political landscape in Kirinyaga County echoes the Kanu/Moi era days in which supremacy battles reigned among politicians jostling for power.
The county, which is the smallest in the previous Central province, has often played a key role in the country’s politics and could be shaping national political destiny ahead of next year’s General Election.
Rivalry between Governor Anne Waiguru, Woman Rep Wangui Ngirici and Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua brings memories of political competition during the iron-fist Moi reign.
In the days of yonder, three powerful politicians; James Njiru, Nahashon Njuno and Matere Keriri were openly battling for control of politics of the region.
In fact, at one time Njiru, who was the then Kirinyaga Kanu branch chairman and a minister for Political Affairs and National Guidance, fought physically with Njuno, then assistant Minister for Transport and Communication in the presence of Moi during a public meeting at the Kerugoya Stadium.
Njuno had accused Njiru of undermining other local politicians and behaving like a demigod while using his newly created ministerial position to tame his (and by extension Kanu’s) perceived opponents.
“It was the general feeling that Moi created the Political Affairs ministry as a way of dealing with dissent amid growing public displeasure over the infamous and discredited mlolongo (queue) voting system,” says veteran journalist and political observer Munene Kamau, who hails from the county.
Njiru’s opponents accused him of using his powerful position to cut down to size and “sell fear” to those who did not toe the Nyaro era line.
Njiru was infamous for the phrases: “vunja miguu, laini ni moja, chama ni moja (break their legs, the line is one and the party is one) that were instructions to his political goons to attack those who were opposed to queue voting.
Both Njiru and Njuno are now deceased, but their compatriot Keriri later went on to become State House Comptroller in President Mwai Kibaki’s administration.
Fast forward, President Uhuru Kenyatta was on Tuesday forced to intervene in the supremacy war between Waiguru and Ngirici as their squabbling threatened to mar Mashujaa Day celebrations.
Concerned that the tiff between the two leaders could overshadow the fete whose Chief Guest is Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, the Head of State summoned the top Kirinyaga leadership to Sagana State Lodge and read them the Riot Act.
“The President cautioned the leaders against politics of deceit and empty rhetoric, saying good leadership emphasises peace, cohesion and unity of the people as enablers of development,” read statement from State House
President Kenyatta was referring to the war of words between Waiguru and Ngirici that had characterised preparations for the national celebrations being held at the recently constructed Wanguru Stadium.
Also at the centre of Kirinyaga politics is Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, who is arguably the most powerful civil servant in the country at the moment.
Dr Kibicho, who has not yet declared whether he is eyeing any political seat, has often crossed swords with Waiguru on a number of issues touching on Kirinyaga, sending signals that he could be angling to contest the gubernatorial seat.
The PS has actively been involved in the Mashujaa Day preparations and is seen as a key player in Kirinyaga politics.
Should Kibicho go for the gubernatorial position, this would put him on a collision course with Waiguru, Ngirici and Karua, who has flatly said she will seek to be the governor next year.
Ngirici has also declared she will be running for the same seat.
Karua, popularly referred to as the ‘Iron Lady’, was once a minister in Kibaki’s government and one of the country’s respected crusaders for justice. She contested the governor’s seat in 2017 and lost to Waiguru.
She played a pivotal role in the 2007/08 post-election violence negotiations that led to the formation of a Grand Coalition Government that saw opposition leader Raila Odinga become Prime Minister.
She was one of the strongest opponents of the Building Bridges Initiative and her name has been floated as among the possible running mates for leading presidential contenders Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto.
Kirinyaga is also home to former Metropolitan Minister Njeru Githae, who later became Kenyan envoy to the US. It is not clear whether the former Ndia MP still hampers political ambitions.
Former Senator Daniel Karaba and the county’s first Governor Joseph Ndathi are among other prominent personalities.
Ndathi will be trying to recapture the gubernatorial position next year and will be facing Waiguru, Karua and Ngirici among other possible entrants in to the race.
Karaba is going for the senatorial seat with Charles Kibiru expected to defend it.
Anglican Bishop David Gitari (deceased) who headed the Kirinyaga diocese in the late 80’s through the 90’s was among the country’s leading clerics in the fight against single party rule and champions of the re-introduction of multi-party democracy.
He is famed for his scathing sermons and statements hitting out at the Moi era, which he accused of oppressing Kenyans through its iron-fisted regime.