Governor Kawira Mwangaza and the murky waters of Meru politics

Kawira Mwangaza

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

A year after Governor Kawira Mwangaza shocked the Ameru community by flooring two seasoned politicians and sworn into office, the ghosts of the patriarchal society that is Meru, still haunt her.

Ms Mwangaza defeated her predecessor Kiraitu Murungi and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi at the August 9, 2022 poll, in what many thought was a surprise victory but which had been predicted a few weeks to the election.

Just three months into office, Ms Mwangaza survived an ouster attempt at the Senate on December 30, 2022 after the county assembly voted to impeach her over claims that she was overstepping her mandate and refusal to award the ward development fund.

It was this impeachment that put Ms Mwangaza at loggerheads with her deputy Rev Isaac Mutuma, with the governor accusing him of siding with her enemies.

This year, season two of the governor’s fight with the “ghosts” saw her cross swords with Mr Mutuma after the deputy accused her of sidelining him, sacking his staff and denying him funds to run his office.

She kicked him out of office located next to hers and relocated him to an old block, saying he had abdicated duty.

Ms Mwangaza has also pointed fingers at Meru politicians, particularly Senator Kathuri Murungi and Tigania East MP Mpuru Aburi of inciting Mr Mutuma against her.

Last Sunday during an interdenominational prayer service at Laare, Igembe North which was attended by President William Ruto, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, nearly all Meru MPs and a host of other leaders, Mr Murungi suggested that Mr Linturi should be the Meru political point-man.

The former governor was supported by Mr Aburi who revealed that the previous night, Mr Linturi chaired a meeting during which he asked them to remain united.

Other MPs who supported Mr Murungi were Rahim Dawood (Imenti North), John Mutunga (Tigania West), Julius Taitumu (Igembe North), Rindikiri Mugambi (Buuri), John Paul Mwirigi (Igembe South), Dan Kiili (Igembe Central) and Dorothy Muthoni (nominated).

However, Mr Kathuri protested, saying he had not been consulted. “If we are to remain united we need to consult widely before arriving at some decisions. I was not in that meeting and that does not augur well for our unity,” the senator said.

Ms Mwangaza went ballistic, drew her sword and struck. The governor said she would not allow the elite to control her government, insisting that she has her own working style.

“Meru will not be ruled by a few cartels and elites who have refused to accept that I defeated them. A few men have not come to terms that a woman won the contest and is today the governor of Meru,” she said to a thunderous applause.

Former Governor Peter Munya who supported Ms Mwangaza in the August polls through Mr Aburi has been quiet as the controversy raged. But Mr Aburi has since fallen out with the governor and has launched a scathing attack on her.

From a gender perspective, Maendelo ya Wanawake Meru county chairperson Ms Mary Kanana says men have not come to terms that a woman is the political kingpin in a largely patriarchal society.

“Kawira has a unique style of doing her things and she has unsettled the status quo since she is a hands-on leader who is not used to sitting in the office. While the two former governors used to work in offices, she is going to the ground and inspecting all projects however small, which is what mwananchi wants,” Ms Kanana said.

Ms Mwangaza won the election riding on her work with the poor stricken masses in the rural areas where as a woman rep from 2017, she ran a campaign to help the poor by giving them simple items such as matresses and gum boots and removing jiggers from their feet.

Her husband Murega Baichu broadcast the programme dubbed “Okolea kaana ka Meru” (save the Meru child) in their Baite TV channel, propelling the Baite Fellowship Bishop into limelight.

As governor, she has continued to visit the rural areas with her “Okolea” programme, locking other players out of the matrix. This is what has rattled other politicians who fear that should the programme continue for the next four years, the 2027 contest will be a walkover for Ms Mwangaza.

“For a long time we thought the Meru community was progressive. When we saw people shed tears and confess they would sleep on a matress for the first time in their lives, we were shocked. We discovered that even as we talk of Meru being The Land of Prosperity we were wrong. The governor has transformed the Meru political scene and other players are uncomfortable,” Ms Kanana added.

Mr Gideon Kimathi, who served Mr Murungi’s administration as Chief of Staff and has since joined Ms Kawira’s office as Economic Advisor, said it was the high time people accepted that Ms Mwangaza won the election and is the county’s top most leader.

“When Kiraitu was the governor he was against Munya (who was Agriculture Cabinet Secretary) being declared the area political point man. What has changed now that Kawira is the governor? Why does he want to bypass her and declare Linturi the leader of the Ameru community? The Ameru elected their leader and we should respect that,” he said in a phone interview.

An official of Njuri Ncheke council of elders who spoke on condition of anonymity saying he did not want to quoted on a matter that has divided the Ameru community down the middle, said it was clear men had not accepted that a woman was their leader.

“The truth is that we are not giving her the respect she deserves. We are seeing her first as a woman which is not right. It is the high time the elite recognised that she was elected because people felt that other leaders were not genuine in their leadership. For the prosperity of Meru, Kawira must be supported,” the elder said.

Prof Gitile Naituli, a governance expert and lecturer at Multimedia University however said Ms Mwangaza needs to settle down and govern using her own style and resist falling into the trap of detractors.

“She should also tone down on her attacks on real and perceived enemies because it weakens her. If men are not happy with a woman being the boss that should not be her problem,” Prof Gitile said.

“Naturally, men are uncomfortable with a woman who fights them but if she uses her feminine nature she can easily lure them into her fold. I would advise her to be more tactical in her approach and use the motherly appeal,” he added.

Ms Mwangaza’s experience rekindles memories of Meru first female MP Ms Annrita Karimi, who was hounded out of office by then political bigwigs.

After winning the Meru South seat in 1975, Ms Karimi was jailed in 1978 for 18 months over trumped up charges levelled against her by competitors. After she was released she quit politics.

It was only after the advent of Devolution that brought in the Woman Rep position that a female was elected into parliament.

Currently, while there is no elected woman MP, only one woman MCA (Jennifer Morocho, Kiirua/Naari) was elected to the 69-member county assembly where 45 are elected while 22 out of the 24 nominated are women.