The historic election of independent candidate Kawira Mwangaza as the Meru governor, trouncing political giants Kiraitu Murungi and Mithika Linturi, caught many by surprise.
During the campaign, she was seen as an underdog, with the incumbent arguing that she was not capable of running a county government.
But to Ms Mwangaza, the outgoing Meru Woman representative and bishop of Baite Family Fellowship church, the win was a ‘prophecy come true’.
In her first media interview after the election, on Saturday, Ms Mwangaza revealed the secret behind her victory, her plans for Meru County and the journey to the county top seat.
“I had told (Mr) Kiraitu that he would not only lose this election but he would come third. I also told him that I would beat him with a double margin. It came to pass,” she said at her Makutano home.
Her home also hosts the church, Baite TV studios and Mwangaza schools.
Born in 1979 at Ontulili, Meru, she attended Ontulili Primary School but could not proceed to secondary school since her parents could not raise school fees.
Without hope for proceeding with education, Ms Mwangaza says she moved to Marsabit to work as a house help at her aunt’s home.
“After one year, my aunt enrolled me at Moyale Girls’ Secondary School. We were the pioneer class. Four years later, I emerged the best candidate in Marsabit district with a C+. I ventured into business and later studied a degree in education, guidance and counselling at Kampala International University,” she recounted.
The Meru governor-elect says her biggest breakthrough in business came when she secured a cement transportation and distribution deal.
“I started as a vegetable trader at Kiirua market before I transitioned to the hardware business,” Ms Mwangaza says.
In the 2013 General Election, she joined politics and contested in the newly created Buuri constituency and finished second.
Upon losing, she went back into business. She struggled to recover the resources spent in the political campaign.
“After the 2013 campaign where we spent Sh20 million, I was broke and heavily indebted. My husband and I relocated to Ruai where we sold onions and tomatoes as we tried to recover financially,” she explains.
In 2015, she launched Baite TV, a Kimeru station that would propel her back to the limelight.
“When we started Baite TV, I was the reporter while my husband Murega Baicu was the cameraman. It was during our news gathering that I noticed many people were suffering in Meru. This is how my community initiative ‘Operation Okolea’ was born,” she says.
As the programme grew popular, she says calls to vie for woman representatives grew and she jumped into the ring.
After a short stint in the then governor Peter Munya’s PNU party, she decamped to Jubilee Party where she lost in nominations.
“I ran as an independent candidate and won with a wide margin. This campaign was different because it was people driven. I did not spend as much money as I did in 2013,” the Meru governor-elect says.
According to Ms Mwangaza, the steps she took immediately after the 2017 election have contributed immensely to her resounding win last week.
She embarked on grassroots visits, distributing the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (Ngaaf) and enhancing her ‘operation okolea’ initiative.
“While the governor remained in Meru town meeting the elites, I was with the people in the villages. I ensured the public resources from Ngaaf are prudently utilised. By being with the people, many urged me to go for the county governor seat in 2022,” Ms Mwangaza says.
To endear herself to the people, Mwangaza has been building houses for the poor, donating dairy cows, giving school uniforms, desks, blankets and gumboots, besides offering scholarships.
In April this year, Ms Mwangaza stated, “While our competitors are preparing for their third tour of the county, we are marking 501 village visits aimed at transforming lives.”
She believes her strategy of being close to the people propelled her to victory on August 9 and was the reason she never printed campaign billboards and posters.
“There was no need for billboards because my work spoke for itself. My win was people driven,” she said.
Her campaign rallies involved only three people, the husband, Murega Baicu, who is always armed with a guitar, and the running mate Rev Isaac M’Ethingia.
“My husband acted as the mcee and would entertain the crowd with music loaded with political messages. I would then take over to deliver my agenda. The guitar contributed 50 per cent to the success of my campaign,” Ms Mwangaza said.
On claims that she is a lone ranger, she said, “If working alone can make one deliver and win elections then so be it. Governor Kiraitu claimed to work with elites, Maendeleo ya Wanawake, elected leaders and the elders but he failed to deliver and lost.”
When she declared interest in the governorship in 2018, Ms Mwangaza criticised Governor Kiraitu’s administration.
Ms Mwangaza’s opponents have doubted her managerial skills.
“As a woman representative, I have been managing county resources but my budget was lower than that of the governor. If I could efficiently manage the little, how about the Sh12 billion budget?” she posed.
Seal corruption loopholes
Her first assignment, she says, will be to conduct an audit to establish the state of the county.
“I will conduct an audit by an independent body and if there are any rogue workers, they will be fired,” she said.
Ms Mwangaza said she will work with professionals, shut every corruption loophole and ensure efficient service delivery.
On top of her agenda is providing free healthcare, water to every home and improving the social and economic welfare of the poor.
“I will be a hands-on governor. I will be monitoring projects to ensure every coin is put to good use. My predecessor has been running the county from Meru town, leading to poor service and development,” she argued.
She says she will cooperate with the members of the county assembly for efficient government operations.
The Meru governor elect concludes; “I assure you that in 2027, no one will have the guts to compete against me because of the work I will have done in Meru.”