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Why Governor Kawira Mwangaza's defection to UDA has parked fresh storm in Meru

Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire and UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala welcome Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza to the UDA party on April 3, 2024.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Governor Kawira Mwangaza's defection to the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party was expected to calm a political storm that has hit the county since her shock defeat of political bigwigs Kiraitu Murungi and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi in the August 2022 elections.

But political analysts say the move has compounded the leadership wrangles pitting the governor against other Meru leaders because of the secrecy with which it was handled, with the Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders now calling on President William Ruto to intervene.

Ms Mwangaza was welcomed into the party on Wednesday at the UDA headquarters by Secretary General Cleophas Malala and Chairperson Cecily Mbarire, who is also Embu governor.

During the event, Ms Mwangaza was accompanied by former Meru County Assembly Majority Leader Evans Mawira. No MP from Meru was present. Of the 12 MPs in Meru County, including the senator and the MP, seven were elected on the UDA ticket.

After her surprise move, Ms Mwangaza, who won the seat on an independent ticket, said she was open to dialogue to achieve unity in the county through UDA and announced that she would contest the 2027 elections on the party's ticket.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza aligns with Ruto's UDA party

This immediately drew the wrath of Senator Kathuri Murungi, who has declared interest in the seat. The senator told her, "You have come to a house with old and founding members who deserve respect and honour," adding that the governor should not expect a direct ticket.

"In the 2027 elections, please note that several members will be contesting the governor's race on the party ticket. An elaborate party nomination process will be conducted for wananchi to give our party the best candidate to face the opposition candidates," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Mr Murungi criticised Mr Malala and Ms Mbarire's failure to consult other leaders in Meru before the move. He said that other people might have wanted to join the ruling party alongside the governor.

“To Cecil Mbarire and Cleophas Malala, don't carry out our party affairs in closed doors, our party is very open and forthright,” he said in the post. Reached for a comment over the matter, Mr Malala did not respond to our calls and text message.

Speaking to Nation on Sunday, Mr Murungi said the Meru UDA leadership welcomed Ms Mwangaza into the party but insisted that the defection was not conducted in good faith.

 “When President Ruto was in Meru (in February) he asked many leaders to join UDA and if the governor’s move was intended to foster unity among leaders, the best thing would have been to bring everybody on board,” Mr Murungi said.

Buuri MP Mugambi Rindikiri took issue with Ms Mbarire's comments that Ms Mwangaza would be "made comfortable" by the party leadership.

“We are seeking answers to this question. What kind of protection will be given to the governor and by whom? If one is not transparent and accountable in their leadership, they should not expect any protection,” Mr Rindikiri said in an interview with Weru TV on Thursday night.

Ms Mwangaza has survived two impeachments at the Senate – in December 2022 and November last year. In both cases, it was not a secret that the governor enjoyed a close political relationship with the party leaders who saved her from ouster.

On the day the governor defected to UDA, Njuri Ncheke elders met Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in Nairobi who announced he would lead plans to unite Meru leaders with a view to “fostering unity and collaborative solutions in Mt. Kenya Region.”

Kawira Mwangaza in tears as Senators quash impeachment

 “It (the meeting) provided a platform to address the ongoing conflicts among elected leaders in Meru, which have hindered effective service delivery and governance. By involving respected traditional leaders like the Njuri Ncheke elders, the meeting facilitated community engagement in resolving political disputes and promoting unity among various factions,” the DP said in a statement.

 “Resolving conflicts and fostering cooperation among leaders contribute to political stability in the region. A stable political environment is essential for attracting investment, promoting economic growth, and ensuring the well-being of residents,” he added.

Mr Linus Kathela, the council chairman said their intention was to draw the attention of the president to boiling political tensions in a country that voted almost to a man for the ruling party.

 “We are not happy about the current ‘political noise’ in Meru and we will ask the President to call a meeting of all leaders to sort out the mess,” Mr Kathela said, sentiments that were echoed by Mr Josphat Murangiri, the council’s secretary general in charge of operations.

Ms Mwangaza’s supporters now want members of the county assembly from the UDA camp which forms a majority with 22 members to support the governor. Mr Kiraitu’s Devolution Empowerment Party (DEP) is the minority party with 21 MCAs in the 69-member assembly.

Mr Mugambi Imanyara, a former Kiraitu pointman who has since defected to Ms Mwangaza’s camp said the MCAs should stop threatening the governor with impeachment.

 “What we expect is that they will support the governor with the leader of majority consulting her in all the business the assembly conducts,” said Mr Imanyara, the DEP secretary general.

However, Dennis Kiogora, who moved the first impeachment motion dismissed Ms Mwangaza’s purported defection, calling it “theatrics”.

 “We are used to her antics and we will not buy this. The governor thinks that by joining UDA she will get protection from the party bigwigs since it is the majority party at the county assembly. But she should know that we are aware she has not officially joined UDA and we will keep her in check,” said the Abogeta West MCA on DEP ticket.

 Prof Gitile Naituli, a political analyst and lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya claimed that Ms Mwangaza’s defection to the ruling party would make UDA unpopular in Meru and the larger Mt Kenya region.

 “The party is becoming unpopular in the region due to the policies the Kenya Kwanza government has pursued including overtaxing business people. Taxes on agricultural products are not welcome in the region,” Prof Naituli said.

“Since it is not a secret that Kawira was rescued from impeachment by the political class, the assumption is that Meru affairs are being managed from Nairobi. People and leaders are likely to abandon UDA and join local parties including DEP and PNU (Party of National Unity),” he added.