Murang'a South tells Kang’ata what it needs to drop ‘secession’ threats 

Irungu Kang'ata

Murang'a governor Irungu Kang'ata in company of his wife hold aloft his inauguration certificate after he was sworn in as the second governor of the county at Ihura Stadium on August 25, 2022.

Photo credit: MARTIN MWAURA I Nation Media Group

For the past 10 years of devolution, Maragua, Kandara, Gatanga and Kigumo constituencies have been unhappy about being part of Murang'a County, insisting that they should ‘secede’.

Residents of the four constituencies insist that they are supposed to be referred to as Murang'a South and that Murang'a County only refers to Kiharu, Kangema and Mathioya constituencies, which they claim are favoured in public-funded development.

The differences emerged after the 2013 elections, when Murang'a North scooped all the top seats – governor, woman rep and senator – and this was replicated in the 2017 elections.

Murang'a South, despite the fact that all the winners were elected by voters in all the seven constituencies, started complaining that it had been shortchanged.

In 2013, Mwangi wa Iria from Kiharu won the governor’s contest, with Sabina Chege from Mathioya, scooping the woman rep seat and Kembi Gitura from Kiharu taking the Senate seat.

In 2017, Mr Wa Iria and Ms Chege were reelected, while Mr Gitura was dislodged by Irungu Kang'ata, now governor, a Kiharu resident. Interestingly, all the three won even the Murang'a South constituencies, thus trashing the issue of segregation.

In the run-up to the August 9 General Election, the north-south divide was so big that the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) deliberately pushed for the south to take the woman rep and Senate seats as Kiharu retained the governor position.

Better deal

Betty Maina (Kigumo) won the woman rep seat while Maragua's Joe Nyútú won the Senate seat. Stephen Mburu Munania, from Gatanga, was picked as deputy governor, hence wresting power control from the north.

Azimio la Umoja had pushed a better deal for the southerners, fronting Jamleck Kamau from Kigumo as governor hopeful and Waithira Muithirania from Kandara for woman rep, with Kiharu reserved for the Senate bid by Mr Gitura.

But the UDA wave and popularity of its presidential candidate, Dr William Ruto (now President-elect), swept the better deal to a total eclipse, its candidates managing an average of 15 percent of the vote.

Pundits say Murang'a South benefited in negotiating for the power shift to its favour for agreeing to utilise its numerical strength in the voter register.

The south has a 161,943 votes advantage over the north, as it has 391,436 voters and the latter 229,493, making a total of 620,929 in the county.

Kiharu has been getting the governor slot for voting as a bloc. In the August 9 elections, it had 119,389 registered voters. It was followed by Kandara with 105,148, Maragua with 102,383 and Gatanga with 101,296. Kigumo had 82,609, Mathioya with 58,102 and Kangema tailing at 52,002.

Murang'a North applies its literacy levels well by fronting education and leadership experience giants for governor, with the south fronting less known contenders.

Governor Kang'ata has now started a drive to fill the north-south divide, pledging to work for the best interests of a united Murang'a as opposed to factionalism.

In a reconciliation meeting held at a Maragua hotel on Saturday, Dr Kang'ata asked the Murang'a Municipal Board, which is in charge of town development, to engage southerners on ways to make them feel part of the county.

Reckless politics

"We should cease this nonsense of dividing our people along imaginary boundaries. We are one people and we should frown on all politicians who seek to divide us,” said county assembly Clerk Kuria Thuita, who hails from Kangema.

“We should build a united Murang'a County and not the south and north poles. It is reckless politics." 

What should be pursued, he said, are development projects as the equalisation factor and not divisive political sloganeering.

Municipal board chairman James Mwangi said Murang'a South will now be allocated development projects with money from the World Bank and the national government.

"We have now adopted Maragua and Kaharatí towns from the south to join Murang'a town, which is in the north. And you can get my assurance that Dr Kang'ata will work for all regardless of those imaginary divisive boundary politics," Mr Mwangi said.

Mr Mwangi, who is from the north, was an ardent Azimio la Umoja campaigner and backed Mr Raila Odinga for the presidency, while Dr Kang'ata was in the Dr Ruto wing.

Mr Mwangi said "the fact that we are here now mixing freely with our southern stakeholders is a clear testimony that we have accepted the outcome and are willing to build our county to enjoy an improved quality of life for our people".

But the southerners, through their leaders, said they will only believe that there are no boundaries that define the south and north when the development projects that were not seen in the 10 years of Mr Wa Iria’s reign are implemented.

The south was represented by its resident and business associations, chaired by Henry Ruhara and coordinated by Maluki Mohammed respectively. Other committee members in the southern team included Mr Lameck Muiruri, Reuben Chege, Kenneth Maguta, Kanyanjua Kara, David Wamatu Stanley and Charity Wambui.

Maragua town

They said they want the new administration to tarmac Maragua town roads, upgrade Maragua Level Four Hospital to Level Five and build a Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) campus on the hospital’s grounds.

They also demanded the building of a public school in the town, the establishment of Township ward and distribution of clean water. They also said the governor's residence and a courthouse are supposed to be built in the town, not forgetting that the motor vehicle inspectorate department is scheduled to be set up in the town.

"As we sit here being told to keep off identifying ourselves as south that is shortchanged by the north, all those development projects were allocated to us and recorded on policy papers,” Mr Maluki said. 

“But they have all been ignored. We want them implemented as a condition for us to feel entitled to Murang'a unity."

Mr Ruhara said he also anticipates the seat of county assembly Speaker will be reserved for Murang'a South.

Murang'a Municipal Board health committee chairman Dr Muia Mutuku said he will help the county enjoy equal health infrastructure.

"We are serving a population that does not understand the politics of boundaries. Our people are only interested in the development of expanding opportunities. We are being silly feeding them with north-south politics," he said.

Dr Muia said he knows Dr Kang'ata as "an open-minded leader who is not interested in petty controversies and will be different from those accused of sidelining some regions".

He said the best Murang'a County can get in health is elevation of some of their hospitals so as to improve the quality of services.

The debate is how to elevate Murang’a Level Five Hospital to Level Six, Maragua Level Four to Level Five and for every sub-county to get a Level Four hospital. The county has nine sub-counties.

Crisis management

Deputy County Director of Medical Services Dr Stephen Ngigi told Nation.Africa that the county has the best regional theatre expertise and Maragua Level Four Hospital carries out at least eight serious surgeries daily.

“We are even receiving humanitarian and crisis management referrals from big hospitals … The facilities in the county are strained,” he said. 

“We have [many] trainees that are forwarded to our facilities from all over the country. If we can have the Level Four and Five facilities increased, this county can [play] the role of a critical health pillar for the whole country.”

Dr Ngigi said Maragua Level Four Hospital has cut itself a niche for “being there for many poor Kenya families who would have been impoverished by huge medical bills”.

He said the facility has become a specialist in female reproductive health and has lessened the burden for many families who would have incurred crushing bills at private hospitals.

In his inaugural speech on August 26 after being sworn in, Dr Kang'ata said he was aware of what he was facing.

"We know what we are inheriting. We know that we are behind schedule in correcting the mess. But we are up to the task and we will in 100 days after assuming office show the people of Murang'a that north and south equals greatness," he said. 

The county's parliamentary seats were scooped by Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Peter Kihungi (Kangema), Edwin Mugo (Mathioya), Mary Wa Maua (Maragua), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Edward Muriu (Gatanga) and Joseph Munyoro (Kigumo) – all in UDA.