Murang’a County is famed for most of the good and the bad, but the most recent appraisal from the political scene is that it has a penchant for doing the legwork for candidates and after a conquest, its soldiers walk home without any recognition.
Murang’a’s claim to fame is that it is the cradle of the Kikuyu community where its patriarch and matriarch – Gikuyu and his wife Mumbi – resided. They settled in Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga in Kiharu constituency and proceeded to sire 10 daughters, of whom nine were married off to found the nine clans of the community.
Murang’a featured prominently in the armed war against the colonial government, helping Kenya’s founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta gain entry into the Legislative Council of Kenya or Legco.
Fight for multiparty democracy
It was also active in the fight for multiparty democracy, pushing through bills to establish the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the Political Parties Amendment Bill (2021), as well as founding the Hustler Nation and Azimio la Umoja.
During the Mau Mau war, Murang’a was a battlefield. In Kangema, for instance, women complained about their breasts being severed, domestic dogs having their tails cut off and legions of men and women detained and families put in concentration camps.
“The colonialists even ran a maximum security jail in Kigumo – now transformed into Kigumo Vocational Training Centre – where our freedom fighters used to be held without trial,” says Kikuyu Council of Elders chairman Wachira Kiago.
“When the war was over in 1961, the then Kigumo MP Kariuki wa Njiiri forfeited his seat to Kenyatta. Through that political charity, Kenyatta joined the [Legco] and later became President.”
According to a 2014 research paper by Dr Bitange Ndemo (“The mystery of success”), Rwathia ward alone in Murang’a County controls 20 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP) and nearly half of the stock exchange. The county now has its billionaires in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition as advisers and financiers, led by their patron Peter Munga.
In the late 1980s, Murang’a sons Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia started a national campaign for multiparty democracy and succeeded in their agitation, but they emerged terribly battered in their personal health owing to cruel incarceration that ultimately led to their deaths.
Mwai Kibaki, from Nyeri, who had dismissed their efforts as akin to trying to cut a fig tree with a razor blade (an exercise in futility), harvested the bounty of Matiba and Rubia’s toiling by becoming the first multiparty President, passing on the baton to Kiambu’s Uhuru Kenyatta. In 2022, the baton will go to either Kisumu or Uasin Gishu.
When the campaign against the then Maina Njenga-headed Mungiki terror group escalated in 2006/7, led by the then Interior minister John Michuki, of Kangema, hundreds of Murang’a male youths were gunned down as others disappeared without a trace.
Murang’a comprised the extortion muscle of the Mungiki, with area youths collecting money from all sectors of the economy and forwarding it to Mr Njenga, seated in his Kitengela and Nairobi homes. Mr Njenga, from the Rift Valley, emerged from the war unscathed, a multimillionaire and reformed. He launched his religious and political occupations with no reference to his fallen Murang’a foot soldiers.
When the BBI and Political Parties Amendment bills met both political and legal resistance on the floor of the National Assembly, it is Kengema MP Muturi Kigano, as chair of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, who did the donkey work on behalf of President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga (now joint principals in Azimio la Umoja One Kenya) to get the bills to sail through.
When the new political parties law that birthed the use of consensus as one method of selecting candidates in party primaries was applied, Mr Muturi became the first casualty when he was denied the Jubilee ticket in Kangema to defend his seat. It was explained that he was too old (76), but his supporters argued that he was rejected because he is from Murang’a, citing Mr Odinga’s age (78).
It should be remembered that former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and the youthful former Education and Sports chief administrative secretary, Zack Kinuthia, were the pioneer architects of the Azimio la Umoja. This gave the county immense hope that for the first time, its moment to be rewarded politically had arrived and Mr Kenneth would be named Mr Odinga’s running mate. The slot went to a johnny-come-lately, Martha Karua, from Kirinyaga.
“We should now demand from our elders why we play it so stupid. Murang’a is gaining a reputation of doing the legwork for causes and after we help in securing defining wins, we take the stand to cheer those who were in their leisure times during the dirty work as they are handed the trophies,” Mr Kinuthia says.
“But the trophy we have in the wake of our frontline roles in those endeavours is a classic case of disillusionment, lost hopes and broken promises. It might sound like comedy but it is not … we are reputed to be home to billionaires, heroes, but it does not reflect in our daily lives and national engagements.
“The only person who appeared to recognise us is President Uhuru Kenyatta, but we were led to rebel against him.”
It was the same in the Hustler Nation, where Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro and Kandara’s Alice Wahome have been the most vocal voices of dissent against President Kenyatta in favour of Deputy President William Ruto.
For their efforts, Murang’a residents hardened their resolve against the President and in favour of Dr Ruto to the point that on September 4, 2020, two youths – Peter Mbothu, 14, and Christopher Kariuki, 21 – were lynched at Kenol trading centre ahead of Dr Ruto’s visit, allegedly for being perceived to be President Kenyatta supporters.
But when it came to the critical moment of awarding the running mate slot, Dr Ruto bypassed Ms Wahome and Mr Nyoro and chose Nyeri County that had produced President Kibaki, leaving Murang’a people nursing battleground wounds but curative medicine taken away from them.
Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria says “this conversation is very important in that we should ask ourselves where our interests are best catered for”.
He says this is why he is contesting the presidency so that he can address the contempt demonstrated against the real workers.
In 2018, he sparked a debate by claiming that “in Central Kenya, the obvious bet to ascend to political prominence was Murang’a County since Nyeri that has Nyandarua and Laikipia Agikuyus as its origin as well as Kiambu had benefitted by producing presidents”.
“It is our turn with Kirinyaga County …. We should be left to debate amongst ourselves, produce a candidate and be supported by the others. Now that I am the one who has declared [a bid for] the presidency, I should be supported by even the President himself,” Mr Wa Iria said in Murang’a on April 18.
Murang’a parliamentarians whip Nduati Ngugi (Gatanga MP) said that Murang’a’s major undoing is lack of unity.
“If we had united behind Mr Kenyatta and avoided inciting a majority of our voters against him … if we had remained steadfast in his clarion call of working first and strategising for our political future later, I can for sure tell you that we would have packaged Mr Kenneth as our Mt Kenya presidential candidate, or, at worst, as the running mate …,” he said.
“We Murang’a people are our own enemies and we should not mourn. We are treated the way we treat ourselves.”
Mr Ngugi said it is not too late to make amends because “we all need to find a unity of purpose, unite behind our political kingpin, who is the President, and silently work together ahead of the 2027 General Election and demand our ideal honours”.
Mr Kenneth says “we were very vocal all through that if there was a time Mt Kenya and Murang’a in particular needed to be speaking in one voice, it was for the purpose of approaching the August 9 General Election''. He said that “Murang’a as the cradle of the Mugikuyu was supposed to lead the way in mobilising other member counties to speak in one voice”.
Despite the cloud of gloom that has characterised the county so far, Senator Irungu Kang’ata believes that all is not lost.
“Dr Ruto will compensate us for all the opportunities lost … All we need is money in our pockets, not about what we were supposed to be and we did not …,” he said.
He added: “We will never tire of working for good causes for the country and that is our martyrdom … If we will find a reason to sacrifice for the sake of our country, we will one more time. And in supporting Dr Ruto, even God acknowledges that we are doing the country a favour.”