Ruto appointment to cabinet caught me unawares, says Zachariah Njeru

Zachariah Njeru, who was nominated Cabinet Secretary of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, speaks to the Nation at Rift Valley Sports Club, Nakuru, on September 28, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mr Zachariah Mwangi Njeru, 56, who will head the critical Lands docket, made history by becoming the first slum dweller in Nakuru to earn a Cabinet slot.
  • "My appointment has proven that even the poor have the potential to realise their dreams on a fair playing ground," said Mr Njeru.

Long before the Kivumbini slums were converted into a den of deadly criminal gangs, one calling itself Confirm, it was regarded as Nakuru's hall of fame. And when President William Ruto on Tuesday unveiled his much-awaited Cabinet, not many people in Kenya knew that one of the notable picks in the 23-member Cabinet hails from Kivumbini, an area best known for producing sporting talent.

The golden years of the 1970s through the 1980s to the late 1990s were the most thrilling in the slum, producing some of Kenya's finest athletes. Kivumbini is home to Kenya's finest boxers like John "Duran” Wanjau, the late Anthony Ikegu, Ben Munga, Peter, "Dynamite" Odhiambo, Chris "Kawasaki" Kariuki, David "DK" Kamau and Patrick Maina and others.

Legendary football icon Joe Kadenge started his career in the slums alongside international footballers like Dick Anyanga and his brother Sammy Taabu, James Odawa, George Ojwang and Elvis Rupia.

AFC Leopards’ celebrated defender, the late David Akoi, Josephat Murila and renowned female volleyballer, the late Mary Ayuma, and the latest kid on the block, Gordson Chegema, 20, a budding goalkeeper who has been invited for football trials in the city of Manchester in the United Kingdom next month, are products of the Kivumbini slums.

Mr Zachariah Mwangi Njeru, 56, who will head the critical Lands docket, made history by becoming the first slum dweller in Nakuru to earn a Cabinet slot.

Mr Ramogi Achieng' Oneko became the first MP for Nakuru Town constituency in 1963 and was appointed to the Cabinet as Tourism, Communication and Broadcasting minister by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Since then Nakuru did not get a full ministerial appointment, until now.

Caught unawares

Speaking at a press conference in Nakuru City on Wednesday, Mr Njeru stated that the appointment caught him unawares.

"I was in the car when I started following President Ruto's speech and I was not expecting to be among those who will be part of his cabinet. I was shocked. I became emotional when I heard my name," he said.

"I come from a humble beginning and since this is a hustler government and I am a true hustler I will be part of the team to fulfil the hustler nation manifesto. I am a good example of a bottom-up economic model and my appointment has proved that even the poor have the potential to realize their dreams on a fair playing ground," said Mr Njeru.

He continued: "I thank President Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua for considering Nakuru County for a Cabinet secretary appointment which is the second since independence."

Zachariah Njeru Cabinet Secretary of Lands photo

Zachariah Njeru, who was appointed Cabinet Secretary of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, speaks to journalists at Rift Valley Sports Club, Nakuru, on September 28, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

"I look forward to serving the people of Kenya and I wish to assure the President under his leadership I will put my best foot forward,

"My agenda once my nomination is approved by the parliament is to ensure all deserving Kenyans who own land get their title deeds at the shortest possible time," he said.

Ministry cartels

On cartels in the Ministry of Lands, he said the officers in the ministry must work as he will not entertain cartels in his docket.

"I will fast-track the digitization system which I believe will resolve many of the pending land problems that have delayed issuance of title deeds and other transactions," said Mr Njeru, a former sub-county administrator under the first governor of Nakuru, Kinuthia Mbugua.

The nomination of Mr Njeru has sparked debate and may give the slum a new face and raise hope among thousands of hopeless youths.

Perhaps President Ruto was trying to walk the talk of his campaigns by elevating true hustlers from ground zero.

Current and past residents of Kivumbini who know Mr Njeru’s background are celebrating the hustler narrative, which is finally coming home to their doorsteps.

There was joy and celebrations in the slum and on social media, with the negative stories about crime in the area taking a back seat.

Kivumbini residents now “have our own in the Cabinet and this is a big score", said celebrated boxing coach and mentor Joseph Mwangi Muthoga.

The appointment of Mr Njeru saw hundreds of residents who never knew him visit block 154, Door 5, where he used to live from the 1980s to the late 1990s, to confirm with neighbours as they celebrated his appointment.

"This is truly amazing. I can't believe Zack, who used to live in this slum and went to Bondeni Primary School and later Nakuru Day is now a Cabinet secretary-nominee. I now believe God can lift you from nothing to something," said Eric Mwata, a resident of Kivumbini.

To the old guards in the slums who knew him, they described him as "an outstanding band leader of the Salvation Army Church in Bondeni and a choir member who loved singing gospel music".

"I still visualise him marching along the streets of Nakuru in the 1980s blowing the trumpet and leading the Salvation Army Band. He is a go-getter and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals," said Mr Ndiangui Kimaru, a former resident of the slums.

John, a Form Two student at Flamingo Secondary, said: "This is history in the making. Zack has given slum dwellers like us who are still in school hope of one day rising from the ashes of poverty."

"I now believe President Ruto when he says he values hustlers,” said Peter Kimani, a resident of the slum. “His nomination of a person like Zack, whom I know very well from his humble background in the slums of Kivumbini, captures my imagination of a hustler nation."

"I grew up with him in Kabazi in Subukia sub-county in the 1970s before he came to Nakuru and he is a smart and sharp gentleman," said Mr Joseph Ngugi, a former Nation journalist now living in London.

Ms Mary Adagala described Mr Njeru as a "jovial, social great storyteller and a gentleman inside and outside the slums".

Mr John Githanga, a local fine artist born and bred in the slums of Kivumbini, could not hide his joy.

"I'm proud to be a past resident of Kivumbini. Zack's nomination to the Cabinet is a win for the slum dwellers. I hope he will give the upgrading of Kivumbini top priority. He knows it like the back of his hand," Mr Githanga said.

Others described him as a down-to-earth person who visited the slums regularly even after completing his secondary education at Nakuru Day Secondary in 1984 and joined Nyandarua High School for his A Levels between 1985-1988.

Mr Njeru proceeded to Moi University, where he studied information science between 1989 and 1993. He later studied for a master's degree in public administration management at Mt Kenya University in 2015.

The political bug started biting him when he was at Moi University, where he was a student leader and chairman of the Nakuru University Students Association.

He ran for the Kivumbini ward seat in 2007 but lost. The following year, he was nominated councilor, serving on various committees in the defunct Nakuru municipal council until 2013.

The first governor of Nakuru, Kinuthia Mbugua, appointed him sub-county administrator in 2015 and he served for two years.

He has also worked in the insurance industry in managerial positions, including at BlueShield and Madison in the Rift Valley and Meru.

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