How Karua fixed my crown: From menial jobs to Kirinyaga assembly

How Karua held my hand: From menial jobs to Kirinyaga assembly

What you need to know:

  • Caroline Wanjiku Muriithi was the chairperson of a women’s group in Gichugu when she first met the former MP as she sought her support for their empowerment programmes.
  • She is grateful that Narc Kenya leader held her hand without telling the world and helped her become a polished politician capable of winning an election.

Before 2006, Caroline Wanjiku Muriithi could only do menial jobs to provide for her family.

Ms Muriithi then joined women who were doing similar jobs to form a group that sought to empower members. She was elected to chair the group and that turned out to be a blessing, marking the beginning of her interaction with political leaders and thrusting her onto the political scene.

Today, Ms Muriithi is a Member of the Kirinyaga County Assembly (MCA), representing Karumandi. Of the 20 wards in the county, only her ward elected a female MCA in the August 9, 2022 General Election.

Ms Muriithi credits her success to former Gichugu Member of Parliament Martha Karua, who is the Narc Kenya party leader. In mid-2006, the group’s members sent her to the Gichugu Constituency office to ask Ms Karua to support their activities.

Ms Karua, who doubled up as Minister for Water, agreed to support the group. It is during their short interaction that Ms Karua noticed leadership traits in Ms Muriithi. She soon introduced Ms Muriithi to the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa), where she was offered a job. “I was in charge of civic education and coordinating women at Gichugu Constituency under Kewopa,” she says.

Political journey

During the 2007 General Election, Ms Muriithi was at the centre of Ms Karua’s re-election campaigns. “She won and nominated me as a councillor under the Narc Kenya party. I started gaining a foothold in politics. I represented the defunct Kirinyaga county council on the Kirinyaga district education board and Gichugu Constituency Development Fund (CDF),” she recalls.

“Ms Karua is currently in Azimio – that is her constitutional right – and I’m in Kenya Kwanza, but that cannot negate the fact that she held my hand and transformed my life from a casual labourer into a polished politician.”

By then, she had no academic qualification beyond Form Four. She, therefore, enrolled for a diploma in business management at Kenya Methodist University, where she graduated in 2013. The same year, she vied for MCA, while Ms Karua went for the presidency. They both lost.

“After losing the 2013 election, I did not go back to do menial jobs. Instead, I opened a cereal store. I did that business for four years and later embarked on preparations for the 2017 election.”

Even after preparing for almost a year, she failed to clinch the Jubilee Party ticket during the primaries. “I did not give up. I directed all my energies to campaigning for Jubilee candidates who won. I was operating under former Kirinyaga Woman Representative Purity Ngirici’s camp.”

Nominated by Jubilee

After the election, she was nominated by the Jubilee Party to the county assembly. “My nomination was strongly supported by Ms Ngirici and the current Gichugu MP Robert Gichimu,” she recalls.

“I used this opportunity to lay the groundwork, meeting with the people of Karumandi ward. I also joined the University of Nairobi to upgrade my academic credentials. I graduated with a degree in project planning and management in 2021.”

In the last election, Ms Muriithi vied for Karumandi MCA on President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party. “This time round, I gave it my all; losing was not an option for me.”

She won the UDA primary, but her joy was short-lived as her win was followed by a series of court battles. First, the UDA Electoral Dispute Resolution Committee ordered that the nomination be repeated in some polling stations. She won again.

But one of her five challengers – all men – did not take the defeat lying down. He challenged her nomination before the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal and later in the High Court. Both the tribunal and High Court upheld her victory.

“My opponent even went ahead to sue the electoral agency for clearing my name. The case was thrown out. I thank UDA party officials because they stood by me as I fought for my victory in courts.”

But that was not the end of her tribulations. She would be roughed up by goons at Kamiigwa Youth Polytechnic during a Kenya Kwanza forum.

“The goon wrestled me to the ground, kicked my head and even attempted to undress me before I was rescued. They left me with multiple injuries,” she tearfully recalls.

“I reported the matter to the police but later withdrew the case after emerging as the winner of the MCA contest and forgave the perpetrators.”

She sits on three committees: Youth, Culture and Social Services; Education; and Delegated Legislation. She was the deputy chair of the Culture and Social Services committee but “was recently de-whipped under unclear circumstances and now I’m just a member”.

“In my manifesto, I had not indicated that I was going to the county assembly to take up a leadership position. That is why I did not bother to find out why I was de-whipped. What matters most is ensuring my people of Karumandi get the services.”

MCAs' pay demands

Though Ms Muriithi agrees that the demand for salary increment by her colleagues from all the 47 counties is valid, she argues that it is wrong-timed. MCAs across the 47 devolved units have threatened to boycott passing their budgets if their demands are not addressed, including pay raise from the current monthly gross of Sh144,375.

They also demand the establishment of a ward development fund fully anchored in law at 40 per cent of the county development budget, a county affirmative action fund for nominated colleagues, financial autonomy for county assemblies, and reinstatement of their plenary allowances in line with national and legislative assemblies across the world.

“It is true that MCAs are burdened; all the problems are taken to the doorsteps of the ward reps. If a person sleeps hungry, the next day they go to their MCA’s home requesting food. The electorate wants the MCA to chip in with money for hospital bills, funeral expenses and baby showers,” she says.

“This is because out of the six leaders whom the people voted for, only the MCA lives with them – the other five either moved to Nairobi or their residences are under tight security.”

The people, she says, still don’t understand well the roles of MCAs – which are legislation and oversight of the county executive.

“We need to kill the culture of giving money to get elected. This culture not only overburdens elected leaders, it also locks out visionary leaders with no financial muscles,” she says.

“Though MCAs’ concerns are genuine, I would like to encourage my colleagues to demand more allocations to the bursary kit. If I’m asked between a salary increment and an increase of bursary kit for needy children, I would choose the latter.

"It is sad that the last time I was giving out bursaries, each needy university student got Sh2,500, secondary school boarding (Sh2,000) and day school (Sh1,000). What can that amount do?”

She asks fellow MCAs to give the Kenya Kwanza administration time to settle first before presenting their demands.

She says that for the time she has been in office, Governor Anne Waiguru has undertaken several development projects in her ward such as upgrade of roads.

“Within the last nine months, Governor Waiguru has built two dispensaries, an early childhood development and education centre and Karumandi market. The dispensary will be opened to the public soon.”