Over the past four decades, Nakuru has retained a huge significance in the country’s political landscape.
The cosmopolitan county is considered the de facto political capital of Kenya.
In the past Nakuru, home to renowned leaders, has produced firebrand politicians who often rattled the powers that be.
When Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta formed the government in 1963, he named Achieng Oneko, who had been elected MP for Nakuru, the minister for information, broadcasting and tourism, perhaps owing to his background as a pioneer journalist in the 1940s.
However, Oneko would later quit the Cabinet, resign from Kanu and join Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union party.
In 1969, Oneko’s old comrade, Kenyatta, threw him into detention after deadly riots in Kisumu where the President had gone to open the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital — nicknamed ‘Russia’.
Nakuru has remained a political powerhouse since, producing firebrands like Mark Mwithaga (former Nakuru town MP), Dickson Kihika Kimani (former Nakuru North MP), Koigi Was Wamwere (ex-Subukia MP), and Kariuki Chotara, among others.
Mr Wamwere became famous for opposing the Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi regimes, both of which sent him to detention.
Then there was Mwithaga, whose footsteps were well imprinted during the times of presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Moi.
Mwithaga was elected while serving a jail term following a matrimonial conflict.
Mwithaga, was a pioneer freedom fighter.
And as far as the then Nakuru District politics were concerned, he was like the voice of reason when the district split into progressive and retrogressive political factions - he easily emerged as the leader of the progressive faction.
He stood together with prominent politicians such as Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly known as JM Kariuki, Masinde Muliro, John Keen, Waruru Kanja, Charles Rubia and Martin Shikuku, among others.
He was jailed by the Kenyatta regime for taking a strong stance against machinations by his regime to conceal the truth about the death of Kariuki, the Nyandarua North politician.
Mwithaga served as an assistant minister in the late Kenyatta’s and Mr Kibaki’s administrations.
Under President Moi, Nakuru, which was regarded as an opposition stronghold, largely missed out on government appointments.
As the clock ticks towards the 2022 General Election, Nakuru is still living up to its billing.
Its two vocal politicians - Senator Susan Kihika and Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri - carry the mantle of firebrand politicians who never shy from rattling President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.
Just like their predecessors, and unlike other lawmakers from the region who are allied to Deputy President William Ruto and criticise President Kenyatta behind the curtains, the duo do not hesitate to openly engage the Head of State.
If there are politicians in Nakuru who have given President Kenyatta a big headache in the past three years, they are Ms Kihika and Mr Ngunjiri.
The two have vowed to do anything to ensure Dr Ruto succeeds President Kenyatta in 2022.
Senator Kihika boldly takes head-on thorny issues both at the national or county levels.
The daughter of the late Dickson Kihika Kimani has been described by political pundits as a “refined reincarnation of her father, and an emerging Iron Lady of Nakuru politics”.
Perhaps walking in her father’s footsteps, she rose to become the Senate majority whip and current president of the global caucus of women parliamentarians.
A first-time senator, Ms Kihika has branded herself as a lawmaker who speaks her mind and is arguably one of the most outspoken woman politicians in Kenya, on the floor of the Senate and away.
She is one politician who always appears energetic and ready to get things done her way or bulldoze her way through.
“As a woman to fit into the male-dominated Kenya politics, I have taught myself to fight and hit even below the belt if need be to make sure I achieve my goals,” she told the Nation in a recent interview.
And as the political atmosphere in the Jubilee Party turns toxic, the firebrand politician has been exchanging political blows in public with the President and senior government officials.
For long, she had been regarded as one of Mr Kenyatta’s foot soldiers, who would go to any length to defend the current leadership.
But her increasing bare-knuckle attack on the Kenyatta presidency and her appetite for stinging criticism of the Jubilee administration may have prompted Mr Kenyatta to crack a whip on the former majority whip.
She lost her position due to her spirited attack on the Kenyatta administration.
As the political marriage between President Kenyatta and his deputy gets rocky, Ms Kihika has constantly reminded the President that he will leave a bad legacy and the country split if he does not endorse Dr Ruto as his successor.
“Senator Kihika is a go-getter, a fighter, a dreamer and an ambitious politician. She has a bright future, but her disrespect for President Uhuru Kenyatta makes her look like a sycophant of the Deputy President,” said political analyst Daniel Juma.
To her critics, the senator is a mere gadfly who always attacks or criticises others to be seen to be on top of things and gain popularity.
“Senator Kihika is a sycophant of Deputy President William Ruto and always does everything to defend his boss. For long Senator Kihika has teamed up with other Tangatanga lawmakers to criticise the Jubilee government, which they formed. They have openly been disrespectful to the President for their own gains,” said Jesse Karanja, another political analyst.
Some political analysts argue that her replacement as Senate majority whip may have jolted her political rise, whereas others feel it opened up a new political path for the lawmaker.
“Her political future might be (at a crossroads). Her decision to oppose the party leader President Kenyatta is ill-advised. The move may cost her political career in the 2022 polls,” said Moses Ombati, a local political pundit.
But Anne Cherutich a resident of Nakuru, argued Ms Kihika’s political style will catapult her to higher echelons of power.
“Senator Kihika is a complete political talent, natural, obviously politically savvy and has electrifying oratory skills, enormous confidence and calm, fierce ambition and a keen sense of timing, and an uncanny knack for making friends and forging connections in all the right places. Her future is luminous,” she explained.
First woman senator
When Ms Kihika arrived in Kenya from the US eight years ago, she was a politician in need of clout. She had lived in the US for 20 practising law Texas before joining the murky Kenyan political waters.
When she returned to Kenya, she plunged herself into Nakuru politics, testing what was in store for her when her bid to oust Mr Ngunjiri from the Bahati parliamentary seat race flopped.
Her political future was uncertain.
But in 2013, she was tapped to contest the position of Nakuru County Assembly Speaker.
She beat 12 men to become Speaker in 2013 and turned out to be one of the most powerful and influential individuals in Nakuru County politics.
As Speaker, she led the assembly in passing more than 80 motions that culminated in laws.
At the male-dominated Nakuru assembly, Ms Kihika was loved and hated in equal measure, but she stood firm in discharging her roles, including oversight and legislation.
Since 2013 her meteoric rise in politics baffled friend and foe.
She quickly rose to the top to become Nakuru senator in 2017, when she beat several male contestants, including seasoned politicians like former Molo MP John Njenga Mungai and Mr Wamwere by polling more than 270,000 votes.
She conducted one of the most high-profile and well-oiled campaigns, crisscrossing the county in choppers.
She made history by becoming the first woman senator in Nakuru County.
Because she enjoyed total support from Jubilee Party hierarchy, she secured the position of Senate majority whip before losing it last year.
For the past nearly one decade, she firmly stamped her authority in Nakuru and national politics and earned herself the nickname the “Iron Lady of Nakuru politics”
Senator Kihika is also no stranger to controversy, having been caught up in a few confrontations.
In August 2019, a video clip went viral on social media of a scuffle between her and a woman believed to be a member of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s security team.
The incident occurred when the security officer confronted her during the President’s tour of the Nakuru County Assembly premises.
Ms Kihika has shown a keen interest in vying for the Nakuru governor’s seat and has launched discreet campaigns ahead of 2022.
She has been a fierce critic of Governor Lee Kinyanjui’s leadership at the grassroots and she is expected to be his greatest challenger.
This has seen the two leaders roll up their sleeves in readiness for what is expected to be one of the fiercest political battles in the country.
Governor Kinyanjui and Senator Kihika’s local political rivalry appears to have led the duo in different paths, with Mr Kinyanjui’s relationship with DP Ruto lukewarm.
Of the 11 Nakuru MPs, Mr Ngunjiri is, arguably, the most vocal away from the floor of the National Assembly.
The fire-spitting lawmaker is never afraid of controversy, always speaking his mind. He has been caught up in several chaotic incidents, some of which have ended up in court.
On April 8, 2016, after capturing the Bahati parliamentary seat after two decades of false starts, Mr Ngunjiri found himself in trouble when he assaulted a traffic policewoman.
He was held at the Nakuru Central Police Station as he tried to convince the police that he had been assaulted by a policewoman.
He argued that the officer should have been arrested as she had physically assaulted him and directed obscenities at him. The traffic officer had lodged similar complaints, saying the MP was arrogant.
The case was settled out of court after he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In yet another incident, on June 11, 2016, Mr Ngunjiri was summoned by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) over allegations of hate speech.
He began his political career when President Moi helped him solve a land issue in Kiamunyi.
He would later be picked as the Nakuru Kanu branch chairman, where he made a name for himself politically.
Power, money and political intrigues have been the hallmark of Nakuru, earning it the tag as the country’s political bedrock.
“When leaders from Nakuru cough, all of Kenya catches a cold,” said political analyst Joel Koech.
Key political pronouncements and activities take place in Nakuru.
Notably, it is in Nakuru that the birth of the Jubilee Alliance, bringing together President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto, took place in 2013, at the historic Afraha stadium.
After Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto unveiled their deal, they went on to win the 2013 elections.
In December 2016, they again returned to Afraha to unveil a new political vehicle, the Jubilee Party, after they agreed to merge their parties - The National Alliance and the United Republican Party - ahead of the bruising 2017 General Election.
The duo went on to win the 2017 polls, with Nakuru voting overwhelmingly for them.
They also held thanksgiving prayers at Afraha stadium in 2016 following the collapse of the cases they were facing at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
And as Kenya heads to the 2022 polls, Nakuru is set to play a major role.
Ms Kihika was born in 1974 and attended Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls in Nyeri County before going to the US in 1993 for further studies.
The mother of two teenage girls holds a degree in political science and government from the University of North Texas in Denton.
She also completed a jurist doctorate in law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
She once served as chief prosecutor in the US, where she was responsible for prosecuting thousands of criminal cases.
She founded her company, The Kihika Law Firm, in Dallas.
Nakuru, a cosmopolitan county, considered Kenya’s ‘political bedrock’, has 11 elected MPs.
All the elected MPs are Dr Ruto’s allies, except Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama.
Those who back the DP include Senator Kimani, Mr Ngunjiri (Bahati), David Gikaria (Nakuru Town East), Samuel Kinuthia Gachobe (Subukia), Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Martha Wangari (Gilgil), Joseph Kipkosgei Tonui (Kuresoi South), Moses Cheboi (Kuresoi North), Francis Kuria Kimani (Molo), Charity Kathambi Chepkwony (Njoro) and Woman Rep Liza Chepkorir Chelule.
Senator Kihika and Mr Ngunjiri, who initially had the President’s ears in the region, are no longer Mr Kenyatta’s darlings as they have openly criticised him for failing to support the DP’s 2022 presidential bid.