Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (centre) at Parliament Buildings

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (centre) at Parliament Buildings after senators voted against her impeachment.

| Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Impeachment trial: How Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza lived to fight another day

What you need to know:

  • Two CSs overplayed their hand, allowing governors to swoop in to the rescue of their own.
  • Governors made a better offer, than the Sh2 million offered by CSs, of between Sh2.5 million and Sh3 million, depending on a senator’s rank in bid to save their colleague.

A last-minute phone call from a senior party leader, intense horse-trading and infighting within Kenya Kwanza Alliance saved Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza from imminent removal from office.

As late as Wednesday afternoon, the first-term governor’s fate was sealed, with senators only waiting to confirm her impeachment during voting time.

However, an error by two cabinet secretaries in isolating the first-term senators provided a window of opportunity for the two ministers to turn the tables on them and derail their plans.

The gaffe by the two ministers from the Mt Kenya region gave sympathetic governors room to swoop in with a higher financial incentive than the offer on the table.

Coupled with the misogynistic remarks made by Tigania East MP Mpuri Aburi against Ms Mwangaza in videos played during the impeachment trial as part of her defence, the once foregone conclusion was turned on its head.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (centre) at Parliament Buildings

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (centre) at Parliament Buildings after senators voted against her impeachment.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

According to several senators who spoke to the Nation, Governor Mwangaza’s fate was sealed after intense lobbying by Meru politicians who had openly opposed the independent governor’s leadership.

However, cracks began to emerge during a parliamentary business committee meeting when the Senate leadership failed to agree on the way forward for the impeachment process.

As a result, Narok Senator and Minority Leader Ledama Olekina moved a motion for the establishment of an 11-member ad hoc committee, even to the extent of producing a list of names from the majority side.

Normally, such a motion would have been moved by the majority leader or whip.

Despite a spirited fight by Senator Olekina and his Nairobi counterpart Edwin Sifuna to convince their colleagues that the committee route was the best way to hear the case and ensure justice was done, the move was strongly opposed by senators allied to the Kenya Kwanza wing of the political divide, who refused to support the proposed names.

“The plenary route won the day and senators closed ranks to send the governor home,” said a senator who did not want to be named.

On Wednesday morning, senators even took time to discuss a tweet by Public Service CS Moses Kuria, who had cast aspersions on the ongoing process, dropping the names of 13 senators he warned against being misled.

However, the tide began to turn when videos of Mr Aburi making derogatory and sexual comments about Ms Mwangaza drew the ire of senators.

“When someone becomes so careless, rude and barbaric, one’s heart goes out to the victim. She contributed 50 per cent to what happened yesterday. That was the turning point. The first person to save Kawira was Mpuri Aburi,” said Kirinyaga Senator James Murango.

Senator Sifuna echoed Mr Murango’s sentiments, saying, Mr Aburi’s remarks played a big role.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza at Parliament Buildings

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (centre) at Parliament Buildings.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“I think what sank the case was Mpuri Aburi. He sank the case because of his terrible character. He needs to change,” said Mr Sifuna, who is the secretary-general of Opposition party Orange Democratic Movement.

During the debate, every senator who got a chance to speak strongly condemned Mr Aburi’s remarks.

“If there is one day I have been disappointed in this House, it is today. The issue that was very difficult for me was the abusive words that these men used against the governor. I cried. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to leave because I could not bear the abusive words being used,” said Machakos Senator Agnes Kavindu.

Senator Olekina added: “I speak here today as the father of two beautiful daughters who I want to see grow up and become leaders. To see an honourable member walk the streets of our civilised nation and say that certain tools should be used to punish a woman is uncouth and uncivilised. Shame on them.”

“The misogyny shown in some of the videos has no place in modern Kenya. These are criminal acts that should not be tolerated. Gender-based violence is a criminal act,” added Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’.

According to another senator, the two cabinet secretaries, sensing that the tide might turn against them, offered Sh2 million to the lawmakers, but preference was given to senior members of the House who were supposed to whip their juniors into line.

“This move angered the other senators, who felt slighted as most of the first-term senators refused to play ball,” he said.

Accordingly, the governors got wind of what was going on and made a better counter offer of between Sh2.5 million and Sh3 million, depending on a senator’s rank.

“An emissary from the council was sent to talk to the senators as they quickly moved in to save their colleague after being informed of the ongoing plan,” the senator said.

However, the deal was not yet watertight, as some senators were still dithering and refusing to make up their minds.

Enter the senior figure, who phoned each of the undecided senators and told them to vote to save Mrs Mwangaza.

This sealed the deal.

“I can confirm that he called me personally and told us to save Kawira because he had received a delegation of women politicians who were pleading with him to save one of their own who was being persecuted by male leaders from Meru County just because she was a woman. The call swayed everything,” the senator told the Nation.

The change of heart was reflected in the voting pattern, where, on the charge of embezzlement and misuse of county resources, 28 senators voted against the charge to 18 in favour.

On the second charge of nepotism and related unethical practices, the senators found the charge to be unfounded by a resounding 42 votes to five.

The trend continued with the third charge of bullying, vilification and humiliation of other leaders, where the vote was 44 to three. On the charge of illegal appointments and usurpation of statutory powers, 27 senators voted not guilty against 20.

The charge of contempt of court failed by 44 votes to three, as did the charge of illegally naming a public road after her husband.

And, on the final charge of contempt of the assembly, 37 senators voted against the charge, with 10 in favour.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza Impeachment

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (Centre) and her counsel Elisha Ongoya (Left) and Elias Mutuma (Right) before the Senate Nairobi on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Senators also tore into the evidence presented by the county assembly, with Kitui’s Enock Wambua saying it failed to meet the basic threshold for impeachment.

“We have been entertained with insinuations that cannot be proved. I have gone through the seven charges and none of them have been substantiated,” said Mr Olekina.

“My expectation was to find a case that met the constitutional threshold. From the evidence, it seems that a decision was made that Kawira must go and steps were taken to achieve that end. It is difficult for me, as a sworn defender of devolution, to stand behind the case of the county assembly,” Mr Sifuna said.

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi also dismissed the evidence presented by the assembly.

“A House of Parliament is a House of records. We cannot be made to sit here for hours listening to evidence from a document that has not been verified and is illegal,” he said.

Mandera Senator Ali Roba accused the Meru County leaders of deliberately trying to oust the governor.

“We have dealt with many impeachment cases, but this will be the most testing in terms of awareness of the decision we are going to make. I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel whichever way we vote,” he said.

“The grounds were also not strong enough because you cannot impeach a governor for abusing other leaders or not knowing how to deal with other leaders,” Senator Murango added.

Political interference and party positions, especially from the ruling party, have characterised many impeachment trials before, but in the case of Governor Mwangaza, the Kenya Kwanza Alliance had no party position.

But with Kenya Kwanza at a crossroads, the senators spoke at cross-purposes, with none of their leaders in the House trying to whip them into a particular path.

According to Majority Whip Boni Khalwale, President Ruto didn't try to interfere in the process but left his troops to make independent decisions.

"I can confirm to you that on Tuesday I met the President and he never told me or the leader of the majority that his party had a position and that's why you saw people generously voting the way they cared. Some voted for the governor while some opposed her," said the Kakamega Senator.

The latest stance differs from the first impeachment attempt, where there were reports that senators allied to Kenya Kwanza were whipped to save the governor.

Later, the president and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua even got involved in trying to broker a ceasefire in Meru, but the attempts hit a brick wall.

Beyond the weak evidence, Senator Khalwale said the Achilles heel of the Meru Assembly was that it allowed politics to cloud the impeachment process.

"This was more about politics than legal and that's why you saw MCAs in Meru deciding to impeach the governor then working backwards to get evidence. Accordingly, there is no way Senate, which is self-respecting, would have impeached Kawira," he said.