10 reasons why 59 out of 69 MCAs voted to remove Governor Mwangaza from office

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza at a press briefing in Meru on October 24, 2022. Just three months into office, she survived an ouster attempt at the Senate on December 30, 2022. 

Photo credit: David Muchui | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The nature of her trial is reminiscent of those of former governors Mike Mbuvi Sonko (Nairobi) and Ferdinand Waititu of Kiambu, who were impeached in plenary.
  • This is the second time the Meru Assembly has attempted to remove Governor Mwangaza.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza is now awaiting a date with the Senate plenary after the House on Tuesday rejected a motion to set up a committee to investigate her conduct following her impeachment by the County Assembly on October 25.

But even as Speaker Amason Kingi is expected to announce the date of the sitting, the nature of her trial is reminiscent of those of former governors Mike Mbuvi Sonko (Nairobi) and Ferdinand Waititu of Kiambu, who were impeached in plenary.

This is the second time the Meru Assembly has attempted to remove Governor Mwangaza.

Last year, MCAs impeached her but the Senate, through a committee chaired by Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, dismissed all the 62 charges on December 30.

In addition to abuse of office, the motion by Majority Leader Evans Mawira Kaaria cited seven grounds for impeachment, including nepotism, usurping the powers of the Public Service Commission and contempt of the county assembly.

Here are 10 reasons why 59 out of 69 MCAs voted to remove her on October 25.

1. “Borrowed guns”

Elected on an independent ticket, Ms Mwangaza does not enjoy the same protection as party-sponsored leaders. This means that without a representative at her side, she was expected to immediately win the confidence of at least 20 of the 69 members to survive, which she did not do. The United Democratic Alliance (UDA) forms the majority with 22 MCAs, while the Devolution Empowerment Party (DEP) has 21. Ms Mwangaza is literally walking in a political minefield as the two men she humiliated at the polls belong to the two parties -- former governor Kiraitu Murungi is in DEP while Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi is in UDA.

Minority Leader Denis Kiogora, who tabled the first impeachment motion after just 126 days in office, said Ms Mwangaza was fighting with "borrowed guns". “When she was saved by the Senate, we struck a deal and started working together, but the moment she waged war on Kiraitu and Linturi, the owners of the parties took action. The governor forgot that she was fighting the same people from whom she had borrowed the guns. When they withdrew their weapons we had no option,” said the Abogeta West MCA.

2. Murega Baichu and his guitar

Debate has raged over the role of the first gentleman in the feuds between MCAs and other elected leaders. Whenever she speaks in public and in her social media posts, Ms Mwangaza praises her husband, who does not hide his joy and relishes every moment as the man behind the crown. To protect her, he occasionally lashes out at his wife's real and perceived detractors.

Mr Baichu castigates them on their Baite TV channel and composes scathing lyrics criticising their character, becoming a "constant irritant", according to Prof Gitile Naituli, a governance expert and lecturer at the Multimedia University. “Without a doubt, his persistent intrusion, disruption and opinionated persona annoys to the core. This is not a crime but untoward mannerisms.

It can't mal-function a government but can cause a boomerang impact from antagonists, weakening government relations. That adverse effect has occasioned an incessant aggression from the MPs, MCAs and other leaders. After they won the election he should have left her to deal with the politicians around her,” he says.

One of the charges in the impeachment motion is that the governor named a road after her husband without following due process, including approval by the county assembly.

3. Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders

When a fight broke out between Ms Mwangaza and her deputy, Isaac Mutuma, the council said it had tried to mediate but to no avail. Josphat Murangiri, the secretary-general in charge of operations, Washington Muthamia Mbaya, his counterpart in charge of programmes, and Chairman Linus Kathera said they sought an audience with the governor but were rebuffed.

“We always support the government of the day and have tried our best. But the governor is so full of herself. You cannot govern the county alone,” said Mr Murangiri.

On October 14, the elders endorsed her removal by 'blessing' the MCAs during a ceremony at the Nchiru shrine. Ms Mwangaza immediately hit back and the following day, while preaching at her Baite Fellowship Church, where she is a bishop, castigated them, saying they were the problem and not her. The revered Ameru Council of Elders vowed to ensure that the governor is sent home.

4. Okolea Programme.

For almost 10 years, Ms Mwangaza has been running a programme called Okolea Kaana ka Meru (Save the Meru Child), where she donates items such as mattresses, gumboots and cows to the vulnerable and builds them shelters. The events are broadcast live on her Baite TV channel, and it is on this programme that she rode to popularity and won the position of women's representative in 2017, catapulting her to the position of county chief in the August 2022 elections.

Once sworn in, Ms Mwangaza increased her visits to villages, drawing criticism that she was using county government resources. But she has insisted that she is using her own resources and support from donors. On September 17, a rally she organised in Mr Mutuma's backyard turned violent, prompting Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki to ban the events.

During her first impeachment, the Senate warned the governor to separate her personal programme from county projects. In particular, the leaders accused Ms Mwangaza of using the One Village One Cow project to promote herself. Mr Kiogora said although the assembly approved the Sh50 million budget for the purchase of live animals, the governor started implementing it without a guiding policy. “Without a policy, the project is open to corruption and malpractices because we don’t know who is supplying these cows and under what terms,” he said.

5. Her '10 cartels' remark in Laare, Igembe North during a thanksgiving service

On September 10, during a prayer service attended by President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, Ms Mwangaza accused some Meru leaders of derailing her development agenda. She branded them as "cartels earning between Sh500,000 and Sh1 million who have not accepted that I won the election".

The governor said that just as the leaders of the Azimio La Umoja Coalition had not accepted that President Ruto had won the elections, she was facing the same problem in the county. Earlier, her predecessor Kiraitu Murungi had suggested that Mr Linturi should be the top leader in Meru and the link between the presidency and Meru County.

An agitated Mwangaza said there were people who had not accepted that a woman had been elected governor and were trying to undermine her. She spoke of 10 cartels out to loot the county coffers, to thunderous applause from the 4,000 women she had mobilised for the event. Since there are nine MPs in Meru and the senator does not hold the position of women's representative, the leaders' interpretation was that the "10 cartels" referred to them, according to Buuri MP Mugambi Rindikiri.

Prof Naituli points out that this did not sit well with the elected leaders.

6. The dispute with Mr Linturi and Senator Kathuri Murungi

Mrs Mwangaza wrote to the Senate on October 9, accusing Mr Linturi and Senator Murungi of orchestrating her ouster and pleading for help from the upper house.

Prof Naituli says that fighting with all leaders has left her open to "spirited attacks from the sea, land and skies". Without strategic alliances with other leaders, the same politicians become perforations of enemy access.

"Mwangaza seems to be a general with one strategy: bare-knuckle combat. [She does not seem to know] when to attack, when to retreat, when to fake surrender, when to seek alliances or when to fake 'death'. This makes her highly predictable, easy to target and vulnerable," adds Prof Naituli.

7. Patriarchal society and gender

The governor has on several occasions blamed her problems on Meru's largely patriarchal society, saying that men have not accepted a woman as governor.  Ms Mary Kanana, the county Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson, says this has affected Ms Mwangaza's performance and urged men to give her time as her style of governance is different from past regimes.

But some women leaders say the governor has failed to mentor young women leaders. “We elected Kawira to the post expecting she would be a role model, but she has turned out to be the opposite,” said Karimi Njeru, an advisor in Senator Kathuri's office.

“The longer Kawira stays in that position the more she will damage the chances of women rising to high political positions,” Ms Njeru told journalists at Gatimene Hotel on October 27.

8. Ms Mwangaza underestimated her deputy's influence

When she fell out with her deputy, Ms Mwangaza did not expect the man who had always described himself as "docile" to turn around and become her fiercest critic. As their relationship deteriorated, she kicked him out of his office and moved him to an old block. Mr Mutuma wrote incriminating letters to the Assembly's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC), testifying that the governor had denied his office an operational budget and illegally fired his staff. This formed the basis of the current grounds for impeachment as local leaders rallied behind Mr Mutuma.

9. Control of Meru's Sh14 billion that the devolved unit receives from the National Treasury.

According to Prof Naituli, the billions of shillings under Ms Mwangaza's control have political elites, businessmen and political brokers salivating as they vie for a piece of the cake through contracts or handouts.

“It appears Mwangaza has said no to exchequer funded tokenism and outright fraud with the blacklisted contractors hitting back. She might have denied many a contract. Naturally, such denial would lead to expectations for above board and equitable distribution of quality work by the governor’s administration, which has apparently been questioned,” says Prof Naituli.

One of the grounds for impeachment is nepotism and misuse of public resources.

10. No reprieve from the courts.

When the Assembly issued a notice of motion on October 17, Ms Mwangaza rushed to the High Court to seek an order blocking the debate, but the court issued no order and fixed the hearing for October 28. The Court of Appeal also failed to save her, saying it had no jurisdiction over a matter that had not been granted by the High Court. This set in motion the debate on October 25 where the MCAs voted to impeach her.