Nyeri Town Constituency was the headquarters of Central Province before the advent of devolution. It is also the constituency that has always been the home of resistance since before the birth of this nation. In addition and throughout the years since independence to date the political temperature in Mt Kenya region has always been a few degrees higher in this Constituency than in any of her neighbours in the region. However the current MP Ngunjiri Wambugu seems to have found a way to not only retain this historical distinction, but to cut a niche for Nyeri in a way that the whole country is unable to ignore.
Ngunjiri Wambugu is no stranger to controversy and has never shied from taking a stand even when he knew it was an unpopular one. Long before he was a legislator he was a vocal weekly political opinion writer for the Star newspaper where for eight years he aired his views on political happenings across the country. In most instances his Op-eds were so controversial they became part of the public debate on contemporary political issues each week. He has never shied away from speaking out on an issue even when reactions from what he says border on pure hate-speech as is often the case on his social media pages.
In another sign of his independence when the Mt Kenya region supported Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto for the presidency in 2013 Ngunjiri Wambugu was the political affairs director of their primary rival Raila Odinga. In one of the most interesting happenings that could show the unseen political depth that Ngunjiri has he then managed to transition from a Raila Odinga strategist and insider in 2013, to an Uhuru Kenyatta strategist and insider by 2017! In addition he then went on and won the Jubilee nominations to be MP in Nyeri Town on his first attempt and onwards to a 71% landslide victory in the final elections in 2017.
Staying true to form, less than three months into office Ngunjiri Wambugu went to the Judicial Service Commission seeking to impeach Chief Justice Maraga after the Supreme Court nullified Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential victory. It was decision that captured the attention of Kenyans for weeks and kept him in the eye of a political storm that threatened to drown his fledgling parliamentary career as even his own party deserted him. It took President Kenyatta’s personal and public request for the newly-elected MP to stop his one-man crusade against the leader of Kenya’s third arm of government.
Today Ngunjiri Wambugu is in the eye of yet another storm. He has become the face of the internal rebellion within Jubilee to Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 campaigns to be President after Uhuru Kenyatta. However unlike the Maraga time the onslaught the young MP has unleashed against the Deputy President seems to have tacit support from circles around the President because it is aligned to the demands by President Kenyatta that this is not the time to run divisive presidential campaigns. In several bare-knuckle attacks online and during political functions Ngunjiri insists that William Ruto is disrespecting the President by campaigning for his seat whilst there are still over three years to go before Uhuru has to leave office.
The MP also continues to inist that Ruto is distracting Uhuru in his quest to leave a legacy and is directly undermining two main policies that Uhuru has pronounced himself on. This is the fight against corruption and the building bridges initiative where the Deputy President has taken diametrically opposed positions to his Boss, the Head of State.
Ngunjiri started a campaign called ‘Kieleweke’ as his platform against the Deputy President’s premature campaigns. Initially and for most of 2018 it looked like a lonely, lost, one-man initiative with no support from anywhere. Ngunjiri even became the butt of jokes within Jubilee. But he stayed the course and in less than a year Kieleweke has managed to put the previously seemingly indominatable pro-Ruto TangaTanga brigade not only on its defensive, but scrambling to explain how it respects Uhuru despite past instances of unrepentant rebellion against the President. Kieleweke has also gotten a life of its own and is now a movement for anyone who does not agree with Deputy President Ruto, no matter which side of the political divide they belong to.
But his position as the face of resistance to the efforts to convince and when necessary coerce Central Kenya to mindlessly declare their support for DP William Ruto while President Uhuru is still in office have come at a cost. Ngunjiri has faced never-ending battles from the Deputy President and leaders allied to the Deputy President. Over the last 18 months his constituency has become a political battle-ground full of political tension with various incidences where chaos in the constituency have been highlighted nationally. Clearly the DP needed to quickly deal with this upstart who was upsetting his carefully laid plans and issued his troops with stern instruction to do everything they can to bring Wambugu down locally and nationally. But it is taking longer to get this done that the DP expected.
The first reaction to Kieleweke was from Moses Kuria in early 2018. The Gatundu MP was trying to position himself as the Mt Kenya Chieftain on behalf of William Ruto and immediately Ngunjiri challenged those involved in premature campaigns Kuria hired a chopper and flew to Nyeri Town where he called a press conference to tell of the Nyeri MP as an amateur who was trying to interfere with the Jubilee succession plan. (Moses Kuria has since distanced himself from the William Ruto 2022 bid)
A month later the Deputy President’s mouthpiece and vocal right hand man Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkormen and the DP’s Kiambu Kingpin Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa attended a church function in Nyeri Town’s Gatitu/Muruguru Ward where they lambasted the area MP as an amateur and ODM-mole trying to destroy Jubilee. Ngunjiri showed up and despite the immediate tension made it clear he would not cower to his unwelcome guests.
Realising the battle against Ngunjiri would not be won by strangers from outside Nyeri the William-Ruto team deployed Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua to ‘take care’ of this meddlesome MP and fix the DP’s problem once and for all. The idea was simple. Create a systematic well-choreographed plan to attack the Nyeri Town MP from within Nyeri that would make it look like the Nyeri Town MP was being rejected by his own people.
When Ngunjiri made another one of his regular comments about the need for the Deputy President to respect the President Rigathi Gachagua immediately swung into action. He bought ‘Team Ruto’ tshirts and mobilized 300 women and young men from Mathira and transported them to Nyeri Town with a simple assignment. They were to hold a demonstration in the streets of Nyeri Town in support of William Ruto and denounce Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu. This demonstration was repulsed by Ngunjiri’s supporters in an incident that did not make it to national news. However a few people from Mathira were arrested and later released after the Mathira MP intervened.
Rigathi was livid. He was still high on being the ‘main man’ in the county before 2017 when he called the shots in the Nyeri county government town hall through his shadowy networks whilst his older brother Governor Gachagua battled with cancer. He was also still stuck in his days as a special District Officer in the Moi Regime where what he wanted became law. He could not believe a newbie politician could outsmart him in Nyeri County.
In October 2018 Rigathi approached a young businessman from Gatitu/Muruguru in Nyeri Town called David Kamiru. Kamiru is a close ally of Wambugu. Rigathi took him to DP Ruto. The idea was to have Kamiru start a campaign for MP Nyeri for 2022. Unfortunately for Rigathi Kamiru did not fall into the trap and insisted he would continue supporting Ngunjiri as he was a businessman not a politician. (Kamiru has since been appointed as a Director in the Board of the New KCC).
When his efforts to infiltrate Ngunjiri’s inner circle fell flat Rigathi changed tact and he decided to approach his MP colleagues from Mukurweini and Tetu to join hands and ensure the Deputy President got opportunities to visit the county. (The Kieni MP is Ngunjiri’s cousin so Rigathi did not bother with him, whilst the Othaya MP is a Kibaki-era man and the Kibaki people have never liked the Gachaguas).
Between the three MPs the DP visited Nyeri county close to 50 times across the three constituencies. However the effect Rigathi needed was lacking. Nyeri Town was still standing strong as a rock against the pro-Ruto onslaught. The highly-publicised incident where the Tetu MP invited the DP to a meeting in his constituency that was boycotted by all local administrators including chiefs and police officers also raised a red flag to the two MPs. The Mukurweini and Tetu MPs got cold-feet about being involved in a fight that they were not clear what the end result was meant to be. They could also see that this was entirely about making Rigathi the county chieftain which they did not support.
Rigathi did not give up. He changed tact and recruited a Kieni-based blogger and political activist called ‘Symo-Wa-Nyeri’. (Symo had run for MCA in Kieni and despite clinching the Jubilee nomination still lost the general elections). Symo was tasked to set up a group called ‘Friends of Ruto’ which Rigathi would sponsor. Rigathi’s CDF Chairman known as Engineer Wahome was the chief guest during the launch of the group. The group was to recruit Ruto supporters in Nyeri Town and become a means of mobilizing Nyeri town residents against their MP. This group has not gained any traction in Nyeri Town.
Rigathi then approached the Nyeri County Women Representative Rahab Mukami. Rigathi had always considered Mukami too inferior to share a platform with before and often dismissed her at functions or flatly ignored her presence. But desperate times called for desperate measures and he needed an ally in his war against Ngunjiri.
Together they organized a meeting between the Deputy President and all the five elected MCAs from Nyeri Town. They met at the DP’s Karen residence where each was given Sh 100,000 and sent forth with instructions to ‘keep Ngunjiri busy’ in Nyeri Town.
Immediately they came back home MCA Muthoni Kuruga of Mathari/Kiganjo ward distanced herself from the anti-Ngunjiri effort because the national government has projects worth over 5B that Ngunjiri was pushing for in her ward. These include the Oncology Hospital, Nyaribo Airstrip, Dedan Kimathi Technology Workshop, expansion of the New KCC depot in Kiganjo and the construction of 200 units under the Big4 affordable housing scheme. She stepped back. Ngunjiri’s home-ward MCA Ndumia was also apprehensive of the fight and decided to take a wait-and-see position. The other three; Kanyari (Rware), Muturi (Gatitu/Muruguru) and Kariuki (Ruringu) went ahead with the plan.
The first attack from the MCAs was given to Rware Ward MCA Kanyari. Rigathi funded Kanyari to organize a crowd to interfere with a stake-holders forum on a road in Rware Ward towards Kangemi that Ngunjiri had lobbied for from KURA. Kanyari called in his two colleagues and together they mobilized 100 young men to interfere with the meeting. Their efforts were thwarted with the help of the local administration and the MCAs ushered out of the forum. However the ensuing chaos was captured on social media. The brand of Nyeri as ‘chaotic’ was starting to form. However Ngunjiri had ‘won’ again. Rigathi was mad!
The second attack was from the Gatitu/Muruguru Ward. Ngunjiri had lobbied the President for money for a local irrigation project in this ward and the money was in the National Irrigation Board. Rigathi and Mukami approached Agriculture CS Kiunjuri and arranged to have an event where the CS would give the credit for this project’s allocation to Mukami and the MCa. Since the CS is trying to position himself as William Ruto’s deputy President post-Uhuru he was happy to play this game. The three national leaders also provided the MCA with funds to mobilize youth to heckle Ngunjiri during the event. Rigathi also sent 6 nissans full of young men from Mathira, to support the MCA.
Unfortunately the meeting did not go as planned especially as it was a political event that was fully funded by Ngunjiri. He paid for the tents, chairs, public address and even mobilized attendees. When the CS tried to make it an anti-Ngunjiri political event all hell broke loose as Ngunjiri’s supporters shouted the CS, Women Representative and area MCA down. Ngunjiri took over the meeting, invited the CS to speak and avoid politics, and the meeting ended thereafter. But the chaos made it to national news and Nyeri was now firmly in the limelight as a political hotspot.
Rigathi then turned to Mukami. Inua Mama, a pro-Ruto women MP lobby group had arranged a function in neighboring Kirinyaga. Rigathi convinced Mukami that they should also visit Nyeri. Mukami had no problem and wanted them to go to Mathira. Rigathi told her they needed to make Nyeri Town the stop so that the women could tell off Ngunjiri Wambugu. They reasoned that Ngunjiri would be reluctant to take on women.
Despite her reservations following the Kiunjuri debacle where she was thoroughly humiliated Mukami agreed. Rigathi told her not to worry as he would financially ‘oil’ local police officers to ensure that Ngunjiri’s supporters were ejected from the meeting so that her guests could say whatever they wanted without fear. Inua Mama proceeded to hold their meeting at a school smack in the middle of Nyeri Town and the police did as Rigathi had promised; ejecting anyone who expressed reservations to the insults the women were hauling at the area MP, or the premature campaigns for 2022 they were pushing.
Then Ngunjiri did the unexpected. He drove into the venue and without saying a word stood at the back as the women insulted him. The women went into emotional tirades spewing unprintable insults at him. A picture of Ngunjiri standing calmly, arms crossed across his chest as the women MPs shouted at him was shared widely on social media. The only thing he did was challenge the local police officers on why they would allow MPs from other areas to come and insult an elected MP in his own constituency, and expect there will be no chaos. The police then advised the women to conclude the meeting which they did, and left. However that chaos during the period when police were ejecting Ngunjiris supporters had again been captured by national media.
The next confrontation between Ngunjiri and Ruto’s troops is expected to happen next in September. The third MCA in the trio recruited by Rigathi has been convinced to host Ruto for a fundraising at Giakanja High School, which is in Ruringu ward, Nyeri Town constituency. Ngunjiri has promised to attend and tell off anyone who engages in premature politics, even if it is the Deputy President himself. Rigathi on the other hand has already started holding meetings with young men and women groups from Mathira and Nyeri Town to mobilize hecklers to boo Ngunjiri should he attend.
Ngunjiri now looks like David facing Goliath and the mighty philistine army. The forces behind Ruto are rattled and will continue attacking Ngunjiri viciously whenever they can. Whether Ngunjiri stays the course only time will tell. But for now Nyeri residents are still standing with their MP as the storm swells around the only man who has been brave enough to ignore the trance of the Pied Piper of Sugoi.
But Ngunjiri has also already proven that sometimes it only takes one man, one voice, and his one opinion to start a movement against impunity. Today Kieleweke continues to build momentum nationally as more and more people join what has now turned into an anti-Ruto campaign.