Muranga, Kenya: Some politicians live in palaces. Others travel in a convoy of fuel guzzlers. Then there is Irungu Kang’ata, MP for Kiharu, who lives in a modest house in Murang’a town.
At his home, there are no servants, no security detail and no fence. His houses are largely made of old iron sheets. Kang’ata is a first time MP for Kiharu, a constituency represented by wealthy billionaires and well-known politicians like Dr Gikonyo Kiano, Ngenye Kariuki and Kenneth Matiba in the past.
The MP, who earns about one million shillings a month in salary and allowances, explains that his image is not a PR stunt but a lifestyle depicting the way he has been brought up by his parents, Joseph Irungu, 76, and 68-year-old Margaret Wangechi — a couple that settled in Murang’a town in the 1960s and worked as mechanics.
The only family business is an old oily garage located next to his parent’s house. “Kenya is a class society and indeed one can lose votes due to my kind of lifestyle. But I want to be me, and all I ask of voters is for them to allow me live life in my simple ways,” he says.
In his first months in the august House, a number of MPs mistook him for one of the “handlers” of an MP. “There is a day he walked into the gate and we barred him because he did not look like a legislator. He looked beaten and exhausted,” a security officer at Parliament said.
While legislators use vast resources at their disposal to bankroll lavish lifestyles, Kang’ata has chosen a simple life in spite of all the perks he is entitled to. The former university student leader is one of those MPs who walk along the streets, take matatus and eat at down town eateries. He drives himself and runs most of his errands, like paying his water bills.
And while in Kenya, the title politician is synonymous with wealth acquisition, Kang’ata has some modest properties, but which he says are resources he obtained while he worked as a lawyer and purely as back-up contingency assets for his family.
He acquired national recognition as a sharp lawyer when he fought for lowly Kerubo against former deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza and his law-firm (now managed by his partners) is doing well.
His most priced earthly possession is a three-bedroom house in Kikuyu and he is building a house in Murang’a town for his parents so that they can also have the comfort of living in a house made up of brick and mortar.
Currently, his family in Murang’a resides in a house made of timber and old iron sheets that occasionally let light in through numerous cracks.
The floor is not cemented. There is no flowing water, no sink for washing utensils and no washrooms inside the house. The MP’s family compound has no fence.
In the morning, his constituents can know when their MP is up. He wakes up to wash his face and brush his teeth as he faces the road. He brushes his shoes next to the road. You will notice him open the goat pen and tie goats as he shouts greetings to his constituencies.
“Sometimes you think he is crazy leading a life like that. He never seems to care about leading an average lifestyle,” says Purity Njoroge, one of his neighbours who frequently shares a cup of tea for breakfast with the MP as they sit on the grass. A big chunk of Kang’ata’s monthly salary goes to fund-raising.
He told The Standard on Sunday that he keeps only Sh100,000, sometimes less, for himself. “There are so many activities like church construction, fees and funerals that call for me to chip in,” he says. “I try as much as I can with the little I get.” And while many legislators move around in the latest top-of-the range vehicles with a retinue of escort cars, Kang’ata drives a Toyota Ist. Although he bought a Prado using the Parliamentary car grant, he rarely drives the car in his constituency.
He uses it for official Government functions and when accompanying top Jubilee leaders in various functions.
“He lives such a austere life that he appears to be embarrassed by the vehicle,” says James Kagoni, a Member of County Assembly in Murang’a who is a friend of the MP. Kagoni says the MP was pressurised to buy the Prado so that he could also look like other legislators.
The Toyota Prado is now frequently used by women groups in the constituency for various functions like attending weddings and school visitations.
When the Toyota Ist broke down two months ago, he resorted to using the constituency’s official car to tour the expansive constituency. Otherwise, he boarded a matatu to the city or hitched a ride with his CDF chairman, businessman Ndindi Nyoro, who drives a sleek Mercedes Benz.
Perhaps, uncommon in fund-raising, Kang’ata is that Chief Guest of Honour who seldom donates the highest amount of money at an event.
“The truth is that I don’t have a lot to give in one single occasion because I do attend lots of functions. Kiharu is among the largest and most populous constituencies in Kenya and I have to be everywhere,” he says.
Ndindi says his boss does not feel inferior when fellow constituencies, donate more money at a fund-raiser. In Kenya, politicians are known for ensuring you will never beat them at a fund-raising. “I was with him at a function recently where he was the chief guest. He donated Sh20,000 while I gave Sh80,000,” Ndindi says. “He doesn’t seem to mind at all and says that he openly and generously gives whatever little he has.”
However, Kang’ata resents being labeled as one of the poorest MPs in Kenya. “You will never have as much as you want in life. I don’t want to lead an expensive lifestyle because I see no need for that. My constituents are very poor and I better help them so that all of us become rich,” he says. “Again, politics can be unpredictable. Today you are an MP, tomorrow you are out.
How will you face the people after a fall if you lead a detached life while in leadership?” he asks. He says he lives simple, not in poverty. He says that rather than leading an expensive lifestyle, he fights to develop his constituency. One of his strategies includes attracting influential and wealthy leaders to attend events in Murang’a where they can leave ‘something’ for his constituencies.
He is well connected to the top leadership of the country. In the last seven months alone, he has hosted the entire Jubilee Government leadership including the President and Deputy President on various occasions.
Both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto launched the cash transfer programme for old people in December 2013 at Ihura Stadium.
A few days later, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta toured the constituency.
In March, Ruto led more than 100 legislators to Kiharu for a fund-raiser at Mumbi Catholic Church where Kang’ata worships.
The DP was in the constituency last month for a function in Murang’a High School, where he donated Sh1 million towards a water project for the constituency while other legislators donated Sh500,000 for the project.
The man, who wears suits bought from stalls in downtown Nairobi, has been photographed at official Government functions sometimes with no socks.