Mention the name Kihika Kimani among the political elite in Central Kenya and the Rift Valley, and many people will look at you bemused.
Younger Kenyans might not know much about him, but those who have been in politics for long and know his daughter Susan Kihika will admit that an apple surely does not fall far from the tree.
Susan is not just the Nakuru County Assembly Speaker but the new political sensation in Central Kenya politics, and a political reincarnation of veteran Nakuru politician Kihika Kimani.
Those who know her, and knew Kihika Kimani, her father, say she is “Kihika remixed and refined” -- a perfect compound of her father’s political virtues blended with sound education and beautiful looks and that is rather a lethal combination.
“I think most people assume I am a rigid lady. If they knew a little bit more about me, they would find out that even though I am a no-nonsense person, I also enjoy a good laugh and, above all, I am easy-going,” she told The Standard on Sunday.
Disarming words those are, but like her father, she has elbowed out politicians, both entrenched and greenhorns, from her path through smooth moves and managed to have her way in complex political contests.
Kihika Kimani was a maverick politician of the Kenyatta and Moi era.
Remembered for his Change the Constitution movement geared towards preventing former President Daniel Moi from ascending to power in the event of President Kenyatta’s death, Kihika was a cantankerous, combative and recklessly resilient politician with a sharp appetite for power, property and women.
At the time of his death in 2004 when he was 74, he had eight wives and 41 children.
A political clown who could charm even his adversaries, Kihika was a political firebrand who earned himself a place in history as the only Kenyan to ever get elected as MP for three different constituencies -- Nakuru North, Laikipia West and Molo.
And now, 12 years after his death, his daughter Susan is slowly emerging as the “Iron Lady” of Nakuru County politics. Simply put, Susan is her father’s daughter. She is resilient. She is combative. She is resolute.
She is also charming and elegant and she is going places. In certain corners of Nakuru, some people already call her madam Senator, and yet no votes have been cast. As a matter of fact, even party nominations have not been held. Susan moves like a hurricane, destroying anything and everything that comes in her way. Her political star is shining brighter by the hour. She was recently named in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 61-member re-election campaign team, the only county assembly speaker to make the list and the only politician from Nakuru County and the wider Central Rift.
But much as the appointment brightened her political star, it put her on a collision course with some of the county’s senior politicians, who view her as a rigid, arrogant snob.
Those who have encountered her regard her with awe, as one of my colleagues recounts of a past appointment: “As we waited at the reception area of her office, an overzealous lady — I suspect a personal assistant - instructed us to stand up as ‘madam’ walks in. I laughed at the aide because I thought she was out her mind,” says Alex Kiprotich, a journalist.
“The moment she walked in, everyone in the room stood up as instructed by the aide. I remained seated as she strode in majestically, her high heels stomping the floor tiles as she walked with an air of importance, not bothering to have a glance at the subjects waiting to see her,” Kiprotich says.
Her elegance, charming smile and finesse in public is a veneer behind which lives a fierce woman who does not take any prisoners, and a Nakuru-based blogger can testify to that after he wrote about her personal life.
Her response was swift: “Kinya, shame on you! How dare you attack me on a personal level? You know how much I have stood with you and your family... Let me contain myself and not go any lower to your level. You sweaty bastard. Respect women I am not your wife or girlfriend, so I don’t see what my personal life has to do with you...idiot,” she reportedly wrote in a WhatsApp group.
The second child of Kihika Kimani and his second wife Alice, Susan attended Busara Forest View Academy in Nyahururu and Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls’ High School in Nyeri.
“Dad wanted us to succeed in our education. He followed our performance in school keenly,” the 1974-born says.
Susan went to the US after secondary school where she studied and practised law, rising to the position of a district attorney. After a 20-year stint in the US, she returned to Kenya in 2012.
“Politics was not in my agenda then,” she says of her entry into the country’s political arena in 2013 when she contested and lost the Bahati parliamentary seat. But people who knew her late father had convinced her to run for political office and “continue my father’s political legacy”, she says.
Susan is indefatigable — she never quits, a trait she says she inherited from her father. “I think I got that from him (father). He was a man who never quit easily and always a go-getter,” she says.
Losing the Bahati seat seems to have reinvigorated her. She threw her hat into a crowded race for county speaker, and floored 12 men to win the seat. She then set out to make a name for herself, becoming one of the most powerful individuals in Nakuru and beyond.
Soon after her election as speaker, she was appointed the vice chairperson of the County Assembly Forum (CAF), the team that initiated, and won, a fight for revision of terms for MCAs with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
One of her first roles as speaker entailed overseeing the vetting of nominees to the county executive committee. It is here that she announced to the county that she was no pushover. She led the county assembly in rejecting six nominees to the executive committee submitted by Governor Kinuthia Mbugua on the grounds that their nomination was flawed.
The governor, himself not a push-over, was forced to eat humble pie and submit a fresh list, which was eventually approved by the assembly.
As Speaker, Susan says she has led the House to pass 21 laws that have helped operationalise devolution. “I am particularly proud that we came up with regulations and eventually set aside funds for the disabled, youth and ward development. Furthermore, I led my team in conducting its oversight role that has seen various issues previously shrouded in mystery uncovered,” she says.
The vetting of the Nakuru County executive committee and subsequent investigation into activities of the County Public Service Board were some of the toughest moments of her career, she says.
But her tenure at the helm of the assembly has been tainted by rampant claims of extortion.
During the early stages of the county assembly, some MCAs were accused of extorting members of the executive committee by ethreatening members them with impeachment. Not even Governor Mbugua was spared.
“The motions initiated in 2014 were basically extortion attempts by MCAs who are mercenaries for hire and who use motions to drive personal agendas,” says a report by Nakuru National Civil Society Engagement Forum (Nacef).
At the family level, Susan has found herself at the centre of a bitter feud over multi-million shilling property. Earlier this year, her step-siblings and step-mothers accused her, her mother Alice and bothers of plotting to disinherit them. Susan says most of the issues surrounding the family estate have been ironed out.
“We intend to continue dialoguing as a family whenever there is an issue,” she says.
Susan’s journey to the top has not been easy. Being a woman and having just returned home after decades in the US, she has experienced the stereotypical treatment of women in leadership.
Her unexpected appointment to the presidential re-election campaign team has exposed her to attacks from the county’s politicians and aspirants, some who think she is too ‘junior’ to lead the campaigns.
Aggressive and fearless
“I have what it takes to spearhead the presidential campaign in this region,” she told The Standard on Sunday.
Her aggressive and fearless nature has earned her both friends and enemies in equal measure. Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, who credits himself for bringing Susan to the political limelight, is now one of her opponents. Yet Susan is not showing signs of stopping. She has set her sights on the Nakuru County Senate seat, and put herself on collision with one of Kenya’s most known opposition and multi-party democracy champion - Koigi Wamwere — and seasoned politician Njenga Mungai.
The mother of two daughters, Tiffany and Ashley, says the Senate is the natural next step to her as she feels passionate about devolution.
“Having been at the heart of it (the county assembly) for four years, I’ve =lenges faced by the counties,” she says of her bid.
Her opponents and political pundits say there is a force behind her. That force may either make her or sweep her to oblivion. But Susan does not seem bothered, and her demeanour proves that she is more than her father’s daughter. Much more.