One warm night in September 1999, a group of police officers stormed into a secret meeting at a home in Kaplelmet village on the outskirts of Nandi Hills town, but did not make arrests.
Those in attendance scampered for safety, leaving the chief guest, then fiery Cherangany MP Kipruto Arap Kirwa, without anywhere to go. He then hid in the tea plantation before some villagers regrouped and escorted him on foot several kilometres away from Nandi Hills town.
Kirwa had then been selling the policies of his United Democratic Movement (UDM) party in Nandi, the bedrock of Kanu power, and this irked the establishment.
“I remember with nostalgia that night. I was committed to my small party and was forced to sleep in a hut until the wee hours when I was sneaked out of the village, dodging a police dragnet to escape arrest,” he narrates.
The incident was the peak of his firebrand politics that on many occasions put him at cross purposes with the powers that be.
A month ago, he was named the deputy party leader of Amani National Congress (ANC) and he says he still has the fire he had over a decade ago when he was a political firebrand.
The eloquent 59-year-old politician who has been in the political cold for the last 10 years is expected to be at the frontline of the opposition alliance, NASA, to canvas for support in Rift Valley. Kirwa says he is ready to unpack to the Kalenjins the lie that is Jubilee Party.
Sitting at the edge of a man-made canal at his expansive Sh300 million Karen home, the soft- spoken former legislator reminisces about the political activities that began after his election to Parliament in a by-election in Cherangany after the death of Masinde Muliro.
“Before I won the Cherangany by-election I met retired President Daniel Moi at Tea Hotel in Kericho and he told me to ensure his constituency was united,” recalls Kirwa.
“He told me to keep the cosmopolitan constituency together and I used this statement against him many times when he hit at me for supporting the Opposition.”
The former Agriculture Minister teamed up with his former schoolmate at Mang’u High School, former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo, in Nairobi around 1993. Jirongo had been pivotal in the re-election of Kanu in 1992 together with a group of young politicians under the Youth for Kanu 92, popularly known as YK92.
“I met Jirongo in Nairobi after YK92 had been disbanded. Those in authority thought the group was a possible monster that needed to be tamed. The group was distraught after it was abolished, Jirongo thought he had done a lot for Kanu and they had been mistreated,” says Kirwa.
They two, together with other YK92 young men, began their dalliance that gave birth to the UDM party much later after the 1997 General Election.
Their team comprised Deputy President William Ruto, Jirongo, former Vice President Kijana Wamalwa, Fred Amayo, the late former Saboti MP George Kapten, among others.
“We were a group of 18 youthful MPs alongside those who were at the YK. Later when I was appointed assistant minister, we would often meet at my office in Kilimo House to strategise on how to group our party,” says Kirwa.
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He says one day at one of the meetings, amid laughter, he asked the MPs whether they were indeed committed to the UDM party or they were interested in his office.
“The whole group said in unison that it was the party and not his seat they were interested in,” he says.
Things were to take a down-turn later in 1999 because of the pressure by the government on dissidents.
Kirwa remembers that one morning in June 1999, Jirongo called him for lunch at his residence in Muthaiga at the height of the cold relationship between Moi and the rebel MPs who were marketing the policies of the unregistered UDM party.
“When I got there, I met Kijana Wamalwa, George Kapten, Fred Amayo, former Kisumu Town MP Job Omino and a journalist, Mwenda Njoka. Jirongo found it difficult to express himself, but he eventually gained courage and said he wanted to defect back to Kanu,” he says.
Jirongo told those present that he was running broke and if he remained in the Opposition, he would find it hard to fend for his family. He needed to make ends meet.
Kirwa says Jirongo was disturbed that he could have been betraying their cause and commitment to build UDM.
“We listened to him and he finished by asking for our advice. Everyone understood his predicament and wanted to speak at the same time,” explains Kirwa.
“We unanimously gave him the go-ahead and told him his family came first.”
Armed with the blessing of the rebel MPs, Jirongo, whose car had broken down, asked Njoka to give him a lift to Bomet from where it was announced he had trudged back to the Kanu fold.
Kirwa, a father of eight, notes the quick turn of events thereafter. A week after his defection, Jirongo was appointed assistant minister for Rural Development, a splinter position from the Agriculture Ministry and was assigned to sit in Kirwa’s office.
“I was moved to a new office a few months before I was sacked,” remembers the former minister who grew up in Tanzania before his parents moved back to Kenya.
Betray their course
Kirwa observes that unlike Jirongo who was honourable and had the courtesy to call his comrades and seek their advice before he defected, Ruto did not only betray their cause, but also disowned what they had jointly worked hard to build.
“He just fizzled out of the party and when asked if he had dropped his support for UDM by a journalist, Ruto, without batting an eye, said he did not even know what UDM stood for. We did not know if he meant he does not know what the letters stood for or the party polices, but I can tell you we were startled by his unashamed turn-around,” says the former legislator.
Kirwa describes Ruto as an astute politician who is only keen on results and always has his eyes on the price.
“The Deputy President believes in the end justifies the means parlance. It does not matter how he gets what he wants, even if he steps on anyone’s toes to get the prize. His ambition is blinding and unsustainable. In the end, his lifestyle will catch up with him,” observes Kirwa.
“Unlike Jirongo, who in public looks different, he is a very loyal leader. The same applies to Raila who will always stand for what he believes in no matter what. Both Raila and Jirongo are the most misunderstood politicians in Kenya.”
Kirwa, who was Cherangany MP for four consecutive terms, says Ruto’s support in Rift Valley was built on sand. He predicts a Trump effect in the Kalenjin land against Ruto, saying that even as DP, he has done little for the community, yet he continues to tell them they are in government.
He observes, “He took over the mantle of the community when the Kalenjins were going through the psychological trauma of the post-Moi era. He has used the community to advance his political agenda, and gradually the community seems to be realising that and has started to become restless.”
It is not hard to trace Kirwa’s difference with Ruto. Following Uhuru's loss in the 2002 presidential election, Kirwa came to be considered one of the most influential individuals among the Kalenjin, especially after he was appointed the first Agriculture minister from the community in the Kibaki administration.
“Ruto used the political blunders of the Kibaki administration ... the hounding the Kalenjin elite out of the government to fight me and make me look unpopular in the region,” Kirwa recalls.
Kirwa said he was increasingly linked to the Kalenjin purge, and at one point was accused of being part of a scheme to discredit Ruto with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“That was hogwash. Why would I ever even think of doing such a thing?"
Kirwa, however has kind words for President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“Uhuru is a human being, he is natural and easy going, not like his deputy who thinks everyone owes him respect,” he says.
The former MP has nothing but praises for retired President Moi who he describes as a magnanimous politician, the father of the nation, a statesman, politician and sensible leader who united the nation before it was destroyed by the Kibaki and now Uhuru administrations.
“Moi was magnanimous, he was wise and loved the country. Even when I rebelled against him, he would look at me at tell me, ‘young man opposition politics will not help you, work for the people who elected you’,” he says.
Kirwa acknowledges that every time he listens to the national anthem, it reminds him of Kenya in the Moi era when it did not matter where you came from, you felt proud to be Kenyan.
“Kibaki was good in the economic front, but he failed to nurture nationhood like his predecessor did,” he adds.
Kirwa says the country can united again with a NASA victory in the August 8 General Election because the Opposition alliance represents the face of Kenya. It will “build back the bridges that have been destroyed by bad politics”.
Kirwa lost the Cherangany seat to the youthful Joshua Kuttuny in the 2007 General Election and has been in the cold ever since, except a short stint as the special envoy for Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) based in Addis Abba, Ethiopia.
Prior to losing the parliamentary seat, he was an influential Agriculture minister and credits himself as the best performing minister under Kibaki.
“In the first performance evaluation, my agriculture ministry was rated the best and it is during that period that maize farmers got the best price of Sh3,000 per 90kg bag. They are now paid a paltry Sh2,000, despite during a period of heightened inflation," says Kirwa.
With a slight limping from of a car accident at Matunda on the Eldoret-Kitale road in 2005, Kirwa says has been busy with a farming and real estate business.