At 23, Igembe South MP John Paul Mwirigi had moved from the relative obscurity of village life to overnight stardom and a place in Kenya’s history books as one of the youngest ever elected MPs.
But his name fizzled out as soon as the political euphoria in the country died. As fast as he had appeared in public limelight, he disappeared, his disappearance an anti-climax from the charade that defined his entry into politics.
His constituents celebrated the wind of change he represented. In him, they saw the sparks of a revolution, the start of a new order not only in Igembe South, but the entire county.
“I have come to distrust the media. They write malicious things about me, and that is why I have been keeping off,” he now says of his absence from publicity.
In August last year, journalists started hovering around Mwirigi’s small compound before dawn. Through sheer will and belief of the people of Igembe South, he had swapped his slow days for the rough and tumble of politics.
Before that, he was known in his Kirindini village for his haggard clothes and not-so-punchy speeches. No party wanted to associate with him.
Everything changed when he whooped Jubilee’s Rufus Miriti by getting 18,867 votes and becoming the youngest MP in the 12th Parliament, and with that election victory, his new life had started.
On his first press briefing, he looked out of place. He squinted as photojournalists made sequential shots attempting to get his perfect image. He was not used to that kind of life. His first serious photo was one he took in a cyber café when he conceived the idea of becoming a politician. He was 20.
He says everything about his win is an emotional blur. From the time he got a call from an agent whispering about the possibility of victory, to when it was officially announced, things happened too fast.
“When it was announced, I had not slept for 36 hours straight. I walked across polling stations in my area to ensure my votes were safe,” Mwirigi tells the Sunday Standard when he opens up about his life as the youngest MP, and the challenges that have buffeted his brief stay at Parliament.
His naysayers, those who had burst out laughing when he held his first rally made up of a pocket of youths sneaked into his house and apologised for not believing in him.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, perhaps not wanting to be left out, gave him a car after it came out that he had trekked all the way from town to State House in the first meeting of the legislators and the President.
But talks of his arrogance started sneaking into conversations a few months after he was sworn into office.
His close associates say when he started piling up on well pressed suits and sinking into the trappings of power, his mannerism changed.
“You would call him, and he would rudely ask you what you want,” one of his friends says.
Mwigiri denies this, saying people mistake his impatience for arrogance.
“About 98 per cent of my calls are people asking for money. I tell them if they invite me for events or projects, I will contribute, but I do not have handouts,” he says.
He points at the number of bursaries he has awarded, brokering of a deal to get better markets for bananas his constituents grow, and water projects as some of the things that have been keeping him busy in his first year of office.
Skeptics now call him “John Fall”, saying he is becoming uncontrollable. They predict his fall will be massive.
Two months ago, it was reported that he had grabbed an older man by the throat in Atheru market in Meru after an altercation about a stalled road project.
But Mwirigi says it is all malice – a story concocted by his political rivals yet to come to terms with the idea that a young man could rise from nothingness and become a leader.
?He admits he has flaws, but so does every other man, his greatest one being his temper. He says he is impatient, and sometimes it shows in his speech.
His constituents feel that the big city swallowed their son. They say he rarely goes home to talk to them.
Mwirigi says what baffles him about politics is that people never get satisfied. He gives everything, including a huge chunk of his salary, but they keep demanding more.