Kawira Mwangaza: The proverbial cat with nine lives bets on UDA for survival

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza being received by UDA Secretary General Cleohas Malala at the party headquarters after joining the ruling party. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

She cuts the figure of a fighter armed with a cocktail of political strategies and a Bible, as she strikes a delicate balance between her spiritual faith and the murky world of politics.

And after surviving the onslaught of an unforgiving County Assembly that rocked her leadership during her first two years in office, Kawira Mwangaza is looking forward to a new chapter in her political life after she aligned herself with President William Ruto's UDA party.

This comes as her woes in Meru continue to hover around her stint as governor and the fate of her flagship projects hang by a thread.

At the County Assembly, none of her proposals is sailing through without a sweat, pleas to MCAs and hope.

For a governor elected on an independent ticket, observers believe her position as an independent governor is partly why she is struggling to have her way at the County Assembly.

On the flip side, she is also walking a tightrope to build confidence among the electorate after she survived two separate impeachments.

Last week, she suffered another huge setback after MCAs dismissed her pet project ‘One Dairy Cow One Needy Family’ programme despite spirited pleas to the MCAs a week earlier not to frustrate her projects.

Assembly Agriculture Committee chaired by Ken Naibae (Kianjai Ward) argued that the programme was illegal as they had not assented to it.

But Governor Mwangaza has a thick political skin and is the proverbial cat with nine lives regarding her political career as she burns the midnight oil to craft strategies to calm storms.

In her latest attempt to steady her ship, the governor is banking her hopes of steadying her ship through a partnership with the UDA party.

Her decision to align herself with UDA has been welcomed by her supporters, who hope it will strengthen her support in the devolved unit and help her lure new allies.

Former Akithi MCA David Kaithia, one of Mwangaza’s strongest backers in Tigania, said Mwangaza joining UDA is a sign of good things for Meru.

Kaithia said her decision to get into UDA was good and was in the interests of development in Meru.

He also expressed hope that now with the Governor in the ruling party, it will foster unity between her and other Meru leaders who had for a long time had frosty relations with her.

“Our expectation is that other leaders will now join her so that Meru is one and for the benefit of Meru people,” he said.

Bishop Kiogora Magambo of the Jesus House of Praise who is one of Ruto’s key backers in Meru, described Mwangaza's decision as a step in the right direction.

But some, like Catherine Kiriinya, were skeptical.

“I am not sure it is a step in the right direction for her. The last time she joined a political party (Jubilee), it turned out to be the wrong thing to do. She will now be swimming with the sharks because in UDA she will be with fierce political rivals including Linturi and MPs. Hopefully, they will unite,” Ms Kiriinya said.

Governor Mwangaza has been an independent candidate for the last two elections when she ran for Woman Representative in 2017 and Governor in 2022.

It is the third time she is joining a political party and it remains to be seen how she will fare where she will be in the company of some of her fiercest critics including Meru MPs and MCAs.

Mwangaza first tried her hand in party politics when she joined Meru's first governor Peter Munya’s Party of National Unity (PNU) in the run-up to the 2017 elections when she ran for Woman rep.

But her stay in PNU was short-lived as former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee came calling and managed to convince her to ditch PNU.

President Ruto, then deputy president, received Mwangaza on March 10, 2017, to Jubilee in an event held at Nkabune in North Imenti Sub County.

It was a development that denied PNU a chance to bag the Woman rep position and understandably Munya did not take it kindly.

At the time, Munya accused Ruto of poaching its candidates, and it had taken a while to convince Mwangaza to join Jubilee.

Despite efforts by some leaders to prevail upon incumbent Florence Kajuju, the presumed Jubilee candidate to step aside for Mwangaza, she refused to budge and the two fought it out in the party nominations where the former was declared winner.

Mwangaza cried foul claiming the nomination was rigged, and she ran as an independent and won.

Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza (right) and her  lawyer Elias Mutuma during day two of her Impeachment hearing at the Senate ,Parliament buildings, Nairobi. November 8, 2023. [ Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Fast-forward to 2022, Mwangaza decided she would run for governor on an independent ticket.

She beat UDA’s Mithika Linturi and former governor Kiraitu Murungi who ran on Devolution Empowerment Part (DEP) to entrench her profile as a political survivor.

During his recent visits to Meru, the president had wooed her to UDA at various rallies across Meru, and on Wednesday she finally joined.

She said she had joined with her grassroots supporters.

She hailed President Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua for their “steadfast support” for women leadership.

She also appealed for the unity of Meru leaders for them to achieve development in the county.

“It is my hope and desire that we, leaders of the esteemed people of Meru, will seize this opportunity to lead a united front in our quest to deliver respective mandates and betterment of the county as a whole,” she said.

About two weeks ago, the County Chief also finally visited Igembe, the backyard of Deputy Governor Isaac Mutuma, an ally-turned-foe after several months of tensions.

Governor Mwangaza had kept off her deputy’s home turf for three months, as hostility escalated.

Mwangaza, a bishop in Baite Family Fellowship (BFF) had accused Mutuma, a reverend in the Methodist Church in Kenya, of working with her political opponents to sabotage her administration.

Mutuma in turn accused her of denying him the resources he needed to operationalize his office and for allegedly sacking some of his employees.

Their relationship eventually went to the dogs when Mutuma was moved from his office next to the governor’s to an office across the road.

The rift between the two leaders divided their supporters and Meru leaders, and for months Mutuma’s Igembe backyard had been a no-go zone for her.

Mwangaza said she detected that her political opponents had poisoned the Igembe residents against her during President William Ruto’s tour of the region in January when a section of the crowds heckled her and drowned her speeches at various stops in Igembe.

Her visit was followed by a delegation of some leaders and residents from Igembe last week who assured her the residents were not against her, and they were against leaders who were trying to drive a wedge between her and the residents of Igembe.

She visited Amwathi and Naathu in Igembe North Constituency where she distributed goats to farmers’ groups, Athiru Gaiti in Igembe South Constituency to inspect road projects and other areas.

Mwangaza said her deputy has to make himself available for them to work together.