Why Mwai Kibaki appointed top leaders from Meru

Former Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura during the launch of 'Beyond Politics at Serena Hotel in Nairobi on Monday, July 12 2021. [David Njaaga, Standard]

At some point in his 10-year rule, Mwai Kibaki's government was heavily populated by Meru leaders in the top ranks, raising eyebrows even in his Central backyard.

Among those who held top positions included Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura, Finance Minister David Mwiraria and Constitutional and Legal Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi. Further down was Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere, Roads and Permanent Secretary Erastus Mwongera (Roads and Public Works) and Gerrishon Ikiara (Transport and Communications), Head of Presidential Press Service (PPS) Isaya Kabira and many others in the top to middle-level ranks of the public service.

Kibaki and late Mwiraria had gone back many days and had been in the Treasury during the Kenyatta regime while Kiraitu was a new entrant into Kibaki inner circle having originally been one of the Young Turks in Ford-K wing under Opposition doyen Jaramogi Odinga Oginga.

When he made an entry into the Democratic Party while elected on the party ticket in 1997, Kiraitu appeared to have quickly earned the trust of Kibaki, edging out older hands in the party such as Tigania MP Benjamin Ndubai and Ntonyiri's Maoka Maore.

But Mwiraria remained in the inner circle throughout and was named Finance minister in the Narc government that Kibaki formed in 2003 following his win in the December 2002 elections. Former Tigania MP and Kanu era Assistant Minister Mathew Adams Karauri said he mostly met Kibaki in the company of Mwiraria, but sometimes the Opposition leader would ask the close confidant to let the two have their private moment.

"In Meru, we always believed that Kibaki had some of our blood running in his family maybe through his mother or grandmother," recalls Karauri.

"He did a lot of good things for this country and our region and I am happy to hear people saying he is the best president Kenya ever had."

Besides rehabilitating the dilapidated main highways, Kibaki's government also implemented key road projects in the area including the European Union funded coffee and tea road network from Chogoria stretching into South, Central and North Imenti as well as the Meru town-Mikinduri-Maua road, Maili Tatu-Laare-Mutuati, Meru-Isiolo-Tigania and the Ena-Ishiara-Chiakariga road.

Kiraitu says in Beyond Politics, an interview booklet published last year that Kibaki will mostly be remembered for his leadership style besides the infrastructure upgrades and widening of the democratic space.

"He was a very mature, tolerant leader who exercised power by giving it to others. He gave us a lot of freedom to run our ministries... and so long as the policy was sound and the budget could accommodate it, he would usually give it his go ahead," Kiraitu said in the book authored by journalist Njeri Rugene.

On December 17, 2011, Kibaki attended the Meru Catholic Diocese centenary celebrations at the St Pius Seminary, Nkubu where Kiraitu then Energy Minister gave a welcoming speech.

"We are filled with fear and uncertainty. We are fearful what will happen after you leave," said Kiraitu.

But Kibaki was in his element telling the community that it had nothing to fear.

"Don't be afraid (of the future). I have no doubts in my mind because we have such a wide choice that you will get a good person," said Kibaki.

According to a source who had remained close to Kibaki for most of his political life, he was always grateful to the solid support that Mt Kenya East districts of Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu had always accorded his campaigns since his first stab on the presidency in 1992.

"Although this area would also elect one or two Kanu MPs such as Jackson Kalweo, Karauri and Kirugi M'Mukindia, Kibaki had the upper hand in the parliament group and the presidential vote was solidly his. His MPs were also committed to his party and there was never a defection to Kanu. He never took that for granted," said the ally saying it was from this pool that he developed contacts who will then form the core of his government.

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