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Jirongo: I’ll pay my debts before seeking your vote

 Cyrus Jirongo

There are only two things he is afraid of in life: failure and flying on a plane. His fear of flying is rooted on the uncertainty of hanging in the sky with no ‘garage’ in case things go wrong.

His fear of failure; he says, is what has nudged him to take up leadership positions, and fight by any means necessary to succeed.

Meet Cyrus Shakhalaga Khwa Jirongo, whose fear of failure and ability to rebrand is what he believes will propel him to State House in August.

Jirongo has declared interest in the presidency thrice; but it is the first time his name will be on the ballot.

The first two times, he abandoned his plans in the last minute to support Raila Odinga.

Help Kenyans

“This time, I decided I won’t support Raila. I knew it would be hard to sell him in Rift Valley,” says Jirongo, explaining why he decided to go solo and gun for the top job.

He says when NASA pitched Raila as the flag-bearer, he felt betrayed. To him, Raila represented a ‘CORD arrangement’ and not the super alliance.

His move has however been viewed by his critics as a strategy to divide Luhya votes and sabotage NASA’s campaigns in Western. Jirongo vehemently denies  allegations that he could be working with Jubilee Party, saying he is driven by a desire to help suffering Kenyans. “I know what it means to struggle,” he says, referring to his childhood. Jirongo was born in Virembe village in Tiriki in 1961. Two years later, his family moved to Lugari. His father died a few years later, and they sunk into poverty.

He went to Mang’u High School and says it is where he was convinced there was a streak of leadership in him.

“I was appointed library captain when I was a junior. It had never happened in the history of the school,” he says. He later joined Egerton University, but dropped out after a semester due to lack of fees. He looked for a job as a real estate sales agent; a job he did while homeless. “I would go to the Kenyatta National Hospital to sleep on the benches in the casualty area,” he says.

Fear of failure, coupled with good luck and determination, enabled him to save, rent a house and become one of the richest and youngest Kenyans of his time.

He claims he was a billionaire by the time he clocked 30.

His source of wealth and entry into the world of politics has been viewed as a mystery by many, with his close allies pointing at the Kanu regime and fraudulent deals as what might have catapulted him into political fame and made him win the Lugari parliamentary seat.

But Jirongo laughs it off, saying he made his money ‘clean’. Notable among accusations of his ‘crooked’ deals is the infamous ‘Jirongo 500 scandal,’ that involved the printing of Sh500 notes to help campaign for retired President Daniel Moi in 1992.

“What a big joke! The new Sh500 note was launched when I was at the peak of my campaigns for Moi,” he says, dismissing the widespread narrative that his ascent to fame and power is pegged on his activities as chairman of  Youth for Kanu ‘92 (YK’92), an association that liberally dished out money and ultimately set the country on a path to inflation.

Jirongo’s love for women is also a tale that has been told over the years.

Many know him as a flamboyant politician whose charm and money has lured several women to his bed. Recently, a college student made damning accusations against him, alleging he coerced her into a sexual relationship with a promise to pay her school fees.

“Those are made-up stories by people who consider me a threat. I love women, but that love is reserved only for my three wives,” he says.

The former Lugari MP openly discusses his polygamous family, saying he values family and that his community allows him to marry as many wives as he can provide for. He says he has more than 10 children, but cannot give the exact number because it goes against Luhya customs to count them.

He acknowledges that his pursuit for the presidency requires a cleanup of his image, which he says has been tarnished by the media and political enemies.

Jirongo’s name is tainted with claims that he is a debtor who leads a lavish  lifestyle beyond his means. Francis Atwoli accused him of failing to honour a debt of Sh100 million he owes him.

There have been other reports indicating he has loans he conveniently forgets to pay.

“It is true, I have debts. I am a businessman, and that is expected. I plan to settle urgent debts before I start campaigns next week,” he says.

He is confident that he will floor President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA flag-bearer Raila Odinga once he starts campaigning. His confidence lies in Rift Valley and Western voters.

He says he made many mistakes as a young man. He regrets marrying his first wife - whom he has since divorced - when he was only aged 23. “We were young and clueless,” he says.

Becoming president will give him a sense of accomplishment, only comparable to the feeling he got when he was a little boy and bought his mother four plates from money he had saved from selling vegetables he grew on their backyard. “I will make it. Just wait and see,” he says with confidence.

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