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Nakuru was once a factory for politicial heavyweights


Nakuru County has for a long time been perceived as the hotbed of Kenyan politics, having been the home of fire-brand politicians.

The leaders were considered to be subversive by the powers-that-be, particularly during the reigns of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his successor President Daniel Moi.

From Achieng Oneko, the first Nakuru town MP, Kihika Kimani (Nakuru North), Koigi Wamwere (Subukia), Mark Mwithaga (Nakuru Town) to Mirugi Kariuki (Nakuru Town), the county was never short of political firebrands.

The region was also reputed for producing other colourful and maverick politicians such as Kariuki Chotara (Naivasha) and Wilson Leitich (Nominated), who served as the local chairmen of the Nakuru Kanu branch at the peak of repression.

Mr Leitich, who retired to his palatial homes in Ngata and Olenguruone, ordered Kanu youth wingers to carry knives and chop off the fingers of multiparty crusaders found flashing the two-finger salute.

He later recanted the statement in the wake of uproar from local and international human rights groups.

The late Chotara was one of the freedom fighters who was jailed and detained by the British for his role in the Mau Mau armed rebellion.

He would later be used in a failed plot to kill another detainee, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

After lying low during most of Kenyatta’s rule, Chotara would become one of the most powerful politicians in Rift Valley and a force to reckon with in the ruling party Kanu after Mzee Kenyatta’s death.

For almost eight years until his demise on January 9, 1988, Chotara dominated Nakuru politics, overshadowing even MPs.

As the powerful Nakuru Kanu supremo, Chotara transformed the party into a non-nonsense institution.

At the height of his reign, Chotara named a road in Naivasha town after himself and wielded immense political power. He was envied by many of his counterparts.

He was later to become a useful tool the late Moi used to deal with a perceived political ‘mafia’ based in Nakuru.

The ‘Nakuru mafia,’ was a clique of wealthy and powerful politicians, who emerged in the Rift Valley during Mzee Kenyatta’s presidency, they had sought to influence the Kenyatta’s succession.

And Moi was looking for a way to trim their influence and stamp his authority as president.

He settled on Chotara, who had the audacity to challenge Kihika for the Kanu chairmanship.

Chotara lost the election, which he claimed was rigged. He even went ahead to file an appeal. Two years later, in 1979, following Kenyatta’s death, the appeal against Kihika was upheld and Chotara took over as chairman unopposed.

He was later elected councillor of the defunct Naivasha Urban Council.

Kihika, the father of Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, played a pivotal role in the settlement of thousands of people.

He championed the 'Change the Constitution' movement which sought to bar Moi from automatically ascending to office upon Kenyatta’s death.

The politician, who made history as one of the leaders to have been elected to represent three different constituencies, was arrested and jailed for allegedly embezzling public funds after Moi took the reigns of power.

In 1963, Kanu, which was led by Mzee Kenyatta and Oginga Oginga fielded Achieng Oneko to contest for the Nakuru Town parliamentary seat against a Kadu candidate.

Mr Oneko was among six politicians arrested and put on trial together with Kenyatta for allegedly supporting Mau Mau in 1952.

Mwithaga is mostly remembered for being the first MP to be elected while in jail. He served for two consecutive terms only to be interrupted in his third term in 1979.

His diminutive nature aside, Mwithaga was articulate and a giant in Parliament.

He was the man of the people, loved by Nakuru residents and in the 1980s, he started Nakuru Transport Cooperative Society (NATCO) where he mobilised residents to fundraise money and buy several public service buses.

However, his ambitions to ease the transport headache were derailed by politics.

Mwithaga served as the chairman of the parliamentary select committee that probed the murder of Nyandarua North MP J.M Kariuki, which implicated key personalities in the Kenyatta administration in plotting the murder.

The fiery Nakuru Town MP, who was perceived as an opponent of the ruling Kanu elite, was arrested and jailed for allegedly assaulting his wife.

Mwithaga had the support of Nakuru residents, and he made history when he was overwhelmingly voted in as Nakuru Town MP while serving a prison term, prompting the holding of a by-election.

Uncompromising Koigi wa Wamwere was also a force to reckon with during his heyday. He was detained by the Kenyatta and Moi administrations for overtly criticising their regimes.

He became an international human rights icon and always stood against the oppression of the poor by powerful State officials and other rich Kenyans.

Mild-mannered Mirugi was seen as the MP who could have tremendously improved Nakuru Town’s social and economic affairs had he not died before the end of his demise.

In 2006, Nakuru Town MP, Mirugi Kariuki was killed in a plane crash in Marsabit on his way to a peace meeting alongside five other MPs.

The ensuing by-election was won by his son, William Kariuki Mirugi of Narc-Kenya.

Due to its ethnic diversity and intense political interests from virtually all key personalities from different parts of the country, Nakuru has witnessed intense political competition.

After the introduction of multi-partyism , Nakuru emerged as an opposition stronghold a status it retained until President Mwai Kibaki ascended to power in 2002.

The county has since then shed off the anti-establishment tag and solidly voted for former President Kibaki and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Although Nakuru County has a huge number of opposition supporters, the county is a bedrock of the Jubilee administration with President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto commanding a huge following in the region.

Major political rallies and decisions that have had profound impact on the political destiny of the country have been held in Nakuru since the colonial times.

As Uhuru leaves office, Nakuru is expected to play a pivotal role in the succession politics.



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