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Kiunjuri: Rise and fall of man with gift of the gab

By Francis Ngige | January 19th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Kiunjuri represented Laikipia East for three consecutive terms and has served in the Cabinet

To those who have listened to him speak in his mother tongue, Kikuyu, Festus Mwangi Kiunjuri is an orator per excellence.

Mr Kiunjuri’s mastery of the Kikuyu language complete with a seamless blend of figurative expressions, to send his message home, has left his audience awed.

His gift of the gab has endeared him among Mt Kenya folk and this, perhaps, explains why he was regarded a great asset for the Jubilee administration in the region during the 2017 electioneering period.

Whenever he was given a chance to address any meeting attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto during the campaigns in Mt Kenya, he did not disappoint.

Kiunjuri, who was sacked from Cabinet on Tuesday, has remained true to his character always metaphorical in his address the latest being last week during the burial of Martha Kirigo, the mother of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, in Nyeri.

Left no doubt

His sentiments during the burial concealed in Kikuyu proverbs that the community should not break the unwritten covenant of supporting Ruto in 2022 may have been the last nail in his coffin as it left no doubt that he was aligned to the DP.

The former Laikipia East MP went against the grain during the 2013 elections to vie on his Grand National Union (GNU) party against the preferred Mt Kenya political vehicle – The National Alliance (TNA).

With the sacking, Kiunjuri’s political life has gone full circle since he lost the race for the Laikipia governor’s seat in 2012 to political greenhorn Joshua Irungu Wakahora to his appointment to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet in the first term which was largely composed of technocrats and dropping out of the governorship race in 2017 following the pleading of the President and becoming one of the leftist members of the second term UhuRuto cabinet

The former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary’s story is that of rise from grass to grace having evolved from matatu operator, teacher to a Cabinet minister in government and a major political player in Mt Kenya region.

His influence in the grassroots grew during his time at Moi University where he graduated with Bachelor of Education (Arts) degree in 1994.

He did secure employment immediately and became a popular figure at the Nanyuki bus park, where he earned a name was an astute mobiliser.

During the 1997 election, Kiunjuri plunged into parliamentary politics by vying for the Laikipia East Parliamentary seat at the age of 27 and trounced influential and wealthy politician Charles Mukora.

Over time, he has risen from a village politician to the national platform and is considered among some of the wealthiest people in the region.

Kiunjuri would go on and represent the constituency for three consecutive terms and in the process was appointed an assistant minister in the Mwai Kibaki government before he chose to go for the Laikipia governorship in the 2013 elections.

His decision to go against the grain in 2013 by vying on GNU party ticket against the then President Kenyatta’s TNA party saw him lose the seat to little known Mr Irungu.

Kiunjuri was in the political cold for two years before the President appointed him Devolution Cabinet Secretary following the resignation of Anne Waiguru.

In 2017, the President asked him not to vie for the Laikipia gubernatorial seat, assuring him that “my government will need you at the national level.”

And true to his word, when the Jubilee government retained power in the October 26, 2017 General Election, Kiunjuri was appointed Agriculture Cabinet Secretary but since then things appeared to be working against him as his relationship with Kenyatta irretrievably broke down.

This could perhaps explain why a political player who once enjoyed accolades from the President, having played a role in the re-election campaigns, was dumped like a leper and left to lick his wounds.

His stay in Cabinet, especially in the second tenure, has been plagued with controversy and it is not lost to observers that he was the first CS to be chastised by President Kenyatta in public during controversy on maize delivery to National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).

After concluding his remarks during the Nairobi Agricultural Show, President Kenyatta uncharacteristically swore at Kiunjuri in public telling him that “I’ll be watching if you are going to pay.”

Since then, Kiunjuri has faced a barrage of criticism especially from the anti-Ruto brigade in Jubilee who has accused him of not being loyal to the President and not supportive of his government policies.

His association with the Ruto team in Jubilee did not augur well with the Harambee House mandarins and according to observers, it was only a matter of time before he was shown the door.

With illustrious and eventful career in government coming to an abrupt end this week, only time will tell where Kiunjuri will be headed as the country engages in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the 2022 politics.


Cabinet reshuffle Succession politics Mwangi Kiunjuri Festus Mwangi Kiunjuri
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