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Why Kirinyaga County has captured public attention

By Macharia Munene | September 26th 2021

From left, Anne Waiguru (governor), Karanja Kibicho (PS), Martha Karua (party leader), Wangui Ngirichi (woman rep) and Charles Kibiru (senator). [File, Standard]

Few counties in Kenya have captured as much public attention as Kirinyaga, geographically surrounded by Murang’a, Embu, and Nyeri with a bit of Machakos squeezed at the Murang’a-Kirinyaga border.

During the Mau Mau War, Kirinyaga boasted Gathigiriri Detention camp and Wamumu Youth Camp. Created from Embu in 1963, it seemed like a geopolitical afterthought and an appendage of Embu, overshadowed by Murang’a, Embu, and Nyeri (MEN).

Although Kirinyaga struggles to have its own identity, including its own ‘accent’, it wields national administrative power. When Duncan Ndegwa went to found the Central Bank of Kenya, Geoffrey Kariithi from Gichugu took over as head of civil service.

Although Kariithi became synonymous with provincial administration, he was not the only Kirinyaga national mover and shaker. With time, other people of influence included Michael Waweru, an efficient tax collector, and politician Njeru Githae. Still, the image persisted that Kirinyaga was politically not equal to MEN.  

This image of Kirinyaga being comparatively below the others is changing fast as it currently boasts at least five visible national players in Karanja Kibicho (the PS), Anne Waiguru (governor), Martha Karua (party leader), Wangui Ngirichi (woman rep) and Charles Kibiru (senator). As Interior PS, Kibicho has national administrative clout. He is forceful and does not handle politicians with kid gloves.

While Kibicho plays his part in making Kirinyaga visible, Karua and Waiguru command public attention partly because they compete for political power intensely in the county and the Mountain region. There are other women across the country who stand out as feisty political fighters and dwarf men in their political territories, they, do not generate as much intensity as the two Kirinyaga women who overshadow, not just Kirinyaga men, but also political players in the MEN counties.

There was time, in the Gikuyu mythical past, when the daughters of Mumbi ruled men until a ‘revolution’ changed governing rules, but left clan names to women. Serious challenge to the new rules started in the early decades of the colonial rule.

A British created ‘chief’, Karuri wa Gakure, managed to get Wangu wa Makeri appointed assistant chief probably to reinforce the new colonial order. And when men hesitated to storm Kingsway police station and free Harry Thuku in 1922, Mary Nyanjiru told them to give their pants to women to do the freeing.

Such incidents helped to erode existing socio-cultural rules. Since men in the region appear to be culturally lost, thereby generating a conceptual power vacuum, the ‘revolution’ rules of governance have increasingly been relegated downwards as the daughters of Mumbi rise.

While this shift in governing thought is everywhere, it is pronounced in Kirinyaga where women lead in competing for the governor’s seat. More important than the Kirinyaga chief post, however, is their desire to lead or unite the Mountain. Although Waiguru had been the most vocal in trying to ‘speak’ for the Mountain, Karua clinched the endorsement of leaders of small political parties as the spokesperson. 

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