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Why Mathira and Gichugu are the boiling points of Mt Kenya politics

Martha Karua and Rigathi Gachagua. [Standard]

Azimio La Umoja and Kenya Kwanza deputy presidential candidates Martha Karua and Rigathi Gachagua respectively, have put their home constituencies on the national map.

This is because, despite the two constituencies being separated by Ndia Constituency, they have never produced a high-flying man or woman for the office of the Vice President under the independence Constitution or come closer to producing a deputy president under the 2010 Constitution.

But the two electoral areas share many things in common. From producing firebrand MPs, growing tea, coffee and milk as their main cash crops and being in the same district thanks to the first President Jomo Kenyatta who created Kirinyaga District.

Before the founding president’s decision, both Gichugu, the home area of Karua, and Ndia were in Nyeri District.

The move to create a new district was the only instance the provincial boundaries were interfered with since the Mwea settlement scheme was removed from Embu, Eastern Province to Kirinyaga District under defunct Central Kenya.

Were it not for Mzee Kenyatta’s decision, either Karua or Gachagua would not be the leading presidential candidates’ running mates or maybe the political arithmetic would be different.

In a recent tour of Karatina town, Karua claimed to be part and parcel of Mathira residents after claiming her grandmother who she is named after was married in Mathira where she was a frequent visitor.

“One should not claim he should be elected on the basis of coming from this area, the grandmother who I'm named after was married here and that alone makes me part of you,” Karua told locals when she accompanied Raila Odinga in Nyeri County.

While Gichugu boasts political leaders who enjoyed the ear of the powers that be, Mathira too has its own sons who have also been part of the inner circles of power.

While Godfrey Kariithi, the fifth MP for Gichugu has been the only leader in Gichugu to hold a senior position where he served as head of Civil Service for 13 years under Kenyatta’s administration and 28 years in government, the late Davidson Ngibuini Kuguru, the second MP for Mathira is the only leader who served at a high echelon of power.

Ngibuini’s influence started during the pre-colonial period when he was known as a friend of the rulers, even earning an excellence award from the queen. 

Post-independence, he continued his political engagements and was elected a councillor and later MP for Mathira Constituency in 1969.

In 1974, Mzee Kenyatta appointed Ngibuini as an assistant minister for home affairs and national heritage, ostensibly deputising then Vice President Daniel Arap Moi. 

After his ascension to the presidency, Moi appointed Ngibuini as minister for National Heritage.

Ngibuini and his long-time political nemesis Matu Wamae the political giants of Mathira had made the electoral area look like a merry-go-round where they outdid each other in every election cycle.

Ngibuini is the father of politician and industrialist Peter Kuguru who was among the daredevils who openly campaigned for Raila when everyone associating with him was seen as an outcast due to the phobia that had been planted by local politicians.

He is also the father of High Court judge Anna Ngibuini who is the wife of Agano presidential candidate David Mwaure Waihiga.

The fearless Wamae was the pioneer executive director of the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) which was established in 1954 to facilitate investment and grow the local economy.

He was a long-serving board chairman of New KCC. Thanks to Wamae and Ngibuini, Mathira for a long time was listed alongside Kangema and Tigania as the most violent constituencies in every election cycle.

The two leaders’ turned physical to get the seat and so were the late John Michuki and JJ Kamotho who forced Moi to create Mathioya Constituency to separate the two from fighting each other.

Other than Ngibuini and Wamae, other eloquent leaders from Mathira were the first Nyeri governor Nderitu Gachagua who was first elected as MP in 2002 under the Narc ticket and in 2013 defied the National Alliance (TNA) in the region to be elected the first governor through Grand National Union (GNU).

His brother Rigathi joined politics in 2017 after the death of his brother and tried his luck for the first time and was elected MP. He will be the first term MP to be elected Deputy President should they ascend to Presidency after the August polls.

Back to Gichugu where other than Kareithi, Karua is the only daughter and child of the Constituency to hold a senior position in government after serving in different capacities as Minister under Kibaki’s government.

According to the 2019 Housing and Population Census, Mathira Constituency made up of Mathira East and Mathira West Sub-Counties has a population of 158,960 people and total registered voters of 104492 registered voters.

Gichugu which is administratively known as Kirinyaga East has a population of 135,551 and 92495 registered voters.

The border between Ndia and Mathira reminds locals from Nyeri and Kirinyaga counties reminds the two counties of a massacre that claimed the lives of 29 youth in a war between two illegal sects Vigilante and Mungiki sects in what later led to the dragging of Karua’s name into the matter.

The massacre occurred at Ndiriti village in 2009 and after Mungiki terrorised people, youth formed vigilante group to wipe out Mungiki.

Karua’s hard stance that warned locals from taking law into their own hands and demanded that those who were wrong needed to be taken to the authorities was used by politicians to incite locals against her and to date, locals have held that she supported the illegal sect.

Her brother Jeffitha Karua said locals were incited by politicians for their own political expediency.

“She is known to take a firm stand on various issues and as a lawyer, as for the Kagumo case, one could identify an innocent local as a Mungiki and he could be given a choice of either committing suicide or being killed,” noted Karua.

But with her nomination, he said the ground has shifted to Azimio and said, “it’s not a wonder that will Azimio get more votes in Kirinyaga and Mathira than UDA.”

He said her sister was sober and composed than Gachagua and that her stand was the selling point in Kirinyaga

But a UDA supporter in Mathira said Eunice Wanjiru said Gachagua will have more influence in Mathira and Kirinyaga and the entire Mt Kenya Counties as he will only be beefing up Ruto’s votes.”

“The region decided a long time ago that they want Ruto, Gachagua is a value addition. While we like Karua we will not be blinded that she is the one on the ballot. We know it’s about Ruto and Raila,” she said.

The farmers from Ndia and Mathira joined hands o form a cooperative society and used the acronyms of Ndia and Mathira to form NdiMa coffee factory where they take their coffee produce. The name grew into a village and a shopping centre.

The larger Kirinyaga County has only produced powerful Ministers such as Robinson Njeru Githae who served as Minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Services and later as Finance Minister and Karanja Kibicho who is cited as super PS serving in the interior docket.

Others from Kirinyaga to hold senior dockets include Phillip Ndegwa who became the third Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya in December 1982, an office he held until January 1988 before he was appointed Executive Chairman of the Kenya Commercial Bank in November 1987 and James Kanyotu the head of Special Branch.

Other than producing the President, Nyeri has seen its sons holding senior Ministerial positions. They include Chris Murungaru, Mutahi Kagwe, Joe Mucheru among others.