Political wrangles have stopped Murang'a from reclaiming its lost glory

Destruction in wake of Murang’a Members of County Assembly's fight at the Clerk's office. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Although Murang’a, county Number 21, claims to be the centre of socio-political developments in Mount Kenya region, it finishes poorly. It sets the pace for others to finish and in the process appears to be cursed into marginality.

Its leaders are good at cheering others to prosper while undercutting each other. Within two days last week, for instance, Murang’a experienced what Sarah Wambui wa Mwangi called ‘hambatano’, with leaders disgracing themselves.

First, factions supporting two MPs in Murang’a forgot they had a function to uplift women and fought in Kigumo. When Mathira MP Eric wa Mumbi ordered two women MPs to sit so that he could speak, Murang’a Woman Rep Betty Maina obeyed her husband and sat but Maragua MP Mary Waithira refused and insisted she was the MC at the function.

Second, a day later, Murang’a Members of County Assembly (MCAs) fought and threw chairs at each other over money and even injured a police officer. The two episodes were ugly and reflected political reality that seems like a curse for Murang’a.

Murang’a is the mythical cradle of the Agikuyu, at Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga. The place, a neglected shrine in Kiharo, attracts interests in times of political anxiety, as two recent events showed.

First in 2022, Kung’u Muigai and Peter Kagwanja shepherded National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi to spend days in the shrine to become a leader. Second, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua reportedly had elders arrested for going to the shrine to pray. The implication is that the neglected shrine is both place of anointing and symbolic threat to some ‘leaders.’

Murang’a has produced notable people, representing subservience and defiance. Chege/Mugo wa Kibiro, reportedly came from God and predicted the coming of the colonialists. Freedom from the white conquerors, he said, would come after building a great homestead at Githunguri kia Wairera and the withering and collapse of the great Mugumo tree in Thika.

There was Karuri wa Gakure in Tuthu, after ganging up with a British gangster John Boyes/Karianjahi switched sides to Francis Hall/Wanyahoro who made him chief.  Karuri’s name became synonymous with the ‘new order’ and so powerful that he could impose Wangu wa Makeri, his Koimbi woman friend, as ‘chief’ of Weithaga’. Karuri and Wangu symbolised subservience to foreign rule.

Various confrontations and defiance to the new order were political turning points in colonial Kenya and had different Murang’a symbols, sacrificing for others. Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru was inspirational in her 1922 challenge to men to remove pants for women to wear and liberate Harry Thuku at Kingsway [Central] Police Station. She died leading the assault and, like Giriama’s Mekatelili wa Menza, became an anti-colonial legend.

Thereafter, Murang’a activists founded Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) at Muriranjas and Kahuhia, and then organised for Jomo Kenyatta to go to England twice to present African grievances. Among them was Jesse Kariuki, Chirang’a, helping to send Julius Gikonyo Kiano study in the US, and commissioning Mau Mau fighters. General Kago wa Mboko, operating in Murang’a, was the most effective warrior in the Mau Mau War. Kariuki Njiiri, sacrificed his LegCo position to enable Kenyatta to attend the 1962 Second Lancaster House Conference to help usher independence in 1963.

In the post-colonial period, Murang’a lost its centrality, slid into playing supporting role to others, and collectively stopped strategic thinking. Former sense of sacrifice for public good disappeared as ‘leaders’ increased levels of selfishness and wealth acquisitiveness. They failed to protect resources, watched industries and cash crops collapse, poverty increase, parents unable to pay fees, and population decline proportionally.

A slight sense of concern returned with Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia emerging as multi-party champions, who sacrificed health and wealth. While the two became legends, others generally ignored suffering as they sang ‘praises’ of others. Those Murang’a ‘leaders’ who sung “Tugokira Tene, Tugookira Tene”, now engage in ‘hambatano’. It is the curse of Murang’a.

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