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Kihika's abrasive politics rub many the wrong way

Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika joined politics as a young lawyer and quickly threw herself into the deep end.

Her meteoric rise in the murky world of politics underscores her drive to succeed.

Kihika’s charm, wit and pleasant personality have had her allies and opponents underestimate her.

Over a short span of time, the Nakuru county boss has forged useful networks that have placed her in a position of influence.

Nakuru County occupies a central position in President William Ruto’s power game and economic development agenda due to its central location, its multi-ethnic nature and its large population that translates into a huge voting bloc.

Kihika and her husband, businessman Samuel Mburu, have on a number of occasions hosted President William Ruto at their palatial home in Ngata, on the outskirts of Nakuru City.

Her Machiavellian philosophy of unrelenting pursuit for power and realism in politics has seen her steady rise from a county assembly speaker, to Nakuru senator and eventually to the first female governor of Nakuru county in a decade.

She is perceived as a leader who has perfected the art of political intrigue, strategic use of alliances and underhand political methods to boost her influence, and annihilate her opponents.

Kihika also appears to be well-schooled in the art of stagecraft that has seen her pull large crowds to her rallies, to the chagrin of her opponents.

Her position as governor and her proximity to President Ruto, through her husband, has placed her on a high pedestal of power and money.

But her political rise has been characterised by a series of altercations that have made many see her as aggressive as her late father Kihika Kimani.

Her political history is closely intertwined with that of her father who made history by being the first leader to be elected MP in three different constituencies.

He was MP for Nakuru North, ( then covering Bahati, Subukia and Rongai constituencies), in the 1970s and legislator for Laikipia West Constituency, between 1992 and 1997 and Molo Constituency, (then covering Njoro and Molo constituencies), between 1997 and 2002.

Kimani came into the national limelight in the early 19970s when he orchestrated a national campaign to have the country’s constitution amended to bar the then Vice President Daniel arap Moi from ascending to power upon the death of President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Just like her father, Governor Kihika’s abrasiveness since joining politics has seen her ruffle feathers on her way up.

The fearless Kihika has rubbed just about everybody the wrong way.

The 50-year-old alumnus of Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls High School studied law and political science in the US.

She returned to the country in the run-up to the 2013 elections. She declared her candidature for the Bahati parliamentary seat, but lost in the TNA party nominations.

She lost to her erstwhile political nemesis Kimani Ngunjiri.

After the loss, Ngunjiri who went on to clinch the seat and Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria were instrumental in Kihika capturing the speaker’s seat.

Kihika made history by being elected as the first speaker of the Nakuru County assembly.

Her leadership of the assembly catapulted her into the national limelight due to her constant brushes with the county executive headed by Governor Kinuthia Mbugua.

By refusing to play old-fashioned politics, Kihika, nicknamed the ‘Iron-Lady’ of Nakuru politics, managed to build a cross-ethnic support base.

Kihika waged a war against Kinuthia, using MCAs to reject the governor’s nominees.

Kihika dealt ruthlessly with MCAs who failed to toe her line. Most of them were removed from house committees.

George Mwaura, who was the Leader of the Majority in the county assembly, was among the first leaders to taste Kihika’s wrath when he was perceived as being lukewarm in his support of her policies.

Although Mwaura had a close working relationship with Kihika, he was shocked when she orchestrated his removal, replacing him with Samuel Waithuki.

In the 2017 elections, Kihika, beat seasoned politicians like Koigi Wa Mwere to win the Nakuru Senate seat.

Her campaign was flashy and well-oiled, backed by young men christened- Team 100.

She made history by becoming among the first women, alongside Margaret Kamar and Aden Fatuma to be elected to the Senate.

This was after the 2013 elections failed to produce any woman to the Senate.

During her tenure as the Nakuru senator, Kihika trained her guns on Governor Lee Kinyanjui, who had taken over from Mbugua.

The two had a series of run-ins over the implementation of development projects, the use of public funds for social issues like the handling of street families.

Their beef lasted throughout Kinyanjui’s five-year term, and continues to date.

Last week on Tuesday, Kinyanjui made his first public appearance after losing the governorship to Kihika and showed his displeasure with his successor.

He criticised Kihika over the takeover of War Memorial Hospital, saying it was wrong for county enforcement officers to raid the facility and eject patients on treatment.

Kinyanjui asked Ruto to address the issue because his trusted lieutenant – Kihika – was involved.

Ngunjiri and a group of elected leaders have also criticised Kihika's leadership style.

MPs Alfred Mutai (Kuresoi North), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South), Paul Chebor 9Rongai), Martha Wangare (Gilgil), Jayne Kihara (Naivasha) and Senator Tabitha Karanja are said to be unhappy with Kihika.

But as usual, Kihika has come out guns-blazing, accusing those opposed to her policies of undermining her leadership.

She maintains that she is fighting impunity and land grabbing that is rampant in the county.

Kihika seems to have her work well cut out, as she navigates the murky water of Nakuru politics.

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