The impeachment of Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria by the county assembly was the culmination of a long battle he has been fighting with powerful figures in the Uhuru Kenyatta administration.
The impeachment motion tabled by nominated member Mary Waithera accused wa Iria of spending public funds in private commercial entities, with the Auditor General’s report indicating that the county spent over Sh28 million in the controversial Murang’a Investment Co-operative Society known as Shilingi kwa Shilingi.
Waithira outlined 27 reasons to impeach wa Iria among them abuse of office charges and misuse of funds.
Since defeating the little known Moses Mwangi and a host of other candidates in the gubernatorial race in 2013 general election, wa Iria has weathered many storms from his detractors, who include MP Jamleck Kamau of Kigumo and tycoons with vast economic interests in the region and beyond.
Right from when wa Iria launched the Murang’a Investments Co-operative, a gesture that earned him accolades from Raila Odinga during a devolution conference in Kisumu, the governor has been under siege from those out to knock him from the county’s top seat. In the mix is the Kigumo MP who has Uhuru’s ear and his position on any matter is taken as that of the president.
Prior to the 2013 general election, wa Iria was approached by surrogates of Uhuru, then candidate for presidency, to shelve his gubernatorial ambition and wait for appointment in Uhuru regime as cabinet secretary, but he declined the offer.
The surrogates who included Kamau, Equity Bank board chairman Peter Munga, chief executive, James Mwangi and a host of professionals from the region were pushing for Moses Mwangi, the deputy chief executive, Karen Hospital to be the governor.
They had launched a campaign and even convened a fundraising at Utalii Hotel along Thika Road to raise funds for Moses Mwangi’s campaign kitty. However, during The National Alliance Party nominations, wa Iria floored his opponents with Moses Mwangi managing a paltry 1000 votes. Wa Iria subsequently won the race on TNA ticket.
After his election as governor, wa Iria’s relationship with the tycoons and political leaders from the region who had supported Moses Mwangi for the seat deteriorated to an extent that he was among the last Mt Kenya leaders to meet the president or his deputy, William Ruto.
His detractors wooed his deputy, Gakure Monyo who in turn assembled the 35 leaders who backed the impeachment motion.
Due to his closeness to powerful figures opposed to wa Iria, Monyo has become the linkman between the Central and county governments, a move that has relegated the governor to the periphery.
As a testimony to this, in all Ruto’s forays to Murang’a, he is always in the company of Monyo, Kamau, woman representative, Wanjiru Chege and Gatanga MP Alice Wahome. In all Ruto’s visits the deputy governor has made it a habit to give long speeches on the county’s development such that when wa Iria takes the microphone, he finds himself repeating what Monyo has already said or with nothing new to tell the residents.
For long Monyo has been eyeing the governor’s seat. Their relation for the better part of their time at the helm of the county’s leadership has been strained and at one time the governor ordered his deputy’s security car to be withdrawn. This was during the governor’s trip to The Hague during Uhuru’s status conference of his ICC case.
At the time Monyo also flew to Europe with his family for a relative’s wedding. A week before The Hague trip, Monyo had sent a message to the governor informing him he would be out of the country but the governor did not reply. But a day before he left for The Hague, the governor sent an SMS to his deputy telling him to cancel his trip as both of them could not be away at the same time. The deputy, also through SMS, said this was not possible as he had already made arrangements for the trip. The governor reportedly insisted on the trip’s cancellation but Monyo stuck to his guns and left the country. This so infuriated the governor that on his return, Monyo was barred from chairing cabinet meetings and his security car was driven away from a garage where it was being serviced.
An irate Monyo vowed revenge and contributed a large sum of money to entice the MCAs to vote out the governor. Monyo will occupy the seat if the Senate upholds wa Iria’s impeachment.
But what has earned the governor many enemies and the ire of the Equity Bank bosses is the zeal at which he has been pushing the Shilingi kwa Shilingi initiative, which has the potential of driving Equity Bank out of business in the region.
The Shilingi kwa Shilingi initiative brings together over 200 co-operatives. The initiative aims at complimenting the national government efforts by mobilising local resources for longterm development projects, with the ultimate objective being to match every shilling received from national government with an equal shilling contributed by the people of Murang’a through savings.
The platform has an objective of recruiting a membership of over 100,000 people from Murang’a county, making a minimum monthly average savings of Sh3,000 translating to a total monthly savings of Sh300 million and an annual savings of Sh3.6 billion.
First to oppose the initiative was the Senator Kembi Gitura who noted that “it has no foundation and is a threat to people’s finances”. But the governor has been defending the programme, saying the Sh50 a day or Sh1,000 monthly plan will create a capital base for investments.
Chege has also been opposed to the project noting all deposit-taking co-operatives are approved by the Saccos Regulatory Authority.
But the biggest opposition for the project is from Equity Bank. At one time a reconciliation meeting between wa Iria and Munga was brokered by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria but in vain.
The governor and Munga were once buddies but the two fell out after the latter launched the Shilingi kwa Shilingi initiative. According to Munga, the initiative was going to chew into Equity’s customer base and had to be stopped through whatever means.
On the other hand the Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi has political ambitions with his eyes firmly trained on being William Ruto’s running mate in 2022. According to Jubilee Alliance Party strategists, Uhuru is expected to win the presidency in 2017. But come 2022, Jap requires a strong and moneyed candidate to be Ruto’s running mate. Initially, the strategists had toyed with the idea of having either Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki or his Meru counterpart Kiraitu Murungi as Ruto’s running mate. However, mathematically the duo can only bring to the table around 800,000 Meru votes and hence the strategist mooted the idea of having someone from Gema region outside Kiambu. And that is how the Equity CEO fitted the bill.
The plan is to have James Mwangi contest for the Murang’a gubernatorial seat in 2017 and work his way to be Ruto’s running mate in 2022. James Mwangi has been using his pet project, Wings to Fly Programme scholarships to endear himself to Kenyans.
Another headache for wa Iria is that immediately he was elected, he, knowingly or unknowingly, lived to his milk nom de guerre and took the milk battle right to the doorstep of the Kenyatta family when he started fighting Brookside dominance of the industry. Already the governor has overseen the launch of Murang’a County Creameries, an umbrella co-operative for Murang’a dairy farmers. It manages all the 35 milk coolers supplied to dairy co-operatives by the county government.
And with assistance from county government, under wa Iria, Uhuru’s Brookside Dairies Ltd was forced to increase its milk buying prize from Sh15 a litre to Sh35 a litre. What happened is that under Wa Iria, the Murang’a County Creameries increased its milk buying prize to at least Sh35. Brookside, which had monopolised milk business in the county and at throw-away prices of between Sh10 and Sh15 a litre found itself having to buy milk at the county rate. The governor also made it illegal to sell milk to any entity at less than Sh35. Most of the milk farmers joined the county Sacco, making it impossible to engage individual milk sellers.
The governor has also made enemies with powerful figures over his demand of 3,000 acres of land from Del Monte as a condition to renew the lease of the firm that expires in 2019.
The North American food processing company holds over 22,500 acres spanning Murang’a and Kiambu counties. By demanding land from Delmonte and Kakuzi, the governor is rubbing the Kenyatta family the wrong way as it also owns huge chunks of land in Central Kenya.