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Kieni Through the Eyes of a Youthful Aspirant – Part 1
By CHARLES A. MATATHIA
A Nairobi based social scientist and freelance writer.
Edwin Macharia wanted to be a well-rounded doctor so he traded his University of Nairobi Medical School admission to join Amherst College in Massachusetts where he majored in Biology as a pre-cursor to medical school. As the fifth Kenyan in Amherst and with the others being Alfred Gitonga, Ngengi Muigai, Uhuru Kenyatta and Francis Michuki (John Michuki’s son), you would imagine Macharia as a child of privilege. Hardly so, he says, as his mother still lives in a house with no running water in rural Kenya.
But Macharia has done well by himself. Born in Nairobi in 1978, Macharia’s family moved a lot, a situation that he credits for giving him a complete Kenyan outlook and an appreciation of the diverse strings of ethnicity and class differences that weave together into Kenya’s social fabric.
He went to nursery school in Thika and then began his primary education at Mugumo-ini Primary School in that industrial town in central Kenya. Shortly after, his family moved to Homabay, in the South of Nyanza Province, where he attended Homa Bay Primary School for three years. It is at Homabay Primary that he had the ‘opportunity’ to learn under a tree an experience he chooses to wear as a badge of honour in marking out his authentic Kenyan experience. In Nyanza he found himself immersed in Luo culture and even learnt the language, a smattering of which he retains today.
But his journeys through Kenya weren’t over yet. Soon after, the Macharia family moved to Kericho and he was quickly transferred to Highland Primary School there. He spent a year at Highlands Primary before the family moved to Nyeri and he joined Nyeri’s Mount Kenya Academy where he sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 1991. It is from there that he joined the prestigious Alliance High School and finally Amherst College.
Somewhere along his way towards being a doctor, he realized that it was one thing to earn the skills and qualification to save lives and another to find the right environment within which to do it. As he argues, he wanted to get his medical degree in America and return to Kenya to practice but he came to the conclusion that despite the shortage doctors in Kenya, what was ailing the health sector the most was flawed management of the existing resources. Macharia decided that the best way for him to be of greater benefit to the largest number of people was to hone his management skills. So when an opportunity to work with McKinsey and Company, a management consultancy that advises leading companies on strategy, operations, organization and technology, he grabbed it.
After two years at McKinsey, they offered him a five month sabbatical. They were paying him, he could come back after the break or he could go somewhere else. He opted to go somewhere else: The Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Foundation offered him two choices: he could either join them in the Dominican Republic, or be part of the core team formulating the National HIV Plan in Tanzania.
He figured that as a Swahili speaker and a national of neighbouring Kenya, he would be of more value in Tanzania than in the Caribbean island. Besides, his father had just died of a coronary embolism the previous year. He needed to be close to home. And so Tanzania it became and there his journey as a globe trotting development worker began as he found himself staying on as The Clinton Foundation’s Deputy Country Director for Tanzania.
A short while later, Macharia was made a global director in the foundation’s Rural Initiative programme where he was tasked with spearheading the thought process towards creating and implementing solutions for service delivery of HIV/AIDS projects in rural areas. Then he was appointed the Director of Agriculture. This came with a 100 Million dollars budget directed towards rural development in Rwanda and Malawi with an emphasis on Agricultural and income development, health, water and sanitation and education.
After holding this post for one and a half years, he continued to feel that there were still other ways through which he could better apply himself towards achieving his quest to move forward Kenya’s and, broadly, Africa’s development. One of those ways was politics. Now he has taken a sabbatical from the Clinton Foundation to vie for a parliamentary seat in his home constituency of Kieni, in the Nyeri District of Central Kenya.
Kieni is a huge, in fact the largest in Nyeri District, constituency. It is bounded by Mt. Kenya on one side and the Aberdare Ranges on the other. These are two of Kenya’s most important water catchments yet the constituency remains predominantly dry; it is on the leeward side of both.
Served by two major trunk roads: the one from Nyeri towards Nyahururu in Kieni West the other from Nyeri towards Nanyuki in Kieni East, the constituency has two divisions with five locations each.
Kieni East division, on the leeward side of Mt. Kenya, is mainly arid and semi arid lands as the rains are generally poor. Water thus becomes an issue and a huge challenge to agriculture which tends to be the backbone of rural economies. But at least dairy farming is a source of succour. The dairy farming though, owing to diminishing plots of land is mainly of the one or two zero-grazed-cows variety. These dairy farms are served by two facilities very close by: The Nyeri K.C.C factory and a Brookside Dairies cooling plant. There are also a number of flower farms that create significant employment for the local people.
To the leeward side of the Aberdare Ranges lies Kieni West division. This area though receiving a little more rain, and its citizenry seeming generally more economically endowed, is faced with the selfsame challenges as the east of Kieni. Its dairy farmers are also, at great convenience served by the two dairy processors though the farmers there are in the process of setting up their own cooling plant through their cooperatives. Of great importance to this division is the existence of the gazetted Aberdare National Park a tourist attraction that beyond its national significance has a trickle down effect on the economy and well being of the local community through job creation and implementation of environmental management projects.
Politically, Kieni, since the introduction of multiparty politics in Kenya has maintained a strong support for the political leanings of Kenya’s current president Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki is also the Member of Parliament for Othaya constituency close by and as is elsewhere in the District of Nyeri, a nomination to vie for an elective seat on the ticket of a party supportive of him has seemed the sole requirement for any candidate’s election in Kieni.
The current Member of Parliament, Dr. Chris Murungaru, is a pharmacist whose political star rose in the early years of the Kibaki administration but its zenith proved to be at the nadir point of political infamy. Having been re-elected to parliament in a 1998 by-election occasioned by the death of his mentor and staunch Kibaki ally, Munene Kairu, Murungaru remained relatively unknown nationally until he was handed a contentious nomination certificate by the NARC headquarters as its candidate in the run up to the 2002 general election, was re-elected and appointed to the Kibaki cabinet.
Murungaru’s tenure as a cabinet minister lasted less than three controversy ridden years and was crowned by a disgraceful exit after the shake up that followed the Kibaki government’s loss in the November 2005 Referendum on a new constitution. Though nowhere charged and convicted in a court of law for impropriety (a case against him by the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission was thrown out on a technicality), Public Opinion has continued to judge Murungaru harshly with accusations of abuse of office and involvement in corrupt dealings a sentiment that has been heightened by the accusations of former Ethics and Governance Permanent Secretary, John Githongo. It didn’t help matters any wee bit when the UK government cancelled Murungaru’s visa on the grounds, as they claimed, of his involvement in the Anglo Leasing scandal.
Though no longer a member of the Kibaki cabinet now, Murungaru remains fabulously wealthy, a staunch supporter of the president and, with the benefit of incumbency to his advantage, a major player in the coming elections. So how does a youthful political novice like Edwin Macharia expect to win in Kieni and with at least ten other candidates, including Munene Kairu’s widow and the runner up in the last election having declared their candidature?
Edwin Macharia agrees that as far as Kieni goes Murungaru is still a force to reckon with. More than just loads of money, Murungaru as Macharia argues, tends to play dirty politics and is said to have flashed his gun at a polling station in the last election.
That could be the reason why Macharia admits that one of the biggest challenges to his campaign is security- or the lack of it- for both himself and his family. Driven by high unemployment rates among young people, and unscrupulous politicians, Macharia fears insecurity will feature prominently as the campaign heats up.
But even his own experience is telling: his father’s death was as a consequence to violent crime. His father was axed below the knee when a gang of armed thugs raided his Kieni home. He survived the attack but in recovery, blood clots formed leading to his coronary embolism. Macharia also says that in March of this year, a few weeks after the February launch of his campaign a car load of armed thugs pulled up at his mother’s gate. Though they did not harm anyone, only damaging some property, he is quick to worry and make connections to his declaration to run in Kieni.