‘I told my school­mates I’d be elected MP in 2017’

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When he was a school­boy, John Paul Mwi­rigi once dreamt he was tabling a mo­tion in Kenya’s Par­lia­ment. Years later, he is fi­nally off to Kenya’s Par­lia­ment.

Af­ter his dream, he told his school­mates he’d be elected MP come 2017, but lo­cal chiefs got wind of this and re­ported him to his school prin­ci­pal. They claimed he was smok­ing bhang (dope).

This week, the dream of the now 23-year-old bach­e­lor of ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent at Mt

Kenya Univer­sity came true when he was elected as an in­de­pen­dent MP for the Igembe South con­stituency, about 250km north­east of Nairobi, with 18 867 votes.

This af­ter he was cam­paign­ing us­ing only his bike, while other can­di­dates such as Ru­fus Mir­iti of the Ju­bilee Party, who trailed with 15 411 votes, had money and party ma­chin­ery be­hind them.

Mwi­rigi had no money to “buy” votes with flashy projects and gifts, but he found ways, like his bi­cy­cle, to get around.

“I didn’t have any means of trans­port. Some­times my peers, who are boda boda [mo­tor­cy­cle] op­er­a­tors, helped me move around,” the lean, soft­spo­ken, newly em­ployed politi­cian told City Press.

“I didn’t have any coin to give peo­ple, even food; I was given food as I went along,” he said.

Mwi­rigi did odd jobs, such as car­ry­ing logs at a fac­tory, earn­ing a pit­tance of 700 Kenyan shillings (R90) for a few days’ work, which would then fuel his cam­paign again. He was driven by a de­sire to help young peo­ple like him­self find em­ploy­ment.

“I saw the way my peo­ple were be­ing han­dled. Young peo­ple need em­ploy­ment, but the peo­ple who are given those jobs are the rich ones. Even if you are qual­i­fied to get a job, you do not get it,” he said.

Four years ago, when he de­cided to stand, Mwi­rigi said he went door to door to speak to peo­ple, but from last year on­wards he started to have dis­cus­sions with groups, such as the tea farm­ers in Meru county and the women.

“I was eat­ing with those peo­ple, talk­ing to them, telling them I am like them, and as­sist­ing them where I could,” he said. Mwi­rigi lives with his mother, who was ini­tially wor­ried about his am­bi­tions. “My mum wasn’t pos­i­tive be­cause she was fear­ing that I can be elim­i­nated, as­sas­si­nated,” he said. She is, how­ever, happy about her son’s suc­cess, but con­cerned about “how will I cope with those I was com­pet­ing with be­cause they used mil­lions and I didn’t use any­thing”. Mwi­rigi’s fa­ther, who ini­tially as­sisted as his po­lit­i­cal ad­viser, didn’t live to see his son’s suc­cess. He died in 2014. Al­though he’d have more money now, Mwi­rigi said he’d still work with the peo­ple be­cause he wanted to be re-elected in 2022 and con­test a county po­si­tion in 2027.

He was one of the young dis­rup­tors in the high­stakes game of Kenyan politics, in which 16 000 can­di­dates this week com­peted for fewer than 2 000 po­si­tions. An­other ac­tivist and so­cial­me­dia celebrity, Boni­face Mwangi, ran a vis­i­ble cam­paign for which he crowd­funded way be­yond his con­stituency and which he pub­li­cised on Twit­ter.

He lost out, how­ever, to two oth­ers who came from more es­tab­lished par­ties and that in­cluded a rap­per. A voter from his con­stituency said: “Boni­face is a good ac­tivist, but he must re­main an ac­tivist, not a politi­cian.”

Mwangi was one of the first can­di­dates in the elec­tion to con­cede de­feat, but he de­clined to be in­ter­viewed.

The re­cent elec­tions also saw three women rise to be­come state gov­er­nors for the first time. Pre­vi­ously all 47 states were gov­erned by men.

John Paul Mwi­rigi

Boni­face Mwangi

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