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