Uhuru and Ruto should sweet-talk wazungu into chewing miraa

Rajesh Hilani is known as the Miraa Ambassador, but says he will gun for the North Imenti seat held by ‘brother’ Rahim Dawood. He spoke to WAINAINA NDUNG’U about his wife, MCA Juliana Mugure, changing religions for love and why ‘Muhindis’ should intermarry

What is a Miraa Ambassador all about  and who appointed you?

It is my own brand. I just fight for miraa rights first because I am a consumer and second, I am a businessman. Most of my customers come from the miraa growing Nyambene region. It is a lucrative business. I fund the campaign from my own sources and I am also involved in promotion of consumption of khat. Most people have consumed the crop thanks to my advocacy efforts especially in public gatherings.

What is the current campaign you are doing on miraa?

We are creating awareness that khat is not a drug. It is a mild stimulant like tea and coffee. I am currently taking the product to professors, lecturers and intellectuals as well as the media and the public because we have to clean up the perception about this important crop and its place in our society and economy.

Juliana Mugure, the nominated MCA, has spoken glowingly about you as a person, what can you say of her?

She is my wife and I am proud of her. Our relationship is a good example to the Asian communities in Kenya. Let’s learn to interact with different people because it is our way of giving back to the communities we live with, work with and trade with. So why should we not intermarry? Lets drop this racism and forge ahead as one nation.

Will you remain a Hindu in marriage?

I am resolved to move ahead and become a Christian. As it were, senior friends that I respect a lot have already scouted the name Nehemiah for me and will soon get baptised at a large ceremony I will invite you at the AIPCA Nkandune Church.

Why have they settled for Nehemiah?

I like the name and I think the significance of it is that Nehemiah was a soldier who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. I think my friends recognise the fact that I am doing many major things for miraa, setting an example in interracial marriages- building strong walls for our society.

Back to miraa... regaining the lost European market seems to a mirage and miraa trade has gone. Any hopes?

There is hope for this sector but I think it is time we urged the president of Kenya and his deputy to reach out to the Prime Minister of the Britain and appeal for a settlement. People also forget that the miraa trade problem is not only a United Kingdom or European problem. Right here next door in Tanzania, miraa is banned and they are in the East African Community (EAC). There is so much that can be done to help this sector.

You really are in love with miraa, how much do you consume in say a week and when did you start?

I started chewing miraa in 1995 when I was 18 years old. In a day, I can consume half kilo of Kangeta costing Sh3,500.

You recently have been seen as heading towards active political life. Where do you fit in Meru politics?

I have done a lot of charity work in the whole of this country and helped church projects, women and the youth and that could have been the reason that local elders approached me and asked me to consider taking the mantle and running for the North Imenti parliamentary seat in 2017.

If you stand in North Imenti, you will be challenging Rahim Dawood, the incumbent... will this not divide your small Kenyan Indian minority in Meru?

I am Kenyan and I am Merian so that question does not necessarily fit in my context. The important thing is that we need change in North Imenti. We need to help the poorest of the poor and the down trodden. We need to help the market women who operate on very low margins and hawkers. We need Jua Kali sheds where our youths can establish thriving businesses.

What will you do differently if you get the mandate for North Imenti in 2017?

I will dedicate a good proportion of my CDF to helping the most vulnerable of our society, the women, the youth and aged. We shall also propose to have very strong community representation in my Constituency Development Fund (CDF). I do not wish to control everything, I want a bottom up model where the communities have a big say in what projects they require.

You have worked throughout your life in your family business. Some might ask where you will get the funds to launch a fully-fledged political campaign especially considering your well-oiled rivals.

In politics, money is not everything. It all depends on how you interact with the people. One could spend Sh50 million in their campaigns and still be defeated by a rival who spends only two million. What will determine the winner in North Imenti 2017 is how you relate and interact with the people.