Farewell Martha Mwangangi: Kitui town mourns mayor with big heart and ‘happy feet’

The former Mayor with Charity Ngilu moments before her death

Former Kitui Mayor, Martha Mwangangi, literally walked to her death on the morning of December 15. She had joined Narc party leader Charity Ngilu to calm demonstrating traders whose kiosks had been demolished by the county government.

The two ‘iron’ ladies, with a friendship spanning over three decades, had been called upon by the traders to defend their source of livelihood. Brave as ever, a defiant Mwangangi said that the traders could only be denied their right to livelihood ‘over her dead body.’

Ngilu and Mwangangi were addressing the agitated crowd when a county government firefighting truck rammed into the crowd. An instinctive aide swiftly grabbed Ngilu as the crowd scampered for safety. Mwangangi was not lucky. The truck hit and flung her ahead before crushing her on the head and mid-section. She died instantly as pandemonium ensued at the scene.

A dazed Ngilu picked herself from the fence where her aide had shoved her, walked over to the crowd, saw the gory figure that was the body of her trusted political lieutenant, and sobbed bitterly.

Brave, warmhearted, generous, good listener and motherly. These are some of the words used by friends and colleagues of the former Kitui Mayor Martha Mwangangi to describe her. The untimely and brutal death has left Kitui residents shocked and devastated.

Mwangangi was easy to spot in a crowd, perhaps due to her striking ‘yellow yellow’ complexion and unmistakable beauty. Though of modest education, her former colleagues at Kitui Municipal Council say she possessed inborn intelligence and whenever she walked into the chamber, her presence was immediately felt.

“We likened Mwangangi to Karisa Maitha because she had a towering presence,” recalls Ngovi Mutunga, former Mulango ward councillor and a close confidant of Mwangangi who served as chairman of the Finance Committee.

Whenever Mwangangi walked in the streets of Kitui town, people would wave at her and she would wave back with a permanent smile. Mutunga remembers Mwangangi as a resourceful mobiliser and a genuine leader.

Mwangangi began her political career in 1997 when Ngilu, then the party leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was captivating the country with the Masaa ni ya Ngilu slogan for her presidential campaign.

As one who believes in women empowerment, Ngilu plucked Mwangangi from her cereals shop in Kitui town and urged her to contest for the Kitui Township ward seat. She contested on the SDP ticket and easily floored her opponents.

In the 2002 General Election, and as their friendship blossomed, Mwangangi was re-elected to Kitui Municipal Council, but this time on a Narc ticket, also headed by Ngilu.

Soon, after being elected councillor, Mwangangi expressed her ambition to become Kitui town’s mayor and within no time, Ngilu set her machinery in motion. She was easily elected mayor, a position she held for two consecutive terms.

It is reported that Ngilu and Mwangangi would make ‘weak and sissy’ male leaders and other pretenders literally pee on themselves as female power reigned supreme.

Between 2002 and 2007, Ngilu and Mwangangi called the shots in Kitui town and its environs as MP and mayor respectively. During this period, a few slaps were dished here and there, mostly by Ngilu to bring the town to order.

During the two terms Mwangangi served as Kitui mayor, Mutunga was the chairman of the Finance Committee in the council and says the late mayor was liked across the board.

“Martha was genuine and stood for her people, that is why she served as mayor uninterrupted for two terms,” says Mutunga.

This was at a time when councillors thrived on the law of the jungle. A little provocation would turn the chambers upside down with kicks and blows being exchanged.

Lazarus Kivuio, another former councillor and a close Ngilu ally, says that Mwangangi was a unifying force in the council chambers.

“She was very fair and objective. Everybody in the council adored her style of leadership,” Kivuio says. To date, Kivuio finds it hard to believe Mwangangi is gone.

“We walked to the scene of accident but we could not believe she was dead. We thought perhaps after some time she would wake up,” he said.

Unknown to many, the former mayor was a social animal who enjoyed a good laugh and dance. Mutunga says Mwangangi would dance away to shake off the stress of her political office.

“She loved bango music by Mzee Joseph Ngala. Whenever we toured the Coast, she would request me to go and find out where bango would be playing. Later after business, we would retreat there and she would have a good dance...ooh yes, she could dance!” adds Mutunga.

She was also a sharp dresser with a taste for quality clothes. That, coupled with her natural ‘Kamba beauty,’ Mutunga says, would make the average urban girls who walk around with layers of makeup, go green with envy.