I sold mitumba and mboga to survive- Mwangi Kiunjuri’s story

Mwangi Kiunjuri.

Your story is a typical rags-to-riches tale. How was it like growing up?

I was born and brought up in the Kahurura Forest section of Mt Kenya region in Kieni, Nyeri County. My father worked as a dresser at a dispensary in the Kahurura Forest area, while my mother was a home manager who also engaged in peasant farming.

My parents were poor. I am the 11th child in a family of 12.

When you say your parents were poor, what exactly do you mean?

I led a normal village boy’s life. I went to a village school where we did not wear shoes. I remember I first wore a pair of shoes when I was in Standard Four.

My elder sister who lived in Nairobi bought me the shoes and I was super excited.  I wore the second pair when I was joining secondary school.

Was life that difficult?

Yes. At the age of 10, I decided to make a difference. I chose to live in faith. I managed to join Moi University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education.

During my free time, I sold clothes. After completing university, I bought vegetables at Kinangop and sold them in Githurai, Nairobi.

Seems business runs in your blood...

Oh yes! In fact, when I got a chance to further my studies in Johannesburg, South Africa for nine months, I engaged in some businesses.  While I was employed as a high school teacher at Kiarithaini Secondary School in Mathira, Nyeri County, I had an old lorry which I used for transport business before I joined politics.

How did you get into politics?

I used to live in Nanyuki town, where I was engaged in transport business. Due to the nature of my job, I used to hang around Nanyuki main bus terminus where people discussed politics.

I used to support various candidates, but I never imagined myself being a politician. I remember during the 1997 General Election, my friends urged me to give it a shot and promised to support me.

Did you win?

I was elected on a DP (Democratic Party) ticket, but the nominations were a big hurdle. Some people wanted to rig me out and so I got another nomination certificate from Safina just in case I lost a petition I had filed. I couldn’t raise the Sh50,000 that parliamentary candidates were required to pay.

People, especially those I competed against during my first entry into politics called me makanga (tout), but they were surprised when a panel of elections petition jury led by retired President Mwai Kibaki ruled that I won the by-election.

Where did you get the money?

I remember it was two days to the nominations when a stranger came to my house. He wanted to buy my lorry and offered me Sh90,000. The rest of the money I used to settle debts.

Did your friends support you?

Not all of them. I remember a former colleague at Kiarithaini Secondary School who told me off when I informed him I was running for the Laikipia East parliamentary seat. He said in a packed staffroom that I only had a bed and a kerosene stove in my house.

He claimed I had nothing to show despite my ambitions to become an MP. He sarcastically pledged to give me Sh10,000 if I garnered 100 votes, and he was surprised when I got the nominations and went on to win the elections by more than 22,000 votes, while the runner-up garnered a paltry 5,000 votes.

What drives you?

My determination to become a different person. I worked hard and trusted in God.  I also have faith in all my goals. I advise the youth to trust in themselves and also have faith in what they do. Do not fear to try something new.

This interview was first published in The Nairobian three years ago.

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