NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 29 – “The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate since we haven’t had ours. It prevents people with seeds of good ideas from getting started” – When Mark Zuckerberg said this during his Commencement Address at Harvard in May 2017, little did he know that miles away, in the August 8th elections in Kenya, in a remote constituency, a 23-year-old would live by the spirit and the letter of his words.
With nothing but a sling of conviction and rocks of faith, Mwirigi trounced giants.
What thrust John Paul Mwirigi, Member of Parliament-elect for Igembe South into the limelight is how simple he was.
He didn’t wait to have a lot of money to run for political office. He didn’t wait to be old enough to change Igembe South. Neither did he wait to accumulate years of experience in the trenches of the civil service before he plunged himself in the race for MP.
His story is the modern day battle between David and Goliath. Mwirigi remembers March 26, 2013 when the dream was birthed that he was going to vie for the parliamentary seat in Igembe South. He was just in Form three.
“This calling came as a dream. On 28th (two days later), I announced to the students of Kirindini Day Secondary School that I will be vying for the parliamentary seat in 2017,” he told me in Nairobi this week.
Immediately he announced his intentions to vie, varied opinions came in thick and fast with some dismissing him while others encouraging him.
“My fellow students took it positively but some of my teachers thought that I was losing my mind so they were not positive,” Mwirigi said.
It was in their school laboratory where they cooked a lethal strategy that would see them trounce giants whose pockets were full but also ran with national parties that were also seen to be favourable in the region.
“We would meet in the laboratory and organize how we could traverse Igembe South,” Mwirigi casually said.
Before his campaign had gained momentum, just less than three months after launching it, he landed in trouble with a local chief.
“One of the chiefs in that area came and reported me to the head teacher and told her that I was going mad. He warned her that I will mislead other students,” he recalled.
Mwirigi was not cowed by the chief’s concerns but instead, he focused his eyes on the ball.
“The principal called me in her office. She asked me if what she had heard was the correct information. I told her it was correct. I told her to vote for me and when she goes back home to convince the husband to vote for me also,” he said with his face beaming.
In the place of the backlash he had anticipated, the principal instead encouraged him.
“She advised me that if there is anyone who will convince to stop campaigning, I should not listen to them. She said she would be happy when I would become the MP for the area and I will be associated with her.”
However, two years later, the situations took a dramatic turn quickly morphing into a deadly complex web. The husband to the principal had an interest in politics too. And they shared the same constituency with him. He joined the race through the Jubilee Party; President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re election vehicle that was seen to be popular in the region.
“In 2015, the wife came and requested me to step down and join the husband. Then I reminded her what she told me before. ‘Mom, do you remember one day you told me that should anybody tell me to step down, I shouldn’t listen to them?’ The principal remembered and laughed it away,” he said.
When he was leaving, he turned around and told the principal that “the people of Igembe South would decide.”
From day one, he was an underdog in the race. He was a 23-year-old student. He didn’t have money, he was an independent candidate whose nomination fees of Sh10,000 was paid for by well wishers from his constituency. He didn’t have a car to campaign with in the constituency, he didn’t have many posters and all around him were odds as solid as the Egyptian pyramids.
He admits that were it not for the door-to-door campaign strategy he employed, he wouldn’t have won maybe. After trekking for kilometres, covering the vast constituency and selling his agenda, his future constituents would accommodate him and even give him food.
“I knew those other politicians would not walk door to door and associate with local people. I would go to each home, sometimes eat and sleep in their homes,” he says.
While his opponents allegedly dished money to win the hearts of the people, Mwirigi says that he took advantage of the situation to sell his agenda.
“I would go to the people who were given money and ask them, ‘this candidate who has given you money, when they go to parliament, will they go to work for you or to recoup back their money?’ I would ask them,” he said.
“If these people give you money, remember that they are campaigning for me. They have jobs, I don’t have. They have money, I don’t have,” he told the electorate.
Mwirigi mounted an intense campaign that saw him work with boda boda riders and small scale traders. Recently, when he travelled around the constituency thanking those who voted for him, he was received with tears of joy; a testament he says to the triumph of the will of the people of Igembe South.
“They are very happy. Last week when I was visiting my people, all of them had a lot of joy. You could tell that I was their choice,” he confirmed committing that he will work for them.
Top on his agenda is to empower his constituents especially women and young people. He wants to invest in education, modern day agricultural practices, talent centres and help his constituents source for bigger markets for their bananas.
“I will provide green houses to women groups where they can farm. I will end harassment of boda boda riders by providing licenses. I will also take two people from each boda boda group to train as mechanics. In Maua, I want to establish a talent academy for deejays, musicians and artists in Maua for young people,”
School fees which he struggled with has not escaped his mind. Through the constituency bursary, Mwirigi wants to clear fees for the less fortunate who haven’t picked their certificates because of school fees balance.
“I want to meet all the school principals from Igembe South constituency so that we can have a way for students to have their certificates. ‘If you don’t have a form four certificate, how can they proceed for further studies?’” he committed.
As he transitions from earning a daily wage of Sh250 – 350 to an average salary of around Sh740,000, Mwirigi wants to build his life but he commits to diligently work for the people who overwhelmingly voted for him. He admits that it will take time to get used to the attention the post has brought. Even when he is called Mheshimiwa, he still gets shocked.
“Per day I was earning Sh250 to 350. I would work in a tea factory, work in construction companies or work in maize plantation. I never earned a monthly salary but daily wages. My life hasn’t changed much. I want to control myself,” he said.
As the interview was coming to a close, he told me that the future is bright and he will not limit what God can do. He committed to serve the people of Igembe South constituency well so that they may promote him in future either as a governor, or even President of the Republic of Kenya.