On Tuesday, April 18, a few minutes past 12 noon, I meet Susan Wakarura Kihika at the Royal Media Services VIP (waiting) lounge. She had just beamed on Citizen Extra Swahili edition, and was on her way out. I introduce myself to her, and request her for an interview; a brief one. She agrees.
I ask her to take a pew, of which she obliges. She seems composed, relaxed while still remaining confident and alert; all indicators of a well-bred woman who knows the power of a contagious and unstoppable smile.
Before proceeding forth, I notice something – she had matched her jacket and lip stick – red. Her black knee-length dress was not too tight in such a manner that communicates beauty overkill; and it wasn’t loose-fitting either. It fitted neatly.
Ms Kihika, the speaker of the County Assembly of Nakuru-cum-senate aspirant, looks younger than 42.
I break the ice: “How often do you work out? A section of Kenyans can’t have enough of your beauty and youthful look…”
The question was derived from a story I recently read online which claimed “Ms Kihika’s radiance, in one of her billboards erected in Nakuru Town, can cause accidents”.
She laughs, before responding: “Currently? Occasionally. I have not had the time to hit the gym as frequently as I used to. Being on the campaign trail, however, is enough work out because we walk a lot, we talk a lot. It is extremely physically invigorating. But once all this is done, I will resume my work out sessions.”
I chime in and ask what she makes of the “accident-causing billboard story”.
“I just think that it is funny when a report says motorists can cause accidents when they see my billboard placed on the sides of the highway in Nakuru. It is really in good humour. I hope it does not cause accidents, I hope it has not yet. But it is just a billboard. The County is expansive. I do not expect to visit every corner (when campaigning for a Jubilee Party nomination ticket for the seat of Nakuru Senator). So, billboards help in making people aware of my application. I am a serious candidate; I go in; wanting and expecting to win. So, I do not do things haphazardly,” Susan Kihika says.
I now see the iron lady attribute in her. Several reports on the mainstream media have often referred to Ms Kihika as “Nakuru’s iron lady”, because of her aggressive, fearless and in-fatigable nature. She is a politician who always appears energetic and ready to get things done the right way. She never tires.
Just to get a response from the horse’s mouth, I ask: “Why do you think sections refer to you as the iron lady of Nakuru politics?”
She responds: “It depends on what they mean when they say ‘iron lady’. But, I definitely think it’s because of being firm in my leadership. That is evident on the way I have led the County Assembly of Nakuru. Sometimes hard decisions had to be made, and I stood firm; held my ground, especially where it affected the lives of the people of Nakuru County.
“Some decisions were not, always, very popular but I believe in my heart that that is why, as representatives of the people, we were there. So, by being firm, I think that is where the reference ‘Iron Lady’ came from. I like it; I don’t mind it at all. I just hope and pray that I will continue to be firm while standing for Wanjiku.”
The tag, what she stands for, has turned her into a political darling of several within the county; not forgetting that she has earned a few enemies who see her as a threat to their political careers. Her stand, she says, could not be wavered when she was forced to crack the whip on her friends in the County Assembly of Nakuru when a fight broke in the house in March, 2015. MCA’s shocked the entire nation when they exchanged kicks and blows over the leadership of the County Assembly.
“There was one time – that is maybe my lowest point –, when there was a physical fight in my County Assembly. And you have to understand that these are people that I have been working with. It kind of took me by surprise. I did not expect that kind of physical fight. The toughest decision there, was deciding to get them very tough sanctions coz we had to show that you cannot do that. Making that decision was difficult!”
Susan Kihika has expressed interest in running for Nakuru Senator in the August 8 general election, competing against over six aspirants.
Earlier, there were reports that she would run for Bahati parliamentary seat, but later settled on the Senate seat. Why?
“Given my background as a lawyer and my experience as the Speaker of the County Assembly of Nakuru, it felt like the perfect match. The experience I have had as a speaker, working with the MCAs is exactly a mirror image of what the Senator does but at the national level. One of the major roles is legislation, which I have been guiding the County Assembly with all these laws and I have also provided or guided them in doing oversight, which we have really been known for in the County Assembly of Nakuru.
“I felt I have really honed my skills in exactly the same roles that call for a good Senator. That is why I think a bid for Nakuru Senator is the next automatic big step,” said Susan Kihika.
Jubilee Party nominations will take place on Friday, April 21, with Ms Kihika set to compete against six other politicians including Koigi Wamwere, Engineer Jack Waihenya, lawyer-cum-businessman Karanja Njoroge, businessman Andrew Yatich and Davynisius Matagaro; all eyeing the Jubilee ticket.
Is she scared of being floored in the Jubilee Party nominations?
“I know I am not going to lose. I know I am going to win. But, If I lose life moves on. Though I am sure I am going to win. I am very confident that we are going to make it – and I hope, know and expect that the Jubilee Party nomination in Nakuru County is going to be fair,” said Ms Kihika.
Recently, one of her political rivals claimed that Ms Kihika’s cumulative salary for the term she has served as speaker of the County Assembly of Nakuru, is Ksh70 million and he fails to understand how she “raised Ksh500 million to fund her campaigns”. He added: “Ms Kihika splashes huge sums of money at every political rally she attends”.
Her response: “I think those claiming that my campaign budget is way too high; do not understand that politics is not an investment per se. I would use money, perhaps millions, in campaigns but I do not expect to fund it all by myself. I am helped by a lot of friends. You know, they fundraised for me, offered me vehicles, helicopters.
“So, the money I spend on campaigns, is not something I expect to get back. It is a fallacy to think that I am spending, ungranted Ksh500 million, I do not know where that would come from. The governors spend a lot and they don’t expect to get the money back. It is a fallacy to think that I am going into politics to get my money back. I am going to serve,” she said.
A weekly newspaper had, last week, claimed that a man namely Sam Mburu, who is described as humble, wealthy, down-to-earth and generous, is the one bankrolling Ms Kihika’s political campaign, that runs into millions of shillings. Actually, the term used by the newspaper to refer to Mr Mburu was “Susan Kihika’s sponsor”.
“I think the only reason the weekly newspaper would do that is because I am a woman. They don’t ask the male candidates who are their female partners. The newspaper did not seek my side to their allegations, but I wouldn’t even give it to them because my private life is my private life. I take offense with the word ‘sponsor’ because that is my boyfriend; he is not a ‘sponsor’.
“I take complete offense. But, again that only happens because I am a woman. It would never be the same case with a man. It is just the usual double standards that we are used to. I think the tag ‘sponsor’ they used is ridiculous, shameful and it is shameless. No, I won’t take any legal action against them. Probably they did not sell as much as they had hoped. My man is supportive, nonetheless,” said a fiery Ms Kihika.
I notice she begins to tinge. I shift gears and ask her what she will do for the people of Nakuru County if she is elected Senator.
The incumbent is James Mungai, who has maintained a low profile since he was elected in 2013.
“What I will probably do different is we have had a very absent Senator; so, I want to be a very present one who will stand with my people in good or bad times; but also to extremely lobby for my County at the national level so that more money gets to the county. I understand the needs that the people of Nakuru have, but I also understand that we need a strong Senator who can oversight and make sure that once the money gets there, it is used properly – that the roads are fixed, water is a cry across that county; I would really want to make sure that where budgets have been set for that and money taken out for that that it is really going to make sure that women no longer carry these mitungis searching for water. I want to do all I can to make their lives better.”
Susan Kihika is the daughter of veteran Nakuru politician Kihika Kimani, who was known to be bold and fearless in fighting for the rights of the people whom he represented in Parliament.
Lessons learnt from dad? “I remember he was very bold! He never ever got intimidated by anything at the time when we had a very powerful President. He would stand up to him, especially when he felt his people were being oppressed. For that, I always admire and respect. But the one side people might not know about my late dad is that he was very witty! He also had a very big sense of humour.
“He also had a great vision. With me, I was given the advantage of having been able to really further my education. But he never had that chance; yet that time, having not had the chance to get the education, he was able to build big schools, hospitals, settled people with mashambas in the Rift Valley. I am just amazed by his vision and I wish, if I could even be a quarter of that, then I think I would be okay. To me, he is the greatest role model that has ever lived.”