Hon John Paul Mwirigi made history on 8th August 2017 as being the youngest ever elected Member of Parliament in Kenya at age 23 years, where he trounced down the who is who at the competition of Igembe South parliamentarian by-election.
He campaigned and worked on a very low budget whereas, on the other hand, his competitors had all sorts of big vehicles and all equipment needed for one to win the election. African Leadership Magazine’s East African Correspondent, Meresia Aloo, had an exclusive interview with him and this is what he had to say.
Hon. Mwirigi’s view on Youth Leadership
At 23, you made history as becoming the youngest ever candidate to make it to the August House. Please, tell us how this happened and what was going on in your career life at this time?
MWIRIGI: At 23 I was in my second year at the University. pursuing Bachelor’s Degree in Education. The leadership we had there is what challenged me to have the urge to vie for this position.
What was going on with leadership at this time?
MWIRIGI: By the way, you know this was in 2013 and it was the first time I ever voted in my entire life. So I thought if we could have a young leader who is more approachable to both the young people and the elderly, then that would the relationship between myself and the members of the society.
Well, I understand there are other positions lower than the parliamentary seat. And of course, any young person wishing to get into the political arena would wish to use the bottom-Up approach. Whereby, you begin from the lowest as you climb the ladder upwards. Why parliamentarian and not any other position?
MWIRIGI: As I mentioned to you the barrier between the leaders and the citizens of Igembe South was the major reason I pursued this position. The predecessors were viewed as unapproachable due to the high security which they had and so many people created the perception that only people at their level could interact with them. So I wanted to break that pattern because after elections you could never approach a member of parliament whom you went to the ballot box and voted for. So that’s when I thought it is a good time to vie for this position because then I wanted to be approachable by the people and even change the culture where I can interact with the members of my constituency from wherever at any time without them even noticing that I will be visiting.
Secondly, I wanted to bring some more development within the constituency. Before I wasn’t pleased by the way CDF projects were being handled and so I wanted to change that. That aside since I managed to go through school, I also wanted to be the one facilitating education In that area whereby I issue bursaries personally to the students and not even the parents. I had promised the people of Igembe South good education and therefore I had to implement it. Every year I usually call all the students to a central place that could be under the tree then I issue those bursaries. So with that, you see, we can connect one on one with each other.
What was your political career like, Before attaining this position?
MWIRIGI: Before I was elected, I had no position within the community. I had never been a leader. Maybe the position which I would say I had, was in high school. At the University they had proposed that I lead the class of 2015, but I declined the offer because I feared that the lectures and the directors of the school would realize that I was a politician. In private institutions or any other business, if somebody feels that you are a threat to him or that company, he would throw you out. So I never wanted anyone to realize that I was a politician, even while working at the factory. The management never had an inkling of me being a politician. After High School, I worked in road Construction where I was given a Casual job which I did for almost a year, then afterwards I joined Igembe Tea Factory, where I also worked as a casual worker after that I earned myself a better job inside the factory. While working as casual workers we used to carry logs which used to facilitate the boiling of the steam I was around 20 years at this time. WOW!
MWIRIGI: I started my campaigns on March 28, 2013, after the general election. I was in form three at this time. Two days before this, I had a dream that I was tabling a motion in parliament. So on this day 28th I came out and announced to the students that I will be vying for the position of member of Parliament and I will win come 2017. Teachers wondered whether I was okay because the elections had just been concluded on 4th 2013, then here comes a tiny 19-year-old boy pronouncing his interest in the Parliamentary position. So yeah, this attracted very many discouragements but I thank God I never gave up nor changed my dreams, I persisted.
What intrigued you, to make this announcement while in school that you could not wait to finish with education first, then announce later?
MWIRIGI: It was the dream I had. This dream was very real. I saw myself not campaigning but already in Parliament at the dispatching box. Here, there was a motion I was tabling in the house. So the next day when I woke up, I was not in parliament and it pricked me however, I knew this dream could be real if I work towards it. So the consequent day to this very day I kept on insisting and telling my friends about winning this election. Not many believed in me at that time but one very young man listened to me and encouraged me to announce to the students and that is when I went ahead and pronounced it. It brought a lot of problems between me and the principal because her husband also, later on, announced that he would be vying for this seat. So the principal called me and asked me to step down for the husband, but I refused I persisted and I even told her to remember her words “Go for it and never step down for anyone”. So her husband also was a very close friend of mine and I encouraged him to go for elections and compete together and that if at all he won, he would not forget me, and if I won, I would not forget him.
While you were doing this in school, what were your parent’s reactions?
MWIRIGI: When I mentioned to him about vying for this position he said he would support me up to the end if he would be alive. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as expected. He passed on the following year, In 2014 at 78 years of age. So my dad encouraged me a lot, however, my mom was worried about me but with time she adapted and began supporting me.
After achieving this dream what happened to your education papers….Did you continue with school?
Hon Mwirigi’s quick note on hard work and persistence
MWIRIGI: I completed my Bachelor’s Degree In Education and graduated in the year 2019. We even had a party and the purpose of it was to inform the people of Igembe South that even if they elected me, I didn’t abandon my studies. I even went for my teaching practice at a village school while still a Member of Parliament.
You are a down-to-earth person, how was your upbringing like?
MWIRIGI: You know one thing I have learned in this journey is that you have to be a very principled person. Without it, it is very easy for you to lose focus. Many thought that this money would change me but it didn’t. I’m still the same person, I believe. But also I come to form a humble background.
Holding a door-to-door campaign on foot to win the hearts of the people and realize your dreams is not an easy task as other contestants used convoys of vehicles to campaign. Could you please talk to us about this experience?
MWIRIGI: By now Meresia, you should have realized that I was still in school by then and I did not have enough finances to sponsor my campaigns. But I decided that it would not deter me from campaigning.
Others even asked for tokens from me but I could tell them, for now, I don’t have but when you vote me in I will be able to sort you from my end. Therefore, I could walk from the furthest end of the constituency to the other end just convincing people to vote for me. Where I found small meetings or community gatherings going on, I would pass by and ask them for their time and they would listen to me. It was not easy at all because others could ask me if I have ever seen somebody of my age vying for this position. So on the last three weeks of my campaigns, I remember I lobbied motorbike riders to help my campaign and they came through for me and we had like a whole group of motorbike riders rallying behind my back to support as I convinced people to vote for me. The motorbike riders never charged me even a single penny.
The very last week of my campaign I secured a day whereby we conducted prayers with some of the people who were helping me out with the campaigns at the Maua area. Not many people came but the ones who were there made the day worth memorable. I assured them that Come Tuesday next week I would be announced the winner of the Igembe South parliamentary seat. and true to my words that came to pass. I am now serving my last term as a member of parliament and will view again come 2022 general elections.
Upon winning the Igembe South Parliamentary seat, one thing stood out. You used public transport just like any other passenger from your home county to Nairobi’s famous stage “Tea Room” in Downtown to attend Jubilee parliamentary group meeting at State House, which was chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta.No parliamentarian has ever done that before. What was the reason behind that?
MWIRIGI: I wanted people to see a parliamentarian as just a normal person who can use a common means of transport just like any other ordinary person. Yes, I don’t refute that an MP is a high profile position but I wanted people to understand that it is possible to seat next to a high profile person in a common means of transport or a commonplace Because again it is them who elected me. So why not? If I remain on top there with my fellow high-profile colleagues how would I learn about issues affecting them? Because when seat with these people regardless of their education or social class you can profoundly understand some of these issues. Even now I still use a motorbike to work. and there is nothing wrong with that. I mean I have a Prado that I was gifted by the President and I can’t say that I lack the finances to maintain the car, I have all those but that doesn’t stop me from using a motorbike or whichever form of transport. After this life of being an MP, there is still another life that needs to be lived. So if I don’t do it now, where will I get friends to associate with Future? These people will abandon me.so I have to begin to make such friendships now.
In September 2017 barely hours after attaining the Seat, The African Continent was treated to a pleasant Surprise after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta treated you to a brand new Toyota Prado and wardrobe makeover from his Stylist. Talk to us about this experience.
MWIRIGI: So this was between the three of us; The Deputy President Of Kenya, the President H.E Uhuru Kenyatta, and of course Myself. It was just after the presidential address to the members of parliament so after he walked out, I went straight ahead to him to say hi and that’s when the president said there’s something they learned about me in the newspapers. That while I went to the statehouse earlier I used public means of transport and he asked me why I didn’t mention it to him. At that point is when the Deputy president suggested that they needed to gift me with a means of transport. I didn’t take it seriously because he said that while he was being escorted out of the parliament with his Security guards. So I didn’t know what they were going to do with that information until the following week when I received a call saying that the president wants to speak to me. So the following week I was invited to Sagana State lounge and after the meeting, he gave me the car keys. And from then at the age of 23, I owned my first car, Toyota Prado.
How is it like being a young successful politician? has it made it difficult for you to achieve some things? or even address issues within Igembe South?
MWIRIGI: No, being a young leader has been an advantage on my end. Because people are always ready to listen to you while you pitch ideas. I believe I have lobbied a lot simply because of my age. The people who have been in the game previously have made it easy for me to serve the people of Igembe South. The reason is, I believe as a young person, you never get tired to knock the offices for assistance or guidance. So Some of our cabinet secretaries in the Kenyan Government, I have nothing to say to them! they have held my hands immensely every time I knocked on their doors. For example, last financial year I had the biggest allocation in the energy sector. Even this financial year, I still have projects that require allocation so again I will go back to knock on their doors before my term ends.
To the Igembe South Constituency, They are understanding people. They have given me the maximum respect like any other leader deserves. The only challenge I have had in this area is the people whom we were competing with for this position, however, I would say that it is normal for your competitors to act in certain ways but I thank God, it never distracted me from serving the people of Igembe South.
Society believes that for one to win in an election, you have to belong to a political party especially in a situation where you are new. In your case, You shocked everyone when you contested as an independent candidate and garnered 18,867 votes winning the contest. Refusing to join a political party that is strong in that area is a bold move that not any ordinary person could take. Why did you have to take this direction?
MWIRIGI: I did this because then, for you to belong to a political party, you had to pay ksh 100,000. I didn’t have that money. The second reason I feared that I might join those political parties go for primaries, it is not a must one gets the certificate after winning because of different expectations’ on a candidate to the party. So most of the time you’d find that those who are able money-wise to are the ones who would be given priority.
So what was expected for one to run as an independent candidate?
MWIRIGI: They will only require as little money as ksh10,000 and a symbol which would be next to your photo. And you have to provide a symbol that has never been used by any political party. The constitution of Kenya also provides that you can view without belonging to a political party.
What was your symbol and why that symbol?
MWIRIGI: My symbol was a ladder. with a window opened. So within that window, there was a light outside. Before I had suggested a tree that had been cut, but I was told the symbol had once been used.
Hon Mwirigi’s message to the youths who want to venture into the same field
As a young person who is currently holding a big position in government, what is your advice to the youth who want to pursue such a position?
When you believe in yourself, you attract the energy to move on. Because when you face challenges such as people demeaning you, you will have the strength to move forward. But if you wait for someone to encourage you, you will never move forward. Myself, I was even offered a lot of money so that I can step down because they were telling me that I am young with no influence. I never bought the idea and I believed in myself, I was even threatened that I would lose my life if I continued with my campaigns. So Many young youths get intimidated and lose their focus along the way. I would wish to encourage them not to be intimidated even when they don’t have money. What matters is the unique skill that allows you to move to the next step. So if you have that self-awareness and belief, you can do marvellous things in your life.
As your term comes to an end, do you believe that you have achieved what you wanted to achieve before attaining this seat?
MWIRIGI: Yes, I have achieved at least 75%. I have issued bursaries to students the way I had envisioned, I have managed to sponsor 59 students with my money and over 300 secondary schools and university/college students’ education on CDF funds. I have been able to build a KMTC ( medical training centre) where our children can go study and better still create employment opportunities for the members of the community, I have also been able to build a laboratory for student practical’s lessons in every secondary school that didn’t have in all wards in igembe south. Have tarmac more than 30km of roads around maua and its environs. Security is of paramount importance and so have been able to do security roads around the constituency and those not completed are still in the pipeline. In Igembe South have made sure that electricity connectivity is reaching everyone and am now doing the last miles for kiiji,kithetu,thaisu,ikumbwe just to mention a few and 23 transformers underway. I have built a civil service registry to enable my people get access to government services more efficiently and effectively. I also managed to lobby big companies like Twiga to do business with the members of Igembe South Constituency. You know we are famous for producing bananas so I requested the company to buy bananas from the women in the area for them to be able to earn a living and true to their words, they heed my call and did exactly that. Also when it comes to locomotion I had promised Boda Boda riders that once I attain this seat, I would train them and ensure licenses are given to them. And In the first year of winning the election, I managed to train 350 Boda Boda riders and issue them with licenses, and the following year, I recruited over one thousand Boda Boda riders and issued them with licenses. So in total, I had about two thousand Boda Boda riders whom I issued them with licenses, and even this year I have worked with them. So for me, I believe I have achieved almost all that I wanted to achieve once I attain this position.
What are your hobbies?
MWIRIGI: I am a very prayerful person. If I am not in politics, then I am somewhere in a corner praying.