By Fwamba NC Fwamba
I would like to applaud President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jubilee Party leadership for recognizing and elevating Sen Irungu Kang’ata to the position of Senate Majority Chief Whip. Apart from congratulating my friend Sen Kang’ata, I would like to put down a few words for future reference.
My first memory of Sen Irungu Kang’ata dates back to November 2000 just a month after I began my studies as an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi. A few weeks before joining UoN we had read in the papers that the student leadership of the university had vehemently opposed the introduction of the parallel degree program. Having joined UoN through the defunct Joint Admissions Board,most of us freshers were in full agreement with student leadership and were eager to know the faces behind the opposition to introduction of the no so popular programme.One day Towards the end of November 2000,while in the corridors of Prefab 9 of the Mamlaka Hostels,I spotted a gentleman in an untucked shirt with a whistle calling for a Kamukunji.Kamukunji’s were student gatherings that used to be held at Hall 9 just adjacent to UoN’s student centre. It was baptism by fire for freshmen as we used to call it.We got excited on hearing of a Kamukunji to help stop the parallel degree program.The student leaders believed that the program was unstructured and left many loopholes for corruption.
The leaders argued that parallel degree program undermined the quality of education that encouraged use of money to access university education as opposed to intellectual ability. It was in that Kamukunji during introduction of the speakers that I realized that the person whom I had spotted mobilising students was Irungu Kang’ata; the Vice Chairman of the Student Organisation of Nairobi University. Through that Kamukunji, Kang’ata highlighted the reasons as to why student leadership opposed the parallel degree program. He also said that being a student of law,he was a strong believer in the rule of law. Kang’ata highlighted in detail and convincingly so the reason he had mobilized the rest of the student leadership under the chairmanship of David Ole Sankok to seek legal redress by suing the University. After that Kamukunji, students decided to take the protests to the streets.
SONU leadership had ably convinced us and we felt that apart from the court process we needed to pursue our own ways of expressing solidarity with our leaders through street protests. The protests went on that night. Some of us who retreated to our hostels that evening tuned in to KBC Television.There was a program where the pros and cons of the parallel degree program were being debated The main protagonists were Vice Chancellor Prof Francis Gichaga on the side of the university administration and Sonu Vice Chairman Irungu Kang’ata putting up a case for the students.Most of the students we watched the television with were so impressed by Kang’ata’s articulation of issues.He remained very respectful to Prof Gichaga but made very solid points that made the good professor stammer.The following day the university was closed indefinitely. Kang’ata and the rest of the student leaders stood suspended pending disciplinary action by the university administration.
Suspended and accused of inciting students and causing interference with the ‘smooth running’ of the University,together with the rest the affected leaders,Kang’ata sought legal redress again to challenge their suspensions through another court process. The university was re-opened during early 2001 when the case challenging student suspensions was ongoing. It was at that time that I proudly associated myself with the Kang’ata group as I found mentorship to become a student leader. The students lost their case but they made thir point.Student leaders who included Kang’ata, David Sankok,Karl Marx (Christopher Owiro) and others in hundred got suspensions that ranged from 1 academic year to 3 or four academic years. Some other students got expelled.It was during that period that the down to earth and humble Kang’ata decided to retreat to the village. We met occasionally in the city but he spent most of his time in his Murang’a backyard. It was therefore not surprising that the suspended Kang’ata was elected Councillor in Murang’a.
After the victory of President Kibaki and defeat of Kanu in the 29th December 2002 elections,together with student activists who included Otieno CD,Makokha Wanjala,Murage Njagagua, Ken Obura and others we began efforts to revive Sonu and reinstate students who had been expelled and suspended during the Kanu era. Kang’ata joined the Sonu revival team and offered guidance to our team that used to meet in my room at State House Road Hostel Room F3. Despite the fact that he stood suspended and served as an elected councillor, he knew that the plight of the other suspended and expelled students was a collective responsibility. This team was able to clandestinely organize night meetings in all campuses that culminated to the biggest student Kamukunji ever witnessed since the exit of the Kanu regime.
On the 22nd of January 2003,responding to students pressure ,UoN Vice Chancellor Prof Crispus Kiamba declared unconditional readmission of all suspended and expelled students and Sonu was reinstated. I was privileged to get elected in the student elections that were held on the 7th of March 2003 effectively succeeding Kang’ata as Sonu Vice Chairman. I remember during our inauguration Sen Kang’ata (then as Councillor Kang’ata) and former Sonu Secretary General Joseph Kioko gracing our occasion as special guests.The late Christopher Owiro (Karl Marx) who was uninvited gate crashed the function and gave his speech due to public demand. In his speech, Kang’ata encouraged us to be pragmatic and tactful in our ambitions and in our representation roles.I remember him expressing his admiration for Raila Odinga ‘s pragmatic approach in politics.
Upon his return to Parklands Law School, Kang’ata kept a low profile as far as student politics were concerned and focused on his studies.After his graduation, from UoN and Kenya School of Law he continued with his studies as a post graduate student and eventually graduated with master’s degree in law.
As a lawyer and an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, Kang’ata remained a conscious representative of the downtrodden and a believer in fairness and justice. I know of so many people that he represented pro bono.
I had joined employment like what other graduates always do.I hadn’t heard from and about Kang’ata for sometime until early 2007 when I read in the papers that Youth For Kibaki lobby group intended to launch in Kisumu. https://allafrica.com/stories/200702090964.html .This was a dare devil surprise decision that was a significant news item that received very good coverage because Kisumu was the bedrock of support of President Mwai Kibaki’s main challenger Raila Amollo Odinga.At the helm of this plan were Irungu Kang’ata as Secretary General and Karl Marx (Christopher Owiro) as Chairman. Other members of this lobby included George Nyongesa and Antony Nyaga. Reading that in the dailies made me get encouraged to quit employment and join Kang’ata’s lobby group. I believed the opportunity was presented for my own political growth.Together with Ken Orengo, I was happy to be led by Kang’ata again. During that time Kang’ata introduced us to Cabinet Minister John Michuki and his wife as we sought to entrench ourselves within Kibaki campaigns.
Being a witty and strategic man, Kang’ata later decided to be more involved in PNU campaigns at his backyard in Murang’a but interestingly, he decided to neither defend his Councillor seat nor run for Kiharu Member of Parliament seat which he had been very keen on. He decided to endorse his elderly opponent Ngenye Kariuki but wisely sought some kind of agreement to have him take over in 2013.In 2013, he got overwhelmingly elected to serve the people of Kiharu as Member of Parliament on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party The National Alliance with a popular catchy slogan Kang’ata Na Kenyatta.
Kang’ata’s greatest strength is his ability to remain humble and stay in touch with his old Comrades. In the Sonu Alumni WhatsApp group, he is one of the most objective contributors to ideas and he treats every person equally. When his father passed in February this year, I represented the SONU Alumni team at the funeral. At the funeral service of Irungu Kang’ata’s father ,through various speakers I realized that his values of transparency, humility and high integrity standards are recognized even in his Murang’a County. I realized that given opportunity, Murang’a people are willing to vote for him for whatever position he will decide to seek in future.
Senator Irungu Kang’ata is an astute mobilizer, a great debater, a team player who is honest, easy to trust and has never lost an election. In Kang’ata, President Uhuru Kenyatta ‘s Jubilee party has a loyal and dependable ally who is reliable and capable to bring generational support to Jubilee Party. As Senate Majority Whip, I have confidence that progressive legislation and good laws will be passed. With Kang’ata as the Majority Whip, our generation of those who are in late 30s and early 40s feel ably represented. Humble, honest, consistent Senator Kang’ata is still in direct touch and connected to his old UoN comrades despite the fact that he has risen in political ranks since his days as Sonu vice Chairman, Councilor in Murang’a, MP for Kiharu, Senator for Murang’a County and now Senate Majority Whip. He commands respect and is highly regarded among his peers including those who aren’t active in political circles.