In Conversation With Charity Ngilu

November 29, 2021

Kitui Governor Charity Bgilu speaks to The Nation in a wide-ranging interview about among other topics; the problem with Kenya’s politics, the ideological divide between Raila and Ruto, and how she escaped an assassination attempt.

Why didn’t you attend the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council (IBEC) meeting called by Deputy President William Ruto on Monday?

I do not attend things that do not bear results.

Isn’t that a bit harsh? As a governor, why wouldn’t you want to attend a national forum where economic ideas meant to uplift counties are discussed?

That’s exactly my point! If he has been chairing them for the last nine years and he has never come out to say that this is what needs to be done in the counties, why should I listen to him now? I would care if he was calling such a meeting to tell me how to train my young people in Kitui to make shoes, belts, bowls or garments. Why would I attend a meeting that is empty? A meeting that is not giving people anything? He might have money, but he does not have the ideas.

What if someone else, other than the DP, was chairing the meeting? Would you have attended?

Probably. He and the President came up with the policy of the Big Four Agenda, what happened to it? We have never had him talk about it. What is this thing he is selling to the people; that he is going to bring you from bottom to up? How? When you look at what we are doing in Kitui, is this not very impressive?

But some say that since he is not the president, you really can’t blame him for the collapse of the Big Four Agenda.

We know the years he has been in leadership; what does he have to show for it? Giving handouts to the youth?

It’s apparent the bad blood between you and Ruto runs too deep, what’s the beef?

I have been at this thing for a long time trying to see the country on the right trajectory but Ruto is only out to use people’s status, specifically poverty, to ride to power. When I see these young people, I see the huge potential in them, whether educated or not. It is about building their skills, not giving them handouts.

What we are making here at Kicotec (Kitui County Textile Centre) is what used to come from China, Turkey and other countries. Do they need us to employ their people? No, we just bought the machines from them and the garment making is done the same way world over. Once we make the garments, we sell them and give these people, the young people and the officers working here, a livelihood.

Then there is the Tangatanga label; it’s interesting that he takes it very positively. If, after working this hard, one day somebody calls me Tangatanga, I would be very livid and I would ask myself: “How is it that, despite the good work I am doing, somebody would call me Tangatanga?” The phrase tangatanga means to wander aimlessly in English.

And in the book of Job 1:7, the Lord said to Satan: “Where have you come from?” and Satan answered, “I have been wandering around the earth, going back and forth in it.” And we know Satan had no noble agenda when roaming around. Now why should someone be happy with that tag? The President was telling the country that Ruto is just a roamer. That is what I learnt.

Are you implying that the DP is riding on mass poverty to gain political mileage?

Yes. We are making shoes, belts and non-pharmaceutical health products here. Show any of such initiatives he’s involved in. I never knew Kitui people could ever make hand sanitisers, but that is what we are doing here. That is what leadership is supposed to do: to guide and show people what to do and let them excel.

If I had more money, more resources, I would buy more machines, train more young people and therefore employ even more. Everything is about leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership. That is what (John Calvin) Maxwell (an American author, speaker, and pastor) said, not me. If you see things are not working well, it is because the leadership is not working well.

You have been pushing for the former Nasa colleagues to come together once again to face off with the DP. Do you believe he is such a formidable force that to defeat him all these political actors must work in concert to oppose him?

I just told our people that we know where good leadership is. And because I know good leadership, I am telling them, this is a very good leader, let’s support him. Unity is the way to go. Prime Minister Raila Odinga is already doing it. Azimio la Umoja is bringing people together. Unless we work together and unite, we are not going anywhere.

Why, then, are you excluding DP Ruto from that call of unity?

You need to think about ideology, about what someone believes in. Raila has historically believed in a properly democratised nation where everybody has his or her say; where each person’s voice can be heard and you can go out and work without fear or favour from anybody. Raila fought for devolution and that is how you are now sitting in a governor’s office. He said we needed more resources on the ground and devolved units where people can be given faster services by people they elect, not appointees.

The provincial administration had become a demagogue that made people very unhappy, now you see people walking in here. Do you think there is a demagogue seating here? No! Because they know they only have five years to retain you or kick you out. That is the difference. Two, when we fought to bring change through the constitution in 2010, Ruto opposed it.

At that time he would rather have the Kanu constitution. He did not want devolution. In 2020, as we were trying to have the BBI to have better people’s representation and resource allocation, he opposed it. What business would I have with such a fellow?

How come all the brilliant minds in the Handshake team never saw the death of BBI coming? How come you never saw the legal minefields?

I can only say that there are many people who may or may not have understood it. Remember that, in 2010 when we passed this constitution, faith-based organisations opposed it, but devolution has worked very well for many people. The fall of BBI was a conspiracy by those who don’t believe in empowering the masses, it didn’t come as a surprise.

True, development has been devolved, but so has corruption…

This issue of graft in counties is grossly exaggerated. The bulk of it is political hatred and rivalry. When I was elected we bought a brand new CT scan machine, then none other than our Senator, Enock Wambua, went to the EACC and said the machine was a donation, and that it was secondhand. The EACC paid us a visit. I told them: “Hey, this is the money we paid, this is the company we paid, and here is the receipt.” The other day we bought trucks to help livestock farmers to deliver their animals to markets. The same man accused me of corruption.

Kitui County is 30,496 square kilometres; that’s one and half the size of Rwanda or ten times that of Kirinyaga County. Animals walking from one end to the other die on the way. When you truck them, they do not lose any weight and so their value does not depreciate. For me, most of the graft allegations are just exaggerated.

You’ve been around for a while now. Being a woman in politics, what are some of the highs and lows and how did you balance between politics and family?

It is very difficult to balance your life and give people time. For instance, look at the time you have been waiting. I really feel I should have given you immediate attention and finished with you. At the same time, I have my family members calling me. And then there are also other people who want to come and sit and feel good and you need to ask them very politely what exactly brought them to the office. You have to be very polite.

For women, it really is harder because you are balancing between your office, family, children, friends, politics and even your own self-time. Churches are waiting for you on Sundays, schools are waiting for you, there are burials and weddings to attend… name them. The telephone never stops ringing. They (voters) cannot understand why you did not pick their phone.

And when they call, they ask: “Governor, do you know who is speaking?” Now, you must say yes, even if you don’t. The assumption is that since they voted for me, I must know each and every one of them by name. They also do not like people around you, I mean the handlers, advisors or PAs. They say they are the ones making me inaccessible. They say we never elected these people here, we only voted for you.

Balancing this thing is very difficult; that is why a lot of women find it very difficult getting into office. If they must succeed, they must have very strong support from their families and if they are married, from their husbands. My husband supported me, he was there every time. Wherever he was, he told people I was the best MP. I miss him and I feel sad he is not around to be with me as the governor now and see the journey I have travelled. He would be proud of me. A woman needs all the support, from the spouse especially. Men are supported so much by their wives and I wish all women also have their husbands to support them.

As a champion of women leadership, do you foresee a time when a major presidential candidate will pick a woman as a running mate? 

Not in any of the coalitions. It cannot be either of the two. I can never work with Ruto. If we get one nominated, by the only one in whose hands we are safe, it would be a very nice thing.

Why is it so?

Some of us have sets of values we believe in. It will be a tragedy to have a woman supporting that one. No.

You missed death by a whisker in an incident that killed former Kitui mayor Martha Mwangangi in 2016. Who was after your life?

It pains me so much. In fact every time I walk in the streets of Kitui, that is the only thing that comes to my mind. I walk out from here and again I know the people who killed my friend Martha also wanted to kill me and they were part and parcel of this same county government workers that I am now presiding over. It is very painful.

The other day you had an Azimio rally in Makueni amid murmurs of a deliberate move to sideline Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka. It appears all Ukambani governors have little or no time for the regional supremo. Why is that so?

No, we did not sideline anyone. Everybody was invited and the Wiper leader has been part and parcel of Raila Odinga’s cause for all the years. If you remember, in 2007, I was the first person to sell Raila Odinga here. I ran on the Narc ticket and he was the presidential candidate. Kalonzo was a presidential candidate and I did not support him, I supported Raila.

I am always persuaded to believe that Raila Odinga won, but between Kibaki and Kalonzo, whatever happened, they took the seat and we later on worked together. In 2013 Kalonzo joined Raila Odinga, so he sold Raila Odinga in the whole of Ukambani and the Akamba accepted Raila fully. In 2017, again, Kalonzo was with Raila and, again, every vote, with the exception of a few, went to Raila.

There is a raging debate on in whose hands, between Raila and Ruto, the country is safe. What’s your take?

This is akin to choosing between day and night. The only person who can protect this country is Raila Amollo Odinga.

You don’t seem to have any kind words for DP Ruto. What did he do to you?

His leadership style, that’s all. If you have the heart of a leader, would you, when looking for some place to get your hotel visitors’ parking lot, teargas primary school children? In the Bible, 2nd Samuel 12:4 to be specific, a story is told of a rich man who instead of picking a lamb from his huge flock went for the only one from a poor neighbour to entertain his guests. That’s exactly what happened in this case.

Why didn’t you indict him for the alleged crime when you were the Land minister, or were you under pressure to protect those involved? In fact, you told us that some Singh brothers were behind the attempted land grab.

You know… sometimes when you are in government, you must protect it. But the title deed for that piece of land indicated it belonged to ‘Habanse’.

What did the President tell you?

He directed me to go and fence it. I went in with the NYS and did just that to protect the children.

Was the President aware who was behind it?

Absolutely! He was.

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