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Getting out of my father's shadow, Senator Kihika speaks

Kihika KimanI's favourite daughter

In Summary

• Unlike her father, a key player in the 1976 Change the Constitution Movement, geared towards preventing former President Daniel Moi from ascending to power, Kihika is firmly in the pro-Ruto camp.

• Left a thriving law practice in Texas to return to Kenya and plunge into politics.

Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika has been described by some as a 'refined reincarnation of her father, and an emerging Iron Lady of Nakuru politics'. 

However, she thinks that though the description is extremely positive, it is too much to be compared with her father, the MP who served three constituencies — Nakuru North, Laikipia West and Molo. He died in 2004 aged 74.

“I really don’t think I can compare myself with my father considering where he came from. He came pretty much from nothing. So poor was he that he wore patched shorts to Musa Gitau school,” Kihika said in an interview with the Star at the Senate on Thursday.

 

"My father was big on education. He built many schools, hospitals and gave land for the construction of churches."

She says the father did a lot, which she also is trying hard to achieve now as a senator.

"When I started, they used to refer to me as Susan Kihika, the daughter of Kihika Kimani. I, however, now think I am getting out of my father's shadow," Kihika said.

In a letter,  reportedly written by her father and attached to a Nakuru court file, he described her as his favourite girl because “she did him good in America.”

She confirms she was a daddy’s girl, always close to him and accompanying him to political rallies. And so she developed the interest and found the courage to venture into politics. And because she spoke her mind to him, they became even closer.

“Contrary to what many thought of my father, he was easy and funny. I remember we would sit outside in the sun and I'd pluck out his grey hairs one by one," Kahika said.

She said he introduced her to politics in Nakuru in 1992. "I was 18, just out of high school, and my mother was not comfortable with that because of the language that was used in rallies.”

Indeed, Kimani has been described as 'the grandmaster of foul language'.

She was his returning officer in that election.

Interestingly, Kimani had shifted his political base to Laikipia West with the sole purpose of removing GG Kariuki, with whom he had huge political differences.

However, former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere says this was a move to create a political dynasty.  He bequeathed two parliamentary seats — Molo and Subukia — to two of his wives.

Born the second child of his second wife Alice, Kihika went to Busara Forest View Academy in Nyahururu and Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls’ High School in Nyeri. She was admitted to the University of Nairobi where she stayed for barely a month.

“My father came over one afternoon and told me to pack my things, I had a flight to catch to the UK. I didn’t even have time to tell my friends goodbye,” she said.

She joined the University of Reading to study law for two years before she relocated to the US due to cold weather.

She joined the University of North Texas to study political science. She proceeded to start her law degree all over again and was admitted to the Texas Bar. She worked as a prosecutor in Dallas for four years, rising to the position of the district attorney. After two decades in the US, she returned to Kenya in 2012 ready to run for office, having decided after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

She belatedly entered the Bahati parliamentary seat race, which she lost. She, however, became the first Senator of Nakuru county.

“I left a thriving law firm back in the US to get into politics. Some people were surprised why I was returning to Kenya to join dirty politics. But how can you stand by instead of getting in and cleaning it?” the Majority Chief Whip in the Senate asks.

She disagrees with those who describe her as rigid and tough. “I am easy going, but tough in some way because I am strong on issues. I am also open to ideas," she says.

But Koigi, who ran against her in the last senatorial race, says she lacks a political cause and used money to win the Nakuru Senate race.

"Like all the people who inherit leadership, she has not joined the leadership for a certain cause. I think she is there for self-service. I think she is there to actualise her father's idea of a constituency dynasty," Koigi says.

Koigi notes he had a long battle with Kihika Kimani but his opinion of the senator is not personal but an analysis of her as a politician.

It was also not easy for Kihika as speaker, as there was an attempt to impeach her in April 2017, which she said had much to do with external influence in House leadership wrangles, rather than her as speaker.

"We did a good job. We made MCAs understand oversight, built their capacity and recruited staff," Kihika says. 

Unlike her father, who was a key player in the 1976 Change the Constitution Movement, which was geared towards preventing former President Daniel Moi from ascending to power, Kihika is firmly in the pro-Ruto camp, Team Tangatanga. Some have accused her among other Ruto allies of early campaigns.

She says she is not campaigning but accompanying Ruto to launch development projects.

She says it is a different ballgame altogether when the DP visits and sees what the people need, rather than taking briefs in office.

She says, however, it is nothing other than the promise they made as Jubilee politicians in 2017 campaigns. 

"There are no shades of grey. It is the right thing to do. With kind of work the DP has done, no one comes close to delivering as he has done," Kihika says.