NATIONALNEWS

A star dimmed in poverty

In a classic riches-to-rags story, former Market Ward civic leader who rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty now paints the perfect picture of poverty

Roy Lumbe

On the slopes of Kiambogo Hills in Gilgil sub-county sits the shrubby Makongo village.

It is home to peasant farmers who eke out a living tilling their tiny plots, but mostly doing odd jobs for the wealthier among them. It is also home to Njoroge Mwangi. Looking at the 59-year old, it is impossible to imagine that he was once a high-flying civic leader, mixing with the high and mighty.

At the height of his career in the 1990s, the then councillor of Market Ward in Eldoret was a fiery advocate of multiparty democracy.

He led rallies that were attended by powerful politicians. He with powerful ministers and leaders of the day, the likes of prominent Eldoret billionaire Jackson Kibor.

Today, Mwangi cuts the figure trapped in penury. From the tattered grey jacket covering his once white shirt to the threadbare pair of trousers that has since grown too big for his shrinking frame, the former mheshimiwa is a weatherbeaten man.

His feet have lost acquaintance with shoes for so long that the toes have frayed out as the soles developed deep gullies. Penury has also since wrinkled any traces of affluence —or power —from the face that looks closer to 90 than 60.

Everything about Mwangi reeks of lack, hunger, destitution.

The only happy thing about the haggard, barefoot man we found tilling a shamba was the bubbly baby strapped on his back. The kid seemed immune to the troubles her father has had to endure. She is three.

Frustration is evident on the former civic leader`s face as he flips through his photo album that he says awaken memories of his once illustrious political career.

He says the weather star ing him after he lost the post. The sudden loss of po er and income hit him har But, perhaps, what struck him hardest was the loss of friends –or rather, people he thought friends. Even his wife of many years fled, leaving him to take care of their two children now aged three and nine.

With little investment of his own, the former mheshimiwa is forced to work as a ca sual labourer on his neigh bours’ farmland to feed his brood.

“It is a frustrating time in my life because I once was servant, served as a wa sentative for Market in E town, I have two kids and my wife immediately left when I lost my income,” he says admitting that he often has to rely on handouts from neighbours to make ends meet.

It is against the backdrop of his squalor that he wants the State to consider an honorarium for retired civic leaders to enable them live a dignified life after their “unwavering service” to the country.

Mwangi is calling on the National Assembly to consider enrolling the more than 12,000 civic leaders on a modest pension scheme that will help cushion them against hunger and illnesses and even enable them afford quality education for their children.

In 2016, 12,000 former councillors petitioned the National Assembly to sanction the government to pay them Sh18 billion in send-off package. This was to translate to Sh1.5 million each.

Besides this, with the recommendation of the Labour committee in the Senate, the civic leaders demanding another Sh30,000 each as a monthly stipend to enable them cope with the rising cost of living.

If passed, the proposal would see those civic leaders who served their full terms before the advent of devolution from 1963 to 2013 entitled to the benefits.

However, Parliament was largely tepid on the proposal as it demanded the payment be effected by the government going back to four decades.

Mwangi is among the 12,000 councillors who maintain that their demand is merited considering that their salaries during their tenure were inconsistent. Their push is yet to yield any fruit.

He just like his colleagues fears that as Parliament continues to lock them in what appears to be an indefinite wait for reprieve, the vicious circle of suffering has to continue.

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