Tycoon Peter Munga is one of the richest men in Murang'a county and chairman of Gema elders. Murang'a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria is the only governor who was re-elected in Central region and has his eyes on the second most powerful seat in Kenya. At one time, he was an employee of Mr Munga.
And now, a supremacy battle between the two over control of Murang’a Water and Sewerage Company has paralysed water provision and held hostage a Sh4 billion plan to build a water institute in the region.
It’s a clash of egos, vested interests and influence that is playing out in the streets, boardrooms and courts despite the best efforts to reconcile the two by elders and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
On Wednesday, Mr Munga moved to the Labour Court to stop his replacement as chairman by Mr Wa Iria. The governor wanted to replace Mr Munga with Prof Joseph Kimura as chairman of Murang’a Water and Sanitation Company (Muwasco).
Justice Byram Ongaya suspended Governor Wa Iria’s appointment and ruled that Mr Munga should continue as chairman.
While stopping implementation of a gazette notice appointing Prof Kimura, the judge also prohibited the governor from interfering with Muwasco board of directors, staff and operations of the company. As this was happening, the county government had dumped sand and stones at the gate of the water company to prevent Muwasco employees and vehicles from entering. On Monday, Muwasco employees disconnected water to all residents in protest against the county government's interference.
But it was not always like this between the two. In fact, Mr Wa Iria had even been an employee of Mr Munga, working as CEO of Fresco Seeds between 2010 and 2011. The two fell out just before the 2013 elections when the former Equity Bank chairman backed Dr Moses Mwangi for governor.
Mr Wa Iria painted the tycoon as a master puppeteer who wanted to control the governorship of Murang'a county through the back door.
“Mr Munga should just vie for governor instead of seeking to control us through Mr Moses Mwangi,” he said. Mr Munga denied the claims and asked the governor to stop linking him to politics.
Mr Wa Iria trumped Mr Moses Mwangi.
In 2015, Gatundu South lawmaker Moses Kuria offered to mediate between the two. Amid sizzling goat ribs and champagne, the two made up. "Mr Munga has the financial muscle and I also appeal to him to assist me financially as I defend my gubernatorial seat in 2017," the governor said.
“The two have big egos and are both ambitious and strong headed. We glossed over the issues and did not hold any tangible talks. But they shook hands for the cameras because we had already invited the media,” said a source who attended the talks but did not want to be quoted for fear of reprisal from both.
The honeymoon was short-lived. Mr Wa Iria accused the tycoon of sabotaging his "Shillingi Kwa Shillingi" initiative, a bid to pool together resources by having members contribute Sh10 daily to a co-operative society.
Shortly after, MCAs impeached the governor, fuelling the row between the two. To rub salt to injury, Mr Munga, who is chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons, a group of wealthy and politically influential traders, called a meeting of Murang'a leaders and excluded Mr Wa Iria.
In 2017, Mr Munga backed Dr Moses Mwangi for the gubernatorial seat. Dr Mwangi was also the CEO of Mr Munga’s Equatorial Nuts Company. During the 2017 elections, the governor vowed to kick out the Munga-led board if he won.
And immediately after getting into office, the governor made true his election promises; he forced water companies to lower the tariffs from Sh545 to Sh200.
However, Mr Munga, in an earlier interview with the Nation, accused Mr Wa Iria of being a hypocrite, saying all decisions were made by the board and the county had two representatives on the board.
"Mr Wa Iria is being hypocritical; he knows about the deliberations of the board since he is fully represented," he told the Nation on phone.
Mr Munga has been chairman of Muwasco since 2006. Yesterday, the governor said the main issue he has with the tycoon is use of the company to oppress water consumers.
"He has been chairing the water firm since it started for over 16 years, borrowing huge amounts of money without increasing water connections. Where has he been taking the loans that amount to billions of shillings?" he posed.
Efforts to get a response from Mr Munga were futile as he did not answer our calls and text messages.
He said that by renewing his term, Mr Munga violated the Water Act and it was time he retired to pave the way for new leadership.
Asked why he was only interested in Muwasco matters yet there were other water firms, Mr Wa Iria said other companies complied with his directives. "Water is a devolved function but Muwasco management has never adhered to my directions," he said.