Caroline Karugu: Pupil who challenged Moi over Swahili - Daily Nation

How Karugu ended up as Nyeri deputy governor

Saturday October 6 2018

Caroline Karugu

Nyeri Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu during an interview at her home at Nyaribo village in Nyeri county on October 3, 2018. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GUCHU NDUNG'U
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Nyeri Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu, a former Ms Tourism beauty queen, was reluctantly thrown into the deep end of politics when she was picked for the position earlier this year.

Although her foray into politics was by chance, everything about Dr Karugu looks well planned, if not scripted.

She is also either the most unassuming politician or very shrewd in her answers, depending on where you stand. Take her future political plans for instance.

“I have no plans to vie for a seat," she says without much ado during an interview at her home in Nyaribo, a dusty village in Nyeri.

"After this, I want to teach in a university while doing research. But it can also be difficult to plan. Things change very fast.”

But her life rarely follows any plan. Take her encounters with retired President Daniel arap Moi.

 Caroline Karugu

Young Caroline Karugu presents a bouquet of flowers to then President Daniel arap Moi during a visit in Nyeri County in 1992. PHOTO | COURTESY

KISWAHILI

As a 13-year old pupil of Nyeri primary, a young Karugu was picked from a crowded list of 30 girls to receive the then president when he visited the region. After handing him the flowers, she struck a conversation with him.

“I never liked Kiswahili then, so I asked him if he could scrap it from the curriculum. He was very shocked. He invited me to his chair for debate,” she recalls.

The debate never ended and President Moi asked for her when he visited the area two more times.

“He told me that Kiswahili is very important for local and regional integration. He also offered to pay my fees even though I had not asked for it. I have longed for the chance to meet him and say thank you,” the Deputy Governor, who is also the mother of a 10-year old daughter, said.

After finishing her Bachelor of Commerce Studies, Dr Karugu worked as an intern at the Nairobi Securities Exchange, then based at the Nation Centre, when a chance encounter changed her life.

MODEL

She met with a Nation photographer, Mr Joseph Mathenge in the lift, and he challenged her to take up modelling saying she "looked the part".

“I was not feeling that vibe. But he persisted for many days and even introduced me to a modelling school. I had nothing to lose,” she chuckles as she remembers the story.

She went on to clinch Ms Tourism Nairobi and finished second runners-up at the national event.

“Some models are also bright. It is unfair to classify every model as a blonde,” she says.

She has since worked with Britam, and was the chief executive of Jabali Microfinance before the call came from Governor Mutahi Kahiga, that ushered her into the world of political leadership.

Though she had been involved in Jubilee campaigns, Dr Karugu had applied to be chairman of the Nyeri audit committee.

“I wanted to serve my people through ensuring our cash was spent well,” she adds. She even invited for an interview. But Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga had other plans.

 Caroline Karugu

An album photo of Caroline Karugu (L) during the Miss Tourism Kenya pageant in Nairobi in 2002. PHOTO | COURTESY

INTEREST

Dr Karugu received the call from the county chief asking her to become the Deputy Governor, but she said no and hung up the phone.

The governor called again and gave her another week to reconsider her position.

“I feared politics. The mudslinging, the name-calling. I love serving but without the politics involved,” she said.

But a meeting with Kenya Women Finance Trust chair Jennifer Riria, one of her mentors, convinced her to take the job, becoming the first deputy governor to be appointed after an election.

Governor Kahiga was the deputy but ascended to the top post after the death of Wahome Gakuru in a road crash. It was a tough ride for her.

Immediately after she was nominated, reports swirled around the mountain region like the mist in July that she was not qualified for the post.

A petition was filed at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but she was later cleared.

GRADUATE

The commission’s regional manager, Mr Charles Rasugu, said the claims made by a resident were untrue.

“That was my lowest moment since my appointment. I was finishing my PhD yet my bachelor's was being questioned. Would I even have studied for a master's if I had a questionable first degree?”

She asked.

Last week, she graduated with a PhD from USIU and later on held a party at the Villa Rosa Kempinski. The guest list included the who is who from Nyeri County.

“When things get heady, I always remember. It is politics that got me. I did not get into politics," she said.

She was also on the spot when some employees accused her of being “too strict” for government and not understanding how the system works or simply being a go-getter.

“Coming from a private sector where things move fast, it has been tough trying to adapt to the slow pace in government. There is no sense of urgency and sometimes I may rub people the wrong way. For that I apologise. But Nyeri people also need services,” she said.

 Caroline Karugu

Nyeri Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu (C) during her graduation with a PhD in Business Administration (Finance) at United States International University - Africa, September 29, 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY

PLIGHT

The position has also allowed her to come face-to-face with the challenges facing area residents.

She was shocked out of the corporate slumber when she visited Nyeri County Referral Hospital and saw two burn victims sharing one bed despite their severe injuries.

“We have a tough task ahead on health. We are expanding the facilities, hiring more staff and seeking to streamline services,” she said.