Savouring victory from wheelchair: MP Gichuki Mugambi’s miracle

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Photo credit: Francis Nderitu

What you need to know:

  • The ambulance carried Gichuki Mugambi for more than 125 kilometres to Othaya.
  • Kibaki was involved in an accident on December 3, 2002.

The rumours had to be shut down in one way or another, or else this would be a definite election defeat. Was the candidate really alive? Was he comatose? If alive, was his mind sound enough for him to take up Member of Parliament responsibilities?
This was just days to the 2017 General Election, and the speculations followed a road accident involving Othaya MP aspirant Gichuki Mugambi on the night of July 17, 2017, just days before the August 8 elections.

The speculations risked harming a campaign so meticulously executed. His team had to act. After deliberations, it was agreed that an ambulance carries the heavily bandaged Mugambi from his Nairobi Hospital bed to face his constituents.

The ambulance carried him for more than 125 kilometres to Othaya. There, sitting on a wheelchair, he made sure to pass across the message that even though he had been badly injured, his mental faculties were still intact.

My brain is okay

“I just went there to tell people, ‘You know, my brain is okay, and will work for you. The only things not okay are my legs and hands, and you are not sending me to a football pitch. So, please, have confidence. I will serve you’,” recalls Mugambi this week.
Othaya resident Emily Wamuruthi, a 56-year-old farmer and Maendeleo ya Wanawake mobiliser, attended that function.

“I cried,” she tells Lifestyle. She wept because the aspirant did not appear to be in good shape.
“Later, I went home and recited the rosary,” she adds. “We prayed a lot for him; for God to help him get a quick recovery.”

Also present at the emotional political event was 57-year-old Joseph Gachihi, who hails from Nyeri South sub-county.

“It was very hurtful to see him on a wheelchair. Many people shed tears,” he says.

He, however, notes that the action by the aspirant steadied the ship during those politically charged times. “When he was in hospital, many people were getting disillusioned. But when we saw him come, our expectations were restored,” he says.

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Mugambi would go ahead to win the election, garnering 31,651 votes on a Jubilee Party ticket. His closest challenger polled 12,987. As a result, a man whose story strikingly resembles that of former President Mwai Kibaki — the Othaya MP from 1974 to 2013 — was thrust into the national limelight.

Political demeanour

Both had road accidents while awaiting a General Election, and some observers think they have a similar political demeanour.

Kibaki was involved in an accident on December 3, 2002. The General Election was to happen on December 27, and he was the presidential candidate for the National Rainbow Coalition. Despite having not recovered fully at the time of the election, he registered a resounding victory and was sworn-in on a wheelchair.
Mugambi was also sworn in on a wheelchair on August 31, 2017, plasters holding his fractured limbs.
His firstborn son Wachira Gichuki says the swearing-in was an unforgettable moment.

“He was wheeled there next to Hon (Tim) Wanyonyi (Westlands MP) and he took his oath. For us, that was the most proud moment,” Wachira, a lawyer, tells Lifestyle.

Wachira took over the leadership of the campaign as his father fought for his life in hospital,
Reflecting on the event three years on, Gachihi, the Othaya resident, believes there could be a divine game plan unfolding.

“We know that an accident is the doing of God, but we saw similarities between Kibaki and Mugambi. But those are things God takes control of,” he says.

Wamuruthi, the other resident, says there is a behavioural similarity between Kibaki and Mugambi.
“We call him Slow-but-Sure, like Kibaki. They have similar habits,” she says, adding that the MP is non-confrontational and just does his job.

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Mr Mugambi’s son added that the MP rarely “takes opponents head-on” as is typical of politics.

But beyond the parallels in the circumstances in which they came to power, Mugambi’s relationship with the former President is deeper.

Now all recovered and thankful for having managed to leave the wheelchair that offered him mobility for seven months, he talks about how Kibaki mentored him.
“If there is somebody who has mentored me into public life, then it is the former President. He kept encouraging me to serve others,” he said.
Kibaki had met Mugambi who was then a school captain at Othaya Boys (where Mugambi schooled between 1980 and 1983) and their first meeting marked the beginning of a bond that has lasted decades.

They would later interact at various levels and when Kibaki became President while Mugambi was the chairman of the Othaya Development Association, their relationship went on another level.
Kibaki often used Mugambi as his “messenger”, or “mtu wa mkono” as the MP jokingly tells Lifestyle. And when Kibaki was calling time on his lengthy political life in 2013, he endorsed Mugambi despite the fact that a resilient Mary Wambui was also in the race. Wambui ultimately won the election, but Mugambi would turn tables in the subsequent ballot.

During the interview with Lifestyle on Tuesday in his Nairobi home, the 56-year-old Mugambi hardly gives a hint that he was once on a wheelchair for months.

“I’m here, up and running. Si ni Mungu?” he says, posing a rhetorical question in Kiswahili indicating it is all God’s work.

He then goes on to describe some of his pet projects, including the Othaya Level Six Hospital, a brainchild of Kibaki, whose construction had at one time stalled and through his efforts, it is now almost complete. He also speaks of the 100 kilometres of tarmac he has brought to Othaya, the projects he has in every school among others.

Below are excerpts from our interview with Mugambi.

Lifestyle: Tell us about the accident.

Mugambi: That was my lowest moment. You have elections coming on August 8 and I had accident on July 17. It was a very difficult moment. But I think that’s how God works. But I saw the strong will of the people because many people in Nairobi, professionals and all, closed their businesses and moved to the ground to do my campaigns. They campaigned when I was in hospital and gave me that chance to serve the people.

How did the accident change your life?
You know, I was on a wheelchair after leaving hospital for almost seven months. That hospital was an eye-opener. It taught me a lot. First, that you are nothing when you are alone. At one point, I couldn’t even take myself to the toilet. That tells you that people are very important. And people help you in all aspects.

And about tribalism: Whenever you hear someone talk something tribal, you know that he’s not clever. He’s not clever because the gentleman who picked me at the accident scene was a Pokomo. He was just driving by; a Good Samaritan. He didn’t know me. And he stopped, picked me and took me to hospital. The orthopaedic surgeon was a Kamba. The anaestheticist was a Luo. And the nurse in the ward was a Kikuyu. And the nurse who continued looking after me at home was a Luo. So, you see, you need everybody.

Finally, I went to India. Again, the doctors who operated on me are Indians. So, you have no time in this world for these tribal cocoons and all that.  That is one lesson I would want everybody to share; that you need everybody and everybody is important and those tribal things, racial things, don’t help anyone.

When did you first interact with Kibaki?

When he was the Vice President, I was the school captain at Othaya Boys. He happened to visit the school at that time and we interacted strongly.

So, whenever he came to school, he would ask for me and we could always have a good chat, and from there he kept a lot of interest in my progression even in school. He could always ask what I was doing and how I was doing.

He kept encouraging me until the final days, and he told me, ‘You must work hard to go and serve others.’ I did agree with his guidance and that is where I am today.

Does the tag of being Kibaki’s MP open doors for you?

I am riding on his goodwill. You know, he has strong goodwill. And when I worked with him, I was actually his messenger. I used to refer to myself as his messenger— ‘mtu wa mkono’. So, wherever he used to send me to go and do one thing or other, now I go back there as a mheshimiwa and those people always say, ‘You never used to be a bad messenger, and you never misbehaved as a messenger, so now we can help you as a mheshimiwa.

How did you feel when __Kibaki endorsed you in 2013?

I was very happy because I knew we had worked together, and he knew my record in having that will of serving others, because it is a will I have had for a very long time.

In Parliament you are in the Budgets and Appropriation Committee.

Yes, I’m in two committees: Budget and Appropriation Committee and on the Education Committee.

How is life in committees?
Actually, people don’t know. I see even you (journalists) write that ‘so and so doesn’t talk’.

The major work of Parliament is in committees. And right now you know that the new Constitution gave Parliament the major function of approving the country’s budget. That’s quite a herculean task for Parliament and this is what we’ve been doing: Trying to see that budgets are properly formulated and that money is going into projects that will bring prosperity in this country. It is quite challenging but, yes, that’s where the main work is.

Does your experience as a certified public accountant help in that job?

I can tell you that one of the major things in those budgets is crunching numbers. And you know, being an accountant, we say we have quantitative acumen. That helps us a lot and also there are a lot of procedures. Again, I am a certified public secretary.

Do you remember any exciting moment in the budget recently assented to?

Yes. You know, right now we’re going through memorable moments all the time, especially in the budget committee. You remember we had to undergo a very sensitive issue on increasing the country’s debt ceiling currently standing at Sh9 trillion.

It is not an easy thing. You need to look at too many things. And it is also not very interesting, but you know the country has to continue running. So, that is one of the most challenging situations that we go through as the budget committee; that we’re seeing our country getting deeper and deeper into debt, while also our revenue base is not moving at the same pace.

Would you like to say anything about Mary Wambui, who beat you to the TNA ticket in the 2013 election?
I choose not to answer that one because it happened. We all saw how it happened. There is no need to talk. Actions speak louder than words. We leave actions to speak as far as that one is concerned.

Tell us about your family.
When I was mentioning about the experience after an accident, I should have mentioned family, because that is when you know the importance of close family members. One of my sons is a lawyer, and actually he closed his office and joined the electorate down there in Othaya, and he was coordinating my campaigns.

The other one is an engineer. He also suspended his school and decided to stay by my side, and he is the one who was running the errands for me, and obviously my wife was there for me 24/7. And that was how I was able to recover quickly with their help.

What philosophy have you learnt about leadership since 2017, something you didn’t know before joining elective politics?

The biggest philosophy I’ve learnt is that leadership is a great honour. If only you remember that leadership is a great honour, it can change the way we serve people. It’s a great honour because at times you’re serving kids before they are born.

You’ll find that you are responding to people’s needs, and it is a great honour that people are entrusting their lives on you even before birth, after birth, and when they die. Because you’ll hear: ‘Mheshimiwa, tumefiwa.’ You know, you have to comfort those who are left, and you have to bury those who’re dead.

How do you relate with your maker?

I’m Catholic, and if there is a job you can never do without God, then it is a public job, especially the job I do of mheshimiwa. You need God to guide and favour you.

How does your typical day look like?
Our days are very busy and hectic. When I wake up, the first safe thing is that you have to steal some early morning hours to do a little bit of exercise, a little bit of running. And after having my breakfast, I continue with the normal day’s work — either meetings in government office or at the constituency.  To push and lobby for all the projects I am doing, I have to visit government offices.