Family of 5 professors and the fight for the soul of Meru

When President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Meru on Friday, he was fighting to keep one of his key support bastions that has in recent weeks played warm host to his main challenger in the August 8 election, Raila Odinga.

Mr Odinga returned from his recent visit to the region with a spring in his step, confident that he was penetrating the larger Mount Kenya East.

The perceived success of the Nasa foray into the region is attributable in part to the campaigns of Prof Isaiah Iguna Kindiki, an elder brother of Prof Kithure Kindiki, the senator for Tharaka-Nithi and Jubilee’s senior-most leader from the region.

The elder Kindiki is the Nasa luminary in Mt Kenya East, while the younger professor and Senate majority leader is the Jubilee marksman, a role that he shares with the more seasoned Kiraitu Murungi of Meru, who has his own duel with Governor Peter Munya to preoccupy him now.

TUSSLE

Soon after the 2013 elections, the country was jolted into listening to a young professor who was elected leader of the majority in the Senate, a position that he soon fit into beautifully, and used to casually dismiss any criticism of the government as the disgruntled whimpering of an opposition still smarting from what he loved to consider a resounding defeat. This was music to President Kenyatta’s ears.

Unknown to both, however, their political bogeyman, Mr Odinga, was also watching Tharaka, where he saw another Kindiki, also an eloquent and brave professor, and decided to do business with him and the larger Tharaka-Nithi nation.

Hence the Jubilee-Nasa tussle for the larger Meru vote bears the hallmarks of an epic duel featuring two brothers of stellar academic achievement.

How the two brothers and formidable scholars came to represent two diametrically opposed political camps is a story that will take you to the parched Irunduni village of Mukothima in Tharaka where the Kindiki family is famed for being one of the most learned in the region.

SIBLINGS

Here visitors are warned not to call out the title “Prof” carelessly at the dinner table, as five heads will turn at once because five siblings are professors. Four others are on their way to professorial status – they all have master’s degrees, and are at different stages of work on their PhDs.

The eldest is Jonah Nyagah Kindiki, a professor of international education and policy, currently serving as the dean of the Faculty of Education at Moi University.

Jonah had political ambitions of his own, having campaigned briefly for the Tharaka National Assembly seat before retreating to the university. “I was running for MP Tharaka, but I stepped down for my younger brother, the majority leader. That is why the current MP for Tharaka went in Jubilee unopposed,” says Nyagah Kindiki.

He has since put his political ambitions on ice, choosing to act as the arbiter between his two younger brothers, Kithure and Isaiah, for Jubilee and NASA, respectively, who nurse boiling ambitions.

The differences in perspective between Kithure and Isaiah are legion. While Kithure composes poetry in praise of the Jubilee government, Isaiah is disdainfully dismissive of a regime that he considers divisive.

YOUNGER BROTHER

“In the ongoing annexation and empire creation, they have even come up with such terms as Mount Kenya and this should be Mt Kenya East. They have annexed even the Tharaka desert. This is all in an attempt to expand the Kikuyu hegemony while diluting the former Eastern Province to now mean only the Kamba occupied counties. It is the colonial hangover of the tribe,” says Isaiah, a professor of soil physics, who speaks in the booming classroom tone of a sage.

The soil scientist traces the political differences between him and his younger brother to 1997. Then Kithure was the odd man out.

“At that time, when all of us were in DP, he told me he would be voting for Kijana Wamalwa. That year in the whole of Tharaka, Wamalwa had one vote. That was Kithure’s vote. So there is nothing new about our principled positions now.”

But are things still at ease at the family dinner table, seeing as campaigns have reached a fever pitch point and everyone is under pressure to deliver? The senator could not be drawn into commenting, but the Nasa man picked the gauntlet.

BOOKS AND LABS

“A family unit is a natural organic institution — you don’t subscribe to it through a voter’s card or a political party. The advantage with us is that we have made a distinction between family and other institutions. For instance, I am a lay pastor at the Methodist Church while he (Kithure) goes to the Pentecostal Church.”

Isaiah, nevertheless, stresses that as far as politics goes, Kithure is his nemesis just as President Kenyatta, William Ruto and Aden Duale are.

The Nasa-affiliated Kindiki is a Professor Extraordinaire at the University of South Africa and a research professor at the University of Venda. He unsuccessfully contested the Tharaka parliamentary seat in 2007 and thereafter left the country for South Africa, where he immersed himself in books and labs for 10 years.

Another of their siblings is Stephen Kithinji Kindiki, a professor of linguistics at Daystar University. Yet another of their Kindiki professors is Moses Mpuria Kindiki, who teaches political economy at Maasai Mara University. The University of London graduate also doubles up as an adviser to his brother, the senator.

On the state of this large democratic family, all siblings choose to accept each other’s decisions. Nyagah says he is a supporter of Jubilee, but respects Isaiah’s decision.

HOBBY

“He never consulted us. But he is entitled to his own desires. He gets an opportunity to serve his country. We are all looking for an opportunity at policy levels. Besides self-actualisation and family glory is service to the country,” he says of their stellar achievement.

“Going to Nasa is like going to different schools…Our parents are happy. It is also in the interest of this country. What do you do with all this knowledge?” Nyaga poses.

The other siblings are Ruth, a community worker; Sarah, a microbiologist at Masinde Muliro University; Margaret, a PhD candidate in parasitology; and Mary, a food technologist. In all, seven of the nine have affiliations with universities.

Yet Nyaga, the Moi University professor, believes that politics is in the family. “Politics is our hobby. It is not forced on us. A doctor of philosophy is always searching for truth and knowledge. We are not contented with the present situation.”

CLERIC

Isaiah traces the go-getter streak in the family to a life of hardship and triumph that his father led, a spirit that runs up to the third generation.

Rev (rtd) Daniel Kindiki, the patriarch, rose from abject poverty to a respected cleric and elder in the region.

“My father became a breadwinner at age six when my grandfather died. As a teenager he joined the Methodist missionaries, becoming one of the first African converts in the region,” Isaiah explains.

“Those days, the difference between church and school was narrow. We don’t know anything else out of school. Our mother, Hannah, is also very prayerful. We owe a lot to her.”

On why he spurned Jubilee for Nasa, the Methodist Church lay pastor says he is at odds with the administration ideologically.

MARKET

“Our problem really started at independence, when freedom fighters lost the fight for the new republic to the home guards. This has never been exemplified more than it has been now when MCAs campaign in choppers when their constituencies are tiny. This display of wealth in places like Tharaka, where to buy a bicycle is a problem, is a mockery.”

He is against classifying communities into such groupings as Meru and Kalenjin, saying it is perpetuated by the elite to raise value in the political wholesale market.

“I support Raila because he symbolises the hope of a united Kenya. We want every Kenyan to feel that they can achieve their dreams, whatever their background. A Raila government will give back the country to the citizens. As it is now, public servants are really government servants. We shall restore public service.”

The Senate majority leader, for his part, has set his sights on the presidency in 2022. But first he has to deliver Tharaka-Nithi and the larger Meru to President Kenyatta this year. Will Kithure’s brother muddy the waters for him, or will he emerge stronger if he vanquishes him?

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