Ronald Ngala a respected Statesman who could have been Kenya's first president


In the 1950s and early 60s, African nations were agitating and gaining independence from white rule. A time came in Kenya when the colonialists realised that they could not hold on any more.

Having established themselves in the country, with settlers taking big chunks of land and creating a spendthrift lifestyle, they were fearful an African leadership would take away “their” property and chase them away.

The colonialists hatched a plot that would solve this problem. They would push for a Kenyan leader who would be sympathetic to their interests. There were four candidates for the top job: Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya, Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta.

A white settler, Sir Michael Blundell, now deceased was appointed to act as the British government liaison in this plan. Blundell, in a history that has not been widely told but is available at Kenyatta House, Maralal in Samburu, zeroed in on Kenyatta. He argued that Ngala would not be ideal, as he was seen as popular only in his small coastal ethnic group. Mboya and Odinga were ideal but they were perceived to have self interests as they battled for supremacy.

Kenyatta was then in restriction in Lodwar, and Odinga, one of the ‘possibles’ had recommended that he should be released so he could lead the nation. 

But the history of the four and the nation is intertwined. Ronald Ngala has indeed been said to have been a popular and influential Coastal politician, a good and eloquent orator who would have been president in his own right, were it not for the political shenanigans immediatley after independence that watered down the opposition, and an early, tragic death. In 1960, Ngala, described as a man who put the country ahead of his self interest and political gain formed, together with other minority communities, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) party. He was elected the president.

Ngala, a trained teacher, had begun his political career in 1957 by winning an election and becoming one of the first nine Africans elected to the colonial Legislative Council (LEGCO). Two-years later Ngala was secretary of the Kenya National Party, and the following year, 1960, he was in a delegation to the Lancaster House Conference, which he chaired. There, they opposed the attempt by the British to control Kenya’s clamour for independence.

According to a local daily at the Lancaster House, Ngala, the elected legislative council member for Coast Rural was annoyed by the prominence accorded to Tom Mboya by the London press, as he felt he was being sidelined from national leadership.

In March 1960, Kenya African Union was renamed Kenya National African Union. Jomo Kenyatta was the president, though still in restriction while James Gichuru was the acting chairman, Odinga vice-president and Tom Mboya secretary-general.

KADU and Kanu did not agree on ideology. KADU wanted a gradual attainment of self rule while Kanu demanded for immediate independence. But it’s Kanu that would take the torch during the elections of 1961. After the loss, KADU still existed with the help of the colonial government though the colonialists warned that the minority communities might not be safe after independence.

In 1964, many leaders in KADU joined the new government under Kenyatta. Ngala, the opposition leader had no respite but to also join Kanu and in 1966 at a Limuru conference he became the party’s vice chairman following Odinga’s ouster. Ronald Ngala was later appointed minister of Cooperatives and Social Services in Kenyatta’s government.

Jamhuri day

Nine short years after independence, Ronald Ngala died in a tragic road accident. On Jamhuri Day 1972, Ngala was travelling to Mombasa with his driver. It was alleged that his car came upon a swarm of bees and the driver swerved forcing the car to roll several times. The driver survived to refute this claim and the minister, sadly was not as lucky. He was rushed to the hospital badly injured and he succumbed on Christmas day, 1972.

But Ngala still remains popular in the coastal region particularly for his advocacy on the land problem which persists until today. He also would be proud to see that Kenya has gone the devolution way as he always advocated for majimboism. He wanted Kenyan ethnic regions to be semi autonomous. He in fact had formed the Coast African People’s Union, which advocated for people to live in their own areas. He felt that upcountry folks would take over the coast.

Ronald Ngala was born in 1923 in Mombasa, and lived in Kaloleni. He studied at the Alliance High School and Makerere University College where he got a teaching diploma.

He taught in coastal schools and was one time headmaster of the Mbale Secondary School and later the principal of Buxton School, Mombasa. It is from here that he would start the journey to politics, starting at the Municipal Council.

He had been appointed to the Mombasa African Advisory Council where he would advocate for African rights.

He would soon note that the Municipal Board was not sympathetic to African needs which made him broaden his political mind.

Tourism university

Ronald Ngala’s name lives on in people’s memory, history books, a street in Nairobi and several schools named after him at the Coast. Also, the government is set to build a tourism university in Vipingo, Kilifi named after Ngala.