Kenya: Veteran diplomat and former Cabinet minister Njoroge Mungai has died.
Dr Mungai, 88, passed on yesterday morning at Nairobi Hospital after a long illness. His body was moved to Lee Funeral Home as family members and friends began burial arrangements at his home in Magana, Kikuyu.
In some quarters, Mungai was referred to as one of the last of the freedom fighters who took part in the movement to free East Africa from British rule in the 1960s. He was part of the Government’s inner circle in the first decades of independence.
A trained physician, Mungai graduated in 1952 with a degree in Biology from Stanford Medical School, and is believed to have been the first American-trained physician in Kenya.
He was the founder of Magana Flower Farm and the first cousin to the late Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s founding president, and the leader of the push for independence. Mungai also oversaw the running of operations at Nas-Servair as chairman of the board of directors of Servair Investment Airport Kenya Ltd.
Mungai served as Mzee Kenyatta’s personal physician, and his connection to Kenyatta pulled him to politics. In December 1963, when Kenya got its independence, the Pesident tapped him to head the Health Ministry.
Before joining the Cabinet, he also worked on private interests, including a clinic and maternity hospital in Thika, as well as a clinic in Riruta.
To counter the country’s serious shortage of doctors, Mungai looked to the West for a partner to help him start Kenya’s first medical school, at the University of Nairobi.
He approached Stanford, among others, and ended up inking an agreement with the medical school at McGill University in Montreal, which provided 50 faculty members to teach at the new school. Kenya’s pioneer school of Medicine was opened in 1967.
Mungai had always been passionate about education. After completing his secondary school education at Alliance High School, he wanted to study Medicine in the United States, but could not get a passport from the British colonial authorities. So he went to South Africa, where he got his degree in Hygiene from Fort Hare University.
Driven by his determination to study Medicine, he left for London, and made his way to the US on borrowed funds, and arrived in San Francisco, with only three cents to his name. Finally studying the course of his dreams, Mungai chose to specialise in Internal Medicine.
After coming home, Mungai became the secretary of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) in 1960 and traveled to Britain in the same year to take part in drafting the country’s new Constitution, the same document that is the source of much political strife in Kenya today.
He gave up the practice of medicine in 1964, and turned his attention to national duty, becoming the minister for Defence and Internal Security and later, Foreign Affairs. Since Kenyatta preferred to stay close to home, Mungai frequently represented Kenya abroad.
He is also honoured for his devotion and service to the establishment of democracy to Kenya.