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Mathare MP Ochieng Mbeo (left) and Ford Asili Kiambaa sub branch Chariman Nginyo Kariuki (centre) during a Ford Asili rally in Ndumberi, Kiambu, Jul 1997.  

Politics
Kariuki was born in 1938 in Githima, Ndumberi Sub-location, Kiambu. Karume also hailed from the same area.

Businessman Nginyo Kariuki had lofty financial aspirations that he successfully translated into reality. But his political career was more of a mixed bag.

He once dreamed of owning a skyscraper in the middle of the city centre to equal the feats of his Kiambaa political opponents Njenga Karume and Stanley Githunguri.

Billionaire Karume, the most politically successful of the three, owned Cianda House on Koinange Street among other enviable properties in the city.

Githunguri counted among his properties the imposing Lilian Towers on University Way and a high-rise hotel on Haile Selassie Avenue.

By the late 1990s, Kariuki’s dream had become a reality with his own Nginyo Towers taking pride of place along Koinange Street.

The street is named after colonial-era senior chief Koinange wa Mbiyu whose offspring would occupy high office in independent Kenya.

Kariuki was an astute businessman whose success in business was attributed to his strong principles and ethics. The same values, however, would prove to be his Achilles heel in the rough and tumble world of politics.

According to one journalist, Kariuki, who vied for the Kiambaa parliamentary seat many times against Karume and Githunguri, always succeeded in shooting himself in the foot.

“He did not believe in giving hand-outs and would always publicly pronounce that the people would give him the mandate if they felt he was the most suitable candidate. He would not even buy tea when on the campaign trail,” said the scribe who watched the businessman’s campaigns flop.

Kariuki was also a difficult news maker to cover, according to the Kiambu-based journalist. “He expected a page one story no matter what he was saying and had no time for any other engagement with journalists apart from coverage of the immediate news.”

Kariuki was born in 1938 in Githima, Ndumberi Sub-location, Kiambu. Karume also hailed from the same area.

He was a farmer, businessman and politician. He was also a golfer, a sport he took up in the pre-independence years when he started as a caddie at the Kiambu Golf Club before rising to the amateur and professional ranks.

He was good at golf and is credited with pioneering Kenya’s participation in regional and international golf tournaments.

Financial acumen

“From my very humble beginnings, I have been able to portray a case study for business innovation, savvy financial ability, innovation, confidence and excellent negotiation skills in each enterprise I have engaged in. My career is marked with demonstrable financial acumen evidenced by initiating pioneering and self-sustaining African business ownership and leadership in broad industries ranging from agriculture, hotels and real estate,” is how Kariuki summed up his life on his blog.

Despite coming from a humble background, his stint as a caddie and golfer gave him crucial networks that enabled him to buy property from the departing settler population.

Apart from his signature Nginyo Towers, Kariuki’s business empire straddled coffee farming where he had a plantation in Kiambu and a tea estate in Limuru. He also owned the Lenana Mount Hotel near the Department of Defence headquarters.

Kariuki together with Duncan Ndegwa, John Mucheru, Mohammed Rajab, Peter Ngugi and Chris Kahara, were the pioneers of the Tubogo Golf Club whose home was in Ndumberi.

Determined to break into a sport that in the 1950s was a preserve of the whites, they converted a football field into a nine-hole golf course. This gave rise to Ndumberi Golf Club, popularly known as ‘St Andrews’, where Africans and Asians could play the game.

Kariuki’s political blunders were legendary. In 1992 he had a golden opportunity to make it to Parliament after aligning with leaders who were agitating for the restoration of multiparty democracy.

But in the ensuing chaos that saw the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) splinter into Ford-Kenya, led by Jaramogi Odinga Oginga, and Kenneth Matiba’s Ford Asili, he allied himself with Jaramogi.

His village mate, Karume, had opted to back his golfing buddy Mwai Kibaki, who had launched the Democratic Party. Both were vanquished by little-known former school teacher Kamau Icharia who was running on a Ford Asili ticket.

“Nginyo’s politics being driven purely by ideology, it was natural that he stuck with Jaramogi in 1992. But the political tide was always going to sweep him away,” said former Kiganjo councillor Charles Mbugua.

Mr Mbugua and Kikuyu MP Paul Muite were the only Ford-Kenya candidates to beat the Ford Asili ‘three-piece’ voting pattern in Kiambu in 1992.

Further afield, Mbugua recalled that the only other Ford-Kenya candidate who had triumphed in Mt Kenya in 1992 was Kiraitu Murungi in South Imenti, Meru.

“Credit should go to Kariuki, Muite and the Ford-Kenya original crew for grooming very principled and ideology-driven politicians who now dot our landscape,” Mbugua observed yesterday.

Jumped ship

In 2002, Kariuki would once again fall by the wayside despite playing a major role that eventually culminated in the formation of the formidable National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc).

This was after Karume jumped ship to support Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kanu.

Unlucky in his quest to clinch the Kiambaa seat, Kariuki appeared to settle into pursuing what he did best – business.

But he will be remembered as the man who in 2012 gave up his National Alliance Party of Kenya founded in 2000 and re-registered in 2008 to be rebranded into The National Alliance, which Uhuru used to get into State House on his second attempt.

Uhuru had brought in two youthful former family employees – Johnson Sakaja and Onyango Oloo – to manage the rebranded entity as the secretary general and chairman, respectively, while Kariuki slipped into the role of party spokesman in Kiambu.

There, his ideologies would constantly be challenged by the interim branch officials who included party coordinator Gladys Chania.

Ms Chania yesterday paid tribute to Kariuki: “We worked, agreed and disagreed as we coordinated the TNA party in Kiambu County. I thank God that as a father, we had moments of sitting down when you had energy and guided and advised me a lot about politics. You had a big heart and were very forgiving.”

In August last year, the multi-party democracy crusader had emerged to present his views to the Building Bridges Initiative task force. He supported the proposal to expand the Executive by creating a post of prime minister with two deputy prime ministers to foster inclusivity and harmony.


Businessman Nginyo Kariuki Ford Asili Njenga Karume

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