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The old boys club that made up independence Cabinet

KENYA @ 50
By Njonjo Kihuria | January 8th 2014
Jomo Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting.

By Njonjo Kihuria

Kenya: Independent Kenya’s first Cabinet was more of an old boys club, with nine of its 15 members being former Alliance High School students. Two others had gone to Maseno and another two were former Mang’u High School students. Almost all of the ones who attended Alliance also took diploma courses at Makerere College in Uganda.

Only Joseph Murumbi and Bruce Mackenzie attended schools outside this circle. Mackenzie completed his early education at the Hilton College, a private boarding school for boys in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, South Africa, while Murumbi got a missionary education in Bangalore, India.

The Cabinet had, among others Jomo Kenyatta (who was not a ‘club member’) as Prime Minister, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga as Minister for Home Affairs, Murumbi as Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and Mackenzie as Minister for Agriculture.

Others were Njoroge Mungai, Tom Mboya, James Gichuru, Joseph Otiende, Mbiyu Koinange, Samuel Ayodo, Julius Kiano, Dawson Mwanyumba, Lawrence Sagini, Kyale Mwendwa and Jackson Angaine.

“Most of these were people who had attended the same school thus they knew each other well. They had worked in the same party (Kanu) even if not for very long, in the lead up to independence,” recalls former minister Dr Mungai.

“Crucial decisions on the destination of the country were now being made here in Kenya and not at the Colonial Office or Number Ten Downing Street and so we felt the weight of our responsibility. We wanted to have and show the dignity that free people have and demonstrate to the world that we were equal to other human beings, white or black,” he adds.

The former minister recalls that at the time, a Member of Parliament earned Sh4,000 while a Cabinet minister earned between Sh7,000 and Sh8,000.

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Born in 1911, Oginga Odinga, the man who would become Kenya’s first Vice President, was educated first at Maseno and then Alliance Boys. He later joined Makerere for a diploma in education. On graduation, he went back to  Maseno as a teacher.

Odinga taught under the renowned mathematician and later principal of Alliance High School (from 1940), Carey Francis, who was initially fond of him but changed his mind towards the end, describing Odinga as a man who was “discontented with life and grumbled at everything”.

He became the Minister for Home Affairs in the first independent Cabinet.

Mungai’s classmates at Alliance included former Cabinet ministers Kyale Mwendwa, Julius Kiano, Robert Matano and Munyua Waiyaki.

The man who would become Health, Defence and later Foreign Affairs minister in the Kenyatta administration first met President Kenyatta while at Alliance in 1941. The meeting took place in Dagoretti, which is Mungai’s birthplace.

Shifta war

The former minister, under whom the Shifta War was prosecuted, recalls this meeting thus, “Mzee was a very impressive man with big red eyes.” Mungai would, after independence, also become Kenyatta’s personal doctor.

Tom Mboya joined Mang’u High School, then Holy Ghost College, in 1946, and is said to have been one of the school’s leading debaters and actors. He later joined the labour movement and became Minister for Labour in 1962. Mboya was independent Kenya’s Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

James Gichuru, who twice gave up his political seat to accommodate Kenyatta, completed his secondary school at Alliance at the age of 16 and proceeded to Makerere for a teaching diploma course.

He would return to become the head teacher at his former primary school, Church of Scotland Mission School, Kikuyu, before being head-hunted to become one of the pioneer African teachers at Alliance. Gichuru was the first Finance Cabinet minister.

The other pioneering teacher at Alliance was Joseph Otiende, who joined Alliance High School in 1930 and also became a minister in the first Cabinet.

Many of the younger politicians who would join the first Cabinet were his students and to date, they fondly refer to him as ‘Mwalimu’.

 Born in 1907, Mbiyu Koinange was among the very first students to go to Alliance in 1926, when the school opened its doors. He was later sent to the US by his father, Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu, to complete his secondary school education. In 1938, he became the first Kenyan African to obtain a master’s degree.

He would rise to become the ‘powerful’ Minister of State in the President’s office and at some point he was nicknamed ‘Kissinger’ after the famous American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Another Alliance High School old boy, Kiano, became the first Minister for Commerce and Industry. Kiano was also the first Kenyan to attain a doctorate degree. He attained the PhD in comparative studies on colonial liberation in Asia and Africa at the Institute of International Studies at the California University.

Dawson Mwanyumba joined Alliance in 1942 and in 1947, went to Makerere where he did a teaching diploma in Mathematics. On graduation, he went back to his native Taita Taveta district as a secondary school teacher, as he waited for a scholarship to further his education in America.

There, he would have joined his peers Ronald Ngala, Kiano and Matano. But his dream was cut short by a colonial education officer whom he had snubbed.

Physical assault

When Mwanyumba learnt that the officer had caused the cancellation of his scholarship, he stormed the District Education Officer’s office in Wundanyi, physically assaulted the white officer and subsequently resigned as a teacher.

Kenya’s first Minister for Labour, Kyale Mwendwa, joined Alliance Boys in 1943 and later went to Kagumo Teachers’ Training College.

During his stint, he was instrumental in the formation of the National Social Security Fund and the National Youth Service.

Jackson Harvester Angaine, the undisputed ‘King of Meru’, started his primary school education at the United Methodist Missionary Society School at Kaaga in 1913, before going to Alliance.

At independence, he became the Minister for Lands and was in charge of settling millions of landless Kenyans in the former white highlands.

Charles Mugane Njonjo, the son of a colonial chief, was not initially amused by the discomforts of being a student at Alliance, and once confessed in an interview, “Students did not wear shoes and we showered with cold water. This is where I ate ugali for the first time.”

He, however, did enjoy some trappings of power as during the school weekends off, his father would send a servant with a horse to bring him home where he would enjoy a sumptuous meal of kuku and chapati for a day.

State’s key tasks

The major tasks for the new government as the then Prime Minister Kenyatta emphasised was to fight illiteracy, poverty and disease. Mungai recalls the rush to put up infrastructure, equipment and personnel to get more African children into primary and secondary schools, even as the Government put its sights on local university education.

“We had very few hospitals and most people were not getting adequate medical care. So we embarked on putting up hospitals and dispensaries, and taking medicine to people in the rural areas.”

The same applied to agriculture where the most fertile land was in the hands of the white settlers and the Government had to work hard to reverse this ownership while balancing between food production and (small holder) land ownership.

“Co-operatives were formed and land was being sub-divided, but it was a big test for the Government to continue feeding the nation even as we ensured our people got some land.”

At independence, Kenya had an African army that had been formed by the British colonial regime. The Kenya African Rifles (KAR) was “a small but very well trained force” made up of some of the soldiers that had fought in Burma during the Second World War. The force was made up of three battalions.

Unfortunately, when the British left, their army, which had a base at Kahawa, took off with all the equipment including trucks and the Kenyan army was left with only five lorries.

“Our army had ancient 303 rifles that had been used in the First World War of 1914/18.

“We slowly built the army, then started the air force and later the navy. We also had a small police force that included regular, GSU, CID and special branch officers. However, as we started to grow the forces, the Shifta secession war started in the north. We had to try to contain the problem even as we expanded the forces.”

Mungai, the second Defence Cabinet minister, says the Shifta war was made bigger than it was by “a neighbour” (Somalia) who was providing the bandits with mines, weapons and refuge. The Somali national radio (Radio Mogadishu) also targeted residents of north-eastern region with secession propaganda.

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