Death has been announced of Dr. Njoroge Mungai at Nairobi Hospital, Kenya aged 88.
Dr. Mungai was among the four still living members of Kenya’s first cabinet. The other three being Former Attorney General and Minister for Constitutional Affairs Mr. Charles Njonjo, Former Education and Health Minister Mr. Joseph Daniel Otiende and Former Labor Minister Mr. Eliud Ngala Mwenda.
Dr. Mungai had for the last two decades suffered deteriorating health and had been photographed on many occasions showing signs of poor mobility. He gave a television interview recently and shared tidbits of the goings on in the secretive and repressive Kenyatta regime.
A medical doctor with a doctorate from Stanford University, Mungai was appointed minister by Kenyatta upon the formation of the first post colonial government and for years doubled as President Kenyatta’s private physician as well as Cabinet minister for Health. He came from the same district – Kiambu – as the President and was one of the hundreds of sons of that district that dominated the public service under Kenyatta.
He soon shifted to the more visible ministry for foreign affairs as minister. He would be instrumental in the formation of Kenya’s foreign policy.
Critics however point at Kenya’s marginal contribution to a the liberation movement and blame it on Dr. Mungai. Whether he merely reflected the intentions of his boss – Jomo Kenyatta who shunned liberation movements or acted on his own being a man who resented Kenya’s own “liberation” movement Mau Mau, will never be known. Kenya was not invited to join the “Front line States” devoted to fighting Apartheid and Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).
But there were some successes such as the formation of United Nations Environment Program and the location of its headquarters in Kenya. He was also instrumental in the signing of the Non Aggression and Common Defense Pact with Ethiopia, which may have saved Kenya from Somalia inspired dissent in the Northern Frontier District.
Dr. Mungai was however a controversial figure. When in 1974 he surprisingly lost the constituency election to a new comer and unknown Dr. Johnstone Muthiora, word had it that he could simply not take it. It was a well known practice by President Kenyatta to appoint anybody who defeated a minister in elections to at least an assistant minister if not a full minister. Dr. Muthiora was not appointed to any government position. It was rumored that Dr. Mungai used his influence to ensure that his replacement stayed on the back benches.
The death of Dr. Muthiora came a couple of months after the death of Nyandarua North Member of Parliament J. M. Kariuki. Doctors controversially ruled that he had died of “natural causes” to much opprobrium. Dr. Muthiora had received threats. He then got an invitation to visit India – a visit and invitation with no proper justification. He accepted to go and for that he needed to receive certain vaccinations at City Hall – the only place where this was done. Dr. Muthiora became ill on arrival in India and cut short his visit to return to Kenya and was admitted to the Nairobi Hospital. He died shortly after. It was then rumored that Dr. Mungai had arranged for his rival to be “vaccinated” with a poisonous substance that killed him. Riots broke out in Nairobi involving university students. Dr. Muthiora had been a political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi and many students reportedly campaigned for him. Many students were injured and others arrested.
It marked the beginning of the end of Dr. Mungai’s political career. He would stay out of parliament for five years and when he returned in 1979, the Kenyatta succession in which he had wanted to be a key player had passed by him and Mr. Daniel Arap Moi had become president with Kenyatta’s draconian powers. He had got himself in the anti-Moi political groups and therefore earned exclusion and sidelining. One of his most formidable enemies – Charles Njonjo – had earned a place near the center of power in the new regime. Thus Njoroge Mungai would wander in the political wilderness for a long time. In 1983, he lost his seat to another new-comer to politics – Mr. Clement Gachanja.
In 1988, Njoroge Mungai shifted to Westlands Constituency and got elected as the Member of parliament. That would be his last stint in Parliament. He gave up elective politics altogether after losing out on the Westlands seat – not without the jinx striking again: The man who beat him – Amin Walji -died within a year of his election.