7 January 1926
16 August 2014
Magana Njoroge Mungai, M.D. EGH (January 7, 1926 – August 16, 2014) was a Kenyan Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament, doctor, businessman, farmer, politician, nationalist and one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya.
Early life and education
Njoroge Mungai was born in Gichungo village, in Kiambu in colonial Kenya. His parents, Leah Magana and George Segeni Njoroge, were pioneer Christians who attended Church of the Torch which had been founded by the famous Church of Scotland minister, John William Arthur. In fact, the attendant at his birth was John Arthur.
Njoroge Mungai was educated at Alliance High School, Kikuyu and was part of the famous class of 1945 of which six of its 14 students were part of Kenya’s first cabinet including his good friend and later successor in the Foreign Affairs Ministry Dr. Munyua Waiyaki. He would work as a bus driver after high school. before joining the British Overseas Airways Corporation. He wanted to travel to United States to study medicine but was denied a passport by the British authorities and he therefore attended Fort Hare University in South Africa where he studied Hygiene. His dream thereafter came true when he was accepted to Stanford Medical School where he graduated in class of 1957.
Political life and business activities
Njoroge Mungai was a first cousin to Kenya’s later first President Jomo Kenyatta. When Kenyatta was arrested, Dr. Njoroge Mungai served as his personal physician, a role he would continue in until the President’s death. He was enamored by the Kenyatta and the ideals of achieving freedom for Kenya and he joined the Kenya African National Union, Kenya’s freedom party which he served as Secretary. He was part of the Kenya Delegation that negotiated independence from Britain at the Lancaster House Conferences of 1960.
In independent Kenya, Njoroge Mungai would serve first as Minister for Health in which capacity he established Kenya’s first medical school. He was later moved to the Defence Ministry and it was during his tenure that the Shifta War between Kenya and Somalia broke out. He led a mediation team to Kinshasa which resulted in the Arusha Accords of 1967, bring a close to the conflict. But he would gain fame during his term as Minister for Foreign Affairs. An astute diplomat, he successfully lobbied to have the United Nations Environmental Programme headquartered in Nairobi. He further successfully lobbied the OAU to supply arms to forces fighting the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the Portuguese colonial regime in Mozambique. Kenya also had a seat on the Security Council during his tenure and he was instrumental in pushing for sanctions against South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. He was with Milton Obote at the Singapore Commonwealth meeting, pushing for the British to cease supplying arms to South Africa, when Idi Amin overthrew the Ugandan President. He famously restrained Obote from returning to Uganda where he would have been killed.
In business, Njoroge Mungai had a private clinic at Riruta, Nairobi, among other clinics, which he donated to the government. He would later start the Magana Farm in the 1960s from where he practiced dairy farming. In 1973, he expanded his interests to real estate and information technology through Magana Holdings Limited. He would later venture into and later flower forming Magana Flowers Kenya Limited in 1994 on an 18 hectare farm. He served as the Chairman of Servair Investment Airport Kenya Limited and was instrumental merging of airline catering company NAS with the French catering company Servair in 2010. In 2016, his named appeared in the Panama Papers data release as a shareholder of Bevatron Ltd, an offshore company with address based in Charlestown, Nevis.
Njoroge Mungai was married and had four children. He was, as at the late 1990s, estranged from his wife, Lillian Mungai, and they were engaged in court battles over some of the properties they owned jointly. In the latter years of the Kenyatta Presidency, he controversially led a faction that tried to prevent the vice president Daniel Moi from ascending to the Presidency unchallenged if Kenyatta died, a move that was thwarted by the leader of the Moi faction, AG Charles Njonjo. His opposition to South Africa and British involvement was considered one of the factors that he lost to Njonjo. In 1974, he lost his Parliamentary seat in Dagoretti South but was later nominated as a Member of Parliament. He would rejoin the Cabinet in 1990 as a Minister for Environment before quitting active politics in 1997. He would come out of retirement to campaign for Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002 but Uhuru lost that election though he would win the presidency eleven years later in 2013.
Njoroge Mungai was honoured with a Commander of The National Order of Merit from the French government in April 2014 for his contribution to business, democracy and international diplomacy. Dr. Njoroge Mungai died on August 14, 2014 at Nairobi Hospital at the age of 88. At his funeral, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was a pall bearer of his casket in his honour. It is the first and only time a sitting President of Kenya was a pall bearer.