The former personal physician of Kenya’s founding president and powerful minister in Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s government Dr Magana Njoroge Mungai has died.
Dr Mungai, 88, died on Saturday at Nairobi Hospital where he had been receiving treatment. His body was moved to Lee Funeral Home.
“We as a family deeply regret to announce the death of Dr Magana Njoroge Mungai, former MP and Cabinet Minister today August 16, 2014,” said his daughter Ms Nyakio Mungai.
Dr Mungai, who turned 88 in January, had a checkered political and professional life that included working as Mzee Kenyatta’s personal doctor and falling out with retired president Daniel arap Moi.
Prior to his death, Dr Mungai had interests in real estate and flowers business at Magana Flowers Kenya Limited.
He also held multiple ministerial dockets and parliamentary seats in Nairobi.
Yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta praised Dr Mungai as one of Kenya’s greatest physicians and a shrewd businessman. The President described him as a true son of Kenya, who contributed immensely to the struggle for independence .
“Dr Mungai’s name will be remembered alongside other icons of Kenya’s freedom struggle who laid down their lives and made self-sacrifices for the sake of our country’s independence,” President Kenyatta said.
Deputy President Wiliam Ruto also condoled with the family, describing Dr Mungai as among the top notch African pioneers, a leader and professional who was dedicated and accomplished.
“It is his type of fierce loyalty and unwavering patriotism that enabled Kenya to find stability and a path towards prosperity after independence,” he said.
Dr Mungai, a US-trained medical doctor, was appointed Health minister in the independence cabinet in 1963 by Mzee Kenyatta. But his rise to fame can be traced to pre-independence when he graduated in the Alliance (High School) Class of 45.
His classmates included Robert Matano, Bernard Mati, Kyale Mwendwa, Munyua Waiyaki and Gikonyo Kiano, who all later became cabinet ministers at various times.
After Alliance, Dr Mungai told Jeff Koinange Live last year that he became a bus driver between 1946 and 1948, when he left for the University of Fort Hare in South Africa.
His schoolmates included anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 1950, he started selling cosmetics in Cape Town for a year when he got a scholarship to study at the University of London.
But he quit halfway through after receiving another scholarship from Stanford University in California, where he graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952.
But Dr Mungai felt that his real interest was in medicine and he enrolled for a degree in medicine. He graduated in 1957 and returned home, where he opened clinics in Embu, Thika and Dagoretti.
His political career began almost by accident in early 1960. Leaders of various parties had met at Kiambu County Hall and endorsed Kanu and Mzee Kenyatta as its president in absentia.
Dr Mungai was appointed secretary of the steering committee whose task included drafting Kanu’s constitution.
After the 1963 elections, Kenyatta appointed him the minister for Health and Housing.
Dr Mungai was instrumental in setting up of the first medical school in Kenya at Kenyatta National Hospital (then called King George VI Hospital).
Previously, all medical students were enrolled at Makerere University, the only institution with such capacity in the region.
Mzee Kenyatta then elevated him to the powerful Internal Security docket in 1965 at a time Kenya was dealing with the shifta problem.
His tenure in the docket was blotted by the infamous massacre in Kisumu on July 5,1969 after Mzee Kenyatta and former Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga clashed in public over the assassination of Economic Planning minister Tom Mboya.
Dr Mungai served as Foreign Affairs minister between 1969 and 1974, which saw him represent the president at summits and meetings of the Organisation of African Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
He played an integral role in influencing the establishment of the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.
Last year, at the programme’s 40th Anniversary book launch, he recounted the moments after Kenya won the vote hands-down in 1972.
“It was unbelievable that a 10-year-old nation had won ahead of other countries in North America and Western Europe. UNEP’s headquarters was to be in Nairobi. This was the first UN headquarter to be located outside of Western Europe or North America. It still is. There are none in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe or the rest of Africa,” he said.
“The Kenya delegation was, and still is, grateful for this support. Although the rival countries had offered to build the HQ for the new body, Kenya had no money to offer that. UNEP had to build its own offices.”
In 1974, he was beaten by Dr Johnstone Muthiora for the Dagoretti seat but was nominated due to his closeness to Mzee Kenyatta. Two years later, in 1976, he floored Charles Rubia for the Nairobi Kanu chairmanship.
He then joined the anti-Moi bandwagon in the race for Kenyatta succession, at some point swearing to relegate the retired president to political oblivion.