Of all Kenya’s Foreign ministers, Dr Munyua Waiyaki – who died on Tuesday at 91 – was, perhaps, the most celebrated.
He lived during the Cold War period and, since President Jomo Kenyatta hated flying, he had become the face of Kenya abroad.
In his later life, Dr Waiyaki slithered into oblivion. His house in Nyari Estate, a coffee farm that he once owned in Kiambu County, is modest, broken-down tractors parked outside as mementos and books dot the sitting room.
As one of Kenya’s first indigenous medical doctors, Dr Waiyaki found space in Kenya’s politics after he was picked to be Kenyatta’s medical doctor, when the old Jomo was still restricted in Lodwar and Maralal.
During the formation of Kanu and Kadu, it was not clear which camp Jomo would side with since both parties claimed to recognise him.
LETTER FROM LODWAR
It was Dr Waiyaki who, after visiting Kenyatta, pulled out at a press conference the “Letter from Lodwar”.
The 1961 letter, in Kikuyu — also signed by three other jailed freedom fighters – Bildad Kaggia, Kung’u Karumba and Fred Kubai – was ostensibly addressed to Dr Waiyaki, then Nairobi Kanu branch chairman.
It ended Kadu’s dream of a Kenyatta leadership, saying “the only really strong party is Kanu and, this being the case, our views are that any person who contemplates coming forward to announce his intention to contest a seat ought to be associated with Kanu”.
Coming just before the 1961 General Election, the letter not only offered direction in national politics but also left Kadu without a national leader.
Getting Jomo’s nod when Kadu’s deputy leader Masinde Muliro had claimed him as their leader was a major coup by Dr Waiyaki, one that significantly altered the course of Kenya’s history.
MOST TRUSTED MINISTER
It is not clear whether Dr Waiyaki engineered the letter but he rose to become Jomo’s most trusted minister.
Born Fredrick Lawrence Munyua Waiyaki in Muthiga, Kiambu, in 1926 from the lineage of the legendary Chief Waiyaki wa Hinga, Dr Waiyaki was in 1942 one of the first students at Alliance High School.
His contemporaries included Cabinet ministers Paul Ngei and Kyale Mwendwa, Attorney-General Charles Njonjo and Tinderet Member of Parliament Jean-Marie Seroney.
Like many students who defied Alliance headmaster Carey Francis to seek higher education abroad, he enrolled at South Africa’s Adams College and Fort Hare University, where he shared a rondavel with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, later the Inkatha Freedom Party leader and Nelson Mandela’s first Vice-President, and Malawi’s Orton Chirwa, later Justice minister.
When he fell out with Malawian President Dr Kamuzu Banda, he and his wife Vera fled into exile but were kidnapped and charged with treason.
BEFORE JOMO COLLAPSED
So close to Kenyatta was Dr Waiyaki that, a week before he died, the President asked him to summon all the foreign ambassadors and high commissioners.
The meeting took place hours before Jomo collapsed in Msambweni, Mombasa, and took less than 10 minutes, leaving most of them wondering why they had been summoned.
He was one of the few privy to Kenyatta’s health, with Dr Njoroge Mungai and Dr Eric Njumwa Mngola.
Unknown to many, Dr Waiyaki was in the Kenya Educational Trust Committee led by Tom Mboya, which co-ordinated the famous airlifts to American universities. The others were Dr Gikonyo Kiano and Mr Mwai Kibaki.
Through Dr Waiyaki, Mr Mboya managed to tame the man he feared most in Nairobi: Argwings Kodhek.
Both Dr Waiyaki and Mr Mboya had sought to become chairman of Kanu Nairobi but Mboya declared that Dr Waiyaki had won, causing Kodhek’s supporters to protest that Mboya had rigged the vote.
This forced Kodhek to seek solace in central Nyanza, away from Mboya.
Ousting Dr Waiyaki from Kanu for “siding” with Mboya’s nemesis Jaramogi Oginga Odinga made Mboya the king of Nairobi politics until he was brought down by an assassin’s bullet.
Dr Waiyaki continued to serve in the Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi governments.
But the former Mathare MP failed to return to Parliament in 1991.