Of all the confidants of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, his daughter Margaret Wambui — who died on Wednesday in Nairobi — was in a class of her own.
Wambui, 89, is little-known today as she has been out of the limelight as old age and illness took a toll on her. She was, however, a powerful figure in the Jomo Kenyatta presidency where she rose to become the mayor of Nairobi from 1970 to 1976.
As the mayor, Wambui is known to have spruced up city estates with tarmacked walkways and street lights – an era long gone.
Wambui, the step-sister of President Uhuru Kenyatta, was a powerful personality in the 1970s when she tossed herself in politics and business.
Her early life is partly weaved into the story of her father and that of her mother, Wahu Kenyatta. When Jomo Kenyatta was asked by the Kikuyu Central Association to represent the body in 1929 in England, Wambui was a toddler and he returned when she was 16.
In previous interviews, Ms Wambui said she only knew her father through pictures at their Dagoretti home and letters sent from his England Storrington home in West Sussex, where he had escaped to during the Second World War.
The return of Jomo Kenyatta saw the bond between the father and daughter grow.
Wambui was later enrolled at Alliance High School, which had started admitting girls, pending the building of a girls secondary school. She then followed her father to Githunguri Teachers Training School, where Jomo Kenyatta was a tutor.
She started a career as a teacher and as her father’s trusted aide. As her father launched a vicious campaign to strengthen Kenya African Union into a national movement, Wambui became one of the constant women figures, even eclipsing her eldest brother, Peter Muigai.
The arrest of Jomo Kenyatta and most of the family members left Wambui to cater for herself.
She would be adopted by Ambu Patel – the Nakuru man who gave Jomo Kenyatta his famous jacket which became his trademark. From Patel’s office, she became a central figure in the campaign to have her father released.
Patel led a successful fundraiser and campaign for the release of Jomo Kenyatta together with his wife Lila. While working in Nairobi, Wambui became the main contact between her father and the outside world as she coordinated the “Release Jomo Committee” together with Patel. In March 1960, they organised the first “Release Jomo Kenyatta” demonstration in Kiambu.
When Kanu was formed, she was elected the secretary for Kiambu. Her rise to become Nairobi mayor to replace Issac Lugonzo was the culmination of the image she had cut and her rising stature in the Kenyatta government. She was re-elected unopposed in 1973.
But she would suffer a political blow when her deputy Andrew Kimani Ngumba (then Mathare MP) staged a coup against her and announced his bid to take over City Hall.
In an embarrassing turn of events, her candidature divided the Kenyatta government and the father saved her by appointing her the country’s Permanent Representative to Unep.
In the 1970s, Wambui was adversely mentioned in the ivory scandal in which stocks held by the wildlife department were allegedly sold by her company at a time when ivory trade had been banned.
Her only son, former High Court judge Patrick John Kamau, died in 2005.