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Tributes pour in for Munyua Waiyaki

The late Munyua Waiyaki, one of Kenya’s most assertive and independent-minded Foreign Affairs ministers.

The curtain fell on Munyua Waiyaki, one of Kenya’s most assertive and independent-minded Foreign Affairs ministers.

The 91-year-old statesman, who had been admitted at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi where he had been undergoing treatment, died yesterday morning at around 2.30 am.

His daughter, Elizabeth Wairimu, said her father had breathing difficulties and had been taken to the hospital on Easter Monday.

“He had not been having health problems and in fact had not complained of any illness. We, however, must appreciate that he was past 90 years old, having celebrated his birthday on December 12 last year,” she said.

As Kenyatta’s Foreign minister, Dr Waiyaki earned the nickname, Kissinger of Africa, after he arm-twisted US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger into authorising sale of F5 fighter jets to Kenya.

He also told off his collegemate Charles Njonjo who, as the then Attorney General, tried to link Kenya to South Africa, which was at the time a pariah state because of its apartheid rule.

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Waiyaki is quoted in the Kenyatta Cabinet saying: “Njonjo believed we could talk with the Boers without jeopardising the position of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. But I reminded him how we (as students in South Africa) had suffered under the apartheid rule.

“Despite our friendship, I categorically refused to entertain the notion of normalising relations with South Africa and even refused to talk to Roelof (“Pik”) Botha (South Africa’s Foreign Minister at the time). I told him to instead talk to Mandela and (Steve) Biko.”

Waiyaki was born in 1926 at Kiawariua in Muthiga, Kikuyu, to Tirus Waiyaki, and Elizabeth Wairimu. His father, was the first African police chief inspector.

Freedom fighter

He is a descendant of Waiyaki wa Hinga, who was killed in 1891 by a British soldier for protesting harassment of his people and takeover of land in Dagoretti by employees of the Imperial British East Africa Company.

He is also a brother to the controversial freedom fighter, Wambui Otieno, who fought during the struggle for independence and would later strike a blow for women when she resisted following the traditions of her husband, SM Otieno after he died.

Dr Waiyaki went to Alliance High School in 1942 and was in the same class with veteran politicians Paul Ngei, Jean-Marie Seroney, Mbiti Mate and Kyale Mwendwa.

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After Alliance, Waiyaki went to Adams College in Natal, South Africa, and then joined Fort Hare University where he studied physics, chemistry and botany.

Waiyaki then applied to study medicine in the UK but the Director of Colonial Scholars denied him admission, insisting that he instead study at Makerere to become African assistant medical officer instead of a full medical doctor. He defied these colonial dictates and proceeded to pursue his studies in London.

He came back to Kenya in 1958 and the Director of Medial Services offered him a job at the Murang’a District Hospital, which he declined because he did not like the house he was given.

He was initiated into politics in 1959 by Tom Mboya through his People’s Conventional Party and would become a force to reckon with in Mathare until he was dethroned in 1983, by Andrew Ngumba.

He then taught Diplomacy at a university in the US, worked for the World Population Council, engaged in underground politics during Kanu’s iron-grip and practised medicine for a while.

In 2007, Bethuel Kiplagat, a former diplomat, described Waiyaki as: “A committed Pan-African, a great and outstanding foreign minister and a pleasant individual who provided a no-nonsense leadership style, was courageous and spoke his mind but did not throw his weight around”.

Elizabeth Wairimu, his daughter, recalled: “He was a good father and a good grandfather to our children. He had a good sense of humour and was a highly intelligent man whose memory was legendary. He loved politics and medicine.”

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