NOT 'ME FIRST' MAN

Joe Nyagah was not given due credit and recognition

Besides his role in having the US intervene in 2007-08, he made numerous other contributions

In Summary

• Despite the fact that Joe came from a prominent political family, he never had the hubris you would associate with many with that background.

• He was humble, compassionate and caring, which are uncharacteristic traits of a typical politician. He was not 'me first'. 

Former minister Joe Nyaga at his Gachoka home.
TRIBUTE: Former minister Joe Nyaga at his Gachoka home.
Image: REUBEN GITHINJI

Death is inevitable but some deaths force us to reflect and affect us more than others.

This year, we have lost many people to Covid-19, but we can at least be thankful the fatalities has not been as numerous as was feared here in Kenya and in Africa .

One of the victims  of the virus was former Cabinet minister Joe Nyagah.

Although most Kenyans know Joe as a politician and from a prominent political family, many of us knew him as a technocrat and diplomat, who unlike others in the country, did not dip his hand in the till.

Joe was as clean as they came when it came to corruption. It would be an understatement to say we need men and women like him, especially given the thuggish theft of public funds and corruption in the country, which only seem to get worse.

Despite the fact that Joe came from a prominent political family — his father being the longest=serving minister in Kenya to date before retiring in 1992 — he never had the hubris you would associate with many of that background. Rather, Joe was humble, compassionate, and caring, which are uncharacteristic traits of typical politician.

Notably, his father was also in government even before Independence as a member of Legco

I first met Joe in early 2008 when he was part of a team dispatched to lobby in Washington following the eruption of violence in Kenya after the 2007 General Election. The efforts paid off as we had the National Accord between then President Mwai Kibaki and the man who many believe won the disputed election, Raila Odinga.

In paying tribute to Joe, his niece, Grace Ajode Jibril, said, “Many will never know or understand the critical role [Joe] played in the 2008 peace agreement.”

This is true of many unheralded heroes and heroines of past and today.

It is even truer for Joe, who, besides his role in having the US intervene and bring about the peace deal, he made other numerous contributions that he was not given due credit or recognition for.

For example, and as his niece once again reminded us, Joe “looked out for, advocated on behalf of, the youth, sick and the poor citizens of Kenya".

He also cared deeply and was concerned about the elderly, for whom he also lobbied leaders and openly offered solutions to address their needs.

I last spoke to Joe a few weeks ago and he was beaming about the future of the country to which he believed people his generation have a lot to offer, thus, his serious consideration to vie for President.

We spoke at length about governance and the dearth of development in the country, despite our being endowed with plenty of resources, including human capital that could be tapped to transform the country — finally.

Joe lamented how tragic it is Kenya has some of the best brains within and out in the diaspora and how the government has not done much to encourage the latter to return home and help rebuilding our country.

When I told Joe there are many who have tried to do just that but found resistance, or not the anticipated success in the private sector, he had a long answer that included what he had in mind as a solution. 

It is a proposal I will certainly do my best to see to it that the government takes up as part of Joe’s legacy.

For now, like many unheralded heroes, Joe has passed on but we can do something to keep his legacy, and the legacy of like-minded people who have passed on by putting country first, not the usual 'me first'

Samuel Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator