Joe Nyagah: Ex-MP was a happy-go-lucky senior bachelor

Having divorced his mzungu wife early, former Minister crushed most nights at the home of PR empress, Gina Din- Kariuki

The drifter: The late Joe Nyagah blended well with the portraits of Presidents in Gina Din Kariuki’s office in Lavington, Nairobi by day, before crushing into her home at night. Nyagah issued a raft of burial instructions before his death: His head was to face Mbeere hills where locals sought refuge in times of war. He was not to be buried in new clothes. Any good old ones would do. But it they have to be ironed by eldest son, Jerry Nyagah-just like he ironed his own clothes throughout his life.

By Undercover Reporter

He often called himself handsome, strange for a man. Much of what he did appeared like a joke including gunning for the Presidency in 2017 as an independent candidate.

The late Joe Nyagah, former MP for Gachoka, got under 40, 000 votes despite piping  “I never make mistakes in politics.”  He succumbed this Friday to complications of Covid in Nairobi. He was 72- a life largely anchored on ‘accumulative advantages’ of his parent’s ‘upward social capital’ that has been the bedrock of the Nyagah Dynasty.

He met and married Margatet, a Scottish teacher he met while studying in 1970s America. But having divorced her early, Joe lived a happy-go-lucky senior bachelor for half his life.

Before meeting and marrying Esther Nyagah, a woman the age of his sons (and with whom he sired a girl), Joe preferred crushing most nights at the home of PR empress, Gina Din- Kariuki. Joe also blended well with the portraits of Presidents in Gina’s office in Lavington, Nairobi. In fact, the two were common fixtures in Gina’s PR functions,  dining and dancing together. It was hard figuring out where Captain Chris Kariuki, Gina’s hubby, fitted in the matrix. Not that it would be anyone’s business.

His future mzungu wifecoached him mathematics and statistics when they were both students in America

Key for two: Joe when in his 60s married Esther Nyagah (left) and sired a girl with her many years after divorcing Margaret Nyagah, the mzungu wife who coached him mathematics and statistics when they were both students in America.

One of Gina Din’s sources of yeasty bread was ‘government relations’ basically a go-between when foreign entities were pitching tent here and needed layers of red tape peeled off. Having been a diplomat, MD, MP, Minister, a Cabinet Minister’s son, Joe Nyagah understood the ‘mechanics of government’ and a simple phone call would open doors. 

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Little wonder then among key accounts for Gina Din was Kenya Airways where President Daniel arap Moi appointed Joe Managing Director? Before KQ, he had worked for the First National Bank of Chicago (now JP Morgan Chase), on his way to being Kenya’s ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg for eight years from 1983.  

Another key account which provided Gina Din with good dough was Safaricom-for which Joe’s son, Jerry Nyagah created memorable TV adverts

The Empress: Gina Din-Kariuki wrangled with Joe Nyagah at the Court of Appeal last year over House No.2 Elshadai Villa, Kaputei Gardens, Nairobi. Gina argued the house was worth Sh84 million and not Sh20 million. Nyagah argued the property was legally his. He prayed that Gina be restrained from ‘trespassing or auctioning it.’ The case had been moved to the Environment Court by the time of his death.

Another key account which provided Gina Din with good dough, paid staff salaries and all, was Safaricom and the Sh6 million a month retainer which ran for 10 years. That was just retainer. Gina Din billed Safaricom was billed for all PR videos. Most were a Sh1 million per job.

This has no connection with Gina Din, but Joe’s son, Jerry Nyagah, created memorable television adverts as a creative at the defunct Yellow Advertising.

Joe’s dad was a player in the ‘privilege sector’, what  Dr David Ndii calls ‘upward social capital’

In a nutshell, Joe Nyagah’s life was greatly wheeled forward through ‘accumulative advantages’ of his family’s ‘upward social capital.’

His grandpa was an Anglican evangelist in the 1920s. Just why Joe’s Old Guy, Jeremiah Nyagah began classes at Kabare Anglican Mission aged five in 1925. At 15, Jeremiah was in Alliance High School with 25 year old classmates on his way to Makerere, then Oxford. All these when Kenya was largely a ngumbaru country.

Old guard: Jeremiah Nyagah had five sons and three daughters-who went into diplomacy and academia (Dr Dorothy Mbari Khimulu), politics (Norman Nyagah MP for Gachoka and Kamukunji) besides producing a Central Bank Governor in Nahashon Nyagah.
Just so you know Dr Dorothy Mbari was behind discovery of the massive water reservoir in Lotikipi, Turkana County in 2013 when it was said its 1.2 billion cubic metres annually could serve Kenya for the next 70 years. She was Kenya’s Chief Commissioner of Girl Guides when her father was Chief Commissioner of Scouts!

 Jeremiah married Eunice Wambeere, daughter of a colonial chief, whom he met at Kahuhia Teacher’s Training College, his first teaching post.

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Jeremiah was at the right place at the right time, representing Embu in the Legco in the 1950s, becoming Gachoka MP and Kenya’s first Minister for Education at independence in 1963.

Joe’s dad was a player in Kenya’s ‘privilege sector’, what  Dr David Ndii calls ‘upward social capital’ or ‘accumulative advantages’ according to American author Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers: The story of Success.

‘No doubt,’ he later admitted, ‘I benefited from the brand name my father had cultivated’

Coming to grief: Joe Nyagah’s presidential campaign in 2017. He received only five votes in his home town, but beat Raila Odinga in some parts of Nyanza. He rarely sounded deeply intellectual, yet he had the grounding: Like his dad, he was an alumni of Alliance where he sang for a group called The Strangers. Then University of Nairobi (economics and political science) and Northwestern University MBA finance and management) Class of 1974.

And Joe Nyagah took full advantage, inheriting the Gachoka seat from his brother Norman in 1998, a seat Norman had inherited when his father retired from politics in 1992. “No doubt,” he later admitted, “I benefited from the brand name my father had cultivated.”

Nyagah was appointed Minister for Cooperatives-and boy! didn’t cooperatives experience exponential growth in his tenure. Like his father, he was in the ‘privilege sector!’ part of ‘accumulative advantages, ‘upward social capital.’

Joseph William Nthiga Nyagah was buried next to his grandpa at Kamutungi farm in rural Mbeere South Constituency, Embu County on Saturday, December 19, 2020. There was no viewing of the body.

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