Jaxon Levi Madoka Shako is one of the few Kenyan leaders who quit diplomacy to plunge into politics, eventually making it to the Cabinet as Minister for Tourism in 1969.
He was born in 1918 in Wundanyi, Taita-Teveta District and was educated at local primary and secondary schools, joining Alliance High School, Kikuyu, in the 1930s. He went for university education in the United Kingdom at the premier Oxford University.
When he returned to Kenya, he enrolled for a public administration course and thereafter served as a school headmaster before joining the colonial administration at a time when most senior administrators were white. He rose through the ranks to become Regional Government Agent in Mombasa, serving until independence in 1963.
Shako was an administrator when colonial governor Evelyn Baring declared a State of Emergency on October 20, 1952 in an effort to contain the Mau Mau in central Kenya and Nairobi. That day, thousands of Africans, including leaders of KAU, were arrested and later tried and jailed.
But other leaders applied pressure on the colonial government to grant more freedom to the African majority, forcing the colonial authorities to allow Africans to set up political parties, albeit on a regional, not a national, basis. By 1955, the Coast had two regional parties — Francis Khamisi’s Mombasa African Democratic Union (Madu) and Ronald Ngala’s Kilifi African Peoples Union (Kapu). Madu and Kapu would, in due course, give way to the more inclusive Coast African Association (CAA).
The CAA was essentially a Mijikenda and Mombasa affair, with very little appeal elsewhere in the province. The Coast was dominated by Madu, which was transformed into Kadu, led by Ngala, just weeks after Kanu was formed in May, 1960.
Kenyatta appointed Shako ambassador to France and West Germany in 1964, one of five envoys Kenyatta sent abroad. The others were Burudi Nabwera (Washington and the United Nations headquarters in New York), Dr Josephat Karanja (London), Henry Muli (Cairo) and Okuto Bala (Moscow).
Shako served as ambassador until 1967, when he was recalled. He retired from the Civil Service and entered politics at a time when his relative by marriage, Dawson Mwanyumba, was the MP for Wundanyi and Minister for Power and Communications. In the two years following his return, Shako consolidated his position in Wundanyi. In the 1969 elections, he ousted his younger relative from Parliament.
In the Cabinet Kenyatta formed after the election, Shako was appointed Minister for Tourism and Wildlife. Mwanyumba’s old Ministry of Power and Communications went to another Coast politician, Ngala, the region’s political kingpin who had been leader of the opposition party Kadu.
Shako forged a close political and business relationship with Kenyatta, the first family and powerful ministers from Kiambu. The relationship centred mainly on cash crop production, especially sisal, and the mining of rubies. This raised controversy. Many of Shako’s constituents and the larger Taita-Taveta showed open resentment towards their MP, accusing him of exploiting their natural resources without giving anything back to the community. No wonder in the 1974 elections, Shako lost and Mwanyumba came back to Parliament.
The political story of Shako would be incomplete without that of Mwanyumba. Though in-laws, they were bitter political rivals. It was during Mwanyumba’s time as Minister for Power and Communication that the Seven Forks hydro-electric power development scheme was implemented. It was composed of seven power-generating stations along the Tana River, with a capacity of more than 600 megawatts. President Kenyatta commissioned the biggest, at Kindaruma, on March 5, 1965.
But Mwanyumba’s success came at a political price. Tana River was far away from Taita-Taveta, and the demands for his presence at various construction sites meant that he spent less time in Wundanyi than his constituents wished. In any case, it would be a long while before the people of Taita-Taveta saw the benefits of Mwanyumba’s preoccupation with electric power generation.
One person who thought he could take advantage of the situation was none other than Mwanyumba’s brother-in-law, Shako. He trounced Mwanyumba in the 1969 elections and was appointed Minister for Tourism. However, in the 1974 election, Mwanyumba made a dramatic comeback, beating Shako hands down.
Towards the end of his second term in Parliament, Mwanyumba’s zest for politics seemed to have waned. Shako took advantage of it and planned a comeback. In the lead-up to the 1979 General Election, Mwanyumba sent word out that he would not seek re-election and would prefer that political leadership in the district pass on to the younger generation. He qualified his pledge, though: He would not seek re-election only if his rival Shako stayed out of the race.
Mwanyumba’s preferred candidate was 35-year-old Mashengu wa Mwachofi, a former Prisons officer and teacher, who was then studying for his MA degree in social studies at the University of Nairobi. Mwachofi was among a number of young men who thought it was time to take over from the older generation of politicians. But a few months to the polls, Shako announced he would contest the seat and, as expected, Mwanyumba changed his mind and decided to enter the race. Mwachofi, who had already declared his interest in the Wundanyi seat, refused to step down for Mwanyumba. He defeated the two seasoned politicians in one of the most closely contested polls in Coast Province. Mwachofi garnered 7,515 votes against Mwanyumba’s 6,444 and Shako’s 5,715 votes.
Mwachofi’s victory brought Taita-Taveta back to the national political stage. The young MP joined hands with six radical MPs who locked horns with President Moi’s government in Parliament. Besides Mwachofi, the group, which Njonjo derogatively referred to as the ‘Seven Bearded Sisters’, included Chibule wa Tsuma, Abuya Abuya, Koigi wa Wamwere, James Orengo, Lawrence Sifuna and Chelagat Mutai.
As Minister for Tourism and Wildlife, Shako is credited with far-reaching policies that helped conserve wildlife and promote tourism. It was during his stint that the Government set up key parastatals that established tourist hotel chains to boost bed capacity to 17,573.
He also marked out and increased the number of game parks and reserves, took measures to protect wild animals and opened up more tourist circuits, making Kenya an attractive tourist destination.
To protect game from poachers at a time when elephants were being decimated for their ivory, Shako banned private dealings in ivory in 1975, a decision that conservationists greeted with jubilation.
Shako said at the time: “As a measure against poaching and to ensure that any ivory benefits the whole country, the Government has decided that all dealings in ivory, including export, shall be the sole responsibility of the Government.
However, the Government recognises the local curio industry. The Government has, therefore, set up a committee to allocate a limited amount of ivory to a minimal number of curio dealers to manufacture souvenirs. The committee will strictly supervise the ivory allocation.
“Personal ivory or manufactured ivory articles will be allowed to leave the country through a legal export permit, but the Government will not allow import or re-export of ivory after the August 20, 1975, deadline.”
Shako’s move was a result of an expose by an international journalist of widespread poaching, a major risk to the elephant population. The report asserted that poachers had killed 16,000 elephants in 1974/75 alone, especially in Tsavo. The expose led to the ban of game hunting in Kenya and the strengthening of the Wildlife Department.
He also influenced the construction of the Taita Salt Lick Lodges at Bura in Tsavo West. During his tenure, the Government began a large-scale demarcation scheme for cattle ranching schemes. Public ranches were established all over the district. Parts of the Tsavo National Park were also allocated to some powerful individuals at the time. A prominent investor in mining, John Saul, was kicked out of the Mangare mines in Kasighau, some 35kms south of Voi.
Shako was married to Patience Kezia and had several children, who became professionals in various fields, including a lawyer and an architect. When he retired from politics, he went into business and farming.
He died in 1986 at 68.