Joseph Munyao – A trusted ally

Despite their different backgrounds, they hit it off instantly and would go on to become life-long friends. Kibaki encouraged his friend to enhance his skills by enrolling for part-time classes in accounts after which he helped him get a job as an accounts clerk in the Office of the President. To give him exposure abroad, Kibaki also secured his friend a posting to London as the financial attaché at the Kenyan embassy. When the diplomatic posting lapsed, he convinced his friend to dabble in politics by contesting the Mbooni parliamentary seat in 1974. He won.

At one time Munyao was even an Assistant Minister in Kibaki’s office when he was Vice President. But their friendship would cost Munyao his seat in the infamous 1988 mlolongo (queue) voting method after Kibaki fell out with President Daniel arap Moi. Munyao was part of the collateral damage.

The two would reunite politically with the return to multi-party politics at the end of 1991. They formed the Democratic Party (DP) the following year and Munyao recaptured his Mbooni seat on a DP ticket. When John Keen, who was the DP secretary general, defected to KANU in 1995, Munyao was easily Kibaki’s choice of replacement. He kept the party flag flying as Kibaki was not known to have the stomach for routine politics. Indeed, the joke was often that Kibaki needed to be constantly reminded where the party offices were located!

Munyao first assignment as the party secretary general was to bring back to the DP fold Charity Ngilu, who although had been among the party founders in 1992, had bolted in the countdown to the 1997 General Election when she contested – and made a good showing – on a Social Democratic Party ticket. With Ngilu back in DP’s orbit, it wasn’t too difficult to convince FORD-Kenya’s Kijana Wamalwa to come on board, hence the formation of the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK), which would later be joined by a renegade KANU faction that had coalesced as the Rainbow coalition. The two came together to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that broke KANU’s 39-year hold on power. Munyao was Kibaki’s right-hand man in the negotiations that led to the creation of NARC through which the latter won the presidency.

In the NARC administration, Munyao was first appointed Assistant Minister for Agriculture but given a full ministerial slot six months later in the first of Kibaki’s Cabinet reshuffles. He became Minister for Livestock and Fisheries; it was a new docket that had been hived from the larger Ministry of Agriculture.

To illustrate how important agriculture was on Kibaki’s agenda is a meeting he held with a core team – immediately after taking over as President – to explain exactly what he wanted done in the sector he rightfully described as the engine of Kenya’s economy. Present at the meeting held at State House Nairobi, and a follow-up one at Sagana State Lodge, were Minister for Agriculture Kipruto Kirwa and his assistant, Munyao. Others were Minister for Cooperatives Njeru Ndwiga, Minister for Finance David Mwiraria, and Francis Muthaura, head of the Civil Service. Two other people Kibaki would soon thereafter appoint to chair agriculture-related State corporations were also invited. They were Matu Wamae and Reuben Chesire.

The fact that Munyao was the only Assistant Minister invited to these meetings is a statement in itself.

In an interview for this book, Munyao recalled what transpired at the two meetings. The President began my expressing regret that in the previous decade or so, Kenya’s agriculture sector had been completely run down by “fellows with no brains to see logic” and who did not realise that killing agriculture amounted to indirectly killing the country’s population, more than 80 per cent of who derived their livelihoods from the sector.

Kibaki told the team assembled that he had full faith in their ability to help him restore agriculture to the glory of the 1970s, when Kenya was a thriving economy with a double-digit growth rate.

Then followed a discussion on the institutions and facilities he wanted revived. The first was the facility once known as the Guaranteed Minimum Return (GMR), a State-provided financial tool to cushion Kenyan farmers against unforeseen calamities like weather changes, price fluctuations and any other circumstances that could lead to losses they could not recover from.

Under the scheme, farmers would be assured of a certain minimum pay for their produce whatever the circumstances. It is a facility provided by progressive governments all over the world as a means to ensure farming remains a worthwhile and profitable enterprise.

While admitting that the GMR could not be revived in the form it existed before, the President believed some form of minimum return could still be worked out even in the prevailing free market economy.

Next, Kibaki wanted the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) reactivated. It was the institution that guaranteed GMR and was also tailor-made to offer purpose-built financial packages for the Kenyan farmer. It facilitated the farmer through loans either in cash or kind (the latter in the form of farming inputs such as seeds and fertilisers).

As an indication that he meant business, in the first financial year of his administration (2003/2004), KES 1 billion was earmarked as seed money to revive AFC.

Next on Kibaki’s radar was the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC). Established through an Act of Parliament in 1965, ADC was primarily meant to ensure the Kenyan farmer had high-quality seeds (hybrid bulls in the case of livestock farmers) to make farming not just an occupation for subsistence and survival but a going business concern and economic pillar. The institution had extensive parcels of land all over the country where seeds were produced and tested before distribution to farmers. It also served as training ground for farmers.

Sadly, ADC was systematically killed over the years, first by massive theft of land via illegal allocations, then by raids on its coffers. It was on Munyao’s watch that ADC was revived. His first task as Minister was to secure title deeds for the corporation’s remaining 19 farms from the original 37. Among those retrieved and secured were the 100,000-hectare Galana-Kulalu in the Tana Delta, now earmarked for a major irrigation project by the Jubilee government under President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Others are Mutara Ranch in Laikipia County, famous as a breeding centre for the rare Boran studs, Lanet Farm known for award-winning Holstein and Friesian breeds, the Molo Potato Centre, Japata Farm on the slopes of Mount Elgon known for Doper sheep breeds, and Katuke and Sabwani farms, home of Ayrshire and Jerseys cattle breeds respectively.

Another of Munyao’s accomplishments was the establishment of the Kenya Dairy Development Project, a partnership between ADC and the US Agency for International Development. The project was aimed at capacity building for increased production and profits in the dairy value chain through modern breeding techniques, real-time provision of veterinary services and feeds management. The project also had a business component through market information and policy advocacy. Related to this was the reactivation of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute vaccines production centre in Kabete. It was during Munyao’s tenure that foot and mouth disease in Kenya became a thing of the past.

Kibaki was also keen on reviving the National Irrigation Board (NIB). Aware that rain-fed agriculture was only practical in less than a third of Kenya’s land mass, NIB was created to open up as many swathes of land as possible to agriculture through irrigation. The Board also had the mandate to come up with creative water conservancy ideas.

The Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) was a public-cum-private institution with a mandate to purchase and store grains produced in the country besides making available requisite farm implements for farmers. It became such an economic giant that farmers equated it with the government, even going so far as to refer to it as “serikali ndogo” (small government). And with good reason – KFA was there for farmers any time, advancing payments on what they expected to harvest and paying full amounts owed on delivery.

Chesire became the executive chairman of KFA, which was why Kibaki had included him in the two meetings.

The Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) was another institution that added value to the agriculture sector. The giant cooperative not only purchased milk from farmers at a premium price, and in real time, but also facilitated agriculture extension services to enable the farmers to maximise production. It also opened buying centres and built coolants all over the country to ensure no milk went to waste. Further, it partnered with the Kenya Railways Corporation to ensure there were no transport hitches in the value chain.

The revival of KCC was the reason Wamae had been invited to the two meetings.

Kibaki also believed streamlining the operations of the Kenya Tea Development Authority and the Kenya Coffee Planters Union was the way to go. According to Munyao, the President had no problem with tea and coffee farmers engaging in direct sale of their produce, but he thought trading as cooperatives would be more rewarding for them on the basis of economies of scale and capacity for value addition.

The President was also keen to return to pyrethrum farming, reminding his audience at the two meetings that after failing with an experiment with artificial (synthetic) pesticides, the world would soon return to natural products. He said Kenya had a great advantage because the country grew the best crop in the world and had retained patents for its products. He talked about resurrecting the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, which had been neglected in the same style as the other institutions.

He also wanted the reactivation of the Cotton Lint & Marketing Board, reasoning that the once-vibrant cotton farming sector would not only put money in the pockets of the Kenyan farmer but also create hundreds of jobs via revival of the once-thriving local firms – Rift Valley Textiles (RIVATEX), Kisumu Cotton Mills (KICOMI) and Mount Kenya Textiles (MOUNTEX).

Munyao revealed that his greatest regret was that bad politics in NARC could not and did not allow him to implement the great vision Kibaki had to put Kenya’s agriculture sector back on track.

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