If reference checks were the key to securing a Cabinet position, Dawson Mwanyumba would not have made it to Kenyatta’s first Cabinet as Minister for Public Works, Communications and Power.
A trained mathematics teacher who was quick to anger and even faster to use his fist against those he found too slow for his liking, Mwanyumba literally boxed his way into politics after assaulting a colonial education officer in 1953.
Former Taveta MP Eliud Mcharo, who was Mwanyumba’s student at Maynard Intermediate School, traces his rise to the day he defied a summons by the district education officer.
“Based at Wundanyi, DEO Delany had travelled to Mbale to see Mwanyumba. When he did not find Mwanyumba at the office, he sent a teacher, Ayub Mwaluma, to call him from class.
“Mwanyumba was in Class Eight preparing candidates for the Kenya African Primary Examination (KAPE). He told Mwaluma to tell the DEO to wait until the class was over.”
The response is said to have surprised the DEO, who vowed to teach the “insolent” teacher a lesson.
Mwanyumba had secured a scholarship for further education in America and was planning to join his peers — Ronald Ngala, Julius Gikonyo Kiano, Robert Matano — who had already started their undergraduate studies.
But it was not to be. Mwanyumba’s scholarship was withdrawn in mysterious circumstances. He soon discovered his academic dream had been shattered by the DEO he had slighted.
“On learning this, Mwanyumba, who was poor at controlling his temper, travelled to Wundanyi and stormed into the DEO’s office. He physically assault the colonial educationist for cancelling his scholarship,” says Mcharo.
Mwanyumba then resigned from teaching.
His eldest daughter, Mary Ndigha, says: “I have always known that my father resigned as a teacher but I was not aware why. Moreover, I never understood why he never went abroad for further education, although nearly all his peers effortlessly enhanced their education after Makerere. Now I know.”
True to character, Mwanyumba did not regret taking matters into his own hands, and even asked his wife, who was also a teacher, to quit.
“He feared she would be targeted by vindictive colonial education officers. She started a new life as a dress-maker and a peasant farmer,” Mary recalls.
Out of work and with a young family to support, the former mathematics teacher fell back on his entrepreneurial skills to make ends meet. He opened a shop at Wundanyi town, dealing in all manner of household goods, and a butchery in Moshi, Tanzania.
Wundanyi resident Benjamin Mwashumbe, 56, says the shop soon became a meeting point for political debate.
“His shop was like a marketplace of ideas. Many people would come just to catch up with the latest political happenings. I learnt this from older villagers who were politically active at the time,” he said.
But politics came at a great price for the family. The more Mwanyumba was drawn into politics, the more he neglected the shop. He lost track of creditors and stock-outs became the order of the day. Said Mary: “I remember the shop was very big and busy. It sold different kinds of items like clothes and foodstuff. My father allowed customers to take goods on unlimited credit. He often gave away items free. The business suffered and later collapsed.”