James Nyamweya – Architect of Kenya’s labour laws

Tourism and Wildlife Minister J.M. Shako, his Works counterpart James Nyamweya (right) and Assistant Minister Jan Mohammed (left) on their way to board an aircraft for Ankara, Turkey on October 15, 1971. Mr Shako was leading the Kenyan delegation to the International Union of Tourists Organisation.

Born in Kisii on December 28, 1927, James Miyenda Nyamweya was the fifth child of Pastor Paul Nyamweya and Louise Manyange. His father had another wife, Len Kwamboka. James had seven siblings and three half-siblings.

In the late 1950s, Nyamweya left for the United Kingdom to study law. His daughter, Joyce (a former Permanent Secretary), was about a year old, and his son, George (now a Nominated MP), only two weeks old. When he returned in 1959, the two children could not recognise him.

Joyce remembers her view of her father when he returned: He so closely resembled one of her uncles she thought they were twins! Nyamweya could not bear the thought that the youngest two of his four children could not recognise him. He went to great lengths to change that. For instance, whenever he travelled to Kisumu to do legal work, he took the two with him.

Nyamweya married Tabitha Moige, a daughter of a prominent Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) elder, Zachariah Nyaribo of Gesusu, in 1948. They had nine children — Charles Ratemo, Rebecca Moraa, Joyce Bochere, George, Kenyalyn Monyenche, Mary Nyaboke, James Ogendi, Christopher Nyambane and Paul.

Throughout his public life, Nyamweya’s household was under strict instruction to make visitors feel at home, regardless of their station in life. He cautioned his family that an Omugusii man is a proud person and that only serious issues would make him leave his home to seek help from or audience with another man. Therefore, when a person humbled himself and came to Nyamweya’s homestead, they were to be accorded respect.

Nyamweya went to Nyanchwa SDA Primary School and later Kamagambo Mission School, where he excelled and earned reputation as an avid reader. Consequently, he qualified to join Kisii Secondary School. His father, a pioneer pastor of the SDA Church, rejected the colonial missionaries’ appeal for his son to go to a missionary school as part of his progression towards eventual service to God.

For that reason, his father sent him to Kamagambo Secondary School. Unfortunately, however, the missionaries discontinued the secondary school section at the school. But Nyamweya stayed and joined a teacher-training course, after which he taught at Nyanchwa, Sengera, Isecha and Sironga. But he did not give up the desire for higher education. He later enrolled for a correspondence course to pursue secondary education. He passed the Cambridge School Certificate and sat a qualifying examination which allowed him to start law studies.

Once again, the missionaries got wind of his intention to study law, a discipline they considered an affront to the spiritual development of a son with the potential of inheriting his father’s mantle in the Church. For the second time, his father failed to stop the young man’s dream and Nyamweya got admission to Kings College, University of London, for undergraduate studies. In 1958, he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree.

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