James Kabingu Muregi was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Nyandarua South in 1969 and he held the seat until 1979. From 1975, Muregi also doubled as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly following the detention of Jean-Marie Seroney.
Seroney was jailed together with Martin Shikuku for dismissing the ruling party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), as dead. Shikuku had stated in Parliament that the party was dead but when challenged to substantiate his claim, Seroney, who was Deputy Speaker at the time, said, “There is no need to substantiate the obvious!” He, Shikuku and a few others had been constant critics of President Jomo Kenyatta’s administration.
Muregi was a pro-Government figure and a fierce defender of the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (GEMA), a Central Province outfit, during Kenyatta’s tenure. In 1979, he lost the Nyandarua South seat to Kimani wa Nyoike, following which he was appointed Chairman of the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya. By this time, he had become a close associate of President Daniel arap Moi, who had succeeded Kenyatta in August 1978.
In 1988, Muregi became the first MP for Kipipiri Constituency. He would lose the seat to Laban Muchemi in 1992 with the return of multipartism following the repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution of Kenya.
In October 1989, at the height of the season when leaders who shouted ‘nyayo!’(Moi’s rallying call, meaning footsteps) loudest were seen as being most loyal to the President, his government, and KANU, Muregi was appointed Assistant Minister for Environment to replace Josiah Kimemia, the MP for Kinangop. Kimemia was at that time viewed not to be loyal enough to the President and the ruling party, hence his ouster. Party hawks from the Nyandarua KANU Branch also wanted him removed as branch chairman; he was replaced by Muregi.
Once appointed to the Government, Muregi displayed his total loyalty to Moi by aggressively speaking out against those viewed to be ‘anti-nyayo.’ For example, speaking in Parliament in December 1989, he not-so-politely asked Andrew Ngumba, the MP for Mathare who had returned to the country from self-exile in Sweden, to keep a low profile “lest he awaken bitter memories of how he swindled investors with the fallen Rural Urban Credit Society”.
Ngumba had fled to Sweden following the collapse of the credit society, which had specialised in giving unsecured loans to upcoming business people in his constituency and other parts of Nairobi. Muregi termed Ngumba’s efforts to seek rehabilitation into KANU as “…lack of respect for fellow Kenyans and big-headedness. Ngumba should lie low and give us time to study him and see if he was brainwashed while in exile. He should be humble and grateful to President Moi for granting him amnesty”, the Hansard recorded.
In the early 1990s, Muregi was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Livestock Development but he did not last long as he had lost Kipipiri Constituency to Muchemi. Immediately after he lost the seat, politicians aligned to KANU started salivating over his party post. He would be replaced as the Nyandarua KANU Branch Chairman in Nyandarua by Kimemia, the man he had previously ousted.
In May 1994, the party branch purported to remove him as Chairman of Kipipiri Sub-branch for allegedly not supporting Moi and senior KANU officials. But he pleaded his innocence and accused Kimemia of trying to finish him politically. Barely a week later, the branch Executive Committee in a surprise move reinstated him. The committee chairman and Muregi’s political nemesis, Kimemia, told the press at the time that the branch had restored Muregi “to deny the Opposition in the district the chance to celebrate the power struggle in the party”, as reported in the Daily Nation of 17 May 1994.
When Muchemi died in 1995, KANU hoped to reclaim the Kipipiri seat and the Government campaigned for its candidate, Joe Maina, and promised residents electricity in the whole constituency. But Maina lost to Githiomi Mwangi of the Democratic Party. Electricity poles that had been strewn all over the constituency in readiness for the electrification programme were immediately reclaimed. The KANU loss was attributed to the sidelining of the party branch bigwigs that included Muregi.
The former Cabinet Minister became a preacher after bowing out of elective politics and today he is a bishop whose church operates in Nyandarua and its environs. In a telephone interview early last year, Muregi’s son, Pastor Moses Ndungu, said his father was born in Elburgon in 1934, where his grandfather worked on one of the European settler farms.
Muregi attended Micinda Primary School and later joined a health institution in Nyandarua where he pursued a course in public health. He was employed as a public health officer in Nyandarua, where among other issues he created awareness on the proper use of toilets. While working in Nyandarua, Muregi bought a farm and relocated his parents from Elburgon to his new home. According to his son, it was during his father’s time as a public health officer that his leadership skills came to the fore and he was elected as a councillor in the Nyandarua County Council. He would later become chairman of the council.