Kyale Mwendwa – Brilliant educationist who floundered as Water minister

Kyale Mwendwa was born into a polygamous family that had several children, some of whom were destined to achieve many political firsts. Their father, Mwendwa Kitavi, had seven wives and was one of Ukambani region’s pioneer colonial chiefs.

Kitavi was not only a paramount chief, he was also wealthy in his own right and in the league of the likes of Chief Masaku of neighbouring Machakos District, Chief Lenana of the Maasai people, Chief Mumia of Western Province, Chief Samoei of Nandi District, Chief Waiyaki of Kiambu and Chief Njiiri of Nyeri.

Kyale, one of Kenya’s most celebrated educationists, belonged to this family that produced politicians and Government bureaucrats such as Kenya’s first African Chief Justice, Kitili Mwendwa, his wife Winfred Nyiva, who became Kenya’s first female Cabinet Minister, and Eliud Ngala Mwendwa, who was part of President Jomo Kenyatta’s Cabinet.

Kyale was an educationist in the true sense of the word. He trained in education, became a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Education and later invested heavily in education. However, when he joined active politics and was appointed to the Cabinet by President Daniel arap Moi, he was made Minister for Water Development.

Kyale was born on 23 May 1926 in Kalia Village, Matinyani, in Kitui District, to Damaris Kathuka. Like his siblings, Ngala and Maluki, he looked after his father’s large herds of livestock, but more for fun than duty because there were enough farm hands to carry out that chore. He was enrolled at the local Matinyani Primary School run by the African Inland Church in 1938 and later joined Kitui High School.

He then went on to attend the prestigious Alliance High School in Kikuyu, Kiambu District, where he joined five other students who, like him, would serve as Cabinet ministers at one time or other. These were Njoroge Mungai, who would work in the Ministry of Defence, Mbiti Mati, Speaker of the National Assembly, Munyua Waiyaki in Foreign Affairs, Robert Matano in Local Government and Julius Kiano in Commerce and Industry.

Kyale joined Makerere University in Uganda in 1948 to pursue a Diploma in Education. From Uganda, he headed to South Africa’s Rhodes University in 1951 for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education and then to Michigan State University in the USA in 1961 for a Master of Arts in Education.

Back home at the dawn of independence, he entered the job market to do the one thing he knew best – education. He was employed as an education officer in the Ministry of Education and rose up the ranks to become Director of Education and later, Permanent Secretary. During his tenure as PS, the ministry instituted education policies that witnessed the rapid expansion of primary, secondary and tertiary education facilities in all corners of the country. This went along with the establishment of teacher training colleges. Indeed, the education sector in Kenya became the envy of many African countries thanks to technocrats like Kyale.

His entry into elective politics followed the death of his older half-brother, Kitili, in a car accident. At the time, Kitili was the MP for Kitui West, having won a by-election occasioned by a court nullification of Perminus Munyasia’s election in 1984. Before that he had served as Kenya’s Chief Justice from 1968 to 1971, leaving office under a cloud of suspicion following an alleged military plot to overthrow the Government.

After Kitili’s death, Kyale contested the Kitui West seat in the 1986 by-election and won. He was appointed Minister for Water Development despite his vast experience in the education sector. With the appointment, President Moi may have been seeking a solution to the problems associated with water scarcity in Kitui, Machakos, Makueni and other arid regions in the country.

Having grown up in the parched area of Matinyani, Kyale may have been best placed to institute policies that would translate to adequate water supplies in Kenya. However, like many ministers before and after him, his stint at the Ministry of Water did not seem to produce the desired results.

When Kyale was re-elected as MP two years later, under the notorious mlolongo(queue) voting system in 1988, he was dropped from the Cabinet under unclear circumstances. He retreated from the limelight and in 1992, he was unseated by his sister-in-law, Kitili’s widow, Nyiva. Kyale broke ranks with the ruling party, KANU, and joined Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party. He was elected Chairman of the Kitui DP Branch in the same year.

As owner of the prestigious St Austin’s Academy in Nairobi, Kyale has since served as the executive chairman of Educational Services Foundation since 1990 and chairman of the Academy of Professional Studies since 1993. He has also been the executive chairman of Riverside Investments, chairman of Muvokanza Ltd, and board member of Central Tobacco Distributors Ltd and Kenya Gateway Insurance Company Ltd.

Kyale is married to Susan Nthenya Masila and they have four children.

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