Nahashon Kanyi Waithaka was an influential figure, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s when he was mayor in his home town of Nyeri, the administrative headquarters of Central Province. President Daniel arap Moi appointed Waithaka to the powerful post of Minister of State in charge of Internal Security in late 1991 after transferring him from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This is how the once high-flying Mayor of Nyeri became a national figure.
At home, however, his elevation to the Cabinet did not amuse the locals.
Pluralism had just been re-introduced after a period of political turbulence that resulted in the arrest and detention of multiparty crusaders Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, George Anyona and Mukaru Ng’ang’a among others.
Mwai Kibaki, who had been dropped as the country’s Vice President after the infamous 1988 mlolongo (queue) system of elections, had left the Government to form the Democratic Party (DP). Since he was seen as the de facto leader in Nyeri and the neighbouring districts of Kirinyaga, Embu and Meru, the likes of Waithaka and others who were fervent supporters of the ruling party KANU were viewed as non-conformists in their respective communities.
Born in 1936 in Tetu, Nyeri District, Waithaka trained as a primary school teacher and taught at Kaigonde Primary School in Tetu. He rose to become headmaster at the school but resigned to join the Kenya Prisons as a correction officer in 1968. Prior to joining Kenya Prisons, he had successfully sat for his Cambridge School Certificate (O’ level) as a private candidate, qualifying to become a P1 teacher.
Teachers were being encouraged to diversify and take advantage of vacant positions in the public service where there were better chances of promotion. Those who joined the Ministry of Home Affairs as correction officers did not, however, last long due to what they cited as frustration from their seniors, who seemingly felt threatened by the young professionals being offered every opportunity to rise to the top. Most of the warders in senior positions were primary school drop-outs, and therefore those with Form Four certificates and professional qualifications like teachers were more likely to be promoted.
This explains why Waithaka and many other teachers who had secured senior positions in the Prisons Department resigned. There were still other opportunities for the young officer, who was still in his 30s, but Waithaka chose to leave. He established his own trading company in Nyeri, which mainly dealt in farm inputs and animal feeds.
An ambitious young man who had made a name for himself as a local leader and mobiliser, he joined civic politics in 1974 and was elected to represent Mount Kenya Ward in the Nyeri Municipal Council. Having been a head teacher and a prisons officer, not many councillors could match his experience and so he easily won the mayoral seat to become one of the most influential leaders in Nyeri. These were Waithaka’s heydays; he was among very few people who owned a palatial home and a Range Rover vehicle among other property.
As fate would have it, his business started facing financial difficulties. While establishing his trading company, the young Waithaka had secured huge loans using title deeds from trusting friends and relatives. He moved from wholesale trading to construction and established Kanyi Waithaka Builders, which was awarded a Government contract to expand a hospital in 1980. On completion, however, the Government failed to pay him, claiming that the work was not completed. Banks engaged auctioneers to recover their money and many of his properties were auctioned off.
The following year there was a by-election in the larger Nyeri Constituency occasioned by the imprisonment of the incumbent MP, Waruru Kanja. At the time, the powerful Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Charles Njonjo, was using his position and influence to undermine Kibaki by fronting a strong opponent for the Nyeri seat. His first choice was Peter Ndirangu Nderi, who unfortunately died just a few days after the seat fell vacant. His next option was Waithaka, who lost at the polls.
Njonjo did not, however, abandon him. Come the following year he was appointed Chairman of the Agricultural Finance Corporation, a position he held for one year. When Njonjo was fired from the Cabinet, all his allies, including Waithaka, became collateral casualties and were similarly relieved of their duties.
Between 1982 and 1988, Waithaka had no involvement in politics. His redemption came during the 1988 General Election. By then, Moi had reconciled with him and picked him to contest the newly-created Tetu Constituency seat carved out of the larger Nyeri alongside Nyeri Town and Kieni during the boundaries review exercise.
Once in Parliament, Waithaka, initially a backbencher, found himself in the Cabinet after Kanja lost both his Cabinet position and his parliamentary seat. The following year (October 1991), he was transferred to the powerful Internal Security docket.
Kibaki resigned from Government after renouncing KANU in the same year. He founded DP after the repeal of Section 2A of the old Constitution, which then allowed for the existence of more than one political party. This changed the political landscape in the entire country, including Nyeri where Waithaka and his other pro-Moi MPs were shunned by the electorate.
While serving as a Minister of State, his case against the Government and the Attorney General over non-payment of his dues from the hospital expansion project was concluded. Justice Gideon Mbito awarded him KES 13.9 million in January 1992 as reported by the Daily Nation of 21 August 1992. The Minister demanded a further KES 70 million accrued interest, which was reportedly never paid.
To demonstrate his loyalty to Moi and the ruling party, the politician was not averse to making use of every available opportunity to ruffle the feathers of local leaders. On one occasion he was quoted in the Daily Nation of 8 May 1991 likening controversial Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) cleric, Reverend Dr Timothy Njoya, to Jim Jones, an American religious cult leader.
Waithaka said, “… he’s no different from the cult leader who influenced his followers in Guyana, South America, to take poison because God was waiting for them in heaven… They all died and never reached there.” Waithaka warned that the same fate would befall those who followed Njoya.
A critic of the KANU regime, Njoya commanded respect among Christian faithful. At the height of his campaign of criticism against the Moi government, he was transferred to Tumutumu Presbytery in Nyeri from St Andrew’s Church in the heart of Nairobi.
Waithaka’s greatest test came when ethnic clashes broke out in Rift Valley Province while he was at the helm of the Ministry of Internal Security. The clashes mainly affected the Kikuyu community, which blamed him for not protecting them against the onslaught. Then came 1992, the year the first multiparty General Election was held. Nyeri became very hostile towards him and his pro-KANU colleagues. At political rallies the MP could not explain his decision to remain in KANU while members of his community were being killed and displaced from their farms in the Rift Valley. It was a turning point in his political career when his friends in the village deserted him and boycotted his campaign meetings.
Religious leaders led voters in Tetu Constituency in condemning Waithaka, accusing him of being used by the KANU regime to eliminate members of his own community. His first wife, Agnes Gathoni, was forced out of her position as a leader of the Women’s Guild in Gititu PCEA Church following constant condemnation by the clergy for supporting her husband.
During one of his campaign rallies, an agitated Waithaka told a gathering to “… feel free to vote for a presidential candidate of your choice as long as you re-elect me as your MP”. This drew the wrath of Moi, who was facing opposition from Kibaki, Matiba of the FORD-Asili party and FORD-Kenya’s Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. The President immediately withdrew support for his Minister, including his security detail. Waithaka eventually lost his seat to Joseph Gethenji Marekia from Kibaki’s DP team.
Many remember Waithaka as being a stalwart KANU supporter. He was asked on several occasions to abandon KANU but he continued to stand with his party even when it became detrimental to him.
Upon his exit from politics, the old debt problem reared its ugly head again. Waithaka left his Nyeri home and went to live with his second wife, Ann Nyambura, who had started an evangelistic ministry in Nairobi. The two lived on a farm owned by the former Minister in Ngong Town. They are among a group of Christians who established the Chrisco Church in Nairobi.
In 1994, he relocated to the US with his wife and only came back when she was contesting a parliamentary seat in Tetu Constituency. By the time of his death in July 2017, young politicians where routinely seeking him out as an adviser.