Stockbroker Ngenye Kariuki was elected Member of Parliament for Kiharu in 1997 on a Safina party ticket. He was among the Opposition politicians who were vocal critics of President Daniel arap Moi’s regime, but in the twilight days of the administration he shifted his support to the ‘Uhuru for President’ campaign and accepted a Cabinet position.
Kariuki was Minister for Vocational Training for a few months from August to December, pending the 2002 General Election. Asked to comment on Kariuki’s appointment to the Cabinet when he was a member of an Opposition party, Paul Muite, the Safina party leader, said it was his (Kariuki’s) choice.
Kariuki defended his decision to take up the appointament, claiming that he was ‘assisting’ in the transition from Moi to another regime, after senior Kikuyu community leaders had rejected Moi’s invitation to participate in the transition process. This invitation had apparently, according to Kariuki, been extended in 2001.
“I’m sure you have been asking why I took up President Moi’s offer of a Cabinet post. I wish to tell you now that the President had earlier approached a group of senior leaders from our community and asked that they work together. But they turned him down,” the Minister told his constituents in September 2002, a month after his appointment.
The Kiharu MP further explained, “… a group of us younger MPs felt let down by our leaders and decided we were going to fill the gap. Uhuru Kenyatta told us at the time that the President was interested in entering into negotiations with leaders from the Kikuyu community.”
Kariuki claimed that six MPs from Central Province were involved in the October 2001 meeting with the President, but apart from Gatanga MP David Murathe, a close associate of Kenyatta, and Stephen Ndichu (representing Juja), Kariuki did not name the other leaders.
It was clear that Kariuki was playing a major role in Moi’s ‘Uhuru for President’ project when, immediately after his appointment, he started holding high-level consultative meetings with other KANU leaders, especially those from central Kenya. One such meeting held in August 2002 was in his office and attended by fellow Minister Isaac Ruto, KANU Deputy Treasurer Peter Kuguru, Assistant Minister Nduati Kariuki and Opposition MPs Murathe and David Manyara of Nakuru Town, among others.
Kariuki’s interest in politics started during his school years at a time when he greatly admired his MP and Kenya’s first PhD holder, Julius Kiano.
“I admired his style of politics in the 1950s and 1960s. He fascinated me with his politics and leadership generally,” he remarked.
Following in his role model’s footsteps, Kariuki was appointed a prefect in primary school, head boy at Njiri’s High School and a member of the Students’ Organisation of Nairobi University leadership. While studying at the university he met other future politicians, including Chris Okemo, Njehu Gatabaki and Onesmus Mwangi. He would later be involved in the political campaigns of Kiano, Nduati Kariuki, G.G. Kariuki and Kenneth Matiba.
“I have been a king-maker and I have enjoyed it, until the people of Kiharu came to me in 1997 and insisted I become the king,” he quipped in 2002.
The principal shareholder and managing director of Ngenye Kariuki & Company Ltd, a stockbroking firm, would also rise to become Chairman of the Nairobi Stock Exchange between 1979 and 1980, and again between 1983 and 1992.
“My father was a businessman in Murang’a and he influenced the choice of my degree course (Bachelor of Commerce).” However, despite his efforts to operate small retail businesses in the interior and later in Murang’a Town, Kariuki’s father could not adequately support his eight children and at one stage he had to sell his land to take the children through school.
“I then decided I would be a better businessman than my father, but for me to do that I had to gain experience through the exposure of employment by reputable firms,” he explained. Kariuki worked for such giants as Barclays Bank, Family Planning Association of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya.
His entrepreneurial skills were evident from early on. He started by building networks in Murang’a Town, where his father had moved his retail business.
“It was in primary school when I started washing cars for a fee and I made contact with wealthy Asian families, including the ones who own the Sarit Centre in Westlands (in Nairobi). When I was not washing their cars, I did other odd jobs for them,” he recalled.
This gave him financial independence as well as the power to lend and give to others. “I would pay my school fees and buy myself clothes and then put aside what was left in a tin. Opening the tin (which was equivalent to going to the Post Office bank) and handing over money to my brothers and sisters, who would come to borrow, was a ritual. It made me very proud and want to work even harder. Even now, it feels good to give, but you must have enough in the first place to be able to give.”
Kariuki enjoyed the political game while it lasted and in 2002 he was quoted as saying, “Politics is very exciting. No single day in politics is like another. There are daily challenges; you open a new chapter and people call you names. That excitement keeps you alive and that is why politicians live long.”
Kariuki would be a member of the Cabinet for just five months as the December 2002 elections saw the dumping of KANU into the political dustbin following Uhuru Kenyatta’s loss to the Opposition’s National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) candidate, Mwai Kibaki. Kembi Gitura, a lawyer who was also riding on the NARC wave, defeated Kariuki to win the Kiharu parliamentary seat.
In 2012, Kariuki unsuccessfully tried to contest the same seat via The National Alliance (TNA) party but was defeated at the nomination level by a youthful lawyer named Irungu Kang’ata. Before the party nominations, Kariuki was quoted as saying that his experience in the Cabinet would help him win the seat. But this was not to be and when he lost to Kang’ata, he faded into political oblivion, burying himself in his brokerage firm.
In 2010, his firm was placed under statutory management for failing to comply with market rules, becoming the fourth company to face a similar fate. According to the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), Ngenye Kariuki & Company Ltd had for some time failed to comply with the legal and regulatory provisions as outlined in the CMA Act.
“While efforts have been made to restructure the company, these have not borne significant fruit and as a result, no significant progress has been made,” said CMA Chief Executive Stella Kilonzo at the time.
The statutory management order was revoked in December 2011, following which the firm recruited a new CEO and constituted a new board of five directors, of whom three were independent, in compliance with one of the conditions tabled by CMA in January 2012.
Kariuki was born in 1945 in what was then Murang’a District (today known as Murang’a County). After university, he rose through the ranks in the accounting profession to become General Manager of Dyer & Blair between 1979 and 1980. In the 1980s, Kariuki also worked as a member of the Court Brokers Licensing Board, the Nairobi City Commission and as Deputy Chairman of the Murang’a College of Technology.