George Kamau Muhoho, a one-time priest who rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church administration to serve as Private Secretary to Pope Paul IV, left it all behind to enter local politics and serve his country’s people instead. He has been a Member of Parliament for Juja, served under President Daniel arap Moi as a Cabinet Minister and later under President Mwai Kibaki as Director General of the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA).
A son of Senior Chief Muhoho wa Gatheca, Muhoho is the younger brother to Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the pioneer First Lady of Kenya and widow of the founding President of the Republic of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Accordingly, he is an uncle to the fourth President of Kenya, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.
Born in 1936, as a young lad Muhoho was skipped five classes in two years at Gatitu Primary School. The former Father Muhoho is an alumnus of Urbanian University (International Relations and Diplomatic Practice) and Collegio San Pietro (MA, Canon Law) and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1963, the year Kenya attained independence. He served the Church in various administrative capacities. In addition to his service to the Pope, he was the first black African Papal Envoy to Brussels, Luxembourg, the Council of Europe and NATO. He was then appointed as the Pope’s emissary to Uganda during the reign of Dictator Idi Amin in 1972. He speaks Latin, Spanish, Italian, French and German, in addition to multiple African languages. He thereafter served as Chaplain of the University of Nairobi in 1976.
After 13 years in the Catholic Church, he quit his priestly duties and calling. “I decided my life was not in the priesthood,” he was quoted in a 2004 news report. “I had always wanted to serve the Church at the parish level … when I joined the administration, I felt I wasn’t serving the people the way I wanted. It was not an easy decision. I had done a lot of soul-searching (and) I took a week off to pray alone at my house,” he added.
In addition to his service to the Pope, Muhoho was the first black African Papal Envoy to Brussels, Luxembourg, the Council of Europe and NATO
Speculation was rife that he had been persuaded by his brother-in-law, President Kenyatta, to ditch the priesthood and participate in the expansive business and political empire of the first family. Kenyatta is rumoured to have pressured him to become “a real father with children”, a rumour Muhoho dismissed, insisting that Jomo always respected his decisions. But in a 2004 interview, Muhoho admitted that Kenyatta was very happy that he (Muhoho) had become a “proper father”.
The Head of State was among the guests who graced his colourful wedding ceremony on 8 January 1977 at the Holy Family Basilica as he married his bride Jean Njeri Koinange – daughter of John Koinange – whom he had met during a family reception soon after he quit the priesthood.
The assumption that Kenyatta had pushed Muhoho to leave the priesthood appeared to gain credence when the priest entered politics and won the Juja seat in the 1983 polls. Moi appointed him Assistant Minister for Education, later elevating him to the post of full Cabinet Minister in charge of Tourism and Wildlife in 1987. His political career was succeeded by a stint in the parastatal sector as Director General of KAA during Kibaki’s tenure.
Together with Kibaki, Njenga Karume and John Keen, Muhoho was one of the founder officials of the opposition Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) in 1991. Kibaki was party leader, Karume was its Patron, Keen was Secretary General and Muhoho the Executive Officer.
The DP and other opposition parties competed against Moi’s KANU in 1992 and 1997, but because of opposition disunity, they were defeated by KANU in both general elections. However in 2002, Moi’s term had come to an end and he chose Uhuru Kenyatta to carry his party’s flag. Moi’s choice came at the expense of several people with longer political experience, among them his long-serving Vice President George Saitoti and KANU top officials like Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi as well as Raila Odinga, who had joined KANU one year before in the hope of getting Moi’s endorsement to run for the presidency.
For all intents and purposes, Muhoho chose friendship over family; instead of supporting his nephew Uhuru, he opted to campaign for his long-time family friend Kibaki, and indeed spearheaded the latter’s campaigns. In fact, both Karume and Keen abandoned Kibaki in his hour of need. Keen had earlier left the DP to re-join KANU while at the last minute, Karume chose to support Uhuru. Nonetheless, the combined force of Kibaki, other opposition parties and the support of KANU renegades including Raila and Kalonzo, ensured that Uhuru and KANU lost at the polls.
In 2004 Kibaki’s appointment of Muhoho as Director General of KAA was met with mixed reviews. Many termed him as ‘deadwood’ since he was viewed as being too old to serve in a public docket. Later, Muhoho would be quoted as saying he had carried out his responsibilities with diligence. He is credited with overseeing the construction of a new modern wing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and a new airport in Kisumu.
In the run-up to the 2007 General Election, Muhoho took leave from KAA to run Kibaki’s re-election campaign and resumed his duties in January 2008 after Kibaki’s swearing-in as President on 30 December 2007. Government critics argued that this leave of absence by a public official for political reasons was irregular.
In 2008, the Efficiency Monitoring Unit raised questions over the expenditure of KES 1.7 billion on contracts by the Authority, but Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere defended Muhoho, saying the questions raised concerned the institution and not Muhoho as an individual. The Unit, together with the Inspectorate of State Corporations, revealed that the KAA Board and Management had failed to comply with regulations in the awarding of contracts.
In April 2009 Muhoho was reappointed, for the third time, as Director General at the helm of KAA for a one-year term, after which Stephen Mwangi Gichuki took over as MD of the Authority. This was in spite of reservations by the Parliamentary Committee on Transport which had tabled a report in Parliament stating that “…the interview (for the MD’s position) carried out by Muhoho was not procedural”.
Unlike in 2002, Muhoho joined other members of the Kenyatta family, including Uhuru’s cousin Ngengi Muigai, to ensure that Uhuru became the fourth President of Kenya. They gave it their all, using their connections, time and resources to campaign for him. The former priest was instrumental in activating the resourceful Catholic network and mounting an interfaith campaign to make sure Kenya’s fourth President was a Catholic.
For a second time in 2017, the family relentlessly campaigned for Uhuru and did not give up despite the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Uhuru’s 8 August win. In fact Muhoho and the rest of the Kenyatta family were said to have spearheaded a no-holds-barred campaign and encouraged Uhuru all the way to State House for a second term.
At over 90 years of age, Muhoho continues to oversee operations of the Kenyatta family businesses.