Frederick Dickson Amukowa Anangwe joined politics at the height of the campaign for multipartism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although he did not succeed in his bid to win a seat in Parliament in 1992, his fortunes changed in 1997 when he successfully contested the Butere seat and was subsequently appointed Minister for Cooperative Development.
Anangwe worked as a District Officer (DO) in Ngong, near Nairobi, at the dawn of the Moi era. While in that position, he received a scholarship to the Netherlands to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Administration. He also took advantage of the opportunity to study French.
On his return to Kenya, he taught at the Kenya Institute of Administration, now known as the Kenya School of Government. Another sponsorship saw him travel to undertake further studies, this time to Manchester University in the UK, and he graduated with a PhD in the same field.
Anangwe joined his alma mater, the University of Nairobi, to teach Political Science in the Department of Government. This is where his interest in politics was birthed. An opportunity arose to actively participate in politics when Moi faced a real danger of losing power in 1992 with the wind of change that swept across the country pressing for a return to multipartism. This was the campaign to repeal Section 2A of the old Constitution which had been enacted in 1982, making KANU the only legal political party in Kenya.
Anangwe is credited with forming a task force to explore ways of reducing the price of medicine in the country
As a student of Political Science, and having served as a DO with the trappings of power that came with this position, Anangwe knew first hand what power meant. At this time, the Youth for KANU ’92 (YK ’92), headed by Cyrus Jirongo, had sprung up as a powerful lobby group to campaign for Moi’s victory in the upcoming elections. Anangwe jumped on this bandwagon with other professors including Eric Aseka, Chris Wanjala and Henry Mwanzi, to recruit youth to campaign for Moi.
The influential Weekly Review magazine published by Hilary Ng’weno, the first African Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Nation, published an issue during this period carrying a cover headline reading: “100 Lecturers Say no to Multi-partism”. The publication did not, however, name the lecturers. The article was criticised for this claim as the population of lecturers at the time (1991) was slightly more than 100; given that some of them were opposition sympathisers, the claim was outrageous.
The publication of this controversial article coincided with Moi setting up a committee under Vice President George Saitoti to gather views from people around the country on whether or not Kenya should revert to pluralism. One of the conclusions of the Saitoti committee, influenced by the same lecturers and traced to YK ’92, was that Kenyans did not want multipartism, but an expansion of the democratic space within the ruling party, KANU.
On the contrary, the reality on the ground was that wherever the committee went, Kenyans were unified in their call for multipartism. Anangwe was a member of the think tank, formed by Aseka, which organised, through Minister William Ntimama, to meet Moi to share some urgent findings they had gathered from the field. They convinced the President that the call for multipartism was merely academic and therefore needed to be countered through intellectualism.
Despite campaigning for Moi’s re-election, Anangwe remained at the University of Nairobi; he bided his time until the next General Election. In 1997 he contested and won the Butere seat, previously held by Martin Shikuku. He aligned himself with KANU stalwarts Saitoti and Joseph Kamotho. Anangwe was appointed Minister for Co-operative Development. His aptitude for leadership had developed early in his life as School Captain at Shimo la Tewa High School in Mombasa.
However, he is best remembered for the role he played in his portfolio as Minister for Medical Services. Anangwe is credited with forming a task force to explore ways of reducing medicine prices in the country, an exercise meant to improve access to essential drugs.
The task force was comprised of representatives from the Health ministry, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the Kenya Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya, the Federation of Kenya Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Treasury and the University of Nairobi’s Department of Pharmacy. It was chaired by the Medical Services Director Richard Muga, and the Chief Pharmacist, Kipkerich Koskei, served as Secretary.
It was tasked with reviewing the existing regulatory framework for players in the market. The minister was categorical that about 50 per cent of Kenyans lacked access to basic life-saving medicines, which was morally and politically unacceptable. He said that Kenyans were dying every day from curable diseases.
High producer or importer prices, strong patent protection, tariffs and taxes, and high wholesale and retail mark-ups were blamed for causing the high prices. Anangwe felt that drugs in Kenya were much more expensive than the same products in other countries. He compared the price of antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS (not free at the time), unaffordable to many Kenyans, with their price in Malaysia. He told the press that a drug such as fluconazole, a treatment used for managing AIDS-related meningitis, cost USD30 cents per 200 mg capsule for the generic version in Thailand compared to USD18 in Kenya, where it was patent-protected. He argued that Kenya consequently needed urgent measures to improve access to essential medicines by its citizens.
As a result, five pharmaceutical companies reduced the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs. Some media reports indicated that Kenya was negotiating for up to 85 per cent reduction in the prices of these drugs. However, Anangwe said: “Even with the proposed reduction, the prices of the drugs will still be prohibitive.”
For example, he explained, the cost per patient of triple antiretroviral therapy after reduction would still be in excess of USD60 per month, which translated to USD720 per year. This cost was too high for most Kenyans. The drugs remained expensive until the late 2000s when the government started to supply antiretroviral drugs for free.
Anangwe told the media that the offer by multinationals to reduce drug prices contrasted sharply with the prices offered by generic manufacturers in India, citing Cipla Corporation as an example.
Thereafter, the ministry had some issues with a tender for supply of ambulances to hospitals under the aegis of the National Hospital Insurance Fund. This may have contributed to the eventual departure of Anangwe, along with a few other officers, from Medical Services. Just before the 2002 General Election, the professor was appointed assistant minister in the Office of the President.