In 1976, Jackson Angaine became the most senior Cabinet minister to join the campaign started by the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (GEMA) community leaders seeking to change the constitution. The intention was to bar the then Vice President, Daniel arap Moi, from automatically assuming the presidency in the event of the death of President Jomo Kenyatta.
Angaine supported the campaign, reportedly saying that “since law is made by man, it can be amended by man, if need be”. Following the initial meeting hosted by the Nakuru North Member of Parliament, Kihika Kimani, in Nakuru District, Angaine hosted the campaign proponents in Meru the following week.
Two years later, Kenyatta died and Moi was sworn in as President. Angaine, like other politicians who had joined the ‘change the constitution’ bandwagon, found himself isolated in the new government. It was therefore not surprising that in the 1979 General Election, he lost his parliamentary seat to Nteere Mbogori. This significantly changed Meru politics, which Angaine had dominated since independence. A new crop of politicians, led by Tigania Constituency’s Matthew Adams Karauri and Central Imenti’s Joseph Kirugi M’Mukindia, emerged.
Things got worse for Angaine. Squatters invaded his 4,000-acre farm in Timau, a clear signal that he had fallen out of favour. But those who had written him off had celebrated too soon. Angaine found his footing again in the 1983 snap election that followed the dismissal of Charles Njonjo, the Minister for Constitutional Affairs following accusations that he was a traitor. Angaine won comfortably; two years later he was appointed Minister of State in the Office of the President.
At the age of 87, Angaine was re-elected during the infamous mlolongo elections of 1988 after which he asked his constituents to declare him MP for life
The election gave Moi an opportunity to overhaul the Kenyatta system he had inherited and install his own personnel. Among the senior Cabinet ministers who were dropped by Moi was ‘powerful’ Minister of State, G.G. Kariuki, who was replaced by Kabeere M’Mbijjewe, an MP from Meru District (since renamed Meru County). Angaine’s spectacular comeback made him proclaim himself the “King of the Meru”, but life in Parliament was not easy as a backbencher fighting to keep his head up in a sea of younger politicians. In Meru, young politicians sought to oust him as the KANU kingpin in the district. He got lucky when M’Mbijje we was dismissed from his Cabinet position by the President in 1985. Angaine was selected to fill his shoes as Minister of State. At the age of 87, he was re-elected during the infamous mlolongo (queue-voting) elections of 1988 after which he asked his constituents to declare him MP for life.
“Let my opponents know I am as fit as a fiddle in the brain and capable to lead,” he told his constituents. The campaign was supported by the mayor of Meru and some councillors, but by then the political landscape was also changing as the demand for political pluralism increased.
After Moi conceded to local and international pressure and agreed to the repeal of Section 2A of the constitution to allow for the return of pluralism, former Vice President Mwai Kibaki decamped from KANU on Christmas Day 1991 and formed the Democratic Party (DP). In the subsequent 1992 elections, Kibaki’s DP routed KANU in the Meru region where KANU won only one seat — Imenti Central.
Angaine lost the Imenti North seat to Makerere-trained mathematician, David Mwiraria. His political journey ended when he lost the Meru District KANU chairmanship to Silas Muriuki. The loss of the chairmanship, which he had held since independence, meant that his clout in Meru had come to an end. Attempts to groom his son, Mutuma, to take over his leadership mantle did not go far.
Angaine attributed his 1992 loss to the multiparty euphoria and promised that, just like in 1983, he would spring back. However, owing to his advanced age and ill health, he retired to his farm in Timau. He died on 23 February 1999. Angaine will be remembered as the minister who had the trickiest docket in independent Kenya: Settling millions of landless Kenyans in the former White Highlands. He also played a leading role in creating an African propertied class, resulting in gross inequities in property ownership, especially land. Angaine headed the Ministry of Lands and Settlement between 1964 and 1979, when he first lost his parliamentary seat.
Born in 1900 in Gautuku Village, Ntima Location, Meru, Angaine joined the United Methodist Missionary Society School in Kaaga for primary education in 1913. He later went to Alliance High School. The son of Paramount Chief Angaine M’Itiria, Angaine distinguished himself at Alliance as a boxer. He did the London Matriculation course but did not join university, opting instead for a job as an accountant.
His political career started when he joined the Kenya African Union (KAU) party and became the Meru District Chairman. The party did not have a national figure to galvanise the populace. The return of Kenyatta from England offered KAU the political mobilisation required. The result was that KAU supporters were educated on their political and social rights.
Although KAU eventually became a national party, it was split between radicals and moderates — the radicals were against the moderates’ call for negotiations. This radical stance gave rise to the Mau Mau movement. Meru, located as it was adjacent to Mt Kenya Forest, became the base of the organisation.
An assassination carried out by the Mau Mau on 9 October 1952 ignited a call among the White settlers for decisive action against the KAU leadership, whom they argued was behind the attacks on European farms. On 20 October 1952, a State of Emergency was declared and the colonial government launched Operation Jock Stock targeting KAU leaders and the GEMA communities.
Angaine was detained in Kajiado, Mackinnon Road, Hola and Manda Island, the last being a hardship area for nationalist prisoners who were thought to be the ringleaders of Mau Mau.
The clamour for independence persisted — with James Gichuru, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya pushing for liberation — even after the Mau Mau blockade was broken. Angaine was released from prison and joined other former KAU leaders at KANU’s formation in March 1960 in Kiambu.
He became the KAU party leader in Meru as Kenyans went to the first multiparty elections in 1961 between KANU and its rival, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). KANU won the election and Angaine won one of the Meru seats.
He was appointed the Parliamentary Secretary (Assistant Minister) in the Ministry of Tourism, Forests and Wildlife and was later transferred to the Ministry of Education. He was re-elected in 1963 and appointed Minister for Lands and Settlement. It was a tough position that placed Angaine between economic realities and political wishes.
He also had to deal with demands from a restless group of freedom fighters that demanded quick settlement and redistribution of land — an almost impossible task. Yet overall, Angaine became one of the most influential ministers when it came to land redistribution.