Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi was appointed second Vice-President in May, 1966, following the fallout between President Kenyatta and Vice-President Odinga. Earlier, Murumbi had been independent Kenya’s first Foreign Affairs Minister.
Murumbi was born in 1911 at Londiani, Kericho, to a Goan trader and a Maasai woman. In a media interview, he remembered his mother as a polyglot who spoke Maasai, English, Hindustani, Lumbwa and Kikuyu. He spent the initial years of his life in India. He left Kenya when he was only six years old — in 1917 — when his father, Peter Zuzarte, shipped the young man to India for a missionary education at a school in Bangalore. When he completed school, he got a job in an ice-making factory.
He worked for the administration of Somalia between 1941 and 1951 and was the assistant secretary for the Movement for Colonial Freedom between 1951 and 1957. Murumbi then worked as the Press and Tourist Officer in the Moroccan Embassy in London. In Kenya, he met Pio Gama Pinto at a public meeting in 1952, in which Murumbi had “persistently but unsatisfactorily” sought answers from a speaker. Later, Pinto introduced himself and theirs developed into a sincere friendship that lasted until Pinto was gunned down in 1965.
Pinto introduced Murumbi to the Kenya Study Group, a small group of politicians and others who met regularly to assess the political problems of the day. Pinto inspired Murumbi into politics. The declaration of the State of Emergency on October 20, 1952, led to the detention of the top leadership of the Kenya African Union. Murumbi thus became the party’s acting secretary-general.
Murumbi played a key role in securing legal counsel for the core group of detainees arrested in the Emergency crackdown (the Kapenguria Six), including Kenyatta. During his six-month stay in India at the height of the emergency in 1953, Pinto sent him Press cuttings and commentaries on the local political situation every week, information Murumbi used in his anti-colonial campaigns in India and later Cairo and London. With Pinto’s help, he made the world aware of the brutal nature of British imperial rule in such Indian newspapers as The Chronicle.
In 1962, he became the Kanu treasurer and in the 1963 elections, he was elected to the House of Representatives for Nairobi South. In the first Cabinet, in 1963, he was appointed Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office.
In his eulogy of Pinto, he concluded: “He was quick to react to injustice. If such were the qualities of this patriot and he was branded a communist for his actions, then I must say to his accusers that their perception of political dogma is, indeed, distorted.”
Murumbi was a rare breed of nationalist who wanted to serve his country with honour and dignity. But he found out that honesty and character did not make for a successful politician. Those in Government had different views on how to conduct business.
But Murumbi, an upright politician who hated corruption and political intrigue, refused to follow the pack and resigned in November, 1966, after only seven months in office. However, Kenyatta did not want Murumbi to leave government.
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