When Mwai Kibaki Rejected MD Job At East African Breweries

April 28, 2022
5 Min Read

When Mwai Kibaki Rejected MD Job At East African Breweries

As told by the late Njenga Karume

I first heard of Mwai Kibaki from his many friends from Nyeri. At the time he was pursuing his studies at Makerere University and I was distributing beer for East African Breweries.

There was only a single bar that sold bottled beer to Africans and was run by Muchohi Gikonyo, a former Nairobi councilor.  It was known as African Corner. I frequented this bar with my business partner, Charles Kigwe, an uncle of Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

Kibaki would frequent this bar when he was on holiday from Makerere. He felt comfortable there because there were many educated Africans. That is where our friendship started. Kibaki would come to my shop in Kiambu where I lived at the back.

Early Years

I became closer to Kibaki when he graduated from Makerere and was now a lecturer, earning a good salary. Since KANU was looking for an Executive Officer, Kibaki opted to quit his position and manage KANU. That time he was still a bachelor and had a one bed-roomed house in Nairobi West. I knew Lucy Kibaki teaching at Kambui Secondary School but she had not yet met Kibaki.

Those days, the only person who had a car was my business partner Charles Kigwe and he would give us a lift if we wanted to go somewhere. We would drop Kibaki in Nairobi West after a drinking session and go to Kiambu.

In KANU, Kibaki did not earn a salary. I remember one time when we dropped him at his place during the day and he said: “I don’t know what will happen at night because I don’t have money for my electricity bill.”

The bill was Ksh.6.50 cents and even that Kibaki couldn’t afford. Luckily, Kigwe decided to pay the electricity bill and that night we drank till late.

When Kibaki rejected MD job at East African Breweries

One day Brian Hobson, then Managing Director, East African Breweries, told me: “James, by the look of things, this country will gain independence soon and Africans will become very senior people yet our friend Kibaki has no job apart from this Executive Officer and they do not even pay him. I would like you to speak to him because I would like to give him a job at EABL. I know that we white people will not be here forever… When I look around at all the black people that I know, it is only Mwai who would be- come Managing Director of EABL.”

That was an extremely big job and I agreed to persuade Kibaki to accept Hobson’s offer. I took him for a drink at Kimangu Bar in River Road owned by (former Nairobi PC) Fred Waiganjo.

I kept this as a secret because I did not want other people to compete for the same position. I also knew that if Kibaki got the position he would be able to buy me beer. I told Kibaki to forget the Kanu business and that I would take him the following day to Brian and soon he would be the managing director and then Chairman of EABL. He just told me, thank you very much for your faith in me Mr Karume.

“Go back to Brian and relay this decision,” he told me.

The formation of Democratic Party

We were celebrating a Christmas party in Mombasa when Kibaki called a journalist and told her to go and announce his resignation from the Government. Moi was very angry and disappointed. He would have wanted to fire Kibaki.

Three days later in Parliament I consulted with John Keen and suggested we form our own party. Keen was categorical that Kibaki must be in it. We called Kibaki and he said, Tuanzeni… That evening we met for a drink in Jacaranda, and the next day at John Keen’s residence.

Family

I remember when Tony was about to be born. We drove to Kibaki’s house and Lucy was expectant. Kibaki held her hand and said: this week will not go by without you delivering. Two days later, Kibaki informed me that Tony had been born at Nairobi Hospital.

Lucy has been supportive of Kibaki all this time. They have a very good family.

Sourced from Mwai Kibaki, 50 years of national service
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