In the corporate and political scene, Hon. Joseph Nyagah is a household name known by many far and wide. He has been involved in nation building in many different ways.
Born Joseph William Nthiga Nyagah, at Embu on January 6th, 1948, he is the first born son of veteran politician late Jeremiah Mwaniki. He attended several primary schools before sitting for his Kenya Preliminary Examination (KPE) at Kiamuringa Primary School in 1963.
Just like his father, he went Alliance High School where he sat for his “O” and “A” levels between 1964 and 1969. During his years at Alliance, he studied Economics, History and Geography as his principal subjects and English as his subsidiary subject.
He served in many clubs and also being a House Captain. Among many other activities, he participated in army cadet, choir, scouts, and Sunday school teaching and economics club.
He later joined the University of Nairobi in 1970 where he studied Bachelor in Economics and Political Science and graduated with an Upper Second Class Honors in 1973. Being the brilliant student he was, he was awarded a post graduate scholarship by New York based AFRIGRAD to go and study Economics at Columbia University.
In the same year 1974, he joined Kellogg’s School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, and Chicago, Illinois, USA where he studied a Master Degree in Management (Finance and Management) fully paid for by his employer, The First National Bank of Chicago, under its First Scholar Program; He was the first student from outside the US to be put on the special Management training program.
He was among the first Kenyans to acquire an MBA, degree as the old Colonial system emphasized Accountancy qualifications.
In the years between 1966-1972, He was part of the Kenyanisation of the economy and the civil service when he worked during the school and Universities vacations. Some of the places he worked were; Kenya Bus Service, Murdock, McRae and Smith Accountants and British American Tobacco Kenya Limited.
He also worked as a banker for 10 years between 1973-1983. During this period, Hon Nyaga worked with The First National Bank of Chicago (part of today’s JP Morgan and Chase Bank, New York).
He spent averagely six months in each department as part of his Management Trainee program. The bank sponsored him again to attend Business School during the evenings and weekends. Working in the bank he was involved in processing for approval by senior management, credit/loan requests from branches in Middle East and Africa region.
He came back to FNBC Kenya in February, 1997 as the only Kenyan International banker in the country at the time. He appointed Head of Credit Department.
One of his many projects was to train the Cooperative Bank of Kenya staff who were to set up the then Foreign Department.
It was during this time that he served as the Treasurer of the Kenya Institute of Banks. This was at the time when the banking exams were being localized. He was later transferred to the London Regional Office as the Assistant Vice President in-charge of Trade Finance in Africa. This involved extensive traveling within Africa and working closely with governments and local commercial banks.
He was also a diplomat and served as the Ambassador of European Union (EEC), Kingdom of Belgium and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg between October 1983 and September 1987.
His main duties working as an ambassador included working with other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, headquartered in Brussels, trying to get as many trade and industrial concessions as one can for their country. In addition, European Union (EU) is a major provider of grants and loans to our countries. Some of the major beneficiaries during his term included financing of major roads, research, education, banks and agriculture. In addition to that, they continued to enjoy concessional trade terms under Lome Convention, especially for our flowers and horticultural products.
He also managed to hold bilateral basis with Belgium Government, on providing the Department of Technology, Moi University, with scholarships and equipment for fighting HIV.
The aviation industry got an opportunity to experience his skill and knowledge when he was elected Managing Director and CEO of Kenya Airways in September 1987 to April 1991 when the national carrier had serious management problems including; excess staff, old and unreliable aircraft, blocked funds, politics of acquisition of aircraft and nonexistence of ICT systems.
When he joined KQ, there were only 15 graduates out of a total of 4,000 members of staff and also funds were blocked which we could not convert to Kenya shillings in most of the African Countries.
His main assignment was to prepare the airline for privatization. This required that the management team to be strengthened, a team that could compete in the international market.
At that time, KQ, did not only retrench a big number of its staff but also employed a huge number of young university graduates. Expatriates in key areas such as engineering, ICT and Finance were brought in as at the same time building the local capacity.
His other duties being the CEO of KQ was to acquire appropriate aircraft for our market needs and also worked on strengthening the route/markets and started developing the African routes.
During the same period he was CEO of KQ, he also served as President of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and Acting Secretary General at one point. He received a special award for his work at AFRAA. He was also the president of International Aviation Transport Association (IATA) in GENEVA becoming the first African to hold that position.
After leaving Kenya Airways, for six years he managed some family business with interests in flour milling and real estate. He set up a cargo airline based at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in close collaboration with Lufthansa Cargo Airline of Germany. He also joined a Houston, USA, based energy and international trading company where he served in its main board.
His political career spans over two decades with him working as a Member of Parliament for Mbeere South Constituency, Embu County for ten years and as a Nominated Member of Parliament for five years.
He was appointed to head several key offices as a Cabinet Minister and Assistant minister. He was minister of Information and Broadcasting, Lands and Settlements, OP Department of Personnel Management and Cooperative Development and Marketing.
He was also Assistant Minister in the ministries of Agriculture and EAC and Cooperation.
During that time he also served in various senior positions within KANU and ODM at local and national level. He actively participated at the Bomas of Kenya Constitutional Conference where I was the chairman of the Eastern Province delegates.
At the time he was serving in different ministerial positions in the government, some of his major achievements included; the role he played in granting of FM and TV licenses to private sector which expanded the freedom of expression by Kenyans furthering the democratization process of our country.
He also served for three and a half years in the lands ministry where he played a part in stabilizing land issues when there was a public outcry about allocation of public land to individuals.
When he served as an assistant minister in Agriculture and also in EAC and Regional Cooperation Ministries, he represented the country at several NEPAD meetings.
His period at the Cooperative Ministry saw the sector raise its profile to a very high level. This enabled the Cooperative bank to sell its shares to the public through the Nairobi Stock Exchange. CIC and Coop Bank became top in their sector, KUSCO became stronger and opened a beautiful headquarter in Nairobi, ACOSCA was re-launched, Cooperative Alliance of Kenya, SASRA and diaspora Saccos were born, the Matatu Saccos got a new lease of life and youth Saccos were born.
At the same time, he worked on strengthening The Co-operative University of Kenya (the Cooperative College of Kenya) and working closely with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and The Ministry of Education. “I am a very proud person to see it become a full-fledged University,” he says with a smile on his face.
Having retired from the public life in April, 2013, a few months later His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him to be his Advisor and the National Coordinator of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP).
Some of its achievements include, faster movement of goods from Mombasa to the hinterland as a result of; cheaper mobile phone calls and money transfer, easier working permits and movement of people; cooperation on major infrastructure projects, joint tourism marketing and cooperation in security and defense areas.