JOE ZUZARTE MURUMBI (1911-1990) was Kenya’s first Minister for Foreign Affairs and the country’s second Vice President, an office he served for a few months between May and November 1966. He was the son of a Goan trader father and a Maasai mother who was the daughter (pictured right) of Laibon Murumbi of the then Uasin Gishu Maasai.
Born in Eldama Ravine and raised in Londiani, he was introduced to the freedom struggle by his friend and mentor Pio Gama Pinto. Described as an honest man, he was KAU’s roving diplomat instrumental in the logistical planning for independence negotiations with the British and setting up Independent Kenya’s foreign embassies.
Murumbi chose to identify more with his mother’s Masai culture over his father’s Goan roots. It is said that due to his darker skin, some in the Kenyan Goan community did not accept him fully.
Although he never fully explained his abrupt departure from government and retirement, many say it was due his disillusionment with the direction that Kenya was taking at the time that had included the assassination of his close friend Pinto.
According to interviews by Cyprian Fernandes in his book, Yesterday in Paradise with Murumbi’s friend and business partner Alan Donovan, Murumbi had become wary of how insular the government of the day had become with officials more interested in accumulating power, land and wealth.
He was also concerned about his safety as Presidential succession politics raged with powerful politicians around the President trying to consolidate power.
During his last days, he suffered from a myriad of debilitating medical conditions that left him wheelchair-bound.
However, of great pride was his vast collection of African art and sculpture that he and his wife Sheila had painstakingly put together. Although most of the collection has been lost over time, the remaining pieces can still be seen at the African Heritage House which is run by Donovan and located in Nairobi along Mombasa Road .
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