Born in the coastal town of Kilifi in 1923, Ronald Gideon Ngala was a Kenyan politician whose life was marked by a realistic approach to politics and by a devotion to Kenya which allowed him to place his country’s stability and growth first over his own political ambition. A son of the Mijikenda community in Kenya’s coastal province, Ngala was educated at the prestigious Alliance High School and at Makerere University College, where he received a diploma in teaching. He then began a teaching career (1949-1954), rising to the positions of headmaster of the Buxton School (1955-1956) and of supervisor of schools (1957-1958) although his interest was primarily in politics. Once he joined politics and founded the Mijikenda Union in 1947, Ngala never looked back and became the most famous Mijikenda politician and the kingpin of Coast Province politics in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
He began his national career by being one of the fourteen Africans to win a seat in the first elections held for the colonial Legislative Council (LEGCO) in 1957. In 1959, the Kenya National party, a multi-racial grouping, was formed with Ngala its secretary. He was soon to show his leadership skills when in February 1960, he led a united delegation to the Lancaster House Conference to oppose an attempt by the British to control Kenya’s evolution to independence. But rivalries among African politicians remained. The leaders in the legislative council split into two parties, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). Ngala was chosen as treasurer of KANU, but he was dissatisfied with that minor post and went over to KADU, and was elected its president. In the elections of 1961 KANU, under the leadership of Oginga Odinga, won the popular vote and elected the most legislators. Most Kenyans still regarded the independence movement leader Jomo Kenyatta as their leader even though the British held him in detention. After secret negotiations the British gave KADU the opportunity to form a government with the promise that Kenyatta would be released in four months. Ngala was appointed leader of “government business.” But with the release of Kenyatta, Ngala soon was relegated to the background. Both KANU and KADU sought to win Kenyatta’s approval. Ngala attempted to compromise to preserve African unity, but he proved unable to control his party, and Kenyatta became president of KANU. A new constitution in 1962 led to elections, won by KANU, and in May 1963 Kenyatta became prime minister of Kenya. Ngala was leader of the opposition, but when KADU members began crossing to KANU out of loyalty to Kenyatta, it became clear that KADU had no future. In 1964, Ngala dissolved KADU which merged with KANU in a one-party state and Ronald Ngala was appointed minister of cooperatives and social services in Kenyatta’s government. Ngala served his country until his tragic death in a road accident in 1972 and would be remembered not only for putting the Mijikenda community in Kenya’s political landscape, but also as one of Kenya’s leaders in the fight for independence.