Nyagah, who died on December 11, came from a political family in Gachoka, Embu County. The 72-year-old scaled the political summit on the shoulders of his late father, Jeremiah Nyagah, a notable and respected politician during Mzee Kenyatta’s era.
Jeremiah’s other children would also enter into active public service with Joe’s younger brother, Norman Nyagah, serving as the Gachoka and Kamukunji MP between 1997 and 2007. Nahashon Nyagah was a one-time Central Bank Governor and their elder sister Dr. Mary Khimulu was Kenya’s permanent representative to UNESCO.
Joe served as an international banker in the US and in London. He then joined the public service and was appointed as ambassador to Belgium and the European Union in October 1983.
He was recalled to serve as CEO of Kenya Airways at 37 years old, where he prepared Kenya Airways for eventual privatization.
He entered the political fray in 1997 vying for the Mbeere South parliamentary seat on a KANU ticket, a party his father had helped create and was the 7th founding member of the party.
He served in parliament with his brother Norman who was then in opposition under the Kibaki-led DP party. He and his brother were always on opposing sides of the political divide.
Joe served as an MP and minister in multiple governments since the Moi era.
In 1983, he helped Senator James Orengo escape detention and prosecution for the 1982 coup as he made him realize the gravity of the threat issued by then Internal security minister Justus ole Tipis.
In an interview, Orengo recalled, “Joseph Nyaga followed me to where I was sitting with others and told me not to take it as a joke what Tipis was telling me. He asked me to confront it as a politician if I wanted to, but those people really meant to hurt me.”
Nyaga was a member of the then governing KANU and a minister in President Daniel Arap Moi’s office until quitting both the government and the party in the run-up to the 2002 general election.
He successfully defended and won the election in Gachoka Constituency as an opposition National Rainbow Coalition candidate.
Together with Raila Odinga, William Ruto, Najib Balala, and Musalia Mudavadi, Joe was part of the Orange Democratic Movement’s ‘Pentagon’ in the lead up to the 2007 general election.
Though ODM lost the national election, he retained his parliamentary seat.
In 2014, he was appointed as a statehouse special advisor on regional integration by President Uhuru Kenyatta,
Joe Nyagah unsuccessfully contested the presidency in the 2017 elections, coming third after which he retired to his rural home.
Earlier this year, in an interview with KTN News, he made a political prophesy that 90 percent of all central MP’s will not retain their seats in the 2022 elections.