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James Muigai: Meet Uhuru’s Uncle Who Was The First Student At Alliance High School

Alliance High School is a magnet for the best students in Kenya and it has been so since 1926 when it was founded. The institution was founded thanks to the tireless hard work and persistence of Dr. John Arthur and a number of protestant missionaries who fought to ensure that Africans get a formal education.

They were opposed to the belief that formal education was not beneficial for Africans hence the founding of the Alliance of Protestants Mission. The latter would be instrumental in the foundation of Alliance High School. 

The first student, Admission No.1, was James Muigai s/o Johnstone. This is his story as told by WoK.


Wambui and Muigai gave birth to three children. The first born Kung’u died an infant and the third born vanished during world war 1 never to be seen again.

The second born Kamau wa Muigai survived. Muigai passed away and according to the Agikuyu traditional customs Wambui was inherited by Ngengi (Muigai’s brother).

It is out of this second union that James Muigai was born. He was named Muigai in honor of Wambui’s deceased husband. 

Wambui passed away soon after his birth and his eldest brother Kamau wa Muigai took over his care. By this time, Kamau wa Muigai was called Kamau wa Ngengi.

When Scotland missionaries set up camp in Kikuyu, Kamau wa Ngengi was among those who accepted Christianity thus gaining the name Johnstone. He ensured his younger brother was also baptized, gaining the name James. 

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Joining Alliance High School

When Alliance High School opened its doors, Johnstone Kamau sought his younger brother’s admission. His request was accepted and as he was the guardian, the student was registered in the school’s records as James Muigai s/o Johnstone.

He was admitted No.1 among the 27 pioneer students of the school. In a past interview, he revealed that the school was surrounded by thick bushes and they were afraid of attacks by wild animals. 

The school’s founding headmaster GA Grieve would also recall the school’s earlier days in his diary.  He described how there were no paths to the school which only consisted of two wooden blocks. It was nestled in the middle of an indigenous forest, hence its nickname to date, bush.

He was worried the admitted students wouldn’t find their way to the school. Together with the school carpenter, they cut a 2km path through the bush and somehow hoped the newly admitted boys would find their way. 

The boys managed to get to the school and his relief upon seeing them was palpable. 

“I got out of the house and took a deep breath. The boys had arrived. They were sitting barefeet besides their wooden boxes, which contained their worldly possessions. They looked very big and very old,” The Daily Nation quoted Muigai. 

James Muigai recalled that the youngest among the 27 boys was Eliud s/o Mathu who was 20-years-old. 

In the school, discipline was instilled in the boys. While academic excellence was insisted upon, discipline was the order of the day. The school also emphasised on neatness, time keeping and dressing for the occasion. 

Professional Career 

After graduating from Alliance High School, James Muigai went on to become a teacher. His brother Johnstone Kamau, on the other hand, became deeply immersed in the politics of the country. He would go on to change his name to Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s founding president. 

Rising through the ranks, James went from a teacher to an inspector of schools. In those days, both teachers and school inspectors wore shorts. 

Later, he became a top civil servant and said he never sought help from his big brother to advance in life. He actually said that he was the one who lent him money to buy his first set of suits prior to his appointment as president. 

By the time of his death, James Muigai was a rich landowner with large tracts of land including a coffee farm. He also had a number of businesses, which he said were a product of hard work as he didn’t beg or need help from his brother.