James Erastus Mungai: Former Police Boss Who Feared No Man, Even Slapped Mzee Moi Twice

James Erastus Mungai was a powerful government official in the Mzee Jomo Kenyatta government. He was the Rift Valley Police Commissioner and was said to be a member of the founding father’s exclusive Kikuyu inner circle. Just like Mzee’s other cronies, he wielded immense power and was not afraid to show it.

He was known to many in the 70s as the tough, rough cop who rode through the streets of Nakuru on a horse and stopped to whip anyone that did not give him way or a motorist that had committed a traffic offence.

At his home, Mungai is said to have had uniformed policemen who guarded his compound in Nakuru, milked his cows, feed his dogs, and cleaned his horses.

According to a report by the Nation, Mungai assembled a group of 200 police officers dubbed Rift Valley Operation Team who were only answerable to him. They would conduct operations strictly directed by him.

At one time, he instructed them to take charge of security at the Nakuru State House, however, this infuriated the Head of Presidential security who ordered that Mungai’s officers be shot dead on sight if found at the residence.

His act was considered equal to an attempted coup-detat.

James Erastus Mungai: Former Police Boss Who Feared No Man, Even Slapped Mzee Moi Twice
File image of James Erastus Mungai. |Photo| Courtesy|

Moi Incident

However, unlucky in his encounters with Mungai, was then Vice President Mzee Daniel Moi. He was a toothless VP in the Kenyatta regime, considered an outsider in Mzee Jomo’s exclusively Kikuyu inner circle. Due to this, many powerful government officials in Mzee’s government enjoyed humiliating Moi.

In Moi’s authorised biography Moi: The Making of An African Statesman authored by Andrew Morton, the late former head of state narrates that in 1975, while returning to Kenya from an OAU meeting in Kampala, Uganda, he was stopped by Mungai’s men who searched his motorcade and extended the search to his Nakuru house.

He had been accused of bringing in guns from Uganda with an attempt to overthrow Kenyatta. Shook, Moi drove to Nyeri to eak advice from then Central Provincial Commissioner Simeon Nyachae, and told him that he’d had enough and would be resigning from government.

“At this rate, these people will go ahead and kill me.”

According to the Nation, Nyachae advised Moi not to resign, arguing that as long as Mzee Jomo had no problem with him, he should stay put.

“Look my friend. You’re in the middle of a bridge. Going forward is as risky as going backwards. So why not go forward since the risk is the same as going the other way!” Nyachae reportedly adviced Moi.

In the autobiography, Morton adds that “on two occasions Mungai slapped Moi in the face in front of President Kenyatta at State House Nakuru.”

Moi complained to Mzee Kenyatta after Mungai had strip-searched him, however, the answer from the founding father was rhetorical.

“Who is the minister in charge of the police?” (At the time Moi had the home affairs docket and the police was under that ministry – technically Mungai was his subordinate!).

Morton writes: “Moi was a very scared man. Each night he prayed, knowing that he could be assassinated any time. Even so, he was troubled as he was holding on to his job by the skin of his teeth.”

When Mzee Jomo passed away in 1978, Moi was sworn is as president, and even then, he was still afraid of the “Kikuyu mafia”.

Shortly after Moi assumed power, Mungai took a long and rough road trip from Nakuru to Lokitaung where he fled to Sudan and later flew to exile in Switzerland. However, he could not handle the cold weather in Switzerland and after two months, began writing letters to Moi pleading for mercy.

When he realised Moi was not interested in revenge, he flew back to the country. Fortunately for him, Moi was not interested in revenge and he was allowed to retire in peace.

Lanet Barracks

Another time, Mungai is said to have locked up senior army officers from Nakuru’s Lanet Barracks in a local police station. He only set them free when he got a signal that fellow army officers were on the way to forcibly set free their colleagues and raze down the police station.

Parliament Testimony

Another time, Mungai had been summoned to testify at the parliamentary inquiry into the murder of legislator JM Kariuki. When he appeared before the House committee, he declined to remove his official cap or salute as he took his seat.

After a back and forth with the chair of the committee, he was dismissed for contempt.


Currently, Mungai lives on vast farm in Nakuru where he rears dairy cows and breeds horses.