Educated at Central School, William Murray Institute, Nkhoma. He taught for a year as a monitor at the vernacular school before leaving to work in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa from 1939 to 1941. He made several visits to South Africa in the next six years.
From 1947 he gained a deep knowledge of his country as a bus inspector for the Nyasaland Transport Company in the Central and Northern provinces. He was a vigorous campaigner against the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 and was one of the nationalists who signed the telegram urging Dr Hastings Banda to return home in 1958 from his 40-year exile.
Caught in the round-up of nationalists under the state of emergency on March 3, 1959, he was not downcast as a detainee. His cheerfulness helped others make light of their terms as “prison graduates”. During his detention—at Zomba prison and then Kanjedza Detention Centre—he gave evidence to the Devlin Commission. He was released on June 7, 1960.
As soon as he was free he became provincial chairman of the Malawi Congress Party in the Central Region and he was elected to the Legislative Council in 1961. Two years later he became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, then entered the cabinet in 1964 as Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Central Region.
President Banda left him out of the cabinet in the 1967 reshuffle but compensated him with senior diplomatic appointments in Bonn and Nairobi. He made a political comeback in 1969 and rejoined the cabinet as Minister of Natural Resources and subsequently rook over the Ministry of Agriculture. His second setback came when he lost his seat in the elections of April 1971.
Again his political resilience brought him back to the centre of power. In March 1972 he was Minister of Transport and Communications and Minister of Labour. When the President reshuffled his cabinet on April 4, 1972, he kept Nkhoma in the cabinet as Minister without Portfolio.