Era of political assassinations

In July 1969, Thomas Joseph Mboya arrived from a meeting in Addis Ababa and we had a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Jomo Kenyatta.

In the meeting we discussed, among other things, how ministers would split themselves to campaign in constituencies where Kenya People’s Union (KPU) candidates were vying.

They had been thrown out of Parliament after an amendment to the law that declared their seats vacant after they crossed the floor.

Some ministers had opposed assigning Mboya the role of supervising the forthcoming Kanu elections, but Mzee Kenyatta overruled them, stating that Mboya was a talented politician and should be left to supervise the party elections.

I told Mboya this when I went to his house along Covent Drive in Lavington to wish him a happy return home. This was on the Thursday evening of July 3, 1969.


On Saturday, July 5 1969, Mboya was gunned down at close range as he walked out of a pharmacy along Government Road (now Moi Avenue).

He had gone there to buy some medicine. My Permanent Secretary, Andrew Omanga, who was in his office, rang me up and told me that Mboya had been assassinated.

As Minister for Information and Broadcasting, I had President Kenyatta’s hotline, so I rang him to give him information about Mboya’s shooting. The President asked me where and how I got the information.


I told him how my Permanent Secretary, who was in his office then, had told me on phone. The President then asked me to give him any further information I might receive later and he hung up.

When I finished with the President, Andrew Omanga drove to my house and told me that Mboya had been rushed to Nairobi Hospital.

We both went there and found a big crowd shouting and demanding to be allowed to see the body. The hospital authorities refused to allow them entry and hell broke loose. They started throwing stones at everybody and anybody around Nairobi Hospital. Windows were broken and there was mayhem all over. We had to go away without seeing the body.


As Minister of Information in 1969, I can recall how Mboya’s assassination made it to the front pages of international newspapers.

The BBCNew York TimesTimes of India and the Washington Post all mentioned how the killing was a loss for not only Africa but the whole world. Mboya got along with Kenyans of all tribes and he kept challenging Kenyans to think outside tribe.

Mzee Kenyatta called a meeting at his home in Gatundu to discuss whether Mboya should be given a state funeral, given the violence that was all over.

It was neither practical nor possible and Tom Mboya was not accorded a state funeral.


Mzee’s motorcade had to force its way to the church service amid chaos caused by angry mourners on the rampage who were throwing stones while police responded with teargas.

When the body was brought to the Holy family Basilica for a requiem Mass, the presiding priest, the Most Reverend JJ McCarthy asked: “Why should noble men like Tom Mboya, Martin Luther King or the Kennedy Brothers be struck down in the flower of life when their ideals and motives are so worthy of praise?”

Tom’s coffin was carried by a hearse followed by many cars to Kisumu and then to Homa Bay and Rusinga Island, where it was buried and a magnificent mausoleum later on built over it. Personally, I had lost a former schoolmate, soulmate, colleague, mentor, friend and role model.

Years later, a friend told me how he had visited Malaysia and Singapore as a member of a government delegation.

He met a certain European who had worked at the Kenyan treasury as an economic advisor in the 1960s when Mboya was Minister for Economic Planning.


When asked why he thought Kenya was stagnant compared to the Asian Tigers, his answer was bold and blunt: “You Kenyans killed Tom Mboya”.

The suspected assassin, Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge, was arrested the next day at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the police alleged he was trying to flee the country. He was taken to court and charged with murdering Mboya.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death, although it is whispered he may have been given a safe passage out of Kenya into a neighbouring country.

Mboya’s Cabinet colleagues trooped daily to his house to condole with the family.


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Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly known as JM. A Maasai herdsman stumbled upon a body in Ngong Forest. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly known as JM, was a Member of Parliament for Nyandarua.

At independence, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta appointed him as his Private Secretary, then Director of the National Youth Service and later as an Assistant Minister.

He was a populist who was loved by many Members of Parliament, university students and the Kenyan public at large.

One day he disappeared and nobody knew where he was. The then Minister of Home Affairs, who was also Vice President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, informed Parliament that JM had gone to Zambia on a business trip.


A few days later, a Maasai herdsman stumbled upon a body in Ngong Forest and reported to the chief of the area, who in turn reported to the police, who took the body to the City Mortuary.

There was tension in Nairobi and university students came out in the streets to protest at the slaying of JM.

Parliament passed a motion to appoint a committee to investigate the disappearance and eventual murder.

The JM committee was chaired by Elijah Mwangale.


When the committee was ready with its report, it was summoned to State House by President Kenyatta before presenting it to the National Assembly.

The President directed the committee to expunge the name of Minister Mbiyu Koinange and one or two of his security guards. The committee returned to one of the committee rooms in Parliament to carry out the President’s directive. In doing this bid in a hurry, one or two of original copies escaped the corrections and landed in my hands. The chairman of the committee presented the report to Parliament that afternoon.

When I caught Speaker Fred Mati’s eye to contribute to the debate, I moved an amendment to the chairman’s motion that the National Assembly should not adopt the report but should note it and urge the investigating arm of the government to use the information in the report to thoroughly investigate the sad incident and prosecute those involved.

I was holding two copies of the report, both bearing the signature of the chairman, but which were different in content. I did not understand which report was being approved by Parliament. My amendment was defeated and the chairman’s motion was passed.

That was the last time Kenyans heard of the motion. Many people, however, attended the funeral of JM at his home in Nyandarua.

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