Puzzle of Kenyan chief who cheated assassins for 13 years

Detectives described it murder in the best Chicago style. The assassin had a sense of macabre humour too. First, he saluted, then raised the .38 Wesson pistol and emptied five bullets into the senior chief’s body. The execution took 15 seconds.

He then deflated the tyres of his victim’s car, and escaped in a taxi, leaving behind a political turmoil that forever changed Kenya.

Killing Senior Chief Waruhiu wa Kung’u was never meant to be easy. He was loyal, armed and cunning. Apparently, he had more lives than the proverbial cat. For 13 years, he had cheated several of his would-be assassins who had set fires, threw spears and swung swords. In their attempts, they had burnt three houses of his wives.

On one occasion, a hitman had attached a long pole to a spear and tried to manoeuvre the weapon into the chief’s bedroom as he slept.

The wire mesh gave his game away.

On another, a son, Githembu, was waylaid at night, mistaken for his father and hacked with a sword. He died a month later at the Alliance High school where he was a student.

But even cats die. The senior chief’s luck ran out on October 7, 1952 when he was ambushed as he was being driven home from a land case in Nairobi.

He had just testified in the case in which Mbari ya Tukui was demanding 600 acres from Mbari ya Kihara, which had 3,000 acres. He had first arbitrated the case in 1930s and awarded Mbari ya Tukui 320 acres, but they appealed this decision.

Although several suspects were arrested and motives explored, it has never been clear who among his many enemies ordered the killing. At one point Senior Chief Mbiyu Koinange was arrested and tried but there was no evidence. There were five other chiefs who had been aggrieved by Waruhiu’s expansionist style, which had cost them jobs because some locations were abolished.

Mau Mau was unhappy as he was a symbol of their oppressor. Some settlers wanted the government to declare a state of emergency and had a grudge against the chief who sought more land for Africans.

The big break came two days after the murder. Taxi driver, Waweru Kamundia, went to claim the get away car, which had been towed to Kingwsay Police Station. Kamundia and a shopkeeper from Uthiru Githuku Migwi were sentenced to hang on June 29, 1953.

A state of emergency declared on October 10, 1952 would last 10 years. It condemned all residents in Central Kenya into concentrated villages where night movement or travel out of one’s home was banned.

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