When Kenyatta lost control of events in Government

There was little change in President Kenyatta’s Cabinet after the General Election of October 1974. He kept Moi, Mbiyu Koinange, Julius Kiano, Mwai Kibaki, Jeremiah Nyagah, James Gichuru, Jackson Angaine, Isaac Omolo-Okero and Charles Njonjo in their jobs, the most stable ministerial team Kenya has ever seen. He appointed only five new ministers.

He brought in Munyua Waiyaki, who had resigned in 1966 in sympathy with former Vice-President Oginga Odinga, to replace Njoroge Mungai as foreign minister. Daniel Mutinda replaced Eliud Mwendwa as the minister for Ukambani. Stanley Oloitipitip, Mathew Ogutu (replacing William Omamo) and Eliud Mwamunga were the other new arrivals.

Kenyatta also appointed Kenya’s first female assistant minister, Dr Julia Ojiambo, predictably to Housing and Social Services. Geoffrey Kariithi remained permanent secretary in the Office of the President and secretary to the Cabinet, and more than half the permanent secretaries were Kikuyu.

Tribal unions
Amongst Kenyatta’s 12 nominations to Parliament were two representatives of Kenya’s increasingly influential ethnic or tribal unions: Njenga Karume, chairman of Gema, and Mulu Mutisya, leader of the New Akamba Union (NAU). Mutisya, an illiterate businessman and ex-detainee, had formed NAU in 1961, and used it to entrench his influence amongst the Kamba.

He was to remain a nominated MP for the next 18 years. Njenga Karume, too, was a self-made businessman who wielded great influence in government and amongst the Kikuyu. Another ex-detainee, he had become one of the largest beer distributors in Kiambu.

The unofficial opposition was finally excluded from the Government, as Kenyatta dropped re-elected assistant ministers JM Kariuki, Charles Rubia, Burudi Nabwera and Martin Shikuku. The pro-Odinga Luo also received little consideration.

Omolo-Okero retained his ministerial position, and even Omamo, defeated in Bondo, was nominated to Parliament in 1975. Another opportunity to change direction had been lost.

Although Kenyatta projected authority in public, he found it increasingly hard to lead the Government, yet there seemed little chance that anyone would take the reins of power gently from the old man’s hands. Despite recurrent blood clots and bouts of unconsciousness, Kenyatta declined to prepare for the inevitable.

Secret session
It was soon clear that the Government was going to have trouble controlling the National Assembly. When it reassembled on November 6, 1974, the uncontroversial Speaker Fred Mati was re-elected easily.

However, to the Government’s horror, dissident Marie Jean Seroney was the sole candidate for the post of deputy speaker. Kenyatta summoned a secret session to try to delay the election; he failed, and immediately prorogued Parliament.

There were rumours that Kenyatta had threatened Seroney with detention (and had also allocated him a farm), but the opposition was galvanised by recent corruption allegations, the election results and increased Western attention (including protests by the US Ambassador at the mistreatment of US citizens).

Although Seroney was the focus of conflict, JM Kariuki remained the unofficial opposition’s leader, spearheading the fight against capitalism, corruption, the land deals with the United Kingdom, and the increasing wealth of the business, political and administrative elites.

Personal enrichment
Although many saw him as inheriting Bildad Kaggia’s role as a defender of socialism, collectivism and the Kikuyu underclass, Odinga was unequivocal: “Like Kenyatta, (JM) loved wealth and possessions.” Odinga suggested the Nyandarua MP had been quickly corrupted, and had used his connections and talents for personal enrichment. Kariuki was an unlikely popular martyr.

In early 1975, the first bombs to strike independent Kenya exploded. In February, there were two blasts in central Nairobi, inside the Starlight nightclub and in a travel bureau near the Hilton hotel. The day after the second explosion, JM Kariuki revealed in Parliament that his car had been hit “by what seemed to be bullets”.

There were rumours of a botched attempt on his life. They were followed by a more serious blast in a Nairobi bus on March 1, which killed 30 people. Despite a massive public outcry and a police manhunt, no arrests were made. For several days thereafter, the city lived in fear, destabilised by numerous telephone bomb hoaxes. Someone was creating a climate of fear.

On March 2, 1975, the day after the OTC bus blast, security officials including General Service Unit commander Ben Gethi publicly accosted JM Kariuki outside the Hilton hotel. Various police officers, including European police reservist Patrick Shaw, had been following JM throughout the day. Gethi asked Kariuki to accompany the security officials into a convoy of cars and took him to an unknown destination.

The next day, Maasai herdsmen discovered his tortured and mutilated corpse in the Ngong hills near Nairobi. The killers had burnt his face with acid to prevent identification of the body, as his fingerprints were gone. However, the acid had deterred scavengers, and his body was still identifiable.

Nonetheless, police sent the corpse to the mortuary as an unknown victim.

After Kariuki’s disappearance, there was a lull of five days while friends and family tried to discover his whereabouts. There were rumours that he had been detained. Finally, on March 7, Assistant Minister Justus ole Tipis admitted to the National Assembly that Kariuki was missing.

The same day, Kenyatta, returning to Nairobi from a month-long stay in Nakuru, made a veiled speech that appealed for order, and warned “the Government would have no mercy on any individual or group that attempted to disrupt peace and harmony in Kenya”. Kenyatta knew what was to come.

On Saturday March 8, the Daily Nation reported that Kariuki was in Zambia, although the news desk already had sworn statements that the corpse in the mortuary was his; editor-in-chief George Githii ordered a reluctant news desk to print this misinformation.

Investigate killing
On March 11, nine days after his abduction, Kariuki’s wife identified his body in the mortuary, after which armed GSU sealed off the building. At the same time, Moi was making a statement, reporting that Kariuki’s whereabouts were still unknown.

On March 12, Police Commissioner Bernard Hinga finally confirmed that Kariuki was dead, killed by two bullet wounds. He claimed that the “partial decomposition” of the body had made identification impossible.

Kariuki’s death also roused the National Assembly into open hostility. MPs immediately demanded an investigation into the murder. On March 14, Parliament appointed a Select Committee to investigate the killing.

Where to buy the book.
Bookstop Ltd, Nairobi
Books R Us, Nairobi
Educate Yourself Ltd, Nairobi

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