The Jacob Juma killing joins a long list of mystery assassinations and other high-profile unresolved murders that started not long after Independence with the shooting in Nairobi on February 24 1965 of Pio Gama Pinto, 38, the Kenyan journalist, nationalist and MP.
Of these slayings, only the 2007 case of the killing at the height of the post-election violence crisis of Embakasi MP Melitus Mugabe Were was ever solved by a police investigation and prosecution.
Pinto was of Goan heritage and made his name for being jailed by the colonialists during the State of Emergency as an armourer of Mau Mau. He remains easily the most popular non-Kenyan politician among Kenyan Africans ever. He was also among the well wishers who contributed furniture to the house in Kapenguria where Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Mama Ngina spent their post-jail “restriction” period.
Less than a month before he was shot dead in the driveway of his Westlands home as he dropped one of his three daughters off after school, the Specially Elected Member had a furious stand-up row with Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta at Parliament Buildings over the Land Question. This argument happened not in the Chamber but in a corridor as the old man was being escorted home for the day by his handlers, among them armed bodyguards. It was conducted in a medley of English and Kiswahili.
Pinto, a socialist and one-time member of the Indian Air Force, had extraordinarily harsh words for Mzee Kenyatta, to the PM’s face. Walking off in a huff, he left the PM’s party bristling with indignation, even fury.
Confronting Kenyatta in this manner was highly unusual in Kenya that early in the Independence era. Indeed, it would not happen again until November 1969 at the opening of the Russian Hospital at Kisumu and President Kenyatta’s encounter with former Vice President and Home Affairs Minister Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Two weeks after the encounter with Premier Kenyatta, Pinto was dead. By all accounts at the time, Pinto’s assassin was someone known to him and who called out his name. As Pinto responded, completely off his guard, the killer shot him.
The police soon had a suspect, one Kisilu Mutua, who was convicted and jailed for life. Mutua protested his innocence throughout the trial and his long imprisonment, and was still protesting when President Daniel arap Moi released him 35 years later.
Different conspiracy theories erupted following Pinto’s killing, some of which have persisted. Pinto’s murder occurred only three days after that of Malcolm X, the US human rights activist and proponent of violent resistance, in faraway Manhattan on February 21.
The 1960s were the age of high-profile unresolved assassinations and murders, both at home and abroad, beginning with three murders at the beginning of the decade that shook the world and remain deep mysteries and the stuff of conspiracy theories. The first was that of Patrice Lumumba, 40, the most iconic Congolese independence leader and first elected Prime Minister, on January 17, 1961. Lumumba was brutally humiliated and killed in Lubumbashi in today’s DRC.
Several months later, on September 18, 1961, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, 56, was killed in Ndola, Zambia, in a suspicious plane crash as he engaged in shuttle diplomacy to mediate in the Congo crisis.
In Dallas, USA, on November 22, 1963, the 35th American President, John F Kennedy, 46, was shot and killed as he rode in a motorcade. A lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested but never made it to trial, being gunned down by a nightclub owner while he was still in police custody. The JFK killing remains one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time.
Meanwhile, to this day, analysts are still deeply divided on who the killers of Lumumba and Hammarskjöld were and what motivated them.
It was in this international, regional and national climate of high-profile murder, intrigue and conspiracy that the Pinto assassination became the first of several high-profile hits in the first 10 yeas of Independence.
At Pinto’s funeral, where Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a key leftist ally, was the most senior member of the government present, Economic Affairs minister Tom Mboya was photographed in dark glasses with a broad grin on his face. Mboya appears in many photographs of the funeral in this strange mood. This was the height of the Cold War era and Mboya was as pro-American as Pinto had been pro-Communist, complete with links to the Mozambique liberation front Frelimo, at that time waging a hot war against the Portuguese colonialists.
Four years later, on July 5, 1969, Mboya, aged only 39, was assassinated in the Nairobi CBD, allegedly by a lone gunman who made his escape on foot. Again a vortex of conspiracy theories filled the air and, again, the Kiambu Mafia and Kenyatta security were spoken of in very dark terms. The police soon seized a man named Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge, a Kikuyu, and he was tried and convicted. The arresting officer testified that Njenga asked him enigmatically why he was arresting him and not “The Big Man”.
The mystery of who the Big Man was and why Njenga thought he could be arrested has persisted across the years since. It was out of the question that Njenga meant President Kenya, a political titan and demigod at that time. He must have been referring to some other kind of Big Man, perhaps a security official or a politician.
The final high-profile assassination of the Jomo Kenyatta era happened at the beginning of March 1975, when Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, 46, the hugely popular MP for Nyandarua North, was reported missing before his remains were found by a herdsman, Musaite ole Tunda, in the Ngong Hills. In the early 1960s JM had served as private secretary to Kenyatta as PM and President and had made his first fortune in that period.
JM’s remains indicated a horribly painful end and truly psychotic killers. His eyes were gouged out, tongue cut out, private parts hacked off and the tips of all 10 fingers sliced off (presumable to prevent speedy identification through finger-printing). And then the sadists poured sulphuric acid on the face, disfiguring it extensively. After this they dumped the body in hyena territory. But the acid kept the carnivores at bay, and so it was that JM’s remains were found fairly intact.
Meanwhile, Vice President Daniel arap Moi, who had assured Parliament that JM was alive and well and on a business trip to Zambia in a private plane, apologized to the nation and offered to resign if he were linked to the disappearance and assassination.
No one who looked at and, or read the Daily Nation and the Standard newspapers in March-April 1975 will ever forget the gruesome sight of JM’s mutilated body lying in state in a smart business suit, the fingers chopped off, the cotton wool in what remained of the nostrils, the empty eye sockets. The photos were used big on page one and in inside pages in those pre-politically correct and pre-sensitive days.
A parliamentary select committee investigated JM’s death and handed over its report to President Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi. The President instructed the MPs to remove two names from the JM report: Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange and presidential bodyguard Arthur Wanyoike Thungu, now ranked senior superintendent of police. The MPs complied, but someone promptly leaked the full report in Britain and in Kenya.
Thungu, a burly man with very large hands, had never been trained as a policeman. When the Kapenguria Six were jailed in 1952, he was one of only seven men, including Pio Pinto, who propelled the Mau Mau forward into the State of Emergency. He was designated Treasurer of Mau Mau. But he was always much more than a bean counter: A phenomenal reputation for violence preceded him.
In March 2000 investigative reporter Kamau Ngotho marked the 25th anniversary of JM’s assassination with a special report in the Daily Nation that claimed Thungu punched the politician in the face at Special Branch Headquarters in Kingsway House, Nairobi, in the presence of Director of Intelligence James Kanyotu, knocking out most of his teeth. This was in the early evening of the night JM died.
Another report of Thungu’s terrifying penchant for violence appears in freedom fighter Bildad W. Kaggia’s posthumously published The Struggle for Freedom and Justice: The Life and Times of the Freedom Fighter and Politician Bildad M. Kaggia ( 1921-2005 ), written with W. de Leeuw and his son M. Kaggia. It details an incident in December 1967 when the presidential bodyguard descended on Kaggia’s homestead in Murang’a and gave him and his wife and aides the beating of their lives for their activities as members of former VP Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union.
There was no other high-profile political assassination after JM’s in 1975 until February 1990, when President Moi’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Dr Robert Ouko, was first announced to be missing before his mutilated remains were found at the foot of Got Alila, near Muhoroni. Ouko had been partially burnt, shot and had virtually no face (the body had to be buried with a face mask in place of his features).
Ouko was murdered almost a fortnight before the release from prison after 27 years of Nelson Mandela, an event that would have delighted him. At least two commissions of inquiry into the Ouko murder were inconclusive in their findings and the high-profile killing remains a mystery.
The list of high-profile mystery killings in Kenya includes the death of Julie Ward, 28. Her remains were found in the Masai Mara game reserve on September 13, 1988. She had been missing for a week. She was raped and hacked to death, the body doused in petrol and burned.
Her father John Ward spent many years thereafter investigating his daughter’s death. Convinced that a postmortem report had been altered from a finding of murder to indicate that she had been killed by wild animals, Ward
is also certain in his mind that he knows who killed his daughter – a luminary of the Moi regime – and that both the Foreign Office and successive Kenyan administrations know too but have refused to act to secure justice for Julie.
Violent deaths of politicians that looked both like assassinations and murders for non-political motives made a comeback in Kenya in 2007, with the killing at the height of the post-election violence crisis of Embakasi MP Melitus Mugabe Were. But the Were case appeared to be finally solved when three suspects were sentenced to death and one acquitted by Justice Luka Kimaru – James Omondi, alias Castro, Wycliffe Walimbwa Simiyu, alias Zimbo, and Paul Otieno, alias Baba. Mary Muthoni Wamaitha was acquitted.
The Were investigations, prosecution and convictions took seven long years.
On February 6, 2015, Kabete MP George Muchai, his three bodyguards and a driver were shot dead in the Nairobi CBD in a predawn attack as they bought newspapers. A number of suspects were rounded up in a series of arrests that featured prominently in the media and their cases rumble on in the courts. All indications are that the Muchai murder will remain on the list of unsolved high-profile slayings for a long time to come.
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