Josiah Mwangi Kariuki was one of the most colourful politicians to have graced our political minefield. A suave and sharp dresser rumoured to be “a ladies’ man”, he was one of our first crusaders for social justice. JM Kariuki was also generous to a fault.
He took on the establishment, the Jomo Kenyatta government, almost single-handedly, and for a long time they were unsure of what to do with him as he had started off as an insider holding the post of private secretary to the President from 1963 to 1969.
In the late 1960s, JM’s relationship with Kenyatta became increasingly strained as he became increasingly vocal of the President’s policy. Some of their disagreements or points of departure were government corruption; the widening gap between the rich and the poor due to corruption; drought and the oil shock of 1973; deteriorating relations between East African Community members; and unfair distribution of land.
After Independence, the UK government gave the Kenyatta government funds to buy back land from the white settlers and redistribute it to the natives. However, the land was never redistributed, most of it was handed over to Kenyatta’s close friends. His famous quotations ring true to this day amongst them, “Kenya has become a country of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars.
“Every Kenyan man, woman or child is entitled to a decent and just living. That is a birth-right. It is not a privilege. He is entitled as far as humanly possible to equal education, job and health opportunities irrespective of his parentage, race, creed or his area of origin in this land.”
“We fought for independence with sweat, blood and our lives. Many of us suffered for inordinate delays-directly and indirectly. Many of us are orphans, widows and children as a result of the struggle. We must ask: What did we suffer for, and were we justified in that suffering.”
JM’s utterances constantly irked Kenyatta’s kitchen cabinet, who were suspected to have instigated his early demise. A meeting between JM, Peter Kenyatta and former Nakuru Mayor Mburu Gichua in Nakuru town a few days before his disappearance appears to have sealed his fate.
In 1974 he was elected as Nyandarua MP, despite the Kenyatta government pulling all the strings at its disposal to prevent his reelection as his popularity threatened to overshadow the government of the day. He was last seen alive at the Hilton Hotel accompanied by Kenyatta’s bodyguard.
On March 2, 1975 his remains were found beside the Lake Magadi Road, South of Nairobi. His body had been burnt and left on an ant’s nest. Following his death Nairobi University students marched in protest onto the streets of Nairobi. The march was broken up by riot police and the University of Nairobi was closed indefinitely. JM is remembered as a hero who fought for social justice regarding the evils that have harmed this country to the present day.
A parliamentary select committee was immediately established to investigate the circumstances surrounding his murder. The committee’s report implicated senior police officers, Ben Gethi, Ignatius Nderi, Wanyoike Thungu, Patrick Shaw and senior administrative officers and politicians, but no one was ever punished. The committee was formed most likely to mitigate a potential national revolt.
As they say for every revolutionary killed, another two will emerge. Butere MP Martin Shikuku, the famed people’s watchman, took over JM’s mantle. He created an intricate web of sources within and without government that would feed him with sensitive information on corruption, which he would unleash in Parliament. The other social justice crusader is ODM leader Raila Odinga.
After the handshake we are now witnessing a resurgent Musalia Mudavadi take the bull by the horns as the new leader of the Opposition. With a multitude of corruption cases under active investigation, Mudavadi’s in-tray is already full and we can only wish him well.