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ELIMINATION HISTORY

Why state does not have enough political capital to withstand an assassination

Any political murder is a tragic event, not just for the supporters of the person involved but also for the immediate family

In Summary

• Kenya is not new to political assassinations and some have significantly shaped the direction of the country, while others have pushed the nation to the tip of instability.

• Under the principal of Cui Bono, the interests of the few who will benefit from bumping off Ruto, will always overshadow that of the majority who care less who is the next president.

Deputy President William Ruto.
Deputy President William Ruto.
Image: FILE

Earlier in this week, the nation was shocked by momentous revelations that four Cabinet secretaries had met at a Nairobi hotel ostensibly to plan the assassination of Deputy President William Ruto.

They denied such a scheme existed.

Under the universal principle of Cui Bono (who benefits), the Jubilee faction otherwise known as Team Kieleweke, which is opposed to the accession of Ruto to power, was quick to defend itself from the assassination talk, even though nobody accused them of being part of the plot.

Kenya is not new to political assassinations and some have significantly shaped the direction of the country, while others have pushed the nation to the tip of instability.

Any political assassination is a tragic event, not just for the supporters of the person involved but also for the immediate family.

The political assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi allegedly on the orders of Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman shook the world and dominated the headlines for a while. It led to major a diplomatic row between several states, least of them Turkey, where the assassination took place.

The world has also witnessed countless political assassinations.

From the time Machiavelli advised the Prince to kill his opponents five centuries ago, there is a near-universal adoption of the method to remove irksome opponents and leaders.

Some assassinations have led to revolutions and collapse of ancient dynasties, while others fundamentally altered national political courses. The assassination of Rasputin in Russia led to the end of the 400-year Romanov dynasty, while others such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led in part to the first World War that claimed millions of lives out of just one death. Kenya too, has had its fair share of political assassinations.

KENYA’S FIRST ASSASSINATION

Perhaps the assassination with the greatest political impact on our nationhood was that of Pio Gama Pinto. On February 24, 1965, Socialist-leaning Pinto, a specially elected (nominated) member of the Lower House was shot dead outside his House in Nairobi’s Parklands area.

Pinto, a Kenyan of Goan origin, had left his house as usual in the morning to take his wife to work and the children to school. He returned shortly before 9am and had a cup of tea. As he drove out of his house, he was shot twice by three men who then fled in a waiting car. His death shocked the nation as such a thing was only last heard of at the height of the Mau Mau war.

In July, two suspects Kisilu Mutua, 18, and Chege Thuo, 19, were arraigned in court but the first witness, chief inspector David Michael Rowe, said that of the 10 fingerprints that had been recovered from the scene of the murder, none matched those of Mutua and Thuo. Chief Justice Sir John Ainley acquitted Chege on July 15, 1965, while Kisilu was sentenced to hang although it was later commuted to a life sentence. After nearly four decades in jail, he was released still maintaining his innocence.

Pinto, who like Jomo Kenyatta had been detained in the fight for Independence, had fallen out with him over money that was to be paid to Mau Mau war veterans and which was allegedly misappropriated by the latter. Prior to his death, it is alleged that Kenyatta and Pinto had exchanged insults and bitter words over the money.

Pinto’s death, however, ended up significantly changing the course of Kenya’s history because his close friend, Joseph Murumbi, himself half Goan, resigned as Vice-President after he realised the real reasons why his friend had died. This paved way for Daniel Moi to be appointed and this significantly altered the political landscape for the next half-century.

Kenya can then be said to be what it is today because of the death of Pinto. If you buy the rhetoric that we were the same economic level as Malaysia and Singapore at that time, then we remained poor because Kenyatta and Moi were not motivated by the same priorities as Lee Kuan Yew and others

HOW DID KENYATTA I GET AWAY WITH IT?

Whether or not he orchestrated it, Kenyatta survived the assassinations of Pinto, Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki and the suspicious deaths of Johnstone Muthiora and others.

Each of the assassinations was different in character. As for Pinto, public anger was muted on account of his race. But it probably had the greatest impact because the resignation of Murumbi altered the succession race and gave Moi the chance to be President.

Mboya, on the other had, gave Kenyatta sleepless nights. Perhaps the least of his problems was the fact that his brand-new limo, the iconic Mercedes 600, was stoned and dented by angry mobs.

Unlike Pinto’s, Mboya’s death led to ethnic particularism and national polarisation. It was the last straw that permanently broke the Kikuyu-Luo political duopoly, which had lasted about a decade. Ethnic reprisals and sectarian recriminations followed, forcing Kenyatta to revert to his Kikuyu base, which began Mau Mau-style oathing complete with reprisals for those who refused to be oathed.

Pastor Zachariah Kamau of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Nakuru was killed for refusing to take part in the oath ceremonies in August 1969. A hapless Kikuyu trader was rescued by the police at Sondu after the Luo attacked him baying for his blood. Even then, the impact of the Mboya assassination pales in comparison to that of Pinto. JM Kariuki’s death did not have the same political impact on the Kenyatta presidency as that of Mboya since it involved his fellow co-ethnics.

In the Moi era, the suspicious death of Jean-Marie Seroney (1982) as well as that of Bishop Alexander Muge (1990), did not have much political impact on his presidency as they were his co-ethnics. Moi’s political capital was well above the rantings of those disaffected by their deaths. However, the assassination of Cabinet minister Robert Ouko led to severe ethnopolitical upheavals and national polarisation that heightened the call for political changes and pluralism.

THE SITUATION TODAY

The talk of bumping off DP Ruto got many thinking. What would the political fallout look like?

Of course, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are joined in the hip by the ethnopolitical formation that brought them to the national scenario. Their political duopoly (concentration of power between two dominant groups) was premised on the blood that was shed in the 2007-o8 post-poll violence that saw targeted killings on both sides of the divide.

Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto have since gained significant cross-tribal constituencies, necessitating careful thinking before acting against either. But under the principal of Cui Bono, the interests of the few who will benefit from bumping off Ruto, will always overshadow that of the majority who care less who is the next president.

Prince Yusupov, who in part planned the assassination of Rasputin, had hoped that his death would save the Romanov dynasty but they all sank with it. Like Yusupov, Uhuru does not seem to have the kind of political capital to withstand massive fallout if Ruto is killed.

And on that same reason, it seemed totally prudent to improve the security of ODM leader Raila Odinga so that some madman could not kill him and use the inevitable fallout to bring down the government.

Machiavelli himself offers a good word of caution: “Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation…"