Why 'Washington Trip Theory' of Ouko murder is rubbish

There’s no evidence at all that Moi was 'cold-shouldered' by the Bush administration.

In Summary

• The so-called Washington Trip Theory as the motive for Ouko’s murder has no basis in reality.

• It was based on gossip and hearsay and the evidence against it is overwhelming.

Robert Ouko at UN in New York on September 24, 1981.
INFAMOUS MURDER: Robert Ouko at UN in New York on September 24, 1981.
Image: FILE

In his ‘Final Report’, New Scotland Yard detective John Troon came up with a theory "that something happened", a "row" of some sort, during President Daniel Moi’s trip to Washington two weeks before Dr Robert Ouko was killed, which might have provided a motive for his murder.

President Moi, together with 83 ministers and civil servants, left Nairobi on January 27, 1990, for Washington, DC, via London for a ‘prayer breakfast’. It was hosted by President George H.W. Bush and attended by three other African heads of state and 3,800 delegates from around the world.

The Kenyan delegation landed back at JKIA on February 4, 10 days before Ouko’s murder.

"There is tenuous evidence both fact and circumstantial," Troon wrote, "that some form of dispute or disagreement took place in Washington".

Troon also named whom he thought might have been involved in the "row".

"Throughout the inquiry, strong indications have been given of some form of serious dispute between Dr Ouko and Mr Biwott during the Washington trip. Whilst factual evidence to support this allegation is somewhat tenuous...’.

Nicholas Biwott was Kenya’s Minister for Energy.

This was the basis of Troon’s ‘Washington trip theory’.


Troon was right, up to a point, the "evidence" was "tenuous" and ‘circumstantial’. It was also entirely based on ‘hearsay’ from just two witnesses, and the facts totally discredit his theory: Not that Troon did much to verify the facts at the time.


The principal source of Troon’s Washington trip theory was Barrack Mbajah, Ouko’s brother. Mbajah made the allegation over five weeks after Troon had begun his investigation. No one else had mentioned it before.

His allegation was that a "problem" had arisen after Ouko had a private meeting with President Bush when President Moi had been snubbed. This "infuriated" Biwott and "there were bad exchanges between the two."

Mbajah, however, had not been on the Washington trip. He said he had heard the story from a Malaki Oddenyo, an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His testimony was, therefore, hearsay and Oddenyo denied having told him of any "row".

The second source of Troon’s theory was Dorothy Randiak, Ouko’s sister. Nor had she been on the Washington trip. Troon wrote that Randiak had heard of disagreement from Ministry of Foreign Affairs PS Bethuel Kiplagat. Randiak’s alleged testimony was again hearsay and Kiplagat, too, denied ever telling her of the "row".

Moreover, Randiak did not mention a disagreement during the Washington trip in any of her written statements to Troon. In her third written statement, she wrote, "I asked him [Ouko] about his trip to the US he said it was good" and "people appeared to be happy."

Thereafter, the story of what might have happened on the Washington trip grew with the telling and again, the source of the story was Mbajah.

In October 1990, just before he was due to testify before a public inquiry into Ouko’s murder, headed by Justice Evans Gicheru, Mbajah fled Kenya and was immediately granted asylum in the US.

In September 1991, he signed a sworn affidavit that was delivered to the inquiry.

In it, he said his brother had phoned him the evening he returned from Washington and told him all about the trip.

Mbajah said Ouko told him that he had advised President Moi not to go to Washington because the criticism of Kenya’s human rights record would make the trip unpleasant; that Ouko, Moi and Biwott rowed over alleged foreign accounts held by Kenyan ministers; that Ouko had been sent back on a different flight and had his passport seized.

He was then sacked and banished to his Koru farm by President Moi, Mbajah said, his security guard and official driver removed.


Mbajah’s testimony constantly changed.

He told Troon he had not spoken to his brother since before the trip. In the affidavit, he said Ouko had called him on the evening of February 4, the day he returned from Washington. And to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, Mbajah said his brother had visited him at his house on that evening.

Stranger still, Mbajah said Ouko told him of a meeting the next day in State House and of a car accident that had occurred the following Friday. He also said that Ouko had tried to visit Moi a week later. How could Ouko tell him those things before they’d ever happened?

It is true that Denis Afande, Kenya’s Ambassador to the US at the time, advised against Moi’s trip to Washington but this advice was not given by Ouko as Mbajah claimed, nor for the reasons he gave.

In an interview for the documentary Murder at Got Alila: Who killed Dr Robert Ouko and Why? Afande recollected what really happened.

“At that time, I was also working with the State Department and my own Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a possible visit of our President to the United States on an official visit... When I learnt that this visit was coming, I thought that will not serve my purpose of trying to push for an official visit... So I advised that the visit should not take place. I then called Robert Ouko, it would have been about a day later, or the same day. He called me back and said he had seen the President, he is aware of my advice but the President said we’re coming.”


The Washington trip theory developed into one in which Moi was "cold-shouldered" by the Bush administration and that they did not want him at the prayer breakfast.

Once secret and confidential US diplomatic telexes (made public through Freedom of Information legislation and other reliable testimony) tell a very different story.

The telexes show the Bush administration was desperate that Moi’s visit should go well. At stake was a crucial Military Access Agreement between the US and Kenya that was due for renewal in June 1990.

In a briefing for US Secretary of State James Baker, it was made clear that the "key point" of President Moi’s visit from the US standpoint was, "Our military access agreement with Kenya, which allows us the use of Nairobi and Nanyuki airfields, and the port of Mombasa in support of our activities in the north Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, [which] is up for renewal later this year". 

Stapleton Roy, Executive Secretary in the US State Department, wrote to Brent Scowcroft in the White House: ‘… Kenya is our key security account in Africa… A meeting with Moi will afford our president the opportunity to review our relationship with Kenya and the situation throughout that part of the world, especially in light of this summer’s renegotiation for our crucial military access agreement with Kenya."

In a telex to James Baker ,a Warren Clarke wrote: "Your meeting with him [Moi] will provide an opportunity to get to know the president of one of the most important countries in Africa and one with which we have a significant degree of military cooperation’.

And Irvin Hicks wrote to Clark Ditterman: "Kenya is a key ally in Africa and an historic friend. We will be entering into some crucial military negotiations later this year. Therefore, it is essential that Moi’s visit comes off smoothly."

Far from the Washington trip being a disaster for Moi, all the evidence and reliable first-hand eye witness testimony proves quite the contrary.

Secretary Baker wrote to the US embassy in Nairobi: "Moi seemed pleased with the trip when we saw him onto Concorde a few hours ago. He was referring to 'my friend, the President and 'my friend, Secretary Baker.' There were no glitches, no demonstrations, the Washington press was on its good behaviour and apparently Moi had a good reception from Members of Congress."



Part of Mbajah’s allegations, and central to Troon’s Washington trip theory, was that there had been a disagreement between Ouko and Biwott.

Ambassador Afande’s testimony, together with official documents, show Ouko and Biwott shared the same car in Washington, stayed on the same floor of the Willard Hotel and attended meetings together.

Ouko had in fact employed Biwott’s daughter Rhoda at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and there is evidence in his handwriting regarding his son Ken, which suggests a cordial relation with Biwott.

The entry in Ouko’s diary for February 2, 1990, the day the delegation left Washington, reads: "Hon Biwott told me Ken is to be recruited to the Ministry of Energy, even as a student."

Not one member of the Kenyan delegation who was interviewed by Troon, or later by the Kenyan police, said they knew of any disagreement during the trip.

On the Kenyan delegation’s last day in Washington, Ouko held a press conference. Randiak suggested that this, in some way, caused her brother anxiety but she was not specific as to why.

I obtained the full film of Ouko’s press conference. It was in fact a dull affair.

This is the American’s take on it in a telex from the US State Department to the Embassy in Nairobi: "Ouko gave a press conference at the Willard on the morning of Moi’s departure.... It was a non-event. Ouko started a rambling monologue of Kenya’s population problem and economic priorities."

Nothing in the tape of the press conference could have offended anyone, nor in any way have ‘outshone’ President Moi as some have suggested, and it was played and replayed on Kenyan State-controlled television. That could not have happened without Moi’s knowledge and agreement.

The press conference is significant in another way, however.

Mbajah alleged that a private meeting took place between Ouko and President  Bush after the latter had seen the press conference and asked to meet him.

The press conference took place when President Bush was attending a National Security briefing in the White House.

At 8.31, President Bush left the White House by helicopter en route to Maryland, where at 8.54 he flew on to North Carolina. He did not return to Washington, DC, that day.

Ouko did not and could not have met with President Bush on that day as Mbajah alleged: Bush was not even in Washington.

We know where President Bush was on the date and at the time in question because his detailed official diary that chronicled every minute of his life was released through Freedom of Information legislation.

Ambassador Afande who organised the Washington trip has stated that “at that time there was no meeting between Minister Ouko and President Bush.”

A telex to the State Department from the US Embassy in Nairobi on February 23, 1990, about the febrile gossip in Kenya at the time, said that officials had "flatly refuted" that Ouko had a separate one-on-one meeting with President Bush "but find that our denials have little effect on our Kenyan interlocutors, who, having made up their minds, are adamant that this 'must be' the truth."

Lawyer and civil society activist Paul Muite said US Ambassador Smith Hempstone had checked with officials and assured him “no such private meeting took place.”

In his autobiography Rogue Ambassador – An African Memoir, Hempstone wrote: "I made several earnest efforts over the next months to discover if Ouko had, in fact, met privately with Bush or Baker, if the foreign minister had been given special security treatment or accolade that might have infuriated Moi. The answer without exception was in the negative."

The TJRC report published in 2011, stated: "In addition, the Washington trip theory revolves around a private meeting with President Bush and Ouko that never actually occurred."


Troon might have known all this but he admitted at the public inquiry into Ouko’s murder that he made no inquires with the US authorities.

So what of Mbajah’s later story that Ouko had been sent home on a different flight, had his passport removed, been ‘sacked’ and ‘banished’ by  Moi, his security and official driver withdrawn, and left a frightened man cowering in Koru?

It’s provably absolute rubbish.

Ouko returned on the same flights as the rest of the delegation and landed back with them.

Moses Njuguna Mahugu, the Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement to New Scotland Yard, wrote: "Dr Ouko travelled on Concorde to London with the President and then by Kenya Airways to Nairobi. On arrival at Nairobi Dr Ouko seemed his normal self and had travelled in his normal position on the aircraft which is a double seat next to the President’s double seat. Dr Ouko would be seated next to Mr Biwott."

There are so many photographs and so much film footage of Ouko landing at JKIA with President Moi and the rest of the Kenyan delegation, supported by eye-witness testimonies, that it seems unbelievable that this fact was ever called in to doubt.

Ouko’s passport was not seized. His secretary, Rispa Okonji, testified that it was handled with other travel documents by Ouko’s PA Susan Anguka after his return from Washington in preparation for his visit to The Gambia. And later, Ouko handed the same passport over to the British police.

Ouko’s driver and bodyguard were also not removed from service.

His official driver, Joseph Otieno, drove him to Koru and after that week returned to Loresho to pick up Ouko and returned him the day before he was murdered.

He also travelled with his bodyguard, Gordon Ondu. He carried out tasks for him during the week and was waiting for him in Kisumu, as instructed, on the morning of February 13.

Ouko was not sacked, maintaining telephone contact with PS Kiplagat and PA Anguka throughout the last week of his life. 

And the alert that Ouko was missing was only raised by officials in his ministry when he failed to turn up to Nairobi airport to travel to The Gambia late on the evening of February 14.


Ouko also gave a public speech to the Rotary Club at the Imperial Hotel in Kisumu on the Saturday before he was murdered. Extracts from his speech are now available online. In it, the humorous and eloquent Ouko talks of how well the Washington trip went and his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The so-called Washington trip theory as the motive for Ouko’s murder has no basis in reality. It was based on gossip and hearsay and the evidence against it is overwhelming.

There was no meeting between Ouko and Bush during the ‘Prayer Breakfast’ visit to Washington.

There’s no evidence at all that Moi was “cold-shouldered” by the Bush administration. Quite to the contrary, he was welcomed with open arms.

President Daniel Moi (Second, Left) and US's George Bush (Third, Left).
President Daniel Moi (Second, Left) and US's George Bush (Third, Left).

By all accounts, the trip went well and Ouko travelled back to Nairobi with his President. He was also not sacked or banished. 

The Washington trip almost certainly had nothing to do with the murder of Dr Robert Ouko.

Martin Minns produced the documentary Murder at Got Alila: Who killed Dr Robert Ouko and Why?


Robert Ouko's househelp Selina Were.
Robert Ouko's househelp Selina Were.