- Ouko’s killers, according to a series of investigations that have been conducted over the decades, point to powerful figures in the then-President Moi’s regime.
- What remains uncontested is that Ouko’s killers crafted a clever plot to eliminate him by inflicting as much pain on him as they could.
Thirty-three years ago, then Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko was abducted in the dead of night by people said to be familiar with him, and painfully led to his death.
Ouko’s killers, according to a series of investigations that have been conducted over the decades, point to powerful political figures in the then-President Daniel Moi’s regime.
A new investigative documentary recently aired on NTV, titled Tanzia ya Ouko/ Ouko Murder Mystery by Duncan Khaemba, has once again lifted the lid on a macabre murder that shook the country to its deepest political foundations.
The Foreign minister was a close political ally of Moi, and his speech – probably the last – recorded at the Rotary Club in Kisumu is a revealing testament to this warm bond. Without all the blinkers of political correctness, Ouko was a Moi sycophant.
So, the million-dollar question arises: Why would anyone within Kanu’s corridors of power — the ruling party — want him dead, not even sacked or forced into exile, as was the norm back then?
To answer the above question, one has to understand the political intrigues that had started to become a defining feature of Kenyan politics and the world at large. The clamour for a return to multiparty politics was at fever pitch, and President Moi was essentially cornered.
A highly energised opposition comprising of dissident politicians, academics, university students, the underground press, trade unionists, workers and ordinary Kenyans wanted Section 2(a) of the Constitution repealed to move Kenya to the next level.
The international community was also breathing down the neck of the President in light of a new world order, where the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the terrifying apartheid infrastructure in South Africa was crumbling like a deck of cards and Nelson Mandela was set to be released from prison after 27 years.
There was a growing consensus that liberalism had won and communism and its offshoots of authoritarianism, secrecy, kleptocracy, political violence and prejudice had massively lost. It was the end of history, so to speak.
President Moi’s regime must, therefore, be viewed in this state of volatile political events that were even taking the shape of succession talk back home.
There was an overwhelming feeling, both from within and outside, that a new person ought to succeed the President in the upcoming 1992 general election to inject fresh air into Kenya’s then dull and colourless political life, which had been dominated by Moi and Kanu.
The omnipresence of the two even spilled over into the socioeconomic and cultural lives of ordinary Kenyans, who lived a life of fear and deep suspicion of one another, lest they find themselves imprisoned, or abducted and tortured and, in worst case scenarios, murdered.
In other words, this was a regime that was facing an existential political threat and was desperate to act to save itself, and act they did.
One of the possible reasons that could have motivated Ouko's killers, therefore, could be gleaned from what I have just sketched.
Other reasons cited include a protracted family feud with his brother, Barrack Mbajah, contention over the Kisumu Rural parliamentary seat with Joab Omino and outshining Moi during a trip to Washington, US – an act rumoured to have profoundly angered the president’s closest lieutenants, such as then-powerful minister Nicholas Biwott.
What remains uncontested is that Ouko’s killers crafted a clever plot to eliminate him by inflicting as much pain on him as they could before dousing his body in diesel and setting it ablaze.
What followed were half-baked theories of possible suicide, which were viciously disputed then (backed by a forensics investigation), and today might sound like tall tales, story za jaba.
Director of Public Prosecutions Nordin Haji, therefore, has his work well cut out, and nothing should stop him from finally bringing to book Ouko’s killers — if they are still alive — to close this dark chapter in Kenya’s history.
The findings and recommendations of the Gor Sunguh-led parliamentary report are a perfect starting point to help Haji set an example for would be political assassins that shedding innocent Kenyan blood comes at a steep price, whether the killer is still alive or dead.