Treating Kenyatta like his junior was Mboya’s greatest undoing
FRIDAY JULY 5 2019
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya share a joke at the 1962 independence conference in London. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
- The following day, I found Kenyatta in a foul temper, calling Tom Mboya all the names under the sun, saying how he wanted to crush him, and to emphasise the point, grinding his foot into the floor. A moment later, the door opened and Tom walked in. Kenyatta immediately smiled, greeting him warmly and heartily like a long-lost friend. Once again I thought, what a fantastic actor!
By FITZ DE SOUZA
More by this Author
Fitz de Souza was Jomo Kenyatta’s lawyer and member of Parliament. He was an insider in the Kenyatta circles and in a new explosive book, he spills the beans on what he was told in confidence, and what he saw. Many politicians trusted him as Jomo’s ex-lawyer. The book,Forward to Independence, is available at Amazon.
It was Tom Mboya who had warned me that Pio [Gama Pinto] was in danger. If, given the concerted efforts to sideline him, he thought he might now be the one at risk, he did not show it. Perhaps under the surface he was very afraid, but there was no sign of him bowing out of politics. If anything, he seemed more audacious than ever, as witnessed during a party held at State House. The guests included a glittering array of international VIPs, among them [Pandit] Nehru. On arrival, Tom, who seemed to have been drinking and already knew many of the visiting dignitaries, proceeded to take Kenyatta’s arm and lead him around the room, introducing him to everyone in a grandiose manner, as if he himself were the President and Kenyatta the underling. Kenyatta was obliged to grit his teeth and endure the humiliation.
The following day, I found Kenyatta in a foul temper, calling Tom Mboya all the names under the sun, saying how he wanted to crush him, and to emphasise the point, grinding his foot into the floor. A moment later, the door opened and Tom walked in. Kenyatta immediately smiled, greeting him warmly and heartily like a long-lost friend. Once again I thought, what a fantastic actor!
It was 1969, and Tom, increasingly short of funds, was begging and borrowing. He would ring me quite often to ask for a loan, but I had nothing to spare. On the morning of July 5, I parked my car on Government Road as usual, and was walking towards my office when, passing the ground floor pharmacy, I saw a figure standing close against the wall, his arm outstretched. I carried on and went up to my office. A while later, I heard gunshots. A man had been hit twice as he came out of the pharmacy. While crowds quickly gathered at the scene, an ambulance rushed the patient to Nairobi Hospital. But it was no good. Tom Mboya was dead.
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‘Go after the big man’
Kanu youth winger Nahashon Njoroge, later arrested for the crime, denied pulling the trigger, claiming he had long been a friend of Mboya. His statement to the police was short but memorable: “Why don’t you go after the big man?” It was assumed he meant the President, but as with Pio, I found it hard to believe Kenyatta would condone such an act. I knew Tom visited the pharmacy regularly, and knew the family that ran it. He would also park his car in the same place, by the nearby Ismaili Hotel. His assassins also knew this. I went to the pharmacy and spoke to the family. One young woman was still in shock. She had been greeting Tom, who was very popular and had friends everywhere, when, as she embraced him, she heard someone shout, ‘Tom Mboya is here!’ Seconds later, a bullet had passed by, touching her hair. The next one had hit Tom.
Mboya’s funeral was a big affair, and this time, unlike Pio’s, who had been a nobody in the eyes of the public, Kenyatta would be attending. The feeling among Luos, Tom’s tribesmen, was that Kikuyus should stay away. With emotions running high, scores of police and soldiers had been drafted in, lining the roads as the mourners, led by his widow Pamela and the children, arrived at Holy Family Cathedral. Kenyatta was flanked by a tight group of security men. There was quite a crowd, with Kenyans of all faiths coming to pay their respects. Among them was Jeremiah Nyagah, a great friend of Tom’s. But he was also a Kikuyu, and when some Luos spotted him, they lost control. Surrounding his car, they began banging on the windows, shouting abuses and threatening to kill him. I rushed up and urged them to be calm, and that if they wanted to punish anyone, it should be whoever killed Tom. It was fortunate I was not a Kikuyu, and eventually the protesters dispersed. After the moving service, as the congregation filed out, trouble flared again. Suddenly, people were running everywhere, some crying, not from grief now, but tear gas fired by the security forces, lashing out with batons to disperse the crowd. Around the world, newsreels showed Tom Mboya’s funeral ending in scenes of chaos, anger and violence.
Like a lot of people, I was utterly shocked by Tom’s murder. What had happened to Pio had left me very shaky, but the level of anxiety and disbelief was even worse, and I had to resort to Valium. Bruce McKenzie was also noticeably affected; one of those men who are brilliant in their own way, and can be totally ruthless with it, McKenzie was nonetheless quite shaken, not only because he liked Tom, but because I believe he now thought that if this could happen to a man like Tom Mboya, it could happen to anyone; he might even have feared being next on the list. This might have been why, along with his second wife wanting to settle in England, he retreated from the centre of politics, citing ill health. Some said he was pushed out, that he had outlived his usefulness to the government. Before long, though, he would appear to be prospering again, and go on to buy a house next to mine, adding a tennis court and swimming pool, all the trappings of luxury. One could only speculate about where he was getting the money, but dramatic events would later reveal a lot more about Bruce’s activities.
On October 25, 1969, just months after Tom’s death, Kenyatta arrived in Kisumu to officially open the new Russian Hospital, a project that Odinga had set up. It was believed he wanted to signal his authority in this Luo-dominated area. Teachers and children were waiting to sing and read poems for the President. Also waiting were a contingent of angry Luos with placards that read: ‘Where is Tom Mboya.’ As Kenyatta and Odinga began a heated exchange of words, the mood quickly turned hostile, violence broke out, and Government troops opened fire into the crowd. When the shooting stopped, 11 people were dead, with hundreds more injured. Odinga was arrested and placed in detention.
On November 8, before sunrise, Njoroge was hanged for the murder of Tom Mboya. In the aftermath of the Kisumu massacre, the Kenya People’s Union was officially banned. Kenya was now a one-party state.
In 1966, to oppose Kanu, Oginga Odinga formed his new socialist party, the Kenya People’s Union, with Achieng Oneko and Bildad Kaggia among its members. In June, 1966, a series of by-elections were held. Kanu won more seats, but the KPU took more votes overall. Bildad Kaggia, who had been elected in Murang’a, was ousted in a re-election the following day. The whole thing was stage-managed. There was no way anyone else could win. Tom Mboya, always a brilliant organiser, did everything, and behind him were the Americans and their money. I remember Tom once asking me to fetch something from the boot of his car and making a point of telling me not to disturb anything else there. But curiosity got the better of me, and I looked in a suitcase and found it packed with several thousand dollars. A key election held at Tigoni was a blatant fraud, paid for by the American Embassy. They had people at the Mayfair Hotel, a White man handing out cash notes to all the delegates, giving them free rooms and paying for everything.
It was not just the Americans who provided foreign money, nor were Kenyatta’s group the only ones to receive it. William Attwood, the American Ambassador whom I met at cocktail parties now and again, was too high up to be involved personally, but in 1967, he would write about the political events of the time in The Reds and the Blacks. To most Africans, Kenyatta was a god, and Attwood’s book would make Attwood the most hated man in Kenya, based largely on a damning review in the Nation.
In fact, since the title was swiftly banned, it is believed most Africans never read it, which, though betraying confidences, was not uncomplimentary to Kenyatta. It claimed that the source of Odinga’s funds, about which my Luo gardener had earlier surprised me, was China’s communist government, Njonjo alleging that the Chinese Embassy in Dar es Salaam sent him well over $100,000, exchanged in Mombasa for Kenya shillings, to buy votes in Limuru.
I, too, was approached by foreign powers. First was the Chinese ambassador, who rang me, wanting me to be his legal representative in Kenya. I invited him to my office.
“No, no,” he said, “come to dinner with me, as people in China do.”
I replied that this was not really the custom here and that the client came to the lawyer. He seemed very reluctant. I said if he didn’t like it, he could get another lawyer. Soon, however, I was the lawyer for the Chinese, Soviet and Polish ambassadors. All I had to do was attend parties with them, for which I was paid a retainer. When they began to flatter me, though, I realised that they expected more than legal representation and wanted me to be a mouthpiece for their interests in Kenya. I was also concerned that they would ask me to report conversations and pass on information.
To avoid being suspected of corruption or espionage, at the end of each month I would return any amounts I could not account for legitimately in fees and expenses.
‘Great Wall of China‘
Aware of the attempts to coax me in, eventually I stopped attending the parties, especially with the Chinese, who seemed rather crazy; when they moved their Embassy’s headquarters behind ridiculously high brick-built defences, Kenyatta remarked that the Great Wall of China had come to Nairobi.
Kenyatta, meanwhile, had offered Odinga’s former position of Vice-President, to Joe Murumbi. People asked why, given the circumstances of Pio’s death, Joe accepted. One might as well ask why is power so sweet, why is fame so sweet? Many thought Joe was idealistically inclined, more left than right, but I don’t think he had any strong ideology to support it. In Joe’s case, though, I think he couldn’t say no to Kenyatta. He knew he was being used, and why, which was to attract Kalenjin support — Joe was half Maasai, who up to a point were considered Kalenjin — and to split the left. But who, even today, when people are supposedly much more enlightened and educated, would refuse the vice-president’s job? Joe believed he could make a difference. Later he would write, “I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.” In August, 1966, after just four months on the job, he told Kenyatta he wanted to resign. Kenyatta persuaded him to stay on until the end of the year, when the resignation was made public.
Joe still blamed himself for Pio’s death, and thought he could have stopped it. I never heard anyone cry like Joe, and whenever anyone mentioned Pio, he would not talk, only weep bitterly. I was sorry about his resignation. I think he said it was because of his job with a cigarette company, but I don’t believe that was the real reason. The corruption in Kenya had outrun him, and he could not put his foot on the brakes. Honest, fair and just to everyone, Joe Murumbi was not a politician but a true democrat. He had worked harder than anyone for independence for Kenya and freedom for Kenyatta, and been the mouthpiece for Kenya for a decade.