[SIZE=7]When Kenya was ruled through ‘fake news’ peddled by State[/SIZE]
Saturday, May 27, 2017
There was a time in Kenya when those in authority achieved desired political results by manufacturing tales that were sold as gospel truth.
The trend began right from independence but gained notoriety during the reign of President Daniel Moi, who succeeded Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
Moi-era political scarecrows commenced immediately he ascended to power.
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Today we open the lid on two of the four most memorable “plots” that everybody believed were true at the time, but were all fiction.
Immediately after being sworn in, President Moi was confronted by one major headache. A highly-placed power cabal made up of politicians, civil servants, and security chiefs had never been keen on his presidency and hadn’t bothered to conceal their feelings when he was Vice-President.
After Charles Njonjo (right) helped President Moi (left) fight off would-be opposition, it was time for Moi to deal with Njonjo.
True to the Machiavellian rule book, he had to sort them out once in power. But the hurdle was how to go about it without creating costly collateral damage.
His lead Mr Fix-It at the time was Attorney-General Charles Njonjo who came up with a plan barely two months into Moi’s presidency.
In Parliament, Mr Njonjo dropped the bombshell that an assassination squad, codenamed “Ngoroko”, had been formed in the Rift Valley to eliminate then Vice-President Moi and his close associates immediately the aged and ailing President Kenyatta was pronounced dead.
According to Mr Njonjo, Mr Moi and about 300 other senior personalities would have been eliminated in a plot that sounded a perfect lift from Shakespearian Macbeth.
The narrative was that as soon as Mzee Kenyatta was pronounced dead, Mr Moi and 13 others – including allies in the Cabinet and top security chiefs – would be summoned and taken to the room where the President’s body lay.
There, they would be shot dead with guns fitted with silencers and their bodies dumped in a tank of highly corrosive sulphuric acid to conceal evidence of how they had died.
The presidential guards, Mr Njonjo went on, would later pump bullets into Mzee Kenyatta’s dead body and claim it was the 15 who had killed him, prompting the elite guards to shoot them dead.
Amazingly, this story was widely believed without question — including by the media — with two reputable journalists publishing a book on it!
I was a lower primary pupil when this happened. However, many years later I came to know the truth when I interviewed one-time Attorney-General James Karugu, now in his 80s and a coffee farmer in Kiambu.
“There was nothing like the Ngoroko assassination squad,” Mr Karugu told me. “It was all a tissue of lies to give Moi and Njonjo an excuse to get rid of those who they perceived could challenge their hold on power.”
As the Deputy Director of Prosecutions, Mr Karugu was the effective number two in the hierarchy to Attorney-General Njonjo.
Yet Mr Karugu first heard of the said “Ngoroko plot” when Mr Njonjo exposed it in Parliament. Suspicious that something wasn’t adding up, Mr Karugu, he told me, went to see the Director of Intelligence James Kanyotu.
“James, what is this big story everybody is hiding from me?” he reportedly demanded.
“Namesake,” Mr Kanyotu is said to have replied, “We don’t have a single sheet of paper, let alone a file, on the so-called Ngoroko. If you want any information on that, just ask your boss, Njonjo!”
Immediately Mr Njonjo dropped his bombshell, Rift Valley police boss James Ephantus Mungai, who had just been sent on compulsory leave, fled the country.
It was followed by a major purge where all security chiefs and senior civil servants on the wanted list were fired or sent on early retirement.
In the elections the following year (1979), all blacklisted politicians were labeled Ngoroko sympathizers and hounded out.
Once the clean-up was over, Mr Mungai returned home only for Mr Njonjo to announce the former police boss had been “forgiven”. Just like that!
In the next “plot”, the shoe was on the other foot. Mr Moi had comfortably settled into the presidency and felt Mr Njonjo, again in true Machiavellian style, had to be shown the door to stop him from boasting that he was the one who helped the Prince to take over.
Mr Sharad Rao — whose most recent high-profile role was as chairman of the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board — was at the time Deputy Public Prosecutor, and Mr Karugu was his boss as the Attorney-General when the heat was turned on Mr Njonjo.
Mr Rao would tell me the story years later. One early morning, he and Mr Karugu were summoned to State House.
While there, President Moi pulled out a thick manila file which he wanted them to go through and act on.
It was about a plot supposedly uncovered by the State Intelligence where Mr Njonjo’s first cousin, Mr Andrew Muthemba, was supposed to have made arrangements to secretly acquire assorted arms from the Kenya Air Force, with the aim of overthrowing President Moi’s government. Mr Njonjo was at the time the Constitutional Affairs minister and Kikuyu MP.
“I want you two to go through this file and secure first-class prosecution. This man and whoever is behind him must be punished”, the President ordered.
Back in the office, Mr Rao and Mr Karugu agreed that each separately studies the file and compares notes before reporting back to the President.
“Going through the file,” Mr Rao told me, “I could poke holes in the supposed evidence paragraph after paragraph. I clearly could see this wasn’t a legal matter but a political hatchet job. Surprisingly, my boss didn’t see it that way and ruled there was a case.”
Back at State House, according to Mr Rao, the President’s body language was clear the die had already been cast.
“As I argued my point, the President appeared bored and disinterested. However, when it came to Mr Karugu’s turn, his face suddenly lit up as he sat upright, enthusiastically nodding at every word said by my boss. Eventually, it was ruled the case must be prosecuted.”
The case easily passed through the preliminary hearing in the lower court and proceeded to the High Court where the trial judge was Chief Justice Alfred Simpson.
After nine days of witness testimonies, submissions and a report by the assessors, Justice Simpson returned a verdict of not guilty. Said the judge: “The prosecution has failed to institute adequate investigations, and I think, with due respect, the case was ill-advised. It is a transparent attempt by the police Special Branch to implicate the Minister (Mr Njonjo).
Postscript: Many years later, I was having a drink at a mabati pub next to Mobil Petrol Station on Lang’ata Road when I got into a conversation with a friendly old man.
As the night wore on and we gained confidence in each other, the man introduced himself as retired Senior Superintendent of Police Moses Mimano, the Intelligence Officer and lead state witness in the Muthemba treason trial.
He told me that during the investigations, Muthemba was locked up at the Security Intelligence head office at Kingsway House on Muindi Mbingu street where he was accorded all the comfort he needed, including a packet of his favorite brand of cigarettes every morning.
And why did the case flop? After a big sip from his glass, the retired Intelligence officer said: “The case had been made up elsewhere. I was only called in to fill in the gaps and did as instructed.” End of story.
Next week: Two other famous instances of Moi-era “plots” and how Njonjo was finally fixed
[SIZE=7]James Karugu, Kenya’s second Attorney-General, dies at 86[/SIZE]
Thursday, November 10, 2022
James Boro Karugu, Kenya’s second Attorney-General, is dead.
According to his family, Mr Karugu, 86, described as Kenya’s most independent AG, died last night.
“It is true that the old man has rested,” his daughter Vicky Karugu told the Nation.
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Mr Karugu has been out of the limelight for the last 40 years – ever since he resigned on June 2, 1981 during the tumultuous years of the Nyayo era.
Mr Karugu had replaced Charles Njonjo, who had quit to join politics. But 15 months later, Mr Karugu surprised the nation after he quit, for unexplained reasons, and retreated back to his Kiamara coffee farm in the outskirts of Kiambu town.
After his appointment as AG, his main worry was that corruption was creeping into the judiciary. As .he left office, he picked a mantra that informed his life outside the government: “I don’t have to be corrupt and I can earn money by farming.”
On the morning he resigned, he took his wife and children to the farm in Kiambu to make what he called an honest living.
“I am lucky my children grew up knowing the joy of hard work,” he said.