On Sunday 2nd march of 1975 (46 years ago today) the then firebrand legislator for nyandarua North popularly known as J.M kariuki was reported missing.
Ten days later his body would be found at the Nairobi city mortuary
JM Kariuki, joined the Mau Mau as a young man, and when independent Kenya became a reality, he got into government. His life was reported to have been shrouded in controversy from when he was young and until his death. While they initially were good friends with Jomo Kenyatta, the two were to fall out eventually after JM questioned the elite chokehold on resources in the form of unbridled annexation of land.
Kariuki’s cry to the ruling class in the 70s to limit the vast lands that they held at the expense of the poor endeared him to the local Kenyan, but it was also what turned him into an enemy with the ruling class.
Journalist & historian Martin Meredith,who covered JM murder for the Sunday Times in 1975,described him as “a playboy”, not a “particularly admirable character” but gifted with “an unerring popular touch”. His criticism of Kenyatta govt just made him earn some powerful enemies.
“We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Our people who died in the forests died with a handful of soil in their right hands, believing they had fallen in a noble struggle to regain our land but we are being carried away by selfishness and greed. Unless something is done now, the land question will be answered by bloodshed.”
These were the words that JM Kariuki uttered when he addressed his supporters in 1974 as quoted in Simiyu Wandiba’s 2001 book JM Kariuki.
Not long after, 700 acres of wheat on Kenyatta’s land in Rongai were set on fire and the cattle maliciously slaughtered. That was the beginning of the end for JM.
The attack on Mzee Kenyatta farm and cattles was attributed to JM Kariuki speech. Soon after the burning incident, rumours are said to have emerged about JM Kariuki recruiting youth and facilitating for them to be trained as guerilla fighters in Zambia. The source of the rumours also alleged that the group was talking about bombs.
Fast forward to 1975….. JM knew he was living on borrowed time,before his assassination while playing darts with Nakuru town MP Mark Mwithaga, Nakuru mayor Mburu Gichua stormed the hotel & told J.M that “you want to bring trouble to Nakuru, just be warned, your days are numbered, we are going to finish you. Earlier on while in Nairobi, the late G.G kariuki had whispered to J.M kariuki that a secret meeting had taken place in Nakuru and decision to eliminate him by all means was reached. The plan was first to stage a political and security scare then blame it on J.M kariuki.
And true to their words, When in February 1975 two bombs planted by the Special Branch exploded in Nairobi, Kariuki became the obvious suspect. The two bombs exploded by killed or injured no one.
According to the former special branch spy James Lando Khwatenge, J.M kariuki death was an accidental one. Even though his death was planned, his assassinators were not given a greenlight to go ahead with the elimination. A series of mixed fortune led to his death on 2nd march 1975.
JM started smelling death before he died. he planned to go to Mombasa by bus. Before he started the journey he was tipped that he was trailed & cancelled the journey. Minutes before the bus he was to board left Nairobi, it exploded killing 27 passengers. JM escaped death by a whisker.
The cloud of death hanging over the head of J.M kariuki never left even after escaping the Mombasa bound matatu attack that left over 27 Kenyans dead after a bomb was planted in the matatu. Less than 24 hours later, J.M was already dead. He cheated death only with hours.
Sunday 2nd March 1975 came, JM was told by his friend & GSU commandant the late Ben Gethi to go honour special branch interrogations at the Kingways house located at the university way road. When JM expressed his fears over the said meeting, Ben Gethi offered to take him as a friend. Earlier,JM pistol had been withdrawn by Nyandarua DC Joseph Thuo leaving JM unarmed despite death threats he had. JM told Gethi that he could not attend the special branch summons unarmed & his friend Ben Gethi offered his service pistol to JM. Together they went to Kingsway house.
At Kingways, JM met his interrogators (remember at this juncture only Ben Gethi knows JM is armed with a pistol) Ben Gethi sat next to the door just behind his friend JM. It was in this house that the unplanned assassination of JM took place throwing a cloud of confusion in the room. In his last minutes on earth. During the interrogation, JM had an argument with Wanyoike Thuku (president jomo Kenyatta body guard). Wanyoike slapped JM and out of anger he drew the pistol from his pocket & aimed it at Wanyoike. What followed later would determine the fate of JM.
When he drew the pistol and aimed it at the President’s guy (Wanyoike), Ben Gethi knew letting JM take a shot would bring his downfall for giving JM a gun that killed the President’s guy. So he hurriedly shot JM hand saving the life of Wanyoike Thuku and saving his career too. Ben Gethi knew all was to land on him if JM had killed Wanyoike using the GSU commandant pistol.
The president would not have taken it lightly bearing in mind Wanyoike was his errand boy who had received special training in Czechoslovakia on the President’s request. With a shot (shot in the arm at this point, still alive) JM Kariuki, the special branch officers and Ben Gethi the GSU commandant knew JM Kariuki could not keep quiet over the incident. They knew a JM with a plastered hand was bound to speak to media and blow the whole thing.
It was at this point that the unplanned assassination of JM took place, there was no going back and JM was now better dead than alive. No amount of warning could make JM go silent on the incident and so death was the only available silencer to the man who they could not trust now. Remember JM was not poised to die on 2nd march. After he was shot in the arm by Ben Gethi, the same Gethi according to former special branch spy James khwatenge, fired the second shot minutes later killing JM Kariuki but that is after they all agreed JM was better dead than alive.
With lifeless body of JM lying at Kingways house that afternoon, his killers didn’t know what to do next. The place and time of death was totally unplanned. They didn’t know what to tell Jomo Kenyatta and where to take JM’s lifeless body. A plan had to be hatched quickly.
Earlier before JM was killed, the govt had given an order that all pickups carrying meat around Kenya should have a white strip with “MEAT” word on the pickups body. So the killers went & took a “meat” pickup around Jeevanjee gardens & threw the dead JM inside. Ready for transport. His lifeless body was secretly transported using the MEAT van to Ngong forest where he was dumped with hope his body won’t be traced and he would “disappear” like Kungu Karumba did. The killers hoped wild animals would eat the body of the dead JM but surprisingly the animals refused to eat the body of the assistant minister for tourism and WILDLIFE. In short, the wild animals couldn’t touch the body of their “boss”. Amazing, right?
Street protests staged by the University of Nairobi students rocked the whole city as they sought answers on who killed JM Kariuki. Remember the same Ben Gethi who killed JM sent GSU to quell rioters. The university demonstrations were led by the likes of former chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga and James Agrrey Bob Orengo.
Surprisingly, the man who shot JM Kariuki twice killing him & organising his transport to Ngong forest for dumping would later rise the police force ranks and become the new police commissioner. Ben Gethi succeeded Bernard Hinga. Was his promotion a reward? We will know one day.
Some of the people who were highly mentioned as planners and executors of JM Kariuki were.
1. Ben Gethi- GSU commandant
2. Mbiyu Koinange- minister of state in office of the president
3. Silas Mburu Gichua- Nakuru town mayor
4. Stanley Thuo- district commissioner Nyandarua.