As Kenyans remember Tom Mboya’s assassination Saturday, Charles Mwangi from Embu recalls the incident that shook the country 44 years ago.
He was standing near a pharmacy shop when the flamboyant politician and freedom fighter was shot dead on July 5, 1969.
On that day, Mwangi and a friend, Mwaniki wa Nyaga, had been job hunting. Tired and hungry after their fruitless search, they ended up on Government Road (now Moi Avenue) where they started chatting about their predicament.
“As we were talking, two men stood about two steps from where I was with their backs facing each other. The one whose face I could see was wearing a tweed grey coat and was thin and tall.
His main focus was the pharmacy where customers were walking in and out regularly. The other man who was shorter wore an American khaki jacket with tight wrists and waist. He stood with his hands akimbo. I could only see part of his face,” Mwangi said when he revisited the scene recently.
As he and his friend were about to leave, the shorter man turned as if to walk away with his right hand covered by his jacket and facing the direction of the pharmacy.
Two gun shots rang just as Mwangi turned his head, only to see a dark-skinned man lying at the doorstep of the pharmacy being pulled inside.
The two men, who had been standing near him, left the scene, running in different directions.
Across the road, Mwangi saw a group of women traditional dancers who were also shaken by the gun shots.
Assuming it was robbers, he walked towards the pharmacy and saw a tall dark man assisting an Asian woman give first aid to the man lying on the floor.
The glass doors at the pharmacy had been closed as the crowd jammed the area. By this time, Mwangi was not aware who the victim of the shooting was.
Only when he peered closely did he notice that it was Thomas Joseph Mboya.
Word spread fast about the shooting.
Mwangi was shaken as police, some on horseback, tried to control the wailing crowd.
Across the road, the women dancers started crying and wailing uncontrollably.
Mwangi left the scene — sad and confused — and for a while forgot his joblessness as he mourned Mboya.
“I feel very sad when I remember every moment I went through from the time I stepped on the pavements of Channi’s Pharmacy with no idea what was about to happen. Worse still, to learn that the two men standing next to me would turn out to be killers of one of Kenya’s most loved personalities. I loved Mboya for the way he treated all classes of people without discrimination,” he said.
As he walked towards River Road that day, he met a plain clothes police officer called Kenneth, who was his friend, and told him what had happened.
What followed were a series of meetings and interrogations by detectives trying to find out how much Mwangi knew regarding Mboya’s assassination.
Luckily, he was not mistreated or implicated in any way. He was only 23 and now at 67, he can still recall vividly the tragic 1pm incident of July 5, 1969.