But the murders of these three – Mboya, Kariuki, and Ouko – continue to weigh on the nation’s conscience
On April 6 early in the morning, I watched CNN’s Piers Morgan interview Mr Clint Hill. Mr Hill features prominently in that infamous film clip of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
It was Mr Hill who jumped onto JFK’s limousine when the shots rang out. He is seen rushing to meet a stunned Jackie Kennedy.
Mr Hill’s mission was simple: Get to the President and First Lady, force them on the floor and lie on them to protect them. He was a shot too late.
Fresh from watching that poignant clip, I was horrified to see Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo on TV apparently exposing a plot to kill Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
To me, there are three kinds of people who would want to kill the PM or any of his political adversaries.
They are the idiotic, the sadistic and the reckless or all these rolled into one madman. There is one thing about an assassination; it is clinical and final, stupefying and traumatising.
The target is here one minute and gone forever the next. But it does not — cannot — end there.
The aim of an assassination is to put an opponent out of the equation, once and for all, and in an instant.
But assassinations have visited on Kenya its most perilous and insecure, its most deeply polarising and terribly destabilising moments in its almost 49 years of post-independence history.
The 1969 assassination of brilliant and flamboyant Thomas Joseph Mboya – TJ – was followed by mass oathing among the Gema communities.
The gospel of ethnic hate was preached with abandon. The siege mentality that followed the murder of Mboya was on display the other day in Limuru.
Populist and rich with a private jet to boot, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki — JM — was the only Kikuyu welcomed in Rusinga for the burial of Mboya as ethnic tensions reached breaking point.
The 1975 murder of popular JM rallied Kenyans, like never before, against the Kikuyu power elite.
During that trip to Washington, I met with Dr Ouko to discuss the government’s “shoot-to-kill” policy.
Upon his return to Kenya, his badly charred body was found by a herdsman at the foot of Got Alila Hill near his Koru farm.
There have, of course, been many other serious political murders.
But these are the most prominent. The key is that none – not a single one – has ever been solved. Some of the killers are probably still alive.
But the murders of these three – Mboya, Kariuki, and Ouko – continue to weigh on the nation’s conscience.
We will never truly confront the past until and unless we uncover – and hold accountable – their murderers.
For now, one might be tempted to conclude that political murder pays in Kenya.
The lesson is this – nothing happens to you when you kill your political opponents.
What’s instructive is that political killings have been associated with power struggles and political succession at State House.
Which brings me to the allegedly nefarious plot to eliminate Prime Minister Odinga. We are looking at perhaps the most pivotal struggle for political power in Kenya’s history.
Two of the leading presidential contenders – Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto – are desperately trying to escape the vice-like claws of the International Criminal Court.
I am almost certain they will be eliminated from the presidential contest because of the charges of crimes against humanity at the ICC.
This would leave the field to a formidable Mr Odinga, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, the intriguing Gichugu MP Martha Karua, the dour Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, ODM Local Government minister Musalia Mudavadi, and Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth.
Even with Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto in the race, the smart money would have to be on Mr Odinga. But Mr Odinga easily jogs to State House without breaking a sweat if the two are knocked out.
If – and this is very plausible – Mr Odinga is the odds-on favourite to win it all, it stands to reason that someone may want to do him harm.
This is the only logic that would give Mr Midiwo’s otherwise outlandish claim legs.
Mboya could have been president, JM too. But Kanu loyalist and camp follower Robert Ouko showed no such ambition even as he fiercely defended Nairobi’s horrid human rights record abroad.
Investigations of his 1990 murder remain Kenya’s most expensive forensic wild goose chase yet. His death still haunts the power men of the time.
Someone may have figured out that the only way to stop Mr Odinga is to physically get rid of him.
But an attempt on Mr Odinga’s life could awaken terrible demons. We can’t take the killing of another key leader of Luo extraction.
Pull the trigger
That’s why I believe – even if Mr Midiwo has smoked out a true plot – no one has the guts to pull the trigger. Simply put, no one will dare kill Mr Odinga. Everyone knows that such a cataclysmic act would send Kenya to hell in a hand basket.
The country is already sitting on an ethnic volcano because of the politicisation by the Ocampo Four of their cases.
Killing Mr Odinga is a sure match that would burn Kenya down.
No one wants that – unless they want to turn Kenya into another Somalia, or the DRC.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.