Brutal deaths of Ouko, Kombe, Kiwanuka need to be explained

Saturday February 18 2023
Kenya's former minister for Foreign Affairs Robert Ouko (right)

Kenya's former minister for Foreign Affairs Robert Ouko (right) who was killed in 1990. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


In a leisurely perusal of Kenyan publication, the Daily Nation, I stumbled on an item that caught my attention with the title, THIS DAY IN HISTORY. It dealt with a subject I was familiar with, the 1990 death, in mysterious circumstances, of Kenya’s then foreign minister Robert Ouko.

His body was discovered by a schoolboy on his walkabout, and when the police arrived it was discovered that not only was the body badly burned but it had bullet holes.

A rumour was put out by someone (silly, obviously) suggesting the minister had committed suicide, in which case he would have shot himself and then set himself on fire, or lit the fire and then shot himself! Those who want to disinform have no boundaries.

When the death was announced it caused a sensation, but we were never been told what really happened to Ouko, a man many found smooth, debonair and charming in the extreme.

Trip to Washington

A fortnight prior to his death he had come back to Nairobi from a Washington, where he had accompanied his boss, President Daniel arap Moi, in talks with George Bush .


The newspaper article cited above shows him descending from the airplane behind Moi. There was thus no dearth of speculation that Ouko’s death had somehow been caused by that trip.

Needless to say, stories like that send shivers down people’s spines, and many questions are asked, though as a rule the whodunnits seldom get any definite answer.

From Kenya we got used to such stories from early on after independence: Pinto Gama, Tom Mboya, Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki, etc.

Conspiracy theories

What moves me this week is to ask whether there is any denouement around Ouko’s death — and the others — apart from the myriad conspiracy theories that swirled around that time and then disappeared into oblivion.

Lest Kenya be seen an exception in this, consider that Tanzania has had its share of bizarre deaths in high places, which have remained unexplained.

In 1996, Imran Kombe, the man who had been President Benjamin Mkapa’s spy chief was gunned down in broad daylight by policemen in a maize field not far from his village of birth in Kilimanjaro, reportedly mistaken for a notorious car thief by the nickname of Mr White.

It did not seem to matter that Kombe did not have the slightest resemblance to the said Mr White, whose nickname was due to his very light skin complexion.

Let alone that police should not shoot suspected car thieves in cold blood.

Sentenced to death

The police officers involved in the shooting were sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to only two years in prison, and eventually released on a presidential pardon, at the same time as the family of the dead spy chief was given monetary compensation. End of story.

What worries me here especially is that the high-profile murders such as Ouko’s and Kombe’s is that such acts shock us momentarily but, after a short while, we forget and go about our business “normally,” until another such incident rouses us from our slumber.

What exercises me is the realisation that our history does not teach us much and we would rather forget uncomfortable realities than exorcise them by affording them closure. We tend to think that we can tackle our future with any measure of confidence without worrying about what happened to us in our past, but that will never get us anywhere desirable.

Seeing as Kenya has taken great strides in governance evolution than her neighbours, I would have expected our Kenyan brothers and sisters to ask the questions needed about these prominent Kenyans who met their deaths in ways that cannot be explained.

Borrow a few leaves

I have raised the issue of a few Kenyans that I am acquainted with; I suspect there are many more I may not be aware of. As in many other issues, this would help others in the region to borrow a few leaves.

Uganda would be a treasure trove for anyone trying to dig up the graves of so many disappeared people, given the successive regimes of killers that have plagued that country. We know roughly well what happened under General Iddi Amin — still I would like to know the details of the fate of CJ Benedict Kiwanuka and Archbishop Janani Luwum — but what do we know about the other atrocities carried out by regimes other than Amin’s?

I do not hold myself to be a religious person, and there are ways in which religiosity offends intellect. But I believe that if people acted according to what their professed religions stood for, maybe this would become a much better world. Besides, our silence in the face of injustice angers our spirits, darkens our hearts and clouds our path into the future.

As postscript, all the three principal protagonists in the so-called Washington Fallout theory, on which speculations blamed the killing of Ouko — Moi, Nicolas Biwott and Ouko himself — are now in the presence of our African ancestors, where appropriate and final judgment will be delivered.

Our verdicts on earth will only be temporal, and temporary.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]