Inside the walls of the house that kept Kenya’s dark secrets
Posted Saturday, May 5 2012 at 20:49
When Nyayo House was completed in 1983, it was a sight to behold.
With the exception of Kenyatta International Conference Centre, it easily dominated Nairobi’s skyline from its location at the junction of Uhuru Highway and Kenyatta avenues.
But behind the facade of modernity lay dark secrets, some too awful to recount.
The building housed basement torture chambers where Kenyans deemed to be too radical or opposed to the Moi presidency were locked up and beaten senseless to confess to crimes they did not commit.
To many people, it was just another government building. Since it housed several government departments, it was an extremely busy place, and this created a few challenges.
For some reason some lifts never worked, and the waiting area was often in semi-darkness. This prompted a former Nation columnist to write that every time he visited the building he was always of being mugged as he waited for the lifts.
There was a particularly notorious lift that would skip the fifth floor, then jump up to the eighth where the doors would refuse to open.
It would then descend to the fifth floor where it would finally open. For first time visitors, it was a confusing routine. For veterans, it symbolised the perils of visiting Nyayo House.
At the time, visitors never understood why the Administration Police officers never allowed them to use the stairs, even when they were just going to the first floor.
As a result there was always a crowd of people literally fighting to get into the lifts. Sometimes the APs would drive people out of the compound until order returned.
Over time, Nyayo House evolved into a bastion of corruption. particularly at the Immigration department where it was impossible to get a passport with paying a bribe.
The corridors teamed with middlemen who solicited bribes for officers in-charge of issuing passports, driving licences, road licences, permission to open a bar and letter to join Form One for Nairobi Province students.
Matters were made worse by the civil servants who were not only unfriendly but also bullish. It was a place many visited with trepidation.
Unknown to many people who frequented Nyayo House, there was usually at least one Kenyan undergoing torture in the building’s underground chambers.
Their horrors are now coming into the open through court cases and hearings of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).
Although some former detainees have won cases for compensation for torture and unlawful confinement, most are yet to recover from the physical and psychological injuries.
“No amount of years or counselling can get me over the hurdle of what this building symbolises in my life,” lawyer Wanyiri Kihoro told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Kihoro, like most detainees, was locked up and tortured in the building before being sent to prison. He said most of the detainees were Kenyans the government considered to be dissidents in the 1980s.