The shocking news of Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo’s sudden death last weekend hit Kenya like a thunderbolt. It conjured up bad memories – very bad memories. Kenya’s history of high voltage political assassinations – none of which has ever been solved – seized every thinking mind.
Had Mr Kilonzo been eliminated, or rubbed out, to use Mafioso lingo? Who would want him dead, or out of the way?
It’s entirely possible that Mr Kilonzo died of natural causes – such as a heart attack, or a blood clot, caused by deep vein thrombosis.
But foul play can also induce a “heart attack” or a “blood clot”. Which begs the question – will we ever know who, or what, killed Mr Kilonzo? Let’s think together.
Let me take you down memory lane first so that you can truly appreciate the quandary we are in.
There have been many high profile political killings in Kenya, but a few poignantly define this grisly phenomenon.
Independent Kenya’s first political martyr was leftist freedom fighter Pio Gama Pinto who was shot at close range in his Nairobi driveway in February 1965.
Political rock star Tom Mboya and heir-apparent to Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was gunned down in Nairobi in July 1969. The bullet-riddled body of former Mau Mau detainee and Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki – the “people’s millionaire” – was found by a Maasai herdsman at Ngong Hills in March 1975. Foreign minister Robert Ouko was murdered in 1991.
I choose these four not because the other assassinations aren’t important. Every political killing cuts out a part of the country’s soul, and deeply corrupts Kenya’s heart. But what unites these martyrs isn’t their race, or ethnicity, but their opposition to a corrupt status quo, or an aspiration to be Kenya’s chief executive.
It’s either their political ambition, or ideology, that’s been their undoing. But one more thing unites them – the Kenyan state has never fully investigated and held accountable their killers. In several cases, “little people” were framed as the fall guys. No political mugumo [fig] tree has ever been felled by the killings. No one in the inner sanctum of power took the rap for the assassinations.
The question is; why. Methinks I know. Kenya has a narrow ruling elite that’s so interconnected and incestuous that exposing one “big fish” could reveal the rot of most of them.
That’s why successive governments haven’t looked too deeply into the skeletons of their predecessors. The rot among elite politicians in Kenya is like a sewer that touches virtually the whole kit and caboodle. My 2003 truth commission task force report was killed by the Kibaki regime because it was a “hot potato”. I was told implementing it would “reopen old wounds”. That’s political talk for “let impunity reign.” I truly believe that Kenyan leaders run “protection rackets” for each other. Touching one would cause a “domino effect”.
This doesn’t mean that Kenyan leaders don’t turn against each other – they do. They engage in “periodic purges” of their “prodigal sons.”
They aren’t shy to eliminate one of their own if he threatens the fundamental interests of the “top dog” or the faction of the elite in power.
In 2008, the political factions fought each other so ferociously that they almost sent Kenya to hell.
But TNA leader Uhuru Kenyatta and URP boss William Ruto – made “peace” and captured the State this year.
That’s why the victims of post-election violence can forget any talk of justice. This is classic Kenyan politics – bury and damn the truth so the elite can co-exist in power.
Which brings me to Senator Kilonzo’s death. There’s speculation that he may have been poisoned. I hope the family will rely on the independent expert to determine the cause of death, and not on the government chemist.
Cover-ups can also take place at times. Mr Kilonzo rubbed many powerful people the wrong way.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. Mr Kilonzo was, for most of his life, a political and regime insider. He was former President Daniel arap Moi’s long-time lawyer. But he had been transformed during his last days on earth.
No sooner had he become minister for Justice in 2009 than he started opposing the status quo.
My view is that he got on the road to redemption and “headed to Damascus”. Minister Kilonzo became a vocal opponent of The Hague indictees Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto.
He urged they step down, and argued that they were unfit to run for the State House. He vigorously opposed then VP Kalonzo Musyoka’s “shuttle diplomacy” to defer The Hague cases against Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, or bring them back to be tried locally in Kenya. He strongly advocated Kenya’s full co-operation with the International Criminal Court.
In March 2012, President Kibaki kicked Mr Kilonzo out of the ministry of Justice and moved him to Education.
Mr Kilonzo was one of the movers that yoked Mr Musyoka’s Wiper party with then Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM.
He was part of the legal team that challenged Mr Kenyatta’s election before the Supreme Court.
His daughter, the eloquent and erudite lawyer Kethi Kilonzo, led Africog’s legal team against the IEBC at the Supreme Court.
Was someone blinded by rage at Mr Kilonzo’s political positions? Who was threatened by him? Did he have any damning ICC information?
Time eventually reveals all secrets.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua