Govt reaction was very harsh - Daily Nation

Govt reaction was very harsh

Sunday March 12 2000


The government crackdown on perceived members of the underground Mwakenya movement reached its peak in early 1986.

There was a countrywide hunt for the people, mostly university lecturers and students; and professionals.

And if the movement was for real, perhaps the distribution of the organisation's publications Mpatanishi and Pambana gave government the justification to crackdown, prosecute and put behind bars, those it perceived as radicals opposed to the regime.

Suspects were rounded up after being accused of various clandestine activities ranging from being members of Mwakenya to publishing and possessing the "illegal'' Mpatanishi and Pambana.

The publications' distribution, which had also reached its peak in 1982, drew angry reactions from the government, the ruling party Kanu (the only legal political party at the time), trade unionists and professionals. Party leaders and trade unionists then strove to outdo each other in the condemnation of Mwakenya and the authors of the two publications. It did not matter whether they had seen or read the pamphlets. Effigies of the alleged authors were burned in some parts of the country.

The crackdown saw a cross-section of Kenyans including primary and secondary school teachers, factory workers, university lecturers, civil servants, messengers and professionals in the private sector arrested, hurriedly prosecuted and jailed but not before undergoing torture in the then notorious chambers in the basement of Nyayo House in Nairobi.

Chief Justice Bernard Chunga, then the Deputy Public Prosecutor, became a household name. He prosecuted almost all the Mwakenya-related cases in different courts countrywide. He would tell the presiding magistrates how the accused belonged to an illegal movement ''which had devised several strategies and programmes with the purpose of overthrowing the popularly-elected Kenya government as by the law established.''

In most cases the suspects were taken to courts during odd hours, charged and jailed, all in a day, and without an opportunity to seek legal representation. Jail terms ranged from 15 months to more than 12 years.

Some suspects would be charged with "seditious intents, attending meetings, the purposes of which were to raise funds for an intended congress called Mwakenya and being in possession of a draft programme of Mpatanishi a publication of a movement and circulation aimed at inciting and discrediting the government. ''

The then Nairobi Chief Magistrate H.H. Buch, who heard almost all the cases, would sentence suspects but not before telling them that they were not handicapped by ignorance or any other factor in agreeing to be both members of the group and being in possession of the publications.

Those jailed in connection with Mwakenya and the publication of Pambana and Mpatanishi and now serving various organisations included Mr Opiata, Oduor Ong'wen (chairman of the NGO Council); Lumumba Odenda (project officer at the Kenya Human Rights Commission); Kitur arap Tirop (secretary general, Release Political Prisoners pressure group); Njoroge Wanguthi also of RPP; Kiongo Maina and Prof Katama Mkangi (both lecturers at the Unites States International University); Onyango Oloo, (now in self-exile in Canada); Mwandawiro Mghanga (immediate former Safina secretary general); Gacheche wa Miano (a Karatina lawyer), and Kang'ethe Mungai (co-ordinator of People Against Torture) and a Nairobi lawyer Thiong'o Ng'ang'a. Nyeri Town MP Wanyiri Kihoro and his Gatanga counterpart David Murathe were also victims.

Others included Sunday Nation humour columnists Wahome Mutahi and his journalist brother Njuguna Mutahi; Nation Mombasa Bureau chief Njuguna Mutonya (then an information officer with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting); Standard journalist Mugo Theuri (now working with The People Daily).

Kanu, which was the only legal political party and the target of clandestine movements, was scared to the bone by the emergence of Mwakenya and the distribution of the organisation's publications Pambana and Mpatanishi.

At the height of the distribution of the publications in early 1986, a Kanu Governing Council meeting under the chairmanship of President Moi came out strongly like a wounded tiger, condemning all those behind the "subversive'' movement.

The April meeting instructed branches countrywide to be vigilant in detecting the "dissidents.''

The party's top policy-making organ accused the movement of aiming at "retarding development in the country'' and gave the government "fullest '' support in dealing with the menace.

The then Minister of State in the President's Office late Justus ole Tipis had earlier told Parliament police had arrested the brains behind Mwakenya.

He said the government would take stern, necessary and appropriate action against those bent on subverting the "good government.''

The Minister claimed the people behind Mwakenya were "well-known.'' The government, he added, would not sit back and watch "one or two misguided persons go distributing all sorts of seditious publications aimed at tarnishing the image of this great nation.''

Mr Tipis, who was in charge of internal security, had been asked to clear the air regarding Mwakenya's existence. It was not clear to most MPs and Kenyans whether the organisation existed. Many were of the opinion that Mwakenya and the December Twelve Movement (DTM) were just a creation of the government to justify the crackdown, prosecution and jailing of perceived government critics.

Mr Tipis told Parliament the government was committed to the protection of lives and people's property, adding security was the government's first priority. He assured Kenyans the government would not allow anybody to interfere with their peace by distributing any kind of propaganda or seditious materials.

"It is the government's duty and priority number one to protect the lives and property of its people,'' Mr Tipis told the House. He also assured the nation that everything was under control. The days of oath-taking, he added, were long gone.

The Minister's statement and Kanu's resolution were followed by an intensive hunt for Mwakenya members. Many, including university students, lecturers, business people, civil servants and professionals in the private sector, were rounded up and jailed for either being Mwakenya members, possessing Pambana and Mpatanishi or failing to stop their publication. Most all the Mwakenya-related cases were prosecuted by the Deputy Public Prosecutor now the Chief Justice, Mr Bernard Chunga. Mr Chunga would tell the presiding magistrate that the accused belonged to an illegal movement which had devised several strategies and programmes with the purpose of overthrowing the "popular Kenya government as by the law established.''

In the same month of April, President Moi warned Kenyans against a "self-styled clandestine'' group whose brains, he said, were the intellectuals serving their foreign masters with the aim of plunging the country into turmoil.

The group, President Moi said, was composed of bearded, educated people who were out to disrupt peace and stability in the country. He appealed to Kenyans to expose them.

"No ordinary Kenyan is a member of Mwakenya,'' he said and cautioned Kenyans to be "careful with these bearded people because they are merely serving their foreign masters. When you see bearded people, you know they lack something,'' he said.

The President said those behind Mwakenya had passports and would flee the country after engulfing it into chaos. An ordinary Kenyan, he added, would only flee to the neighbouring countries.

"These people have easy access and can flee to Europe, America and other foreign countries but where can an ordinary Kenyan go as he has no passport to unable him escape?'' he posed, adding that those who were lucky to be educated were expected to be at the forefront teaching the youth and instilling a sense of nationalism but "instead they are engaging in heinous activities.''

Kanu secretary general Joseph Kamotho described the authors of Pambana and Mpatanishi as "unpatriotic, self-styled and dissatisfied minorities'' who were "misadvised and misguided'' aiming at creating turmoil.

Former Nakuru Kanu chairman late Kariuki Chotora said Mwakenya members were practising "vain politics.'' He likened the members to "mentally deranged persons'' adding, the movement was too "crushed'' according to Kanu rules.

And Chotara's prophecy came to pass as the country's security system: the police including the anti-stock theft unit, intelligence service (Special Branch) and CID went full throttle and crushed the movement in mid-1986, even before it had gone far or done much.