Two events in the past week brought about my meeting with an old contact who is a retired senior security intelligence officer.
The first is that in this column last Sunday I revisited the goof by two leading Kenyan newspapers where they reported the “discovery” and return “home” of a lost Mau Mau general Stanley Mathenge, who turned out to be an Ethiopian farmer.
The second event was last Monday when it emerged that three Cabinet ministers had been summoned to record statements with investigators in connection with some letter about a plot to assassinate Deputy President William Ruto.
Come Monday evening, my old contact telephoned and, after a little how-have-you-been chat, he told me why he’d called. He asked me whether I remembered the story about an alleged plot to assassinate retired President Daniel arap Moi when he was vice president. I said I did.
“And do you know the connection between the fake General Mathenge story you wrote about on Sunday and the said plot to kill Moi?” he asked.
When I hesitated to answer, he gave a hint in a question: “Who originated the story on the fake General Mathenge?”
“Journalist Joseph Karimi”, I answered. “And where did you first read about the plot to assassinate Moi?”
“In a book co-authored by journalist Joseph Karimi (with Philip Ochieng),” I told him. “There you are,” replied my source. “Now come to see me tomorrow so I tell you the story.”
At the agreed venue the following day, I found my old contact waiting with an old copy of the book, the Kenyatta Succession, which he’d heavily underlined in red. He began by telling me that though not said in the book, there was clear separation of roles. Mr Karimi provided the material while Mr Ochieng’ compiled the same into a book and did something else he does best — he “put English” in it.
That much I knew having heard it before from Mr Ochieng’ who once was my boss. “Do you know where Joseph Karimi got his information from?” asked my contact. “No, I don’t”, I said with eagerness of a news ferret.
“The bulk of the material on the Change-the-Constitution movement, Gema, and botched Kanu elections was from the library as it was largely reports on public meetings covered by the newspapers,” he said as he opened specific sections of the book.
Then he put his fingers on the chapters dealing with an assassination plot on Moi by a killer squad formed in Nakuru.
This is a summary of the assassination plot as told in the book. A special police unit had been formed in Nakuru under the command of the Rift Valley provincial police boss James Mungai.
The book says the special squad was disguised as one to combat cattle rustling prevalent in the North Rift region and executed by armed bandits locally known as the Ngoroko.
However, says the book, the special unit was an assassination squad to kill Vice President Moi and over a dozen other top government officials — including Cabinet ministers and security chiefs — in the event of President Jomo Kenyatta’s death, effectively stopping the VP from becoming the next president of Kenya.
According to the book, the plot was to keep Mzee Kenyatta’s death secret until the arrival of the special squad which would pump bullets into his body to give the impression there had been a coup and the president killed by the plotters. Vice President Moi and the targeted individuals would then be summoned to State House, shot dead in cold blood and their bodies put in a tank filled with a corrosive acid to disguise the cause of death.
The news would then be put out that it is Moi and his co-conspirators who had gone to State House and killed the President with intention to install the vice president as Head of State, but loyal forces had intervened and killed him and his collaborators!
On requesting me to loudly read specific paragraphs with that information, which he had marked out in red, my old contact asked: “Do you know where Joseph Karimi got that rubbish from?’
“I have no idea”, I said.
“He got it from his first cousin Ignatius Nderi who was the Director of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).”
My contact proceeded to give me background and perspective to the Moi assassination story.
Mr Nderi was a key hatchet man of former influential Attorney General Charles Njonjo, who in turn was the lead schemer in the strategy to have the VP succeed President Kenyatta.
On Mzee Kenyatta’s death and Moi’s installation as the second president, Njonjo had two immediate tasks.
First, settle scores with those in key government positions who would have been opposed to a Moi presidency. Second, win sympathy, hence wide support for the new man at State House.
It happened that the Rift Valley provincial police boss, James Mungai, was one of the people who had no time for the vice president and openly treated him with utter contempt.
With Moi in power, he urgently had to be brought down to his knees to acknowledge who the boss was.
There was another unfinished job as far as Mungai was concerned, my source explained.
Just before President Kenyatta’s death, the Cabinet had approved formation of a special police anti-stock theft unit.
Mungai, as the police commander in the province worst hit by cattle rustling, had been tasked to supervise formation of the squad which was to be based in Nakuru.
GUARD OF HONOUR
The unit was formed and commissioned by the President at a function covered by the media, where the Head of State inspected a guard of honour, watched parachute landings, and opened a senior officers’ mess.
With President Kenyatta no more, and as one of the ways to cut Mungai down to size, it was decided that the anti-stock theft unit formed under his supervision, hence perceived to be personally loyal to him, be disbanded and reconstituted afresh as the Kenya Police Anti-Stock Theft Unit (ASTU) based at Gilgil.
In the process, my contact told me, Njonjo saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
He came up with the spin that the anti-stock theft unit formed under the supervision of Mungai was a secret assassination squad, after all.
“So it wasn’t?” I asked my old source. “It was all nonsense imagined by Njonjo. One, to win sympathy for Moi, but more importantly to have an excuse to purge the security system of characters unwanted by the new regime.
“So there was never a plan to kill Moi to stop him from taking over from President Kenyatta?” I pursued.
My old source laughed and said: “I was a senior officer at Carpet Corner (informal name of then police Special Branch head office on Nairobi’s Muindi Mbingu Street) and should know better”.
Then he paused and asked: “What kind of intelligence squad could we have been to allow an individual to form a private militia and have the Head of State commission it, unless you are saying the president was part of the conspiracy — which would be ridiculous because if it is Moi the president didn’t want he simply would have fired him!” My old contact concluded by asking whether I had read the book: Dogs of War, and said: “Whoever dreamt of the story of pumping bullets into a dead body at State House and dipping corpses in a tank of sulphuric acid must have been a great admirer of mercenaries Bob Denard and ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, only that he forgot Kenya isn’t a banana republic.”
I have previously written in this column what former Attorney General James Karugu, now a coffee farmer in Kiambu, told me in regard to the so called assassination plot on Vice President Moi.
When Attorney General Njonjo dropped the “assassination” bombshell in Parliament Mr Karugu, who was his deputy at the AG’s chambers, went to him and requested for a file on the matter to study just in case of prosecution.
Karugu told me that his boss gave a knowing smile and asked him to consult the Director of Security Intelligence James Kanyotu.
When he did so, Kanyotu with whom they fondly referred to each other as “namesake” said: “Namesake, if it’s information on the assassination plot that you want, I am afraid we have no file on that. If it exists, it is your boss (Njonjo) who has it!”
I have also quoted in this column before, memoirs of the Nairobi correspondent for the New York Times and the Observer, Alastair Matheson, where he writes about the alleged assassination plot.
He says he smelt a rat when the alleged mastermind of the killer squad, Mungai, “voluntarily” returned to Kenya after fleeing the county for fear of arrest only for Njonjo to say the file on the matter had been closed and there would be no prosecution.
The journalist who was well known to Njonjo and always got appointments on request, called Njonjo’s office to be told the later was unwell.
When he insisted that he’d watched the AG on television the previous night and he looked “very fit”, the secretary changed the story to say her boss “was too busy to pick the phone”.
He remained “busy” for as many months until the journalist lost interest in the story.
Smoke and mirrors: Just a thought: Would more than 40 top government officials, four of them Cabinet ministers whose faces are known, meet in a popular public joint to plot to kill of all people a deputy president?
Even in fiction, conspirators are always faceless, meet in the heart of darkness, in the middle of nowhere. Again, killers don’t meet. They kill.