Rubia now claims Sh40bn for illegal detention and torture

Saturday July 20 2019

Two of the fathers of opposition politics in Kenya, Mr Kenneth Matiba (left) and Mr Charles Rubia. Photo/FILE


Former political detainee Charles Rubia has made a compensation claim of Sh40 billion against the state for illegal detention and torture, the largest such demand in Kenya’s history.

Fresh court filings made this week at the High Court in Nairobi include lengthy submissions totalling about 200 pages that reveal harrowing details of what the multiparty crusader went through in the late 80s and 90s.


“Our intention is to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that Mr Rubia is compensated for the illegal treatment and torture he underwent and from which he has never recovered,” Mr Irungu Kang’ata, the lawyer for Mr Rubia, told the Sunday Nation.

Mr Kang’ata, who is also the Murang’a Senator, says the amounts demanded are not high as no monetary value can compensate Mr Rubia for what he underwent.

The former political detainee is seeking Sh5 billion as compensation for general damages, Sh5 billion for exemplary damages and moral damages, Sh20 billion as compensation for all medical and related costs and Sh10 billion for any other relief.


Further, he wants Sh40,674,544 for special damages and Sh150 million for loss of businesses, calculated with interest as from May 1991 to date of payment.

In total, the former political prisoner is asking for Sh40,190,674,544 plus interest at 12 per cent per annum compounded from the date of harm and costs of suit.

Mr Rubia, the first African mayor of Nairobi and long-serving MP and minister who agitated for a return to multiparty democracy, was among the few Kenyans to be detained twice during the Moi era.

The submissions, which are being made seven years after Mr Rubia went to court seeking compensation in a case that has undergone several delays, further reveal how the journey to find justice in Kenyan courts is long and painfully slow.

In the submissions, the 95-year-old gives a harrowing account of his own experience of torture, his reactions of resentment, anger, and bitterness, his loss of political and business opportunities and his search for some way to maintain moral character and be “human” again after detention.

The detention, he claims, broke down his wife, who never got to recover and eventually died. His well-educated children were denied employment opportunities whereas he was removed from directorships of various parastatals and companies warned not to do business with him.


He emphasises what he went through by quoting Jean Amery, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, one of the most brutal of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

“Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured … anyone who has suffered torture never again will be able to be at ease in the world; the abomination of annihilation is never extinguished. Faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture, is never acquired again,” he quotes the Auschwitz concentration camp survivor who committed suicide later in life after failure to reconcile with normal life after detention.

In February 1987, Mr Rubia was arrested and accused of financing the Mwakenya Movement and working in cahoots with church leaders to import guns for purposes of overthrowing the government.

Subsequently, he was detained at Nyayo House in Nairobi for about five days, and was thereafter released without being arraigned or charges being preferred against him.

In the upcoming election of 1988, the State machinery worked hard to ensure that he was rigged out in an election in which the returning officer announced two different sets of results.

On March 3, 1990, Mr Rubia and former Cabinet minister Stanley Matiba called a historic press conference at Chester House, Nairobi, and urged the government to embrace multiparty politics and consequently called for a peacefully rally in Kamukunji on July 7, 1990.

Just before the rally, he was arrested on July 4 in the company of Mr Matiba and detained for nine months.

During his detention, he says in court documents, he was blindfolded and driven in circles, denied the services of a lawyer and kept for long in dark underground cells in solitary confinement.

He was also stripped half-naked and made to lie on a cold floor, kept in dark and very cold cells, denied good nutrition and food and water for many days, denied good medical treatment and subjected to poor and unhygienic sanitary conditions.


Mr Rubia was released from detention two weeks after doctors from Nairobi Hospital informed Kenya Prisons authorities that he required urgent medical attention.

“Thereafter, he underwent vigorous and prolonged treatment in Kenya and London. Despite this, the petitioner was left with severe disabilities in his speech among others … To date, the petitioner continues to receive treatment and shall continue to do so for the rest of his life,” the court documents state.

Mr Kang’ata argues that Mr Rubia deserves a significant compensation as compared to Mr Matiba, owing to his business interests and seniority in politics at the time of arrest.

He argues that Mr Rubia served more years as MP than Mr Matiba.

Mr Rubia, who was MP for Starehe constituency, was a parliamentarian from 1969 to 1988, a record 19 years stretching through four consecutive terms, while Mr Matiba served for nine years as the MP for Kiharu constituency.

During the period as an MP, he also served as an assistant minister in Kenyatta’s government between 1969 and 1978 and Cabinet minister as from 1979 to 1988, including in the powerful position of minister for Local Government.

Unlike Mr Matiba, Mr Rubia’s political career ended after he was detained in 1992. During the detention, the torture he underwent saw him develop a throat problem, making him unable to go back to political campaigns after he was released nine months later.

Mr Matiba went on to be re-elected as MP for Kiharu.


Mr Rubia was also much richer than most, if not all, of the Moi-era political detainees, having been known as a businessman with a multibillion-shilling empire which crumbled like a house of cards after his detention.

His vast empire and reach in the corporate world included having shares and serving in several boards among them the Provincial Insurance Ltd (now the multibillion-shilling UAP Insurance Ltd), ICDC Investment Company Ltd, Cooperative Bank of Kenya Ltd, Kenya Mystery Tours Limited, Rubia Enterprises Africa Limited, Eveready Ltd, Unga Ltd and Rweru General Agencies.

He also had considerable interests in Universal Garments Ltd, Ceramics Industries Ltd, East Africa Industries, East African Packaging Industries, International Computers Ltd, Inter Products Ltd (now the multibillion Haco Industries Ltd), Sera Coating Ltd and Francis Thuo Stockbrokers, the first African owned stock brokerage firm that collapsed after his detention.

“He lost all the above businesses and political clout when he commenced his pro-democracy crusade in 1987 due to oppressive and illegal actions of the government. Most of the above mentioned companies have now grown to be multibillion-shilling concerns and Rubia’s empire would have grown were it not for the detentions,” the submissions read.

Mr Rubia filed his case on January 15 2012, two years after the promulgation of the new Constitution.


Born to a well-off family in Murang’a County in 1923, he attended various schools among them the prestigious Alliance High School, the Posts and Telecommunications Training School in Tanzania and received a British Council grant to study the British system of local government in the United Kingdom in 1959.

A year before Kenya attained independence in 1962, he became the first African mayor of Nairobi.

“As the first African mayor of Nairobi, he was instrumental in Africanisation programmes which transformed Nairobi and made it a success story. He was one of the highest ranking diplomats who hosted ambassadors as they presented their credentials to the then President of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta,” an excerpt from a petition to honour him, presented to the Murang’a County Assembly in June 2016, reads.