Who Murdered Dr. Robert Ouko?
“MAY the day of my birth perish; why did I not die at birth, and perish as I came from the womb?” Job 3: 1-11. Those are the very words that Dr. Robert John Ouko read when he gave a sermon in church the Sunday before he died. Certainly, he knew his end was very near. He was murdered 2 days later.
At 2:00 AM on 13 February 1990, the men who wanted Dr. Robert Ouko dead came for him at his Koru home. They grabbed him from his bedroom, abducted him, and raced him all the way to State House, Nakuru. There, they tortured him brutally; broke his legs; pounded his head against walls and pummeled his skull, then drove a bullet through his head at close range. Once they had murdered the Dr. in cold blood, they ferried his body using a police helicopter and dropped it at Got Alila hills, 6 kilometers from his Koru home. At Got Alila Hills, the body of Dr. Ouko lay for three days before it was ‘discovered’ on February 16. Not because the Government did not know its dead Minister for Foreign Affairs was lying there; villagers had reported the presence of the Minister’s body to Kericho District Commissioner, Peter Kipyegon Lagat, a nephew of Daniel Moi, on the afternoon of February 13.
Items Found At The Scene
Torch -March box -Jerry can -Revolver -Somali sword -Pistol holster -Brown leather jacket -Paper bag -Kitenge shirt -Pair of jean trousers
The decaying body, which was lying face up, had deep cuts and bruises, and a fire had consumed the entire stomach. The left leg was broken at the ankle and below the knee, and there was a bullet hole running through the head.
LOOKING at this scene, high-ranking Government officials present at the scene concluded that this was a suicide! Those present included Internal Security PS, Hezekiah Oyugi; Police Commissioner, Philip Kilonzo; Deputy Commissioner of Police Joseph Okoko; Nyanza Provincial Commissioner, Julius Kobia; and the Director of CID, Noah Arap Too. Also present were the Deputy Directors from the special branch and the national intelligence Service; DC Nakuru, Jonah Anguka; DC Kisumu, Godfrey Mate; the Provincial Security Intelligence Officer, the Provincial Criminal Investigation Officer; OCPD Kisumu; D.O Muhoroni, and OCS Koru, among other security and intelligence bosses.
The murder of Dr. Robert Ouko is possibly the lowest, the coldest, and the darkest moment in the 24 years reign of President Daniel Arap Moi. Of all things that taint Moi’s legacy, it is this tragic event those who judge legacies will cite as a reason to categorize Daniel Moi as a villainous ruler. Surely, even Moi knows this. That is why no effort was spared in erasing all the evidence that showed the blood trail led all the way from Koru to State House, Nakuru. As a result, the death of Dr. Ouko turned out to be the most costly in terms of human life lost, because after Ouko died, many more people, big and small were eliminated to cover up. All to protect a legacy that now lies in tatters. I am sure to this day, every day, in his private moments, Daniel Moi still regrets the mess he created with this death. Because Dr. Ouko was loyal, he was brilliant, and served the battered Government of Moi diligently. For all his alleged political giraffe-ly, Moi, failed to see how the murder of his foreign Minister would undo any hopes he had of a good legacy.
There is now a generation of younger Kenyans born from the late 1980s who do not know much about Daniel Arap Moi’s methods in power. Let us begin by saying a little about Daniel Moi. Every Sunday, the man is photographed clutching to a bible in church. According to his one-time mistress, Marriane Briner, there is one major drive in Moi’s life. The image Moi has tried to create about his morality and clean private life, which for the public is based on a strong religious foundation. Moi cares deeply for how the public views him. He wants to be seen as a good, old, god-fearing man who has done the best for his country. Stories abound of Moi’s generosity and simple life. That is what he would like the narrative to be.
The reality is quite different. Deep inside, he is a cold-hearted man. Case in point is how he treated his own wife Lena Moi. The coupled separated in 1974, but it is not until 1979, after Moi inherited the presidency that they divorced. From that point onward, Lena was sequestered inside her Kabimoi homestead under 24/7 police guard. When Lena received news that Moi, who she still regarded as her man, had been overthrown in a coup on 1st August 1982, she fell down on her knees for hours, in supplication, pleading with God to save her husband. She did not rise up from her prayer until she heard her husband had been reinstated as President. But for all those years that Moi was President, she was under quarantine, not allowed to venture outside her home without her Moi’s permission. Against her will, she was not allowed to attend her daughters’ weddings, which Moi himself attended. A story is told of how Moi sent a nominated M.P to pick her during the wedding of their daughter, Jennifer Moi. Instead of driving her to the wedding, the MP who was under instruction from Moi, drove her to a remote location, and pretended to be lost until the wedding was over. At the burial of Lena’s father, she was an unwanted guest, and was whisked away back to her home-prison as soon as the ceremony was done. When Lena finally died in 2004, Moi, who had not spoken once to Lena for 25 years, played the role of a ‘grieving husband’ perfectly. That is Moi. An angel in public, a demon in private.
After the murder of Dr. Ouko, the state machinery unfurled an extensive cover up. Anyone who knew something about the murder and could not be bought was eliminated. By 2004, when parliament mandated a committee led by Gor Sunguh to investigate the murder, more than 100 potential witnesses, had died in mysterious circumstance.
This investigation is based on the Gor Sunguh report, which is the only investigation done after Moi left power. The report was as revealing as explosive. People who had not spoken since 1990 for fear of being eliminated spoke up for the first time. When the Sunguh Committee finished its report in 2005, political dynamics had changed and President Kibaki was leading a faltering Government. It was therefore not possible for parliament to discuss the report. The report came up for discussion in 2011, by which time, the Government of Mwai Kibaki had not only gone to bed with Moi, but had entered into a marriage and begot a son. Moi’s protégés were back in Government and rising up fast. The report, which implicated powerful figures of the former KANU Government, was therefore rejected by parliament. This is a story about legacies, limited power, absolute power, money, sex, and many deaths. In the end, I will let you be the judge and decide who the real killers of Dr. Ouko were.
At 59 years, Dr. Robert John Ouko was no newbie to power and politics. He was the Member of Parliament for Kisumu rural and later for Kisumu town for a combined 12 years; he was also the Minister for Foreign Affairs between 1979 and 1983 and again between 1988 and 1990. In between, he had held three other portfolios, among them, that of Industry, which was the beginning of his dispute with powerful Moi sidekick, 43-year-old Nicholas Biwott. At the time of his death, Dr. Ouko was due to complete his PhD studies at the University of Nairobi. In 1982, he received an honorary doctorate degree from the Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle, hence the title Doctor.
Perhaps, the most intriguing aspect of this murder was the fact that unlike other high profile murders such as those of Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki, that had clear political motive, there is no clear political motive in this murder. Dr. Ouko was not popular politician; he harbored no known ambition to be President; neither was he a wealthy or a powerful man. He held no position in KANU, and in fact, he was allegedly rigged in by Moi’s KANU in the 1988 mlolongo election. However, he was a brilliant man, and an ably represented Kenya as a foreign Minister. He was well liked in international circles, but was not part of the powerful coterie, surrounding President Moi. In spite of his stellar work as Foreign Affairs Minister, he was only tolerated in Government because he was Luo and Moi needed tribal balance in his cabinet. Remember, at this time, even if Kenya was still a one party state, Nyanza was still under the political grip of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Indeed, it is possible that Dr. Ouko’s place in history was elevated due to the manner in which he died. If Moi and his Government had allowed the man to live to the end, he might have been no more famous than other KANU Ministers. But because of the nature of his death, the Dr. now occupies a whole chapter in the book of Moi’s presidency.
Why would they kill a man without any political power? A man who was practically defenseless? Whose only powerful friends were outside Kenya? A man who whose intentions were so pure? Why not deal with him politically, the way they had dealt with Charles Njonjo, who was had been much more powerful. Did Dr. Ouko know something so secretive about the Moi Government, that he had to be eliminated? This is why the murder is so confounding. Or did his family want him dead?