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Did President Moi Want Robert Ouko Dead?

Lone Anti-Corruption Crusader

moi ouko and jimmy carter

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Robert Ouko with Daniel Moi and US President Jimmy Carter in 1980

Dr. Ouko’s problems in Government started in 1987 when he was Minister for Industry due to disputes with powerful cabinet colleague, Nicholas Biwott. The feud with Nicholas Biwott began over the Molasses Plant, which was in Kisumu town constituency, the constituency Ouko intended to vie for in the upcoming 1988 election (Previously he was representing Kisumu rural constituency). Incidentally, the Molasses Plant was also under his industry docket. Daniel Moi had promised the residents that the plant, whose construction had started in 1970s and stalled, would be operationalized. The Molasses Plant had tremendous political capital for Dr. Ouko by dint of falling in his own constituency. According to Onyango K’Oyoo, who was Dr. Ouko’s political operative, funding for the plant was to be done by the Italian Government through Bilateral agreements. During the bilateral talks, Dr. Ouko was out on another assignment and Nicholas Biwott and Prof. George Saitoti replaced the molasses plant with Mount Kilimanjaro Water project from Saitoti’s Constituency. It was Biwott who nudged Saitoti, then finance Minister, to interchange the projects. Saitoti was willing to play along because at this time, he was a nominated member of parliament and he wanted to please his people so that he can be elected in the next election. Dr. Ouko complained to the President who was also concerned and directed that the molasses plant be included in the next bilateral talks.

The Italian Government promised assistance if the Kenyan Government wrote an official letter stating that the molasses plant was a priority. Saitoti, the then Minister of Finance, refused to write the letter. During a Ministerial meeting comprising of Ministries relevant to the molasses plant, Dr. Ouko confronted Biwott on why he was standing in the way to revive the project. It was then that in the presence of cabinet colleagues, Biwott threatened to eliminate Ouko.

Biwott had two motives for rejecting the Molasses project as driven by Dr. Ouko. First, he hated Dr. Ouko passionately. All other Ministers in Government groveled to Biwott, except Dr. Ouko who stubbornly refused to submit to Biwott. As a clean man, Dr. Ouko also hated Biwott who was utterly corrupt. Biwott also had a financial motive to resist the Kisumu Molasses Plant. Biwott had connections with the Recchi-Astaldi Company, an Italian company that he wanted to do the molasses project. Dr. Ouko on his part did not want a company associated with his nemesis to do the project.

According to Marianne Briner, who was Dr. Ouko’s friend and whose company wanted to do the Molasses Project, Biwott opposed the project merely because it would give Ouko political capital in his Kisumu backyard. She was informed by Mr. Mohammed Aslam, then Chairperson of Pan African Bank, (the bank had connections with the powerful people in Government, including Biwott) that in order to make the project, 10% commission was to be paid to the following people: President Moi, Abraham Kiptanui (state house comptroller), Elijah Mwangale, Nicholas Biwott, and George Saitoti. Mr. Aslam was fronting for Mr. Biwott. Mr. Surtan, Saitoti’s representative, later joined Mr. Aslam in pressuring her with regard to the commissions. The value of this project was more than Ksh. 3 Billion, the five individuals expected to get a kickback of Ksh. 300 Million.

When Dr. Ouko was moved from the ministry of industry to the ministry of Foreign Affairs, his former docket was taken by Dalmas Otieno, who was then a Biwott man. Unexpectedly, the new Minister ordered another feasibility study. The new study determined that the plant was unviable. The study recommended the alcohol making equipment should be taken to Mumias and the rest of the machinery be sold as scrap. Dr. Ouko never got the molasses plant he wanted for his people. In 2001, the Odinga family acquired and turned around the plant that had lain derelict for nearly three decades. As Dr. Ouko had envisaged, the plant was not only viable, but also profitable.

But the Molasses plant was only an avenue for Dr. Ouko and Biwott to wage their wars. The real issue was corruption in Government. Daniel Moi’s Government had become so corrupt that corruption had become a way of life in Kenya. This has continued to this day. But it was not always this way. When he became President in 1978, Moi was a good man. That went on until 1982, when the Air Force attempted to overthrow him. From that point onward, the dark side of Moi took over. The KANU Government, which had been a force of good, became a wrecking ball, rolling downhill uncontrollably, smashing anything, and murdering anyone that stood on its way. Out went brilliant and able men like Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, and in came men with questionable character like Hezekiah Oyugi, Joshua Kulei, and Nicholas Biwott. The dye was cast.

Moi’s Powerful Sidekick, Nicholas Biwott

nicholas biwott

Nicholas Biwott at a recent event. For the entire reign of Daniel Moi, he was the right hand man. Now, his power and influence has withered away. He now leads a quieter life tending his expansive business empire

Marianne Briner (the same woman who was pushing the Molasses plant for Dr. Ouko) was at one time a mistress to Daniel Moi. In her evidence before the parliamentary committee, this is what she made of the relationship between Moi and Biwott. Biwott was a Master in controlling the mind of Moi, always giving him the impression that he (Moi) was making the decision when in the reality, Moi was only following Biwott’s suggestions and advice, maybe even not realizing how he was manipulated.

Every evening, Moi would while away the night with Biwott. This gave Biwott the possibility to distribute his versions of the past day’s incidents, information he had collected on certain people etc. and then influence any decision to be taken. In addition, Biwott had set up his own Spy-System with the help of powerful Special Branch boss William Kivuvani. Biwott was always the first to know and therefore could influence the information Moi was finally getting. Biwott had also planted his people like Abraham Kiptanui, Hezekiah Oyugi, and Joshua Kulei as the closest aides who spent all the day with Moi before he came in the evenings, he was sure to be in “total” control.

By 1990, Dr. Ouko was very concerned about corruption in Government. He started to write a report about corruption in Government. In the process of his investigation, he talked to people who sold themselves to Biwott about the queries the Minister was making. Shortly after the murder, the special branch raided his home on February 14. Onyango K’Oyoo, who was at the home with Mrs. Ouko saw the officers take files from two brief cases. K’Oyoo reckons that the officers appeared happier and more interested in getting the files that in finding the Minister (though he has killed on February 13, it was not until February 16 that the body was found). However, the officers left a few files that Dr. Ouko was preparing. These were in regard to corruption in Kisumu Municipal Council. The officers wanted it to appear as if the Dr. was only writing a corruption report on Kisumu municipality. Later in 1991 when Moi constituted a commission led by Justice Evans Gicheru to investigate the murder, he explicitly forbade the commission from investigating corruption claims. When it appeared that the commission was making headway, it was disbanded. Corruption is not news in Kenya, would they kill a man merely for revealing the obvious?

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10 Comments on Did President Moi Want Robert Ouko Dead?

  1. 1

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    Justice has already been done, the good book say’s that the same yardstick you use for others it shall be used on you, the same measure you use on others the same shal be used on you, and even swahili saying say’s malipo ni hapa hapa duniani, probably the reason they( the killers) are alive for judgment to take effect on them. Poor souls.

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    Whenever i read a story abt dr.ouko,am left with a deep anger inside. esp knowing dat de killers were never brought to justice. I was jus 7 years old then,but i still rem the newspaper headline of friday,Feb 16,1990 abt de horror that was on ouko’s body. it was shocking,really shocking. Good work p.k. What did they gain from the killing esp people like Oyugi,who were killed as well.

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      Sorry, i meant the newspaper headline of sunday,feb 18th,1990.

    • 3

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      Thanks for that insight. Personally, I think this murder hurt a lot of people of people because Ouko was a good man. . . People like Hezekiah Oyugi and Jonah Anguka thought that by helping in the murder, they were securing their long-term stay in KANU government. Unfortunately, the same government turned against them viciously after the murder.

  3. 0

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    True,exclusive and reliable piece of information about the ministers death

  4. 1

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    wow! i was an 11 year boy when he died but i still recall being asked to leave school after riots rocked Nakuru town where i was schooling…nice work.

    • 2

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      Thanks for your feedback. In 1990, I was only a kid. I started to hear about Ouko in 2003 when Moi left. I was an avid reader of newspapers then. When doing research for the story, I could not believe that these things could happen and no one was ever held to account. The worst thing is that in the end, Justice is not done.

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