- Officially, the government position is that the case file remains open and anybody with information that can help apprehend JM’s killers should give it to the police
- It was Charles Rubia who, on March 6, 1975, raised the issue of JM’s disappearance in Parliament
It is 38 years since JM Kariuki was murdered. The body of the charismatic and highly popular MP for the then Nyandarua North constituency was found dumped in a thicket in Ngong Forest, in a place inhabited by hyenas. Its discovery there meant that no clues were needed about the intentions of his killers— the body was never supposed to be found.
The murder has never been conclusively resolved. Officially, the government position is that the case file remains open and anybody with information that can help apprehend JM’s killers should give it to the police. It is by any standard a cruel position but that is what his family lives with.
It was Charles Rubia who, on March 6, 1975, raised the issue of JM’s disappearance in Parliament. JM had not been seen since March 2— the day, in fact, he was murdered. His family had publicly appealed to the government to help trace him.
Justus ole Tipis, an assistant Minister for Home Affairs, told Parliament in a statement: “Mr Speaker, I would like to state that my ministry does not know the whereabouts of Mr JM Kariuki. Police are now investigating and my ministry is awaiting the outcome of their investigations.”
Last week, when JM’s name came up, (he was universally known by his initials), Rubia, said: “I may have too much sentimentality about this because I was in Parliament and JM Kariuki was a colleague in government, and we were regarded as the extremists.
“When he was an assistant Minister for Tourism, I was an assistant Minister for Education. This was in the 1960s and 70s and we worked together very closely on political matters and we were singled out by some people in President Kenyatta’s Government. When JM was murdered in 1975, I was MP for Starehe and was one of the sponsors of the motion to have a select committee of Parliament to investigate the murder.
“In fact, I can tell you, it was my personal idea. There was this American thing, Watergate, and somebody, a friend told me, ‘why don’t you do it like Watergate?’ That’s where I got the idea. I went to Parliament and told my colleagues, ‘we’ve got to do this like Watergate. Parliament must take charge. We can’t trust the government to get to the bottom of this.”
The country was in a state of convulsion. There were demonstrations led by university students protesting the murder. At no time since independence had the Government of President Kenyatta appeared so vulnerable. In fact, the report of the select committee, when it was finally released, noted that had Parliament not done what it did, the fires raging in the country could have spread out of control.
The idea in Parliament at first was just to debate JM’s killing as a matter of national importance. But, according to Rubia, that was never going to be enough.
There were strong suspicions that because of his well articulated position on so many social and political issues, the government, or at the very least elements in it, had a hand in JM’s killing. He recalls:
“There was an idea to debate the issue about JM’s disappearance. It was going to be a debate where you don’t resolve anything, you just express views and I thought ‘no, no, that’s not enough. Let’s have a select committee. I sold the idea to a lot of people and they agreed. I wasn’t alone. There were others, but as I said, I came up with the idea.”
One of the most vocal critics of the government was Martin Shikuku. He is the one who wanted to move a motion of adjournment to debate JM’s death as a matter of national importance. This is Rubia’s recollection of events and his role in them at that time:
“After canvassing the idea of a select committee amongst my colleagues and gaining wide acceptance, we went and spoke to Martin Shikuku. We said to him, ‘No, don’t do this now. Let’s have a select committee.’ Shikuku had already seen the Speaker, Fredrick Mati, who had agreed that he would allow him to raise the matter of adjournment.
So we told him, ‘Look Martin, this is not good enough. Let’s have a select committee. And Shikuku said without hesitation: ‘Alright, we can go that way.’
Then I went to Mati. I told him that a few of us had met and we wanted to have a select committee to investigate JM’s murder. Mati said, ‘No, Shikuku has seen me about the debate.’ I said ‘Yes, but I have spoken to him. He is willing to drop the debate.’
Then Mati said, ‘Alright, you’ll be the sponsor, then.’ Sponsor means the mover of the motion. I said ‘No, I won’t be the mover of it. JM is a Kikuyu and I am a Kikuyu and we want it to look national.’ Mati said, ‘Fine, look for a sponsor and let me have a resolution by two o’clock’. This was all happening during the morning hours. We worked very intensely on this; among the people we were working with was Dr James Muriuki, the MP for Bahati, Waruru Kanja of Nyeri Town, and Mark Mwithaga of Nakuru Town.
I was really the one doing the running around. I went to Wafula Wabuge. I told him, ‘there is this thing and we want to move a Motion calling for the formation of a select committee of Parliament. Will you agree to be the sponsor of the motion?’
Wabuge said, ‘No, no, JM was my friend but why don’t you do it, Charles?’ I said, ‘No, as a Kikuyu, it will look tribal.’ The country was very tense at that moment. The last thing we wanted was to trivialise the matter by making it appear tribal. Wabuge said, ‘No, no, I will support it but I don’t want to be the sponsor’. We looked around but whomever we approached shied away. People were scared of Kenyatta.