Experiencing J.M Kariuki’s Legend.
By Eudiah Kamonjo.
J.M Kariuki once said, “ Kenya has become a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars.”
Michael M. Kamau on 21 July 1999 (saxakali.com) wrote that he believes that indeed J.M’s prophesy has come true in modern day Kenya but that this needs to be reviewed to become a nation of 10 millionaries, 10 million middle class and 10 beggars.
I’m not sure…… One thing I’m sure though is that my family and I had the best Easter ever. What would you call a trip that brings everyone in a family truly together for the first time in a long time and takes you back to a time when independent
Kenya was still struggling with misuse of power? A simple drive that leads you to additionally experience the beauty and mystique of our country? A simple search for a deserted spot on the slopes of Ngong Hills and a Maasai man who made what seemed like an ordinary report explosive.
It is 10 a.m by the time we leave our home in southern Nairobi.
Its Easter Sunday (8th April 2007) and everyone’s going to church but we are headed to someplace in Kajiado District to not only see the spot where Kenyan socialist politician and former Nyandarua North Member of Parliament J.M. Kariuki’s body was found but also to meet the Maasai herdsman Musaite Ole Tunda who found his body.
I am pretty excited but my mum barely understands why we have to go to so much trouble just to see some stone and meet some man. All she wants, she humorously complains, is the much praised Maasai land ‘nyama choma’.
We are six of us (my Dad, Mum, brother, sister, me and our youngest one, Wangu named after the famous Wangu wa Makeri who used to sit on men’s backs) – I love that story. Dad is driving with me, Eric and Wangu beside him while Shiru and mum are seated at the back.
As he is driving past Nairobi Cemetery towards the Magadi route, I recall the much I have found out about J.M Kariuki.
He was born Josiah Mwangi Kariuki on 21st March 1929 in Kabati town, Rift Valley Province when Kenya was still under British colonial rule. He was in and out of school for lack of fees until the day (in 1946) he hit the jackpot and won a bet at a Nakuru Horse race which he used to further his education. He attended one of Jomo Kenyatta’s speeches in 1946 which hugely inspired him. J.M went to Kings College in Uganda for his secondary school education and returned (as a 26 year old) to Kenya on 22nd October 1952.Two days earlier,
Kenya had been placed under state of emergency by the Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring.
J.M joined the Mau Mau uprising and after taking his oath, he started working as Mau Mau liaison officer soliciting for money, boots and housing for them. He was arrested and detained in 1953 and released in 1960.
Come late 1960 and J.M.’s relationship with Kenyatta became strained because he became vocal of Kenyatta’s policy on corruption, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, deteriorating relations between the East African community and unfair distribution of land.
In 1974, he was elected as Nyandarua’s Member of Parliament and became Assistant Minister in the Kenyatta Government. His popularity threatened the government of the day. Several days after he was last seen alive (at the Hilton) and was said to be out of the country, his remains were found by a Maasai herdsman, Musaite ole Tunda in a thicket in Ngong hills.
On that day, the two mainstream papers at the time ran two contradictory headlines; Nation Newspaper read something like this ‘J.M. in Zimbabwe’ and Standard Newspaper read ‘J.M.’s body found…..’
A tragic end to a man who was a great orator and leader. He is remembered as a hero who tried to fight against the evils that affect the country to this day.
We make a stop at Olepolos, a well known tourist site due to its breathtaking horizon scene and strong breeze. We take some photos here. A couple of cars with tourists also drive in but what suprises me most is the prescence of a tourist police vehicle. I wonder; is this place so famed?
We meet a Maasai man known as Ole Sankaire and he says he knows where J.M.’s body was found and was willing to take us there. We are now seven of us.
Our next stop is Kisamiss where Dad orders for some boiled meat and ‘nyama choma’. My Dad knows our country like he knows so well the back of his hand. He has been everywhere in Kenya owing to his job as a animal feeds and drugs salesman/distributor.
He just ‘bumped’ into the ‘J.M. spot’ when he was last here to bring animal feeds and drugs during the Maasai Cultural Show 2006.
We do not wait for the meat. We take a rough road on the right that leads us to the ‘spot’- it’s about 6 kilometres from the main road. The road has been destroyed over time by the rains and is almost impassable. Dad isn’t sure the car would make it there.
But here we were and there it was; on the left hand side lay a stone with a weathered down black and white photo of J.M Kariuki, his date of birth and death and an explanation stating that this was where his body was found. The branches of the large acacia tree surrounding it looked like they were soon going to completely dry out.
Sankai Ole Sankaire, the Maasai man we met at Kisamiss explained (I translate) “J.M. was beaten up and tortured; it is said, that’s the reason why a part of the tree here is bent.”
I touched the stone and looked deep into his eyes, tried to imagine what he had to go through and what he was thinking as he was tortured. What were his last words? What would he have done if he had survived? Well, we can only imagine.
We took lots of pictures here and then headed off to find Ole Tunda, the herdsman who found his body. Now this road was more impassable than any we had come across and Dad almost gave up saying there was no way we would get past there. I was however so determined to meet this man that I was willing to walk. Ole Sankare talked to a few passersby while Dad and Eric tried to find us a way to get us going. Dad’s determination to accomplish this mission was so clear that the rocks that had earlier threatened to halt our adventure just had to let us pass.
A few kilometers and we encountered the same problem; we just could not go past those huge rocks. Eric, Ole Sankaire and I walked the rest of the way to Ole Tunda’s homestead and left everyone else in the car. He was not here but his 2nd Born son, Daniel Tunda was fiercly guarding the homestead. We also met Ole Tunda’s first wife but wonder of wonders was the amount of land that his ‘Boma’ occupies. He said that his father was probably drinking at Kisamiss told us the much he knows about the J.M. incidence. As much as we had all that information, I still wanted to meet the old man.
We headed back to the car together as he told me about his wife and kids and the fact that he was a prison warden at Kamiti. Dad gave him lots of calendars inspite of which he asked for ‘chai’- t.k.k- some cash.
At Kisamiss, our meat was ready. Dad enquired about Ole Tunda and about 30 minutes later, while we were busy digging into our meat, he was brought to us.
This short man with Maasai regalia from head to toe and only spoke Maasai came and sat with us. Ole Sankaire had to translate. I was mesmerized by this old man Ole Tunda. I had so many questions to ask but I remembered what his son had told us; “Over the years, the old man has been questioned over and over and over again. At the beginning of the case, he did not even sleep for days as he was taken to police station after another. He was even suspected of having killed the man himself. The old man is too tired of the questions.”
The language barrier was an issue; I asked “How did you feel when you knew that this was a great person’s body that you had found?”
He answered (translated) “I just found him there, already dead.”
I wanted to know how he felt about the incident, but he answered the way he has been used to answering in police stations; what happened…not what he felt.
We took photos with him as he enjoyed his beer. Maasais’ really enjoy their drink.
He later asked my dad whether I could marry his son-the most educated of them all. Dad replied, “As long as they love each other.” And their friendship began. The Maasai Cultural Show 2007 was going to be held on 14th June 2007 and Ole Tunda promised to see him then. I bet he is going to slaughter a goat for Dad or bring him some Maasai necklaces. I know Dad will bring him some medicine and animal feed for his livestock.
My curiosity was gone, a few questions remained but I had had an experience that I can’t ever forget. A timeless one few will have the chance to feel.