A confrontation between northern and southern Kikuyu leaders appears to have influenced their plans. Less than one month after Mukeka’s warning, several other diplomatic cables document the “bombings and other disturbances” that took place before the killing of JM Kariuki.
One tells of the March 1 bomb attack on a bus at the OTC station in Nairobi that killed 27 people. Another analyses the climate of fear created by the other disturbances.
“Rumours suggest that some or all of these events reflect inter-tribal action by northern Kikuyus to embarrass (Kenyatta’s) Government,” the cables read.
Backlash from killing
A Central Intelligence Agency report issued in October 1971 noted growing opposition to “Kenyatta’s inner circle of southern Kikuyu politicians not only among other tribes… but also among clans of the northern Kikuyu, which have not gotten their share of the spoils of office”.
Did this erupt into violence with the bombings and other scares of March 1975? Top officials around Kenyatta appear to have thought so, leading to the murder of JM Kariuki.
“On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, there were 18 bomb scare hoaxes involving Government and commercial buildings in Nairobi and Mombasa,” reads a cable dated March 7.
“No bombs were found, although normal activities were disrupted by building evacuations. On March 5, a goods train derailed near Voi causing nine petrol tanker wagons to explode. The wreck, in which three railway workers injured, appears to have resulted from sabotage of rails at the point of derailment.
JM, who was often critical of the Government, disappeared on March 1 that year from the Special Branch headquarters at Kingsway House, on Nairobi’s Muindi Mbingu Street. Almost immediately, there was talk that a presidential bodyguard had murdered him.
A parliamentary inquiry into the killing later identified that guard as Mau Mau veteran Arthur Wanyoike Thungu and suggested his activities be investigated. However, as another cable documents, President Kenyatta had the report amended to remove the names of Thungu and Mbiyu Koinange, then the Minister of State in the Office of the President.
Researchers reconstructing the killing have reported Thungu shot and injured Kariuki during a confrontation at Special Branch headquarters then got the go-ahead from Koinange, Kenyatta’s right hand man, to finish him off.
Other reports claim Kariuki got into a fight with Thungu during interrogation over the bombings and was shot in the arm by Ben Gethi, the head of General Service Unit. A call to Koinange allegedly sealed his fate and he was driven to Ngong’ where he was tortured and murdered.
The backlash from the killing seems to have scuttled the scheming against Moi. When the plotters made their move a year later, they chose to try and change the Constitution to prevent him succeeding Kenyatta automatically in the event the president died or was incapacitated.