Josiah Mwangi Kariuki
Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (21 March 1929 – 2 March 1975) was a Kenyan socialist politician during the administration of the Jomo Kenyatta government. He held different government positions from 1963, when Kenya became an independent country, to 1975, when he was assassinated. He left behind three wives and many children. He was popularly known as "JM".
J. M. Kariuki was born in Kabati-ini town in Rift Valley province, to Kariuki Kigani and Mary Wanjiku. He was the only boy in a family of five siblings. In 1938, he briefly enrolled in Evanson's Day School, but dropped out shortly due to lack of school fees. He then started working for a settler's farm until 1946, when he won a bet in Nakuru Horse races. Using the bet's proceeds he then enrolled himself back to a string of schools and was able to finish his primary school education in 1950. Later, he joined King's College Budo in Uganda's Wakiso district for his secondary education.
Kariuki's political life probably started in 1946 in earnest, after listening to a Kenyatta speech denouncing the way colonial government was handling the natives in a political rally. It is, however, likely that he was political earlier than that. His parents had earlier on been forced to leave their home area, Chinga, located in the Nyeri native reserve, back in 1928 to work in the white highlands. There, they became squatters on a European settler's farm and were expected, as was the case with other African squatter families, to do the regular and seasonal jobs for wages. Such a life trauma was certainly likely to have made him political.
In late 1940s, he joined the primary school drama and role played in the fight against colonial rule. While in Uganda for his secondary education, he closely followed the struggles that local Kenyans were facing from the European settlers. On 22 October 1952, he finished his secondary school education and returned to Kenya. Shortly after that, Kenya was placed under state of emergency by the new Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, and Kariuki joined the Mau Mau uprising. After Kariuki took his oath, he started working as Mau Mau liaison officer between Eldoret and Kisumu. He also helped in soliciting money, boots and housing for Mau Mau. This led to his arrest in his hotel, which was working as a front to his political work. He was then detained in various camps (including Kowop and Langata) from 1953 until his release, seven years later in 1960.
After his release, he managed to secure Kenyatta's approval in starting Nyeri's Kenya African National Union (KANU) branch by visiting him in detention. When Kenya became independent, Kariuki worked as Kenyatta's private secretary between 1963 and 1969. In the late 1960s, Kariuki's relationship with Kenyatta became increasingly strained as Kariuki became increasingly vocal of Kenyatta's policy. Some of their disagreements were:
- Government corruption.
- The widening gap between rich and poor due to corruption, drought and the oil shock of 1973.
- Deteriorating relations among East African Community members.
- Unfair distribution of land: After independence, the United Kingdom government gave the Kenyatta government funds to buy back land from the white settlers and redistribute it back to the natives. However, the land was never redistributed, but most of it was handed over to Kenyatta's close friends. This was somehow similar to what happened in USSR in the early 1990s.
In 1974, he was elected as Nyandarua's member of parliament and became an assistant minister in the Kenyatta government between 1974 and 1975. This was despite Kenyatta government pulling all strings at its disposal to avoid his re-election as his popularity threatened to overshadow the government of the day. He was last seen alive at the Hilton Hotel, accompanied by Kenyatta's bodyguard on 2 March 1975.'Kariuki's remains were found beside the Lake Magadi Road, south of Nairobi. his body had been burnt and left on an ant's nest. Following JM's death Nairobi University students marched in protest in the streets of Nairobi. The march was broken up by Kenyan riot police and the University of Nairobi was closed by the Kenyan government for several years. Indeed, Kariuki was, up until his violent death in 1975, a larger than life figure on Kenya's political scene. He was a prolific giver and "Expressive Giving" best describes his philanthropy: it was prompted by his desire to express support in something larger than himself and reflected his vision for a nation whose citizens would be able to fend for themselves. Indeed, JM's mode of giving was designed to have a measurable impact on society as a whole.
JM is remembered by Kenyans as a hero as he came to represent the force against the evils that have harmed the country to this day.
"In Kenya today, I can only see the dawn of a June morning rising majestically from the white oblivion into the serenity of life." – J. M. Kariuki (1974)
Kariuki wrote Mau Mau Detainee, an account of his experience in camps during the uprising that led to Kenya's independence.
- "Kenya has become a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars."
- "Every Kenyan man, woman and child is entitled to a decent and just living. That is a birthright. It is not a privilege. He is entitled as far as is humanly possible to equal educational, job and health opportunities irrespective of his parentage, race or creed or his area of origin in this land. If that is so, deliberate efforts should be made to eliminate all obstacles that today stand in the way of this just goal. That is the primary task of the machinery called Government: our Government."
- "We fought for independence with sweat, blood and our lives. Many of us suffered for inordinate days – directly and indirectly. Many of us are orphans, widows and children as a result of the struggle. We must ask: What did we suffer for, and were we justified in that suffering?".
A Parliamentary Select Committee was immediately established to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kariuki's murder. The Committee's report implicated a senior police officers, Ignatius Iriga Nderi, Ben Gethi, Wanyoike Thungu, Patrick Shaw and senior administrative officers and politicians, but no one was ever punished. It is most likely that the committee was the means used by Kenyatta's government to mitigate a potential revolt. When the report was finally released, the anger had subsided and likelihood of revolt much lower.