What you need to know:
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga described the Kapenguria Six as the leaders of Africans during a debate on a motion calling for an independent inquiry into conditions at Lokitaung prison on June 26, 1958.
Moi, as the representative of Rift Valley in the LegCo, was permitted to visit Kenyatta and other detainees at Lodwar.
Moi arrived in Lodwar on October 26, 1959, and was hosted at the DC’s house.
Daniel Toroitich arap Moi was just a humble teacher when Jomo Kenyatta was arrested in 1952. It was not until October 26, 1959, that he came face to face with the man he would later serve as vice-president and succeed as president.
Mr GG Hill the DC, Turkana, who was present when the two met in Lodwar, filed a report stating: “Moi was genuinely overcome at meeting Jomo and made grunting and squeaking noises to express his pleasure,” the DC writes in his private papers.
To record the memorable occasion, Moi, who was accompanied by his secretary Henry Cheboiwo, carried a Kodak folding camera. Unfortunately he didn’t know how to use it and had to seek the assistance of the DC. “In the event I took the photographs. As it was about 6pm and I know nothing about photography there is possibility that the snaps will not come out.” These and other details are contained in recently declassified colonial information.
The events that culminated in the historic meeting began way back in 1958 when a leaked letter exposed the inhumane conditions at Lokitaung prison where Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Kung’u Karumba, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng’ Oneko and Fred Kubai were imprisoned.
The letter caused a furore both locally and abroad, with the international community questioning the circumstances in which a government was justified in denying liberty to its subjects.
In the LegCo, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga described the Kapenguria Six as the leaders of Africans during a debate on a motion calling for an independent inquiry into conditions at Lokitaung prison on June 26, 1958.
The following day he made another statement demanding that Jomo Kenyatta’s health status be made public and that he be given the same treatment as that given to Archbishop Makarios, a Cypriot priest and the first president of Cyprus, who was arrested by the British and exiled in Seychelles, where he was treated as the guest of Governor William Addis.
Reeling in embarrassment because of the wide publicity given to the letter, the government started looking for a better place to restrict the prisoners, and by December 1958 it had already found three places, Sigor in West Pokot, Marsabit and Lodwar, although the latter was considered the better option.
In March 1959, the Ministry of Public Works finished building new houses for the prisoners on the outskirts of Lodwar Township, at a place named Freetown. The cost of construction was around £7,500 (Sh1 million at today’s rate) and each house was built to the “standard approved for an African officer”. Kenyatta and fellow prisoners were transferred to the new detention centre in an operation codenamed “Leg Bye” on April 15, 1959.
Three months later, on July 15, they were joined by their families in another operation, which involved the government using police lorries to ferry the detainees’ wives and children from their reserves.
Unlike Lokitaung, Freetown detention centre provided prisoners with more freedom. They had their families, vegetable gardens and spacious houses. Doctors Mustapha and Patel, were also available to provide medical services.
Despite the government’s efforts to salvage its tainted image, there was a growing interest in the future of Kenyatta and the possibility of his return.
October 1959 was particularly a turning point in the quest for Kenyatta’s release as it marked the seventh anniversary of his arrest and the declaration of the State of Emergency.
ARREST OF KENYATTA
The Kenya Independence Movement, made up of radicals such as Tom Mboya, Odinga and Gikonyo Kiano, organised demonstrations in Nairobi on October 20 to coincide with the day the emergency was declared and the subsequent arrest of Kenyatta.
Africans heeded the call and came out in their thousands to express solidarity with their leaders as the police carried their revolvers for the first time in many years.
Kenya National Party, on the other hand, was a party of moderates such as Moi, Masinde Muliro and Ronald Ngala, who decided to pursue the question of Kenyatta’s release diplomatically by sending a delegation to the governor.
Following the meeting, Moi, as the representative of Rift Valley in the LegCo, was permitted to visit Kenyatta and other detainees at Lodwar.
He arrived in Lodwar on October 26, 1959, and was hosted at the DC’s house.
After a wash, squash, lunch and coffee, the DC granted him permission to interview Kenyatta and other detainees. Moi had hoped to get permission to interview the detainees together but this was denied by the DC who instead permitted him to conduct separate interviews.
A couple of chairs were then arranged in the sports room behind the DC’s office where Moi was to conduct the interview. Since Freetown was some few miles away from his office, the DC had to drive to summon the detainees for their interviews with Moi.
However, his decision to offer Kenyatta a lift in his Land Rover did not go down well with the other detainees, led by Ngei, who demanded to know why Kenyatta was being given preferential treatment while they walked on foot.
“None of the other four was pleased when I took Jomo away by Land Rover for the first and longer of the interviews,” noted the DC.
When Kenyatta arrived, Moi stood up and they hugged and had a warm handshake. The DC seemed displeased with the encounter as he wrote, “Falling on each other’s necks reminds me of similar distressing scenes to be found nowadays on association football fields.”
Moi spent one hour interviewing Kenyatta and 30 minutes each with the other detainees. At the end of the interviews, which started at 2.20pm, he went back to the DC’s office to raise with him some of the complaints the detainees had made.
Among them was that their accommodations were too small, they were not allowed to talk to people and their subsistence allowance was inadequate.
Moi also informed the DC that the “people wanted Kenyatta back, very badly” adding that he would propose to the Minister of Defence to transfer the detainees to their home districts as they were not a security threat. He then requested permission from the DC to visit Freetown to inspect the detainees’ homes and also see their families. This was not in the programme, so the DC agreed, but on condition that it had to be short and he also had to be present.
Moi agreed, and together with his secretary, boarded the DC’s Land Rover to Freetown where he inspected every house, met the detainees’ wives and patted all the children on the head. All the detainees complained about snakes and mosquitoes entering their houses because of lack of mesh or wire gauze on the windows and under the eaves.
Kenyatta also complained about the poor design of having the kitchen between the bedroom and sitting room, a complaint that was supported by the DC in his confidential report.
Of all the things Moi saw at Freetown, none surprised him more than the detainees’ well-tendered flower beds and a vegetable garden that was irrigated by the effluent from the septic tank.
Then followed a photo session during which Moi struggled to use his camera. The DC would later write: “I wonder who gave Arap Moi a camera which he knew nothing how to use.” Kung’u Karumba used the opportunity to pass a letter to Moi, which he slipped in his back pocket.
It was suspected that Kiano was the likely recipient. Moi’s warm farewell to the detainees as the visit came to an end was “Uhuru Karibuni” meaning freedom is at hand. The party returned to the DC’s house where Moi refused to have anything stronger than orange squash. His excuse was that the Nandi and Kipsigis constables at the nearby Kenya Police lines had organised a meat feast in his honour.
MADE NO REPORT
“Moi left my house about 1900 hours and went to the Police lines where he fed. He left at 2100 and stopped at the dukas for 3-4 minutes where he turned out his vehicle lights. It appears he spoke to the night beat who have made no report so far,” read a report sent to the Provincial Commissioner Isiolo on Oct 27, 1959. Moi’s movements were monitored on his way to Nairobi.
The policemen manning Loiya roadblock past Turkwel reported sighting his car at 4 in the morning with Chepkurui on the driver’s seat, and Moi and Cheboiwo as passengers.
Although Moi was classified as a moderate, the DC noted during their brief interaction that he showed the highest respect and admiration for Kenyatta. At the same time he described him as a “double-faced” politician who was difficult to understand, a description that matches well his attribute as a sharp-witted master tactician who was always ahead of his political opponents during his reign.
Initially considered a passing cloud when he succeeded Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, he managed to outmanoeuvre his enemies, consolidated power and ruled Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years.