Rift Valley police boss Mungai did not slap Moi: Lee Njiru

Retired President Daniel Moi speaks during a ground breaking service at Africa Inland Church Kapsabet Station, Nandi County, on March 6, 2016. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In another version of this story, the “Ngoroko” squad was meant to assassinate Vice-President Moi and his close allies.
  • When we met, Mr Mungai claimed that he was in the middle of efforts to meet and reconcile with Moi over their past differences.

The story that Mr Daniel arap Moi was slapped by one of the most infamous senior police officers in Kenya’s history has been passed on since the 1970s as a marker of the tribulations the then vice-president suffered in the hands of the so-called Kiambu mafia who wanted to control President Jomo Kenyatta’s succession.

But it is a claim Mr Lee Njiru, the long-serving press secretary of retired President Moi, now says is fake news, in a rare interview with the Sunday Nation for this final instalment of a two-part exclusive series.

In the ex-president’s 1998 authorised biography, Moi: The Making of an African Statesman, British author Andrew Morton claimed that Mr Moi was twice assaulted by Mr James Mungai, a senior police commandant in then Rift Valley province during the Kenyatta era.

Mr Morton wrote that “on two occasions, Mungai slapped Mr Moi in the face in front of President Kenyatta at State House Nakuru”.

However, he did not elaborate the circumstances in which the two brazen attacks took place.

During Mzee Kenyatta’s time, Mr Mungai also set up an Anti-Stock Theft Unit, a small group of well-equipped police officers ostensibly meant to fight cattle rustling in the late 1970s.

It has been widely claimed that the police unit, also known as the “Ngoroko”, was conceived by a cabal around Mzee Kenyatta who were strategising to remove Mr Moi from the succession equation after attempts to change the Constitution to stop the VP from automatically assuming power upon the President’s death failed.   

In the plot, Mr Mungai, who some have described as a rogue police officer who was a law unto himself, was supposedly assigned the role of confining Mr Moi to his Kabarak home as his co-conspirators in Nairobi installed a person of their choice as president against the constitution.


In another version of this story, the “Ngoroko” squad was meant to assassinate Vice-President Moi and his close allies.

While saying that Mr Mungai, who now leads a quiet life in Nakuru, was indeed one of the schemers against his boss, Mr Njiru told the Sunday Nation that claims in Mr Morton’s book about the policeman slapping Mr Moi were “fabrications”.  

“There’s no probability whatsoever that it could have happened,” he said firmly.

“It was okay to verbally attack Moi, but no one could touch him. Not even Kenyatta. Politicking ended where Moi’s body began.”

According to Mr Morton, there was an incident in 1975 when Moi had returned from an Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) meeting in Kampala, Uganda, only for Mr Mungai to accuse him of bringing guns as part of a conspiracy to overthrow Mzee Kenyatta.

Mr Mungai reportedly conducted a vigorous search for the weapons, ordering his men to examine Mr Moi’s offices at the Nakuru Oil and Flour Mills.

The humiliating exercise, according to the author, involved a strip-search on the VP.

“Moi was a very scared man. Each night he prayed, knowing that he could be assassinated any time. Even so, he was troubled as he was holding on to his job by the skin of his teeth,” Mr Morton wrote.

After this incident, according to the author, Mr Moi complained directly to Mzee Kenyatta in 1975 about Mr Mungai’s constant harassment.

Mzee Kenyatta reportedly asked his VP a rhetorical question: “Who is the minister in charge of the police?”

At that time, Mr Moi was Vice-President and minister for Home Affairs. 


The police force fell under the docket at the time and Moi was, therefore, Mr Mungai’s boss.

“There was no physical space for Mungai to do the kind of things he is alleged to have done.

"Moi’s heavily armed bodyguards would have instantly shot him dead,” Mr Njiru said in the recent interview.

Mr Njiru’s statements throw another spin to a tale that has long captivated public imagination.

And, to date, the sheer brazenness of the alleged attacks on the VP continue to fuel the curiosity of many a journalist.

For several years now, I have sought the details — from Mr Mungai and other senior government officials in Mzee Kenyatta’s era — of the two incidents described by Mr Morton but without success.

My only meeting with Mr Mungai took place about six years ago.

It was facilitated by Francis “Mkombozi” Karanja, a former councillor in Nakuru.

We met Mungai in his Engarusha home in Nakuru on a chilly Monday morning.

A short, stocky man with darting eyes, he said less and took time to study people.

His disdain for the media is real and legendary.

I had been told stories of him unleashing ferocious dogs on inquisitive and uninvited journalists.

That day, however, he spared me a similar treatment, perhaps to prove that he wasn’t intolerant as is widely claimed, or perhaps in respect of Councillor Mkombozi, his long-time friend.

Despite the morning chill, he wore gumboots, light blue jeans and a short-sleeved brown shirt.

He informed us that he had just come from working on his farm with a tractor.

“These young men of mine don’t want to soil their hands with hard farm work,” he said, aiming his statement at one of his sons who was within earshot.

For a man of his reputation, his house, totally hidden in a forest of indigenous and exotic trees, was rather small but felt comfortable.

His soft spoken wife made us tea as he made us easy with small talk.

I wondered aloud how he managed to still drive a tractor at his age (he was approximately in his mid-70s or early 80s), to which he remarked that we would be surprised by the fact he still drove himself all the way to Nairobi (where he was building a flat in Tassia) and to Nyali, Mombasa, where he has a home. He was extremely fit at his age.

Councillor Mkombozi then made my case to him; that I have read the many negative stories about him by historians and journalists and this was his opportunity to set the record straight.

He was not opposed to the idea of the interview, Mr Mungai replied, but he rued what he termed concerted efforts by the Nation to portray him in bad light over the years.

For proof, he pulled a thick file from a cabinet in the sitting room, which contained cuttings of media articles ever written about him.

“Most of these things are lies. Pure lies,” he said. 

“But what made you slap Moi?” I asked. “We will talk about those issues another day, not today,” he replied. But that day has never come.

He intimated that he wasn’t comfortable talking about the slapping allegations since it was our first meeting but promised to do so in a comprehensive interview at a later date.

He declined to give me his mobile phone number after I gave him my job card, but promised to call me when he was ready for the interview.

After this meeting, I visited his home once again but he wasn’t around.

For my third and last effort to interview him in 2014, I enlisted the help of Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, also a friend of his.

But the MP gave up after three failed attempts to set up a meeting for me.

In the MP’s candid view, it is highly unlikely that the elusive ex-policeman would ever grant a comprehensive media interview.

When we met, Mr Mungai claimed that he was in the middle of efforts to meet and reconcile with Moi over their past differences.

He argued that if the interview ran at the time it might displease the former Head of State and scuttle their reconciliation efforts.

However, Mr Njiru told the Sunday Nation that Mr Mungai has never sought such a meeting with the retired president.

“Mzee is a peacemaker and would never deny anyone a meeting for reconciliation if they indeed had crossed paths. But Mungai has never asked for anything of the sort,” he said.  

Since then, I have asked several other senior government officials at the time, and who might have witnessed Mungai’s alleged brazen assault on Moi, but none of them has any recollection of the incidents.

Mr Njiru said that Mzee Kenyatta would never have allowed his VP to be humiliated in such a manner by a junior officer.

“Slapping Moi in front of Kenyatta would have crossed the line. Kenyatta adored and respected Moi. He would never have allowed that,” he said.

Such an incident, he said, would have led to a serious political fallout in government.

“Moi had his own political constituency, which would never have condoned such. The fallout would have made international news,” he said.

He termed Mr Mungai a “glorified police officer”.

“Whatever he did he was playing in time and tune. The obtaining political circumstances shaped his thinking, actions and reactions. It is important not to distort historical facts,” he said.

After Mr Moi came to power on August 1978, the Ngoroko Affair became the topmost political agenda of the day.

MPs demanded the detention of those behind it.

All along Mungai pleaded his innocence to senior government officials close to Mr Moi.

Fearing retribution from the President, he fled to Sudan via Lokitaung in Turkana before heading to Switzerland on a brief exile.

There, he found the winter unbearably harsh and returned home two months later.

While in exile, a warrant of arrest had been issued by the High Court after he was accused of “embezzlement”, but he was never charged upon his return on December 1978.

He has kept a low profile since then and seems determined to hold on to the two great secrets of his life: The real agenda of Ngoroko and the Moi slaps.