Murathe’s journey from the ‘Underground’ to ‘Deep State’

Jubilee Vice-Chairman David Murathe addressing media outside Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission offices in Nairobi on September 4, 2020.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • After release, David Murathe was on the radar of security agents because of his liaisons with the clandestine Mwakenya movement.
  • The Nation CEO said he had been warned by state operatives not to hire “political dissidents”.

On August 1, 1982, Kenyans woke up to hear on radio that the civilian government of President Daniel arap Moi had been overthrown by the military under leadership of one Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka.

It also happened to be time when the only public university, University of Nairobi, had the most militant lot in its history. The only other university in the country at the time was a private and Christian-owned Baraton University in Kapsabet.

On the day of the attempted coup, University of Nairobi students poured into the city streets to celebrate the short-lived misadventure. While many of them did it on account of naivety and peer pressure, a core group had prior knowledge — even liaison — with the coup plotters. When the coup flopped, hundreds of the students found themselves in police custody. A majority who went to the streets on the euphoria of the moment – including one Musalia Mudavadi, who today wants to be president – were immediately set free.

Not so for hotheads suspected to have had prior knowledge of the coup plans.

Only regret

One of the most remembered cases featured Oloo Onyango who, on being sentenced to six years imprisonment for his complicity in the attempted coup, told the trial magistrate he wasn’t remorseful, and that his only regret was the coup didn’t succeed. There and then, the magistrate added him another four years!

Another one on the list of the hotheads was David Murathe. Security agencies had reason to believe he had prior knowledge of the failed coup, but they didn’t have evidence to nail him in court. He would remain in prison for months until the authorities decided he was better off being monitored outside prison – at least where the taxpayer didn’t have to feed him.


While in custody, Murathe shared a cell for a year with another university student,  the late Njuguna Mutonya, remembered as an outstanding journalist and long serving Nation Media Group Mombasa bureau chief.

Even after many months in prison, Murathe, Mutonya and others remained unrepentant, and determined that the increasingly authoritarian Kanu regime be removed from power, only that the options of doing so at the time were limited.

There emerged talk of the Mwakenya underground movement, for which scores were arrested, tortured at the infamous Nyayo House underground chambers, and handed long jail terms.

Among those arrested in the crackdown was Mutonya.

Incidentally, both come from same village in Gatanga, Murang’a. At the time of his arrest, Mutonya was a government information officer in Kwale. After three weeks of torture at Nyayo House, he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Murathe, also suspected of being in Mwakenya , didn’t abandon his friend. He would visit him in prison to show solidarity – and defiance. On the day of Mutonya’s release, Murathe was with the family to receive him at the gates of Kamiti Prison. The two “comrades” were overjoyed to reunite.

On the way home in Murathe’s car, their first stop was Safari Park Hotel on Thika Highway, where Murathe ordered drinks. Mutonya ordered soup and poured libations to the Mau Mau freedom fighters hanged and buried at Kamiti Prison.

Later the convoy headed for lunch at Murathe’s home in the nearby Garden Estate, where he lives to date. 

After lunch Murathe drove his comrade to their Gatanga “base” to a rousing welcome.

It is Murathe who came with idea that Mutonya seek a job with the Nation newspaper, now that his former employer – the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting – wouldn’t touch him.

Murathe took his “comrade” to the office of then Nation chief executive, David Kabaka, who was personally known to him.

The Nation CEO said he had been warned by state operatives not to hire “political dissidents”.

He confessed he was under considerable pressure to fire popular columnist, Wahome Mutahi, whom Nation had given back his old job at the newspaper after serving a jail term on charges of belonging to the clandestine Mwakenya movement.

But Mutonya and Comrade Murathe didn’t give up. They approached Nation’s Mombasa bureau chief to hire Mutonya as a freelance writer  using the pseudonym, Sayyed Jaffer.

The “freshman’s” news and feature stories turned out so good that he was summoned to Nairobi to be interviewed and put on full-time employment. It turned out the Sayyed Jaffer was Comrade Mutonya. Once again Nation senior management grew cold feet. Those days, even private businesses like Nation were not immune to government intimidation.

Once again, Mutonya and comrades used a friendly contact to have him cleared by then Coast provincial head of state security intelligence, Joseph Kibati, to enable him get a job with Nation Media. It worked.


Mutonya, a great friend of mine, went ahead to have an illustrious career with the Nation Media Group, before venturing to consultancy.

He went to be with the Lord three years ago. Among those who came to see him off on his last earthly journey at the Mombasa’s Mbaraki cemetery on January 5, 2018, was David Murathe, who had since decamped to from the “Underground” to the “Deep State”. He spoke of his comrade with the nostalgia of their days gone by.

From Murathe’s remarks at Mutonya burial, I concluded the line between “Underground” and “Deep State” could be thin, after all. If I were DP Ruto, that would give me sleepless nights.