Stephen Mwangi Muriithi

Former Deputy Director of Intelligence Stephen Mwangi Muriithi.

| File | Nation Media Group

Stephen Muriithi: Ex-spy chief who started career in handcuffs

Stephen Muriithi Mwangi, a former deputy director of intelligence during President Daniel Moi’s era who was buried at his Karatina home in Nyeri on Wednesday, started his illustrious career as a police officer in a curious manner.

He arrived at Kiganjo Police College in 1958 as a “prisoner” in handcuffs, said a paragraph in his eulogy that amused mourners.

Soon after completing his studies at the prestigious Alliance High School in 1957, the young Mr Muriithi applied to be conscripted into the Kenya police force amid resistance from the principal at the time, Carey Francis.

Francis wanted Mr Muriithi to proceed with his studies while his father Mwangi Wanjama wanted him to pursue a career in teaching.

His application to join the police was successful but when the time came to join Kiganjo College, he had one challenge to surmount - obtaining a “kipande”.

This was a mandatory document issued by colonialists to allow “natives” to travel from one place another.

But owing to his age, Mr Muriithi was not eligible to get the all-important document and he faced the prospect of failing to travel from his Karatina home to Kiganjo.

He therefore had to devise a way to circumvent this challenge.

“Not one to be deterred, he suggested to his local station commander that he allow him to travel as a handcuffed prisoner as prisoners did not require kipande and impressed and amused by the ingenuity of his plan, the commandant accepted and thus Mr Muriithi arrived in Kiganjo in handcuffs,” the eulogy said.

The mourners heard that the spy boss, who died aged 84, was inspired to join the police force by his experiences and encounters with the injustices of colonial rule.

Investigative skills

His skills as an investigator were identified at an early age even before he joined high school by the Karatina police station commander when Mr Muriithi, on behalf of his father, penned a letter to him complaining against the police who had mistreated his fellow villagers.

“It was the follow-up of this complaint that saw the police dispatch a detective to interview Mr Muriithi and the detective was so impressed by his recollection and reporting of events that he suggested afterwards to the young pupil that he should upon completion of his studies consider a career in the police.”

Mr Muriithi worked as an officer in the defunct Special Branch of the police before it became the Directorate of Security Intelligence, where he was the deputy director until 1981, when President Moi relieved him of his job.

During the Kibaki administration he was appointed chairman of the Kenya Airports Authority, where worked until retirement. 

He is survived by a wife and three children.

Fights Moi in court

Mr Muriithi sued Mr Moi personally, accusing him of abusing his presidential powers and unlawfully detaining him with the intention of depriving him of his properties.

He won in 2011, when Justice Jeanne Gacheche directed Mr Moi to pay him for the loss of business and detention without trial. The compensation included damages for loss of property and for illegal detention.

Mr Moi appealed against the decision and three years later, a bench of three judges of the Court of Appeal overturned the decision, saying Mr Muriithi had failed to table evidence to prove the claims that he held a majority stake in the three companies he claimed to jointly own with Mr Moi and former spy chief James Kanyotu.

After losing the case, Mr Muriithi wanted to move to the Supreme Court but his appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal on the basis that there was nothing of great public importance in the matter. But the ex-spy chief went to the Supreme Court directly and the judges agreed to hear his plea.

A date was set but Mr Moi died on the hearing day, forcing the matter to be adjourned. Mr Muriithi substituted Mr Moi with senior counsel Zehrabanu Janmohamed, an executor of Mr Moi’s estate, in the appeal.

Last week, his lawyer Paul Mwangi received a notification that the hearing of the case will be on July 22.