Martin Shikuku: The Poor Man's Hero Abandoned by Political Elite
When former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere was placed under detention without trial in the late 1970s, he found Martin Shikuku already rotting in jail. “The man I found in jail was completely destroyed physically and emotionally and it is a miracle that he survived.” Shikuku had been a thorn that constantly pricked the regime of Jomo Kenyatta making caustic remarks about the government and the people in it. So anti-Kenyatta and Kanu was Shikuku that at some point he declared in parliament that the ruling party KANU was dead.
He was supported on the “obvious" statement by the man in the speaker’s seat, one Jean Marie Seroney, the then MP for Tinderet. Former long serving Foreign Affairs minister Munyua Waiyaki recalls how this comment infuriated Kenyatta’s kitchen cabinet with the late Mbiyu Koinange walking out of the chamber in a huff; a sign that it would not be business as usual for Shikuku and his colleague.
And this and another biting remark Shikuku made on his intention to plant maize on Kenyatta’s grave, a declaration seen to wish the former president death especially by loyalists, eventually saw Shikuku arrested and detained without trial. “He truly believed in this country and was a great enemy of corruption and dictatorship, which ended up detaining him,” says Koigi.
Koigi however laments that the elite, some who fought alongside Shikuku for the first and second liberations, had betrayed and abandoned him in life. “The rich and powerful will not celebrate the life of Martin Shikuku, but will shed crocodile tears to make political capital. He was a hero for the poor but a great enemy of the rich and powerful and that is why no regime ever trusted him with a full cabinet post,” declared Koigi.( At some point both Kenyatta and Moi made Shikuku an assistant minister).
In an interview with the Star, Koigi questioned the goodwill of those in power today especially those who claim to have been in the struggle with Shikuku, wondering why he had to die a lonely man “somewhere in Nairobi” while the likes of Beth Mugo and Anyang Nyong’o sought and got top notch treatment abroad, on account of their Cabinet positions.
“Who among the three has more liberation credentials and why didn’t the government accord him (Shikuku) the same treatment?” Prime Minister Raila Odinga whom Shikuku admired unreservedly had promised that the government would take care of Shikuku’s medical expenses, but whether that will happen or not is irrelevant. The shameful thing is that Kenya does not take care of its heroes unless they are sitting on the same table, otherwise who was the last cabinet minister or fellow ‘freedom fighter’ to visit Shikuku in hospital?
In 2002 and 2007, the former Butere MP was used by Raila to galvanise crowds in his campaigns most times speaking before the PM. At these venues and elsewhere, the Prime Minister praised him as a veteran politician, but that was about all Shikuku got. Koigi who says he is not in a habit of praising the dead, would however like to be identified with the former Butere MP in life and in death.
“He was a crusader for African independence and a true fighter for whatever he believed in. His life is a narrative of the best and the worst of Kenya.” Wanyiri Kihoro sees the late Shikuku as a true politician whose vision was the improvement of the condition of the ordinary Kenyan, a vision that however “dimmed” as Kenyans became more and more impoverished.
He pours cold water on the former MP’s credentials in the fight for the second liberation, arguing that the movement for the second liberation started in 1966 after the Limuru Kanu Conference and was started by people who declared that freedom had eluded Kenyans. These included the likes of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Bildad Kaggia.
“He had eaten ugali with(former President) Moi (as a member of his government) and was only there (as a founding member of the original FORD) on the day of victory. He also messed the movement and subsequently Ford Asili.” But another founding member of FORD, George Nthenge commends Shikuku for his role in the first and second struggles for the liberation of Kenya.
He lists Shukuku, Kaggia and himself as the only politicians who declined to be bribed with land by both the first and second independent Kenya regimes. “He was the only man I expected to join me in the fight for the third liberation, but sadly that is not to be,” Nthenge lamented.
Shikuku’s parents had like many from the western region followed the railway line and sought employment at the Magadi Soda Company where he was born, but later the young man headed back to his western roots taking a secondary education at Mumias Secondary School and later going to the St Peter Seminary in Mukumu where he was expelled for his non-conformist attitude.
A rebel from the word go, he honed his political skills at the Nairobi People’s Convention, a political party he joined in 1959 and went on to become its secretary general. At the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) where he was the youth leader, he joined former President Moi and the late Ronald Ngala as its leaders.
At that time the late Jaramogi Odinga was with Kenyatta in Kanu, a party that favoured a unitary state and Shikuku in Kadu, a party that sought to fight for the rights of the minority tribes by favouring Majimbo (federalism). Later Odinga senior and even his son Raila would read from the same page with Shikuku.
He was elected a member of parliament for Butere on a Kadu ticket in the first independent general election, but as Kihoro would put it, he was later “impoverished” by politics and joined his colleagues in Kadu to cross over to Kanu, when the two merged and formed government under Kenyatta. Shikuku was however not given a government post.
After the 1969 elections, Shikuku joined government when Kenyatta appointed him assistant minister in the vice president’s office, but it was soon after that that he referred to Kenyatta’s Kanu as dead, earning him a detention without trial stint at some of the harshest Kenyan prisons. When Moi took over on the death of Kenyatta in 1978, he released Shikuku and facilitated his treatment abroad. Later he contested and won his parliamentary seat and was appointed assistant livestock development minister.
He was among the ‘elders’ who started the original FORD (forum for restoration of democracy) in early 1990s, a movement that sought to re-introduce multi party democracy and bring to a halt the one party rule of Daniel arap Moi. Others in the group were the late Oginga, Ahmed Bahamariz, George Nthenge, Phillip Gachoka and Masinde Muliro.
Political greed and opportunism later broke up the movement, with Odinga running off with one piece called Ford Kenya and Kenneth Matiba with his lieutenant Shikuku heading Ford Asili. These two rival opposition groups gave Moi victory on a silver platter in the 1992 general election, though because of sympathy for Matiba that brought a wave especially in central, Ford Asili gave a good account of itself.
Shikuku was however later credited with some of the mess at Ford Asili that eventually left it looking like a ghost of its former self. The man who lived robustly and controversially even to the point of building his ‘forever’ home has died quietly in an almost nondescript medical centre but his mourning is bound to be loud and tearful, whether the tears are crocodile or real.
- Kanu is dead - 1975
- Those who do not see have to wait for Jesus, but Jesus is not coming because he made some blind men see, and the only thanks they gave him was that they crucified him – 1980
- All I know is that senior ministers' sons do not go to those grass-thatched, mud-and-cow-dung-smeared schools. They go to schools where graduates teach them – 1980
- Mtu mdogo hana haki nchi hii. Akifanya kosa huchukuliwa juu juu - 1987
- What is wrong with going to state house to eat ugali? - 1992
- I would like to to see us generate the kind of arguments that will make the government think in a professional way. I have in mind the various appointments that are not being undertaken and the various people who are doing various jobs for which they are not qualified - 1993
- For those of who come form some areas. I will like to say that we have never achieved independence. We have no roads, health facilities and water - 1993
- It is sad that we are complaining about the International Monetary Fund and World Bank when we, as a people, can generate capital within our country - 1993
Source: The Star