March 4, 2018


John Kamau may not have meant to but by highlighting and the importance of the military access agreement between Kenya and the US he has helped to prove that the ‘Washington trip theory’ as to a motive for the murder of Dr Robert Ouko, was untrue.

More by Correspondent

Moi, Washington And The Re-Writing Of Kenya’s History

Moi, Washington And The Re-Writing Of Kenya’s History


By Martin Minns

Articles by John Kamau, a regular columnist for the Daily Nation and Sunday Nation, are at the top end of offerings by journalists writing in Kenya’s newspapers, both in terms of style and content, particularly when he writes, as he so often does, on historical matters. His latest article, still of high quality, goes to prove however, how the telling of Kenyan history seems to follow some sort of law of relativity.


In the Sunday Nation today (‘Fear of assassination and what the CIA thought of Moi regime’), Kamau draws on previously secret document emanating from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1980s, which, he writes, ‘sheds light on what Washington thought about the man from Kabartonjo’ – President Daniel arap Moi.

Central to Kamau’s thesis is that the secret document reveals what the US administration reallythought of Moi: that he wasn’t the ‘darling of the Americans’ that so many people had thought.


The problem with with this line of argument is that the story of Moi-US relations was told very differently and believed by many, when it suited them to do so, in telling the story of the death of Dr Robert Ouko, Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who was murdered on 13 February 1990.

The document cited by John Kamau, written shortly after the attempted coup against Moi’s regime in August 1982, describes Moi as “uninspiring and ineffective”, says Kamau; suggested that he could be ‘toppled or assassinated’; but suggested that although Moi lacked ‘substantive knowledge and higher education’, he compensated for that with ‘innate political instincts’.


Kamau says the Americans’ concern was that a radical regime might overthrow the Moi regime and if so would “almost certainly” cancel the military access agreement between the USA and Kenya, signed by Moi and President Reagan.

Here we come to the crux of the matter.

The military access agreement gave the US military access to Kenyan air and naval facilities. Included in the deal was the expansion of the Mombasa airfield to accommodate larger troop and cargo carrying US aircraft.

‘If you thought that President Moi was the darling of the West, think again. The Americans were only interested in the military facility in Mombasa’, writes Kamau.

There is much truth in John Kamau’s line but it’s not the whole truth and it in turn spreads light on a provably untrue allegation that was trotted out time and again (and to this day) regarding the murder of Dr Robert Ouko.


Shortly before he was murdered Ouko, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, was part of an 83-man Kenyan delegation headed by President Moi that flew to Washington for a ‘Prayer breakfast’. The story ran that the Americans hadn’t wanted Moi to visit, had ‘cold-shouldered him’, and that they threatened to cancel the military access agreement between the US and Kenya if the trip went ahead.

So the story went, the the famous visit went ahead, Moi was treated badly and this lead to a row among the delegation that might have been a motive for Ouko’s murder – the ‘Washington trip’ theory as to a motive for Ouko’s murder.

So widely believed and often told was this story that even Professor Charles Hornsby included it in his tomb on Kenyan history – ‘Kenya: A History Since Independence’. Hornsby, however, was 180 degrees away from the truth of the matter.


John Kamau may be interested to know (and indeed, hopefully too will Professor Hornsby) that multiple telexes between the US State Department and the US embassy in Nairobi from the time prove, together with other overwhelming evidence, that the truth about the ‘Washington trip’ is entirely opposite to the ‘US threatened to pull military access agreement’ story.

The telexes reveal (and they were placed in the public domain by the TV documentary ‘Murder at Gota Alila – Who killed Dr Robert Ouko and Why? aired by Citizen TV in March 2017) that the then Bush administration were desperate to get on with Moi.

One telex reads: ‘Kenya is a key ally and historic friend [to the US]. We will be entering into some crucial military negotiations later this year. Therefore it is essential that Moi’s visit [to Washington] come of smoothly’.

The ‘secret and ‘confidential’ diplomatic telexes show that the that the US regarded Kenya as their ‘key security account in Africa’ and that Moi was ‘president of one of the most important [to the US] countries in Africa’.

‘Our military access agreement with Kenya, which allows us the use of Nairobi and Nanyuki airfields and the port of Mombasa in support of our activities in the north Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, is up for review later this year‘, reads one of the many telexes on the subject.

Central to the Bush administration’s concerns was that it would be President Moi, if not placated with a continuing flow of aid (and a good reception in Washington’) that might pull out of the military access agreement with the US, an agreement that was due for renewal in July 1990, only six months after the ‘Washington trip’.

As it transpired, the ‘Washington trip’ went well, as multiple telexes from the US archives and the testimony of many Kenyan and American diplomats and civil servants attest. Moi was happy, US Secretary of State Baker was happy. The military access agreement was re-signed the US  aid money kept flowing to Kenya.

The Americans were principally interested in the military facility in Mombasa, as John Kamau concluded in his article (but it was not their only concern). Moi may not have been their ‘darling’ as Kamau states but he was deemed a ‘key’ and ‘most important ally’ in the region to the Bush administration by 1990.

The wholly untrue story that the Bush administration in February 1990 threatened Moi that they would pull out of the military access agreement was told by some to prove a ficticious ‘row’ between Ouko and others during the Washington trip and thereby produce a spurious motive for his murder.

John Kamau may not have meant to but by highlighting and proving the importance of the military access agreement between Kenya and the US he has helped to prove that the ‘Washington trip theory’ (and indeed the story that was told) as to a motive for the murder of Dr Robert Ouko, was untrue.

Martin Minns was the series consultant to the six-part TV documentary, ”Murder at Got Alila – Who Killed Dr Robert Ouko and Why?”, aired by Citizen TV in March 2017.


Related Articles