Has “a can of worms” been opened up to let loose just a little bit more of the truth surrounding the murder of Dr Robert Ouko? The Kenya Forum thinks it might have been.
Dr Robert Ouko memorial library
Just over 24 years after the tragic murder of Dr Robert Ouko, Kenya’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs, on February 13, 1990, a fitting tribute to the man has been opened near his Koru farm in Muhoroni.
The modern and fully equipped Dr Robert Ouko Memorial Community Library will service over 8,000 students in the area, a legacy which the good doctor would surely have approved, being as he was and as his widow Christabel Ouko observed, “a politician and teacher who instilled in others a culture of reading and education advocacy”.
Muhoroni MP K’Oyoo says he did not kill Robert Ouko
All well and good but then local Muhoroni MP James Onyango K’Oyoo used the opportunity of the opening of the library to make a passionate and very public plea to say that he was not involved in Dr Ouko’s murder, stating also that anyone with evidence against him should come forward.
The MP said there were rumours circulating that funds he used in his campaign during last year’s general election were compensation he received for participating in the plot to kill Dr Ouko.
“My hands are clean, they do not contain any blood of the former Foreign Affairs minister”, K’Oyoo declared, “The evidence I gave Dr Ouko’s Commission of Inquiry is still alive and anyone who wants to know who murdered my friend can investigate from the evidence.”
“He was the one to determine whether I could get my job. The next thing I heard was that he went missing. How could I then participate in his death?” asked Mr K’Oyoo.
A friend of the Kenya Forum was at that event and told us, “As soon as K’Oyoo said that I thought, this could open up a can of worms!”
Well so it may have done.
Star article headline: ‘Robert Ouko murder: think K’Oyoo, what do you know?’ (since deleted)
An article in The Star on Monday entitled ‘Robert Ouko murder: Think K’Oyoo, what do you know?’, responding to K’Oyoo’s statement, did not accuse him of involvement in Ouko’s murder but it did make the case for a local dimension to the killing, and that ‘the answer to why Dr Ouko was murdered and who murdered him, lies with one or more people living in, or with connections to, the Koru, Muhoroni and Kisumu area in 1990’.
The Star article, written by a Martin Minns, had an interesting story to tell, not least about K’Oyoo. It didn’t, however, tell all, not by any means. There’s more…
1988 Election: a tough battle between Robert Ouko and Joab Omino
K’Oyoo, the Star article explained, had known Dr Ouko through his father, who had a farm “not very far from the Minister’s farm” in Koru. K’Oyoo also farmed nearby with some sugar cane farming in Muhoroni and had “two posho mills at home”. Sugar cane farming however was a sideline for K’Oyoo whose daytime job was as a “personnel clerk” in the Kenya Post Office.
In 1988, then aged 31, K’Oyoo was asked by Ouko to help in the election campaign in Kisumu Town constituency in which Ouko faced a tough battle with Joab Omino, an election that Ouko only just won (some say with the help or President Moi).
Involvement with Robert Ouko: K’Oyoo’s “adventure”
In November 1989, three months before Ouko was murdered, K’Oyoo decided to travel abroad to “accord myself an adventure of seeing [the] outside and also doing some small shopping” in Switzerland and London, UK, as he explained it to the Kenyan police.
According to K’Oyoo, Dr Ouko helped him get a passport and visa from the Swiss mission in Nairobi and gave him Sh28,000 towards the cost of the trip. K’Oyoo said he also received Sh40,000 through a “foreign exchange allocation” and the flight tickets from an Alfred Oyier, “a friend working with Kenya Airways as the Regional Manager”.
So off went K’Oyoo on 16 November, 1989, first to Geneva in Switzerland for three days and then on to London where he stayed with “the Ogembo family” and went “shopping at the renowned Selfridges store, Oxford Street”. He also popped into the Hilton Hotel to meet “many people” from a visiting Kenyan delegation, as personnel clerks working for the Kenya Post Office so often do.
K’Oyoo and the Kenya Post Office
It was about K’Oyoo’s employment as a “personnel clerk” in the Kenya Post Office that he was seeking Dr Ouko’s help just before he was murdered.
K’Oyoo had worked for Kenya Post Office since 1983 when by his own admission the “employing officer” had graded him Division 4 rather than the Division 3 ranking he should have been given as he had not passed in mathematics.
K’Oyoo told the Gicheru Commission that officer had said “what I will do you for you, as a favour, I will not document you. I will just employ you as a clerical officer”.
“In my records”, K’Oyoo told Gicheru, “he reflected that I had passed Maths with a seven, so I was employed just like that without the certificates in the file”.
“Football politics” – K’Oyoo sent home
Unfortunately for K’Oyoo, sometime in 1986 he “differed with the same officer over football politics” and it was down to this argument that K’Oyoo believed he was called on to verify his education qualifications, whereupon, he said “I was stopped from working and I was at home”.
According to K’Oyoo Dr Ouko interceded on his behalf and he went back to work, this time in the Computer Control Section, until after the 1988 election when the minister “prevailed upon” the Managing Director of the Post Office “to consider doing something little for me” and give K’Oyoo “something to boost my position” where after he was transferred back to the Personnel Department.
The missing math’s certificate however was to cause K’Oyoo problems again in early 1990 when he received a “suspension” letter on 17 January, and about which he met with Dr Ouko in his office the same day and the following day. By then Dr Ouko had spoken to the Managing Director of KP&TC, a Mr Kepngeno Arap Ngeny, and told him he had agreed with Ngeny that K’Oyoo should resume work.
Dr Robert Ouko returns back from the ‘Washington trip’
K’Oyoo’s testimony to the Kenyan police stated that he was at the airport when Dr Ouko landed back from the ‘Washington trip’ on February 4. There, at the airport, Ouko asked K’Oyoo to see him the next day but on going to his office K’Oyoo found Dr Ouko “had gone home”.
K’Oyoo said he called Dr Ouko’s office the next day (6 February) “and insisted on talking to him and I did talk to him” and that “He asked me to see him at 2.30”. This was odd as Dr Ouko had left for Nyahera and Koru the evening before. K’Oyoo arrived late for the meeting at 4.00pm but of course the minister was not in his office.
“Whatever message I had for him”, although K’Oyoo did not say what that message was, “I gave to Eric Onyango [a friend of both Ouko and K’Oyoo’s] to give to him [Ouko] on Saturday 10th February 1990”. What that urgent message was K’Oyoo appears not to have told the police, nor anyone else, to this day.
A few days later Dr Ouko was dead.
It was K’Oyoo who drove Mrs Ouko from her Loresho home in Nairobi to the Koru farm on February 15 after the public announcement was made that Dr Ouko had gone missing since February 13, arriving at about 4pm.
K’Oyoo’s changing testimony
K’Oyoo made two statements to the police not long after Ouko’s murder (on 16 March and 23 April) and he appeared before the Gicheru Commission on 22 July 1991, during which his story remained the same – about the 1988 election and his employment problems – but at the end of the hearing in front of Gicheru he made a special plea regarding his own security and he was recalled to resume giving evidence on 11 October.
During this testimony given on 11 October 1991, K’Oyoo made allegations that he had never mentioned before, either in his two written statements to the police or to the testimony he first gave to the Gicheru Commission in July.
The Kisumu Molasses project
Suddenly K’Oyoo’s changed and he made allegations over the rehabilitation of the Kisumu Molasses plant. The new allegations stated that the then Minister of Energy, Nicholas Biwott, and Dalmas Otieno, had scuppered the project at a bilateral meeting in Italy in November 1987. It was, however, later proved that the subject could not have been on the agenda, that Biwott did not attend the meeting and that Dalmas Otieno was not even an MP at the time.
K’Oyoo alleged too that a feasibility study into the Kisumu Molasses project had been undertaken and was only awaiting the transfer of funds from Italy. In fact, no feasibility study had been undertaken and that it was the failure to secure funding for it that led to the ‘BAK Group’ run by the Italian-Swiss couple Domenico Airaghi and Marianne Briner-Mattern being replaced by a US company F C Shaffer.
F C Schaffer: K’Oyoo gets it wrong
As for F C Shaffer, K’Oyoo said he knew only what he had read in the press. He claimed, also and quite contrastingly, that he had asked Dr Ouko whether they “were a serious group” before the March general election in 1988. Ouko allegedly told him they were a “mere play”, a camouflage for Biwott.
However, it would later emerge that F C Shaffer were not introduced to the project until mid-1988 (after the election) and that the company was brought to the project through the US Embassy in Nairobi (no friends of Biwott) and that it was funded by US aid agencies.
Domenico Airaghi expelled from Kenya
Domenico Airgahi, K’Oyoo also alleged, had been expelled from Kenya in March 1989 by Nicholas Biwott whereas in reality Airaghi had been expelled at the instigation of Dalmas Otieno, the Minister for Industry.
“I personally interviewed Mr Airaghi”, Otieno told a New Scotland Yard officer, Detective Inspector G Dennis on 21 May, 1990, “and I considered he was not competent to handle the project and knew nothing about molasses”.
Airaghi convicted and out on bail when he was expelled from Kenya
By the time of Airaghi’s expulsion, Dalmas Otieno may have also known that the “BAK director’ was also out on bail having been convicted by a Milan court in April 1987 of attempted extortion.
Airaghi wrote a three-page letter to Otieno on 1 August, 1989, complaining about his treatment. The letter does not mention Biwott.
This and other allegations made in the testimony and statements given by K’Oyoo 18 months after the murder of Dr Ouko appear, according to The Star article, “not to have been backed by any independent evidence, indeed, all the available evidence seems to be at odds with what he said Dr Ouko had told him”.
Robert Ouko’s murder: the killer had local knowledge?
The Star article makes the point that the site where Dr Ouko’s body was found – at the foot of Got Alila Hill, 2.7km down a dirt track from the Koru-Muhoroni road – was too remote for someone to have decided to kill him and dump his body there, unless they had knowledge of the local geography.
Kisumu town council corruption
The article also pointed out that whereas Briner-Mattern’s allegation that Dr Ouko was preparing a report on corruption surrounding the Kisumu Molasses project, an allegation that she alone made, has never been supported by any evidence, we do know that in the period just before he was murdered ‘Dr Ouko was investigating and writing a report on alleged property and land fraud in the Kisumu area linked to the activities of some within Kisumu Municipal Town Council’.
K’Oyoo: what do you know?
It is “[i]n that light”, says the Star article, that “Mr K’Oyoo and others should cast back their minds, try to remember what they heard and what they knew”.
So he and they should, says the Kenya Forum but we would also like to know what was the urgent business K’Oyoo had with Dr Ouko after the minister had returned from Washington? Why did K’Oyoo so dramatically change his testimony one-and-a-half years after Ouko’s murder? As that later testimony has proven to be incorrect, what does K’Oyoo have to say about that now? And just for the sake of good order, where was he on the morning of the 13 February, 1990?
See also on the topic of the murder of Robert Ouko, our 6 February, 2012: ‘The murder of Dr Robert Ouko: what really happened‘.