Cabral Pinto: The spirit of J.M. Kariuki cries for justice

March 2, 2009, is the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Hon Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly and affectionately remembered by Kenyans simply as “JM”.

The Elijah Mwangale-led parliamentary committee that investigated the killing, laid the blame on the State security machinery, senior government officials and the presidential aides.

JM is best remembered for his stinging criticism of Kenya’s ruling elite. “A small but powerful group of greedy, self-seeking elite in the form of politicians, civil servants and businessmen have steadily but very surely monopolised the fruits of independence to the exclusion of the majority of the people.

“We do not want a Kenya of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars.”

Professor Mwangi wa Githinji has immortalised JM’s words by writing a book titled, Ten Millionaires and Ten Million Beggars: A Study of Income Distribution and Development in Kenya, which provides the evidence to reinforce JM’s critique of the Kenyan ruling class.

A FEW YEARS AGO, I ATTENDED THE funeral service of Prof Katama Mkangi at All Saint’s Cathedral, Nairobi. Activists Wafula wa Buke and Aluoka Otieno revisited JM’s murder by addressing Prof Mkangi’s spirit.

“If you see JM, please let him know that his Kenya has now 50 billionaires and 30 million beggars,” they prayed. It is not difficult to know who the billionaires are.

JM is remembered also for his love for the ordinary people and for spearheading a private member’s Bill in Parliament that resulted in the enactment of the Hire Purchase Act. The Bill had sought to protect the middle class who faced oppression from financial institutions engaged in the business’s financing.

On the land issue, JM favoured the imposition of ceilings by individuals, corporations, foundations and religious organisations, the major categories that own most of the land in Kenya. His challenge of powerful local and foreign vested interests must have formed the motives of those who killed him.

JM’s murder shook the very foundations of Mzee Kenyatta’s regime. There were demonstrations against the administration in various parts of the country. Mr Mwai Kibaki was the only Cabinet minister who attended the funeral.

If President Kenyatta had dared attend the funeral he would have needed the security that President Moi required when he attended Dr Robert Ouko’s.

Assassinations confirm to Kenyans that the vested interests in this country will kill leaders who dare stand up for ordinary Kenyans’ lives and livelihoods. The murder of freedom fighters Dedan Kimathi and Pio Gama Pinto is a further example of this political truism. Killing the messenger has never killed the message.

Kenya’s status quo of foreign domination, exploitation and oppression, supported by the self-seeking elite that JM talked about, cannot be sustained for ever and ever. History records that Kenyans have never succumbed to domination and exploitation and that, indeed, they have always fought for their freedom.

This message is currently being conveyed to the grand coalition Government that follows in the footsteps of its greedy and anti-people predecessors since independence.

As we celebrate the International Women’s Day next week, we need also to glorify the spirit, determination and sense of purpose that has been displayed by Ms Rosemary Kariuki (JM’s daughter) and Ms Terry Kariuki, the widow, in leading the family in a struggle for justice for JM.

THE TWO WOMEN ARE GREAT LEADERS and politicians. They have joined broad movements that call for the end of impunity and for the setting up of transitional justice mechanisms. They have over decades built networks of solidarity with other Kenyan patriots seeking justice for JM and other assassinated Kenyans.

They remind us of the mothers of political detainees at Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner in Nairobi, who did not give up until their sons were released. They remind us of the mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared in Latin America who never gave up until justice was done.

The message for change can never be killed. The messengers have been jailed, detained, forced into exile or even killed. The message from the oppression is that leaders for change are prepared to die for their motherland. Kenyans who need change comprise the majority, and a cabal of local and foreign elites cannot for ever jail this majority.

Change is unstoppable as long as people who believe in true justice, democracy, human and equal rights keep the spirit to fight alive.

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