As he sipped his drink one late evening in Lusaka, Zambia, early September 1970, West Mugirango MP George Justus Morara bumped into Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge – the man who assassinated Constitutional Affairs Minister, Tom Mboya, on July 5, 1969.
An astonished Morara, who was among members of the Social Welfare and Employment parliamentary committee on official duty, confronted Njenga who, in panic, bolted out of the club. The government had announced the previous year that Njenga had been sentenced to death and hanged for shooting dead the powerful Cabinet minister along Nairobi’s Government Road (present-day Moi Avenue).
Upon arrival at Nairobi’s Embakasi Airport, Morara and a few members of the House team, chaired by Kandara MP George Mwicigi, headed to Parliament buildings for a scheduled press conference.
Without mincing words, Morara spilled the beans on the group’s encounter with Njenga in Lusaka, and gave the Government a 48-hour ultimatum to produce the Bulgarian-trained Njenga.
Forty-eight hours later, the MP was dead — killed in a suspicious road accident along the Kakamega-Kisumu highway. He was only 34 years old and was seen as one of the most promising politicians — even mentioned as a possible future president.
This week, 50 years later, the fiery politician’s death remains a mystery. While friends and family maintain he was assassinated by President Jomo Kenyatta’s state agents as part of a wider cover-up scheme of the assassination of Mboya, others believe it was an unfortunate accident.
In his condolence message on the evening of Saturday, September 12, 1970 – the day Morara died – Mzee Kenyatta said: “I have learnt with great sorrow of the untimely death of Mr Morara, who had kicked off his political career with vigour and vitality. Within a short time he had clearly shown his interest and ability to serve the nation and had contributed greatly through Parliament and extensive tours throughout the republic.”
Describing him as straight-talking and a thorn in the flesh of the government, Mr Benson Kegoro, who succeeded Morara as West-Mugirango MP in a subsequent by-election, observes that his predecessor had a singular determination to serve the people.
“We have no idea what exactly happened. He may have died in a road accident as stated or someone might have plotted to silence him owing to his consistent criticism of the government,” the former MP told Sunday Nation this week.
On Saturday, Morara’s family marked the 50th anniversary since the MP’s death in a low-key ceremony in Kisii County, punctuated by interviews of family members on local radio and TV stations. Only two members of Morara’s nuclear family were in attendance – his eldest daughter, Sandy, and last born child, Innocent. The politician’s wife died in India in October 2010 over heart-related complications. The second born, Duke, fled the country fearing for his life following repeated protests to the government over his father’s alleged assassination.
Sandy regrets the golden jubilee event was rather low-key despite the respect his father commanded: “Today we are on our own as a family, with no politicians or government officials to celebrate this great man.”
Speaking to Sunday Nation on Thursday in a phone interview from an undisclosed location abroad, Duke said he would attend mass “to pray for the soul of my late father”. He regretted the circumstances of his father’s death had greatly affected the family.
The quiet anniversary is a contradiction of a man who lived loud and who spoke his mind fearlessly. Although he served as MP for barely nine months, parliamentary colleagues and residents of the present-day Kisii and Nyamira counties are convinced he left behind an indelible mark.
That he is a revered political hero to many, observes former South Mugirango MP Omingo Magara, is demonstrated by the fact that hundreds of children in Nyamira, Kisii and neighbouring counties have been named after him.
“Members of the Kisii community traditionally name their children after the dead. However they are named only after the very popular amongst us, and those who have touched other peoples’ lives,” says the politician.
Although he was only in lower primary school when Morara joined Parliament, Magara vividly recalls that the Morara’s image was that of a “fearless and firm leader with a promising future”.
Speaking during his charged burial ceremony on September 17, 1970, attended by Speaker of National Assembly Fred Mati, six Cabinet ministers and several MPs, Public Works minister James Nyamweya summarised it aptly by stating that Morara “was born a fearless and courageous fighter whose main interest in life was to fight for justice of all people”.
When indeed he made his maiden speech in Parliament in February 1970, Morara kicked off with bold observations on President Kenyatta: “Mr Speaker, I would like to make my maiden speech by making this point. His Excellency has an exceptionally good personality. However, he is being misguided and misled and being misadvised by some individuals who otherwise want to get the best of the national cake. And as a result the rest of the country suffers”.
And for the rest of the short stint in Parliament, the West Mugirango MP never shied away from criticising the government or publicly asking the Head of State to put his house in order. In one of the Hansard reports, he is quoted protesting at the government’s failure to address tribal conflicts.
“Right now while we are speaking in this House, Mr Speaker, some people are dying. There are daylight robberies, there are daylight raids of cattle and people are being killed. When they kill one, we kill 20. However this is nothing to be proud of. How can we live in peace when something is said in this House and nothing is done? The credibility and dignity of government have been challenged,” he protested at Deputy Speaker, Dr Munyua Waiyaki.
Morara’s sentiments may sound harmless and common place today, but at the time only a handful of politicians — including J.M Kariuki, Mark Mwithaga, Martin Shikuku among others — dared to challenge the President and his administration.
Former Commerce and Industry minister, James Nakhwanga Osogo, for instance, remembers Morara as a firebrand who was eloquent in articulating his position. When he passed on, a grieving Osogo pointed out that Parliament would greatly miss his “fiery speeches”.
Born in 1936 in a small village of Nyakeore in West Mugirango, in the current Nyamira County, Morara attended Sironga and Kamagambo primary schools before joining Kisii High School.
He later proceeded to Buffalo University, Michigan, US, and upon his return in 1964, served in the civil service as a District Officer in various stations including Kisumu, Maseno, Homa Bay, Eldama Ravine and Maralal. He later quit government and worked briefly at BP/Shell at a senior level before resigning to venture into politics.
As the family seeks answers 50 years after his death, many theories remain. Duke is, for instance, convinced his father was assassinated. It is not an isolated view.
On the day he met his death, Morara is said to have been in the company of parliamentary colleagues Mark Bosire (Kitutu Masaba) and Nyarangi Moturi (North Mugirango). The trio reportedly left Nairobi for upcountry in Morara’s car, with his colleagues alighting (after a brief argument) in Nakuru.
Morara proceeded alone to Kakamega for official duty, including a meeting with his friend, Kakamega District Commissioner Ezekiel Nyarangi.
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According to family sources, the DC tried to dissuade him from proceeding to Kisii that night where his wife and family were, but he insisted. He never made it. That evening he died near Chavakali market. Police reports indicate the MP, who was driving a Peugeot 404, registration number KKZ 058, was involved in a head-on collusion with a Police Land Rover, GK 1357, driven by Constable Fredrick Kugo.
The MP’s abrupt death was particularly devastating to his young family. His wife, Mary, was only about 24 years old, while the children Sandy, Duke and Innocent were only 2 years, 1 year and 5 months respectively.
“I cannot even clearly express how I feel to date. What I know is that I just feel pain and more pain,” says Sandy, 52.
Except for the pictures of him carrying her on his laps or pecking her on the cheeks, she said she never really experienced the love of a father. “I keep asking myself, why would anyone do this to another person’s child?,” poses Sandy.
Duke concurs that the 1970 tragedy “terribly affected our lives and even though my siblings and I are all in our 50s, we are not close to each other as we live separate lives”.
Duke, a lawyer, all along tried his luck in politics but his mother would hear none of it. Having been robbed of a husband at a tender age and her family life disrupted, she developed a dislike for politics. Duke nonetheless unsuccessfully vied for West Mugirango parliamentary seat in 2007 but lost to James Gesami.
Mr George Kegoro, the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, says death of the politician needs to be officially classified as an assassination, so that is treated alongside similar deaths like Mboya, Robert Ouko, and JM Kariuki, among others. He also says there should be an official investigation.