Thursday, December 18, 2008

Of Mboya, Rawson Macharia and the Loyalists

The modern day story of Rawson Macharia – who was buried last week- is not about how he testified against Jomo Kenyatta but how Kanu – or to be more blunt; Tom Mboya used the “frail little Kikuyu shopkeeper”, as the Times magazine called him, to his advantage.
It was at Mboya’s People’s Convention Party (PCP) headquarters where Macharia walked one day and signed an affidavit alleging that the British government had paid him to lie during the 1952 Kapenguria trial. As a result he was jailed for perjury for 21 months.
There was, of course, lots of paper trail on the promises made to Macharia who was the star witness in Kapenguria and whose evidence on Kenyatta taking Mau Mau oath was relied on by the prosecution.
Even historians today are still struggling to place Macharia within the history of Kenya. Was he a character shaped by the Mau Mau interrogator Ian Henderson – the man who was behind the penetration of the movement with pseudo-gangs? Did Henderson dictate Macharia’s testimony to fix Kenyatta? Finally, how did Macharia shape the later history of Kenya?
On one of the notes of a Colonial Office meeting held in September 23, 1952 it was succinctly put that “time might come when a decision had to be taken either to 'bust' or 'buy' Jomo Kenyatta. It would depend how the campaign went against the Mau Mau. Unless action was taken against Jomo the Africans might say that he was too important for the Kenya Government to tackle”.
That could be how Macharia was brought into the picture in a bid to “bust” Kenyatta and its no wonder that Kenyatta’s lawyer Mr D.N. Pritt described him as “a dirty little informer”. While there is evidence that Macharia demanded more from Brits shortly after Kenyatta was fixed the story of how Mboya took advantage of Macharia to score political battles is little told.
What is public knowledge is that after his testimony, Macharia became a loner and turned down several jobs after a beer bar opened for him by the government flopped due to lack of customers. After all, most of the Kikuyu men were either in detention or in secured camps. Macharia tried to hawk his story to Newspapers and frustrated he walked to Mboya’s office.
Mboya spotted a political chance to rally the Kenyatta supporters to his side and outwit the man who was his main rival in Nairobi; lawyer Clem Argwings-Kodhek who had founded the Nairobi District African National Congress to specifically tame Mboya and “and his American allies” as he used to put it.
Mboya reasoned that if he used Macharia to rubbish the Kenyatta trial, he would have an upper hand among the Kikuyus who supported Kenyatta.
Also, Mboya wanted to show that the moderates had forgiven the loyalists. He also wanted to portray himself as above the emerging radicals within Kanu who included Oginga Odinga.
After Macharia was jailed, Mboya did not lose sight on this opportunity and organized a grand welcoming party –organised by Kanu - at Solidarity house where there was “free beer, food and sweetened tea!” as one paper put it. This was a symbolic party. The point was: If leaders like Mboya could party with Macharia, then Kanu would not harm the loyalists if it took power.
Having scored on Macharia, Mboya had other ideas on how to tackle his rivals. Back in Nairobi he had befriended Pamela, fun-loving daughter of veterinarian Walter Odede, who was a restricted detainee.
Odede, more than Odinga was well known in Nyanza politics and Mboya used his US connections to secure for Pamela a college bursary as the father remained in restriction.
For that his Nairobi rival Argwings-Kodhek used to quip: “The Americans are not Mboya’s friends, they are his masters”
Odede was one of the senior officials of Kenya African Union (KAU) before it was banned and was one of the main political figures in Nyanza. If Mboya could get Kenyatta’s Kikuyu supporters to his side by using the Macharia card – even for symbolic reasons only – he would manage to outfoc Argwings-Kodhek. Again, if he secured the support of Odede via his daughter Pamela, he would secure the Luo votes.
On both ways, Mboya won and Macharia faded into oblivion unscathed. That was until he died recently.


Anonymous said...

Kenyans! What is wrong with you?
It is your celebration too! OBAMA is sworn in for president and your website main talk is about the Journalist? This is History! You are part of this History! Aye ya ya ya!!!

Sean said...


I am a grad student at Cambridge working on Kenyan land settlement during decolonisation and would love to chat with you. Please email me