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Nahashon Njenga: The story of Bulgaria-trained Mboya killer

Posted by African Press International on July 10, 2016

KAMAU -1 | Jumapili, Julai 10, 2016

Few people have heard of Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski Higher Military Academy. Now, that is where Tom Mboya’s killer, Nahashon Isaac Njenga, received his training as a sapper.

Military Sappers are hardened frontline soldiers who dig trenches, spy, demolish bridges and clear the way. Interestingly, Mboya was instrumental in the training of his former youth-winger-turned-killer.

Why then did a man that Mboya trusted turn into his killer? That is the question that has never been answered some 47 years after the former minister for Economic Planning was killed.

For four years, Njenga was a student in this high-profile academy named after a Bulgarian revolutionary who led an armed uprising of all Bulgarians during the Ottoman Empire. His diploma certificates indicated that he was trained in internal combustion engines, military techniques and firing preparations.

What was not known is that Njenga was part of a group that was being trained to return and join the military but the British — who were financing the Kenya armed forces — objected the entry of Communist-trained soldiers into the military.

Most of those affected were students sent at the behest of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga whose links with the Reds were public knowledge. President Jomo Kenyatta’s inner circle was also known to send Kanu youth wingers for training in Bulgaria and Mboya and his ally in Kanu, Kariuki Njiiri, the party’s Education and Publicity Secretary, were known to shortchange one another on the scholarships.

After independence, some of the politicos in Kanu wanted to send their own for either intelligence or military training abroad. While some of these graduates ended up in government, others were locked out.

While the US airlifts organised by Mboya and US-trained Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano were orderly, the Bulgarian airlifts were chaotic.

So bad was the situation that on the morning of November 6, 1963, the new Education minister, Joseph Otiende, wrote to Kenyatta and the entire Cabinet demanding “to know how many governments exist in this country… if there are any subversion being planned, then we must be aware of what is happening”.

Interestingly, nobody answered Mr Otiende’s fears.

ATTENDING FOREIGN COURSES

While the Cabinet had decided that the Kenya Overseas Scholarship Advisory Committee (KOSAC) would choose those attending foreign courses — this was not to be when it came to Bulgaria scholarships.

Njenga was part of a controversial group of Kanu youth wingers that had been picked by Mboya, Odinga and Njiiri to take up training courses in Bulgaria.

On that day, at 10.30pm, Otiende had arrived at the Nairobi Airport from a meeting in Dar es Salaam. At the airport were officials from his ministry eager to welcome him back and update him on the scheduled airlift of 55 students who had been selected by the ministry for further studies in Bulgaria.

Officially, Otiende was to see them off and he had made arrangements with the Bulgarian embassy in Ethiopia, which had sent an Ilyushin aircraft to airlift the students.

But as Otiende left his plane, an official from his ministry called him aside and told him that “there was another list (of students) being prepared by Kanu giving the names of students selected (for the Bulgarian scholarships).” They were to leave the next morning.

Otiende, according to archival letters, was shocked and after a few calls to senior ministry officials he left the airport, just past midnight, and drove to the home of Duncan Mwanyumba, minister for Works, Communications and Power, and requested him to “hold the Bulgarian plane until the Cabinet sorted out the matter”.

Unknown to Otiende, five Cabinet ministers Mboya (Justice and Constitutional Affairs), Kiano (Commerce and Industry), Dr Njoroge Mungai (Health and Housing) and Koinange (Pan-African Affairs) had secretly schemed to have a different set of students travel to Bulgaria. Odinga, who had been instrumental in negotiating the scholarships, was told by Mboya that Kenyatta had approved the new list. It was perhaps a lie.

Although Otiende was “in touch” with the Bulgarian government and had on September 12 received a letter saying the total number of scholarships “was mentioned to Hon Odinga when His Excellency passed through here (Addis Ababa) on his journey to Accra” he did not smell a rat. After all, he was in charge of the ministry of Education, or so he thought.

November 6, the day Otiende’s students were to leave, another group was on its way to the airport led by Njiiri and the Lands and Settlement minister, Jackson Angaine, who was to accompany them to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.

Details on the flight show that this group elbowed past the Otiende group and went to the aircraft accompanied by Mr Odinga. He ordered the plane to leave with the students at 5am. That overruled an earlier order by Mwanyumba, the minister for Works, Communications and Power, who had called the airport early that morning and ordered the plane to be detained until the next morning.

Mwanyumba and Otiende were not even aware that Kenyatta was to receive a party of Bulgarian officials led by the Director of African affairs, G. Tanev, who had been writing letters to Otiende about the airlift. Tanev had arranged to meet Mr Odinga, too.

ACQUIRED DRIVING LICENCE

Whether Njenga was on Odinga or Mboya’s group has never been known but it was through this scholarship that he landed in Veliko Turnovo town, a picturesque medieval city whose history dates back to more than 5,000 years ago.

Njenga immersed himself into the Bulgarian life, acquired a driving licence and would be taken many photos in his military attire. These would later feature in his court case.

Upon return, Njenga immersed himself into Nairobi’s fast life. He rented a house in Ofafa Jericho in Plot No U3, House number 4486. He also had another house in Banana Hill, on Limuru Road.
In Nairobi’s Victoria Street (ironically, now Tom Mboya Street), Njenga had a private office in Lombard House’s Room 27 and a secretary, Esther Ngugi. From here, he ran his businesses that included second hand car sales, Kemco Motors, located on University Way. His car, a Simca registration number KGR 250, was always parked there or at the Princess Hotel where he used to drink — even during the day.

On the day that he shot Mboya, as the minister stepped out of Government Road’s (Moi Avenue today) Chhani’s Pharmacy, Njenga had spent part of the day at a bar in Ngara. It was here that he met a Kamiti prison’s cleaner, Mary Njeri Munyuiri and he remarked: “Mboya is a bad man”.

Before Kanu’s formation, Njenga was a member of Mboya’s African People’s Party (APP) with Ms Munyuiri and another youthwinger, Muigai Lumumba. Actually, Njenga told the trial court that he had been helped by Mboya to go to Bulgaria: “He helped me to buy clothes. And when I returned I used to go to his office for any help which I needed…”

Mboya had once offered Njenga a job but he declined: “I told him I did not want any because I had my own business,” he would later say.

Why Mboya had fallen out with his two ex-youth wingers Lumumba and Njenga, was never made clear. But what we know from police statements was that Lumumba wanted to vie for the Kamukunji seat held by Mboya. That Wednesday, three days before Mboya died, Njenga had told Ms Munyuiri that he would go look for Mboya and shoot him.

“Njenga told me he would go to look for Mboya. And, after seeing him, he would shoot him. He told Lumumba not to fire his gun until he (Njenga) fired three bullets.” He then said: “Tom is in Ethiopia and he will come tomorrow.” He said that “my pocket is full” – Munyuiri later confessed to police.

That Saturday, Lumumba, Njenga and Ms Munyuiri had a lunch time date at Princess Hotel but only Lumumba showed up. At the junction of Ronald Ngala (then Duke Street) and Victoria Street (now Tom Mboya), Njenga met Ms Munyuiri, a mother of seven, who had come to the City from Kamiti prisons, where she worked, to pick up some medicine for a heart condition. “Mboya will not stand in Nairobi again,” Njenga again remarked to her.

KILLER WEAPON

On the Saturday that Mboya was assassinated, Njenga parked his car outside Gill House, Nairobi. He claimed to have gone to River Road, “where my clothes are made” and then went to Top Life Bar and later to Silver Bar. “I started to drink as other people were doing. I stayed there for a long time. I think when I left it was about 2 pm.” It was a lie, as the Court found out.

What Njenga never denied was that he was found in possession of the killer weapon which he claimed to have been given to keep by a longtime friend who was with him at the Bulgaria military school.

It was around 12.30. How he knew where Mboya was is not known although the late minister was known to frequent the chemist on Saturdays before they closed. Witnesses say Njenga also knew that Mboya had flown in from Ethiopia on Friday night.

On the day he was shot, Mboya’s white Mercedes Benz registration KME 627 was parked on the yellow line outside Chhani’s Pharmacy.

The proprietors, Mr and Mrs Chhani, were Mboya’s family friends and although they were about to close for the weekend, the minister had called asking them to wait for him to purchase some drugs. On the morning of Saturday July 5, 1969, The East African Standard had carried a photograph of Mboya taken at Embakasi Airport the previous day.

It was his last, alive. Resplendent in a business suit, he was striding briskly across the tarmac towards the camera. The men accompanying him were not identified in the caption, but one could easily recognise his Permanent Secretary Philip Ndegwa and Mboya’s brother Alphonce Okuku. The Mboya team was coming from an Economic Commission of Africa meeting in Addis.

Had he wanted to, Mboya could have stayed at the airport and boarded the next plane to London. He had been invited to attend a conference at the University of Sussex on “The Crisis of Planning”, due to begin on Monday July 7.

But Mboya had gracefully declined the invitation, citing pressure of work. At 9.30am, he arrived at his office at Treasury Building, Harambee Avenue. With his private secretary Otieno Nundu by his side, he became immersed in official paperwork. But he also made time to finish writing a seven-page letter to William Scheinman, “dealing frankly and rather worriedly with current politics”, according to David Goldsworthy, his biographer.

Goldsworthy said that Mboya was concerned about the forthcoming round of Kanu primary elections. His enemies, he wrote, had raised a great deal of money to fight the primaries and he would need at least half as much — a minimum of £50,000 or $140,000 (about Sh10 million) — to ensure his supporters were secure.

Those were the elections that Njenga was openly talking about as the campaigns continued.

“I am unable to appeal to any foreign government nor do I think that I should do this. Ironically, people who receive money from foreign sources have levelled accusations against me. Ever since my trade union days and the students airlift, I have lived with a label of help from America. Sometimes I wish this were true!” Mboya wrote.

At midday, Mr J.D. Otiende, minister for Health, passed by to say goodbye before he left for an overseas trip.

Shortly before 1pm, Mboya and Nundu left the office. Down in the Treasury car park, Mboya told his driver to go home, got into his car and drove off alone. A few minutes later, he pulled up on Government Road, outside Chhani’s Pharmacy.

As he stepped out, with his purchase, gunshots rang. And the man with a hat and a briefcase vanished into the crowd.
Mboya, one of Kenya’s most charismatic leaders was dead.

Sixteen days later, as riots rocked Nairobi and Kisumu, Njenga was charged with the murder. He had been found with the murder weapon.
Whether Mboya had actually helped to train his killer was never known.

jkamau@ke.nationmedia.com @johnkamau1

End. Nation news Kenya

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