Munene Kamau, 58 a journalist based in Kirinyaga was branded state enemy number one in 1980s. He was tortured and incarcerated. He tells JAMES MWANGI how he struggled to regain footing.
You have been through a lot of misfortunes. How was it like growing up?
I am the fifth-born in a family of 12. My father was an ex-military with the King’s African Rifles that fought in the World Wars. I went through education like any average child. I enrolled at Kenya Institute of Mass Communication and after clearing in 1986, I was hired as a correspondent by Kenya News Agency (KNA) and was based in Kirinyaga. I was happy since this was closer home and I could take care of my ailing dad. But little did I know this was the start of my troubles.
What exactly do you mean?
In 1987, there was a state crackdown on people perceived to be against the government. They were labelled as Mwakenya and surprisingly, I was listed as one of the rebels. I was not in good books with late minister and Ndia MP James Njiru, powerful district commissioner Anthony Oyier and the late Internal Security permanent secretary Hezekiah Oyugi.
They were not happy with me reporting about politicians and more so, criticising the government. One day, in October 1987, seven heavily-armed Special Branch officers drove to my home ready to kill me. They accused me of possessing a Lewis gun and a Wesson riffle fitted with binoculars. They claimed I had seditious documents given to me by the late Anglican Archbishop David Gitari from USA to publicise through KNA. They ransacked my house but did not find the guns or seditious material.
Where was your family when all this was happening?
They were watching me, and my kids didn’t understand what was going on. The officers claimed they could not trust me and so to immobilise me, they broke my leg. I wailed in a lot of pain. They beat me up and arrested me.
Where did they take you?
I was blindfolded and bundled into their car. I was driven to Nyayo House where I later learnt Raila Odinga, Wahome Mutahi, his brother Njuguna Mutahi, Wanyiri Kihoro and my colleagues at KNA like Adhiambo Okite and Omollo Koduma had also being arrested. I was accused of being the secretary general of Mwakenya. They claimed I had committed treason by claiming Koigi wa Wamwere was the president. Further, I was accused of recruiting street boys and taking them to Libya to train as mercenaries to overthrow the government. They claimed I had a special phone I used to communicate with the late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.
Yes! I was in shock. They also claimed that I had met with Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev to scheme how to topple the government. Never mind the farthest I had travelled was to Dar es Salaam with cabinet minister Arthur Magugu on official duties.
They alleged that I had a lot of money in my account but they learnt I had only Sh10,000, which was a loan from Sauti Sacco. One of their bosses ordered me to plead guilty to the charges while pointing at my head with a cocked gun. He threatened to blow off my head but I declined and the torture continued.
At what point were you released?
We were kept in rooms full of water. Some people died. I am lucky I survived, though my leg was in bad shape since I didn’t receive any medical attention. We were released on December 1987, we were blindfolded and dumped at the Tea Room matatu stage in Nairobi. The whole experience was too traumatising. My dad died and was buried without my knowledge.
How was life out there? Did you cope?
My siblings, neighbours and community treated me like an outcast. My three boys were mocked in school and labelled Watoto wa Mwakenya. It took years for me to regain my footing. Between 1988 and 2004, I could not afford a decent life for my family. The late Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, Philip Ndegwa who hailed from Kirinyaga offered to help.
He wanted me to get back my state job but he died before his plans were successful. My turning point was in 2003 when we filed for a case and fortunately, in 2008, we were awarded Sh1 million. But I only pocketed Sh600,000. I managed to build a home, buy a car and educate my children. Njiru who orchestrated my torture sought forgiveness before he died in 2013.
What was the greatest lesson from this?
I lived to see freedom of media and expression in Kenya. I accomplished my degree in communication and media in 2013 at age of 54. I am determined to work hard.