Mirugi Kariuki: The Courageous Lawyer Who Defied President Moi


Mirugi Kariuki

When the late Mirugi Kariuki decided to vie for the Nakuru North parliamentary seat in November 1982, little did he know that his decision would place him on a collision course with President Daniel arap Moi. Following the detention of MP Koigi Wamwere after the August 1982 coup attempt, President Moi was adamant that no other Kikuyu would represent his home constituency. Upon learning of Kariuki’s intentions, Moi sent a stern warning, threatening severe consequences.

Koigi Wamwere had been a thorn in Moi’s side, but he viewed Mirugi Kariuki as several times more subversive. Intelligence reports indicated that Kariuki would easily win a free and fair contest, forcing Moi to resort to unorthodox methods to ensure his preferred outcome.

On the day Mirugi Kariuki was to present his nomination papers, a dragnet was laid out to prevent him from doing so. During this period, when KANU was the only political party, failure to present the papers would automatically disqualify a candidate. Despite these machinations, Kariuki persisted and successfully presented his papers.

The provincial administration, which had been tasked to oversee the elections, was called to a “seminar” in Kabarak during the election period. These District Commissioners (DCs), who had mastered the art of election manipulation, were assigned to act as returning officers with the sole objective of ensuring Kariuki did not emerge victorious.

Until he died in a plane crash twenty-two years later, Mirugi Kariuki maintained that he had won the November 1983 by-election in Nakuru North. However, a man said to be Moi’s nephew, Francis Koima Kimosop, was declared the winner, replacing Koigi, who remained in detention. What Mirugi Kariuki experienced in 1982 was only a prelude to the intense political struggles he would face in the following year’s general elections.

The 1983 General Elections in Nakuru

The September 1983 General Elections were held 14 months earlier to “calm the nation” after Moi accused an unidentified Cabinet Minister of conspiring with foreign forces to undermine his administration. In these elections, there were no presidential candidates as Moi ran unopposed in the only legal political party, KANU.

As the elections approached, Moi made no secret of his disdain for Mirugi Kariuki, who he considered a significant nuisance. During his previous campaign, Kariuki had vowed to “cause the release of all political prisoners” upon entering Parliament. These declarations did not sit well with President Moi.

In a public rally at Uhuru Park during the election run-up, Moi openly expressed his disapproval of Kariuki. “I must warn him, this lawyer, that if he’s going to talk the way he talked last year, he’ll face the consequences,” Moi declared.

Nomination Day Drama

The drama peaked when Mirugi Kariuki prepared to present his nomination papers. While in Nairobi to get cleared, he was the last person allowed in. The KANU treasurer, ole Tipis, who took the nomination fees, gave candidates certificates bearing two signatures: Moi’s and his. After Mirugi paid, he was handed an unsigned certificate. Had he not been vigilant, he would have left with invalid papers. Upon noticing this, he demanded and eventually received a duly signed copy, but only after Tipis consulted with Moi for 45 minutes on the phone. Once again, Kariuki was sternly warned to “behave.”

Despite receiving his certificate, the Deep State of the day planned to arrest Mirugi on trumped-up charges to prevent him from presenting his nomination. A friendly intelligence officer leaked the details to Kariuki, including the time and method of his planned arrest.

Forewarned, Mirugi Kariuki fled to Nyahururu. When officers came to arrest him that evening, he escaped by jumping over a fence to a neighbour’s home and was driven to safety. The officers, frustrated, arrested Kariuki’s brother, Samuel Gakinya, intending to use him as bait.

On the day of the nominations, police officers heavily guarded the DC’s office at the Old Town Hall to prevent Kariuki from entering. In a stroke of luck, Kariuki was smuggled into the nomination venue hidden in a pickup truck delivering charcoal. Thus, he managed to present his papers.

An irate police officer, frustrated at his failure to prevent Kariuki’s nomination, witnessed Mirugi being duly nominated. Even after presenting his papers to an angry DC, Kariuki was arrested and taken to Central Police Station, where his brother Gakinya was held. He faced trumped-up criminal charges, which were later dropped after the elections.

This was not the end of Mirugi Kariuki’s tribulations. He was arrested again and detained for five months on other fabricated charges. His political journey was marked by resilience and defiance in the face of intense political repression, embodying the challenges of an era in Kenya’s tumultuous history.

Personal Life and Achievements

Mirugi Kariuki was born and raised in Nakuru, where he developed a strong connection to the region. He pursued higher education, eventually studying law and becoming a prominent lawyer known for his advocacy for human rights and justice. Before venturing into politics, he took on several high-profile cases, often representing marginalized individuals.

Mirugi Kariuki’s commitment to justice and human rights continued throughout his political career. As the Member of Parliament for Nakuru Town, he worked tirelessly to improve infrastructure, education, and healthcare in the region. He also served as an Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Internal Security, where he continued his advocacy for civil liberties.

Mirugi Kariuki’s legacy is remembered for his unwavering integrity and courage. Despite facing immense political pressure and threats, he remained steadfast in his principles. His tragic death in a plane crash on April 10, 2006, was a significant loss to the country, especially for those who valued his dedication to justice and human rights.

After his death, his contributions to Kenyan society were widely recognized, and he is remembered as a courageous leader who stood up against oppression and worked tirelessly for the betterment of his community.