The Assassination of Chief Waruhiu

Written by | Features, Profiles

The most important murder of the early 1950s and the two men who hanged for it.


Startled, the driver hooted and screeched to a halt. At the wheel of the black Hudson, Gichiri Mbatia barely had time to brake, stopping just short of driving into the car in front. The brown Ford Consul had appeared from nowhere, then reversed back into the narrow path. 

From the front passenger side of the Consul, a tall skinny man in a brown jacket and a scarf got out. He walked straight to the rear left passenger window of the Hudson. Then he leaned slightly and asked the man seated there “Chief Waruhiu?” Before the older man could finish his answer, the questioner deftly pulled a pistol from his jacket pocket.

Then he shot the man in the back left seat. Once through the mouth. Thrice through the chest.

Then once, for good measure, into the front left tyre of his Hudson.

Without looking at the other three people in the car, he turned back and walked into his car. Whoever was driving it then hit the accelerator, turned sharply right towards Nairobi, and disappeared.

It was October 7th, 1952. At 12:48pm, the most senior Kenyan administrator in Kiambu District had just been shot. His body now lay with his head thrust back on his headrest and his right foot on the front seat. His eyes were closed and his mouth open, bleeding onto his dapper white shirt and pants. His beige hat was still intact.

Less than a minute before this daylight assassination, Waruhiu’s driver noticed another car closely following him. The other driver seemed impatient, hooting repeatedly and trying to force him to give way. But the dusty, potholed road was too narrow for two cars to fit. Then the road forked and Gichiri turned right.  The other car turned left, the rougher patch, and sped away.

In the car, as he stared at the other car, the chief joked “this is why I don’t let you drive my car alone.”

Other than his chauffer, there were two other men in the car with the chief that afternoon. As the shots rang out, the one seated shotgun, Kiburi Thumbi, reached across and opened the driver’s door. He kicked the shell-shocked driver out. They both ran and hid in the bushes.

The man seated at the back with the chief, Kirichu, unsuccessfully tried to open his door. Then he resigned to his fate and fell to the floor. When the Consul sped away, Kirichu got out of the car and found himself alone. He walked all the way back home, to Githunguri, and only showed up at the police station the next day. At the crime scene, the two men hiding in the bushes walked back to find Chief Waruhiu dead.

The only three people who had just witnessed the murder that would change everything, had seen little of it.

Waruhiu’s Hudson was most likely the Hudson Terraplane sedan, second or third generation. It was a gift to him from settlers in 1948.


The murder of Waruhiu Kung’u made international news just hours after it happened. It was covered by numerous papers, and discussed at Westminster. Waruhiu, ‘a great citizen of Kenya’ was ‘a victim of his own people.’ It made the main topic in a flurry of secret telegrams between Nairobi and London, capturing a nation’s bubbling social mess.

Detective Gerald Heine, a young, capable but disquietingly ambitious cop, was tasked by with finding out who had done it. In a country that had witnessed a few assassinations and attempts in the previous four years, it was a difficult yet easy job. There was mostly just one suspect worth considering. The Mau Mau.  

Whatever had happened here, they knew who had done it. Or at least so the detective thought as he stared at the chief’s body later that Tuesday afternoon.

The morning after, Heine had a brown Ford Consul (KBM 902) towed from a garage to Kingsway Police Station-the current Central Police Station on Harry Thuku Road. How he connected the car to the crime that fast was never explained, as none of the witnesses had seen the getaway car’s plates. They had all been busy saving their lives.

The Ford Consul was produced by Ford UK between 1951-1956. This ad appeared in the July 1951 issue of The New Yorker.
Although only a year old, there were a substantial number in Kenya by October 1952.

Two days later, a man called Waweru Kamundia walked in to the police station to enquire about the car. Born in Othaya, Nyeri, Waweru was employed to operate the car as a taxi. He was promptly arrested and would, a few months later, be charged with murder as the getaway driver. If he didn’t have motive, he had provided means.

Two days after that, on October 11th, Heine and his colleague, Coleman, drove to Kabete. They arrested a shop owner called Gathuku Migwi from Uthiru. Gathuku stocked clothes and other wares in his shop. In this story, Gathuku was about to become the villain.

The two detectives drove Gathuku to Ndeiya, to the home of Chief James Gichuru. They left him there for an hour and then arrested him, formally this time. What happened next, on the way back, is still unclear. Gathuku ended up in hospital on suicide watch with serious injuries. He had jumped from the back of the police truck, the detectives claimed. He had been shackled and manned by two constables the whole time.

Although it didn’t matter at the time, this was not the first time the chief had been targeted. In fact, he had survived several assassination and arson attempts, one of which killed one of his sons.

A spear had been thrown into his bedroom window as he slept just a few months before. It got stuck in the mesh, and he made verbal threats about shooting his attackers to scare them away. Only it was a bluff because he wasn’t armed at the time.  

In 1939, someone had torched the houses of two of his wives (he had five). Neither of them was at home at the time. In the early 1940s, two assassins set upon one of his sons with pangas in the darkness outside his family home. They severely injured the young lad but he survived. For a time at least. A few months later, he headed the ball during a football match. Then he fell down in agony and died right there on the pitch.

Then, just two months before he was killed, another of Waruhiu’s wives’ houses was torched. The wily chief seemed unconventionally lucky, but then he was a man with many enemies.

It was the August 1952 arson attack, followed by a cryptic letter from the Mau Mau, which finally startled wily chief. Even though he had a bodyguard, he still sought help from his bosses, who set him up with a .38 Smith & Wesson pistol, ammunition, and rudimentary training. That should have been enough to save his life on that deserted road from Gachie.

But as he was dying in the back seat, that gun was in the glove compartment. The ammunition was in his pocket. The man who should have protected him was cycling on the other side of the hill.  


Waruhiu died at the peak of a three-decade career built on luck, manipulation, scheming, and loyalty. Most of his life was built on improbabilities and cycles of fortune and misfortune.

Born in Kimathi, a small village between Ruiru and Githunguri, Waruhiu’s childhood was one of poverty and hunger. His father, Kung’u, had abandoned his first two wives in his home in Gatanga, Murang’a, to find a new home. He settled in Kimathi because his elder sister was married to one of its sons, and she gladly hosted him as he found something else to do.

The last two decades of the 19th Century were, to say the least, tough. There were cyclical epidemics striking both man and beast, leaving nothing but death and hunger in their wake. Then there were wars for the little resources that remained. Add on to that droughts and famine.

With little to offer, men like Kung’u became frontiersmen, venturing out into the unknown to try find new places to settle. And settle he did. 

In his new home in Ruiru, Kung’u met someone else and promptly married her. Her name was Njoki. Of the five children they had over the next nine years, only two survived. The first was nicknamed Toro (sleep, in Kikuyu), because of his love for slumber. His real name was Kimani.

The second child was Waruhiu, the boy on whose fate the future of this family would rest.

Waruhiu, dapper, decorated, stoic, ambitious, ruthless. Image Source.

In 1899, another famine struck. Kung’u tagged along his younger son to head back to Gatanga. Perhaps in these lands he had abandoned a decade before, he could remake a home. Only he never got there. Somewhere past Gatundu, the older man fell and died of starvation. His young son had to leave his corpse where it lay and find his way back home alone. He was only ten at the time.

Now alone and in charge of two young boys, Njoki found a home in the new missionary unit at Kambui. Toro quickly set himself apart due to his diligence, and Waruhiu had an eagerness to learn everything he could. In this new home, the family thrived.

In 1910, when he had just turned 20, Waruhiu got married to a woman called Wanjiru Gathenge. His life seemed set for missionary work, but what the next decade had for him would change that. Three years later, his elder brother Toro fell sick and died. Njoki only had one son left now, and even he fell sick with elephantiasis just two short years later. Quick thinking and efficient healthcare had him in hospital for three months.

Then he was out and in no time, contributing to the World War I effort by working in a military hospital in Mazeras.

That war would shape the rest of Waruhiu’s life in many ways. But the trigger itself was a war at home, after he cheated on his wife. The church suspended him for the affair up to 1919. [PDF]


Before the war, the church and mission had been Waruhiu’s life and bread. It employed him and gave him social standing. Being ostracized from it should have beaten him into shape but it achieved something else.

To while away the time and feed his young family, Waruhiu became a farm clerk. On the side he clerked for a chief called Waweru Kanja, his uncle on his maternal side. A man representing a generation of colonial chiefs that was on its way out as the world healed from World War I, Waweru had become chief in 1903 because his elder brother was too old. Unprepared, disinterested, and a heavy drinker, he outlived his usefulness during the war. The men of his generation, illiterate and handpicked at the start of the occupation, couldn’t sustain the goals of the British Empire anymore. A few younger men caught on to this, and Waruhiu was one of them.

Waruhiu realized that the only way to gain power was to usurp his uncle. How he went about it was genius and sadistic, and would end up in several deaths and lifelong rivalries.

First, Waruhiu joined a small cabal of mostly younger men jostling to replace the older chiefs. Calling themselves the Kikuyu Association (not to be confused with the formal Young Kikuyu Association of June 1921), they had the support of missionaries and some older chiefs alike. They included future household names like Koinange Mbiyu, Josiah Njonjo, and James Gichuru. Although Koinange, a former porter, was older than then, he set himself apart in the group.

Together, these men launched targeted campaigns, such as one in 1919 to make burials mandatory. They hadn’t been upto that point, although it was customary to pick out one place to use as burial grounds. While his mates were using diplomacy and mild strategy alone, Waruhiu ran a campaign of internal sabotage. 

As Waweru Kanja’s PA, clerk and interpreter, Waruhiu played with facts and appointments, making him look even more inefficient then he already was. Then in 1921, the bubonic plague gave Waruhiu the perfect opportunity. He rounded up people to kill rats, and routinely cycled tall the way to the district headquarters to show the District Commissioner the results, a bunch of rat tails tied together. The message was clear, he was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.

But kicking out Kanja was the easy part, replacing him was harder if not at first impossible.

The problem was parentage. In custom, children belong to their father’s clan. That meant Waruhiu belonged to Kung’u’s clan back in Gatanga, not his in-laws’ in Ruiru, the Gathirimus. In fact, they had a proposal of their own to replace Kanja, a man called Makimei Mugwe. But he was also illiterate and considered a terrible leader.

There were other options, but the next most appealing one was Waruhiu’s maternal cousin Harry Thuku, a man already on his way to becoming a legend. Thuku and Waruhiu almost matched strength for strength, but for the part where the former was a known rebel with a prior two-year conviction for cheque forgery. The clincher though was that Thuku belonged, and Waruhiu didn’t. 

Cognizant of the opportunity, Thuku launched a propaganda war against Waruhiu. He had a paper run with the story and organized a fundraiser to sue the government. In turn Waruhiu lurched onto a concerted effort to cut Thuku to size by having him deported.

The campaign against Harry Thuku had many players when it began on 13th February 1922, of which Waruhiu was only one. They demanded his deportation, eventually gaining ground with his arrest on 14th March 1922. That triggered the events that led to the massacre at Kingsway (Central) Police Station, and the death of Muthoni Nyanjiru. [Link]

One of Kenya’s first political voices, Thuku’s star dimmed in the 1940s and the 1950s. By independence he was a far off voice, a farmer with no political clout.

Only then, at 32 years, did Waruhiu formally replace his uncle. He was now the leader of 1, 663 people, earning a salary of 50 shillings.

If he had been opportunistic and ruthless so far, Waruhiu was just about to raise the bar. As his power grew, he married four other wives, two within ten days of each other.


A teetotaler throughout his life, Waruhiu’s only thirst seemed to be for power and wealth. A simple suspension over cheating on his wife had set the young man on the path to power, and he would never stop until he had it all. He would, by the time he died, be divisional chief and a locational chief, on top of being the senior chief, something no one before him or after would ever achieve. 

When Waruhiu was about 12, a man on the other side of the world published a book titled Up From Slavery. The book, by Booker T. Washington, traces the American’s journey against the color bar. In many ways, modern critics (and even critics at the time) view his book as unnecessarily conciliatory, and unlikely to achieve much. It’s mild, compared to the things that came after, as its solution to racial problems was mostly the education and economic uplifting of black people.

On Waruhiu’s book shelf, prominently right next to the bible, lay a tattered paperback copy of the book. It in many ways captured the leadership philosophy with which the young chief would govern over the next three decades. He, like Booker T. Washington, saw no need for a radical solution. But not everyone in his circles agreed.

Over the first eight years of his rule, he expanded the borders of his location and power. His hosts in his home in Ngenia gave him 10 days to leave after he engineered a merger of their locations in 1926. But he now had more power, and a bigger salary of 65 shillings. He bought his own land and built a home, still showing he would stop at nothing.

In 1930, one of his friends from the 1919 power grab, Koinange Mbiyu, was appointed Senior Chief. Their friendship collapsed over the next two decades. Their main fight was ideological-Waruhiu’s view of a future for Kenya was one of continued subjugation, while Koinange grew increasingly militant. The divide would be so bad that within three years of Waruhiu replacing Koinange in the Senior Chief’s seat in 1949, one of them would be in a coffin and the other in the docks for the murder.

August 1952, Kirigiti Stadium in Kiambu. L to R: James Gichuru, Harry Thuku,  Snr. Chief Koinange, Eliud Mathu, Jomo Kenyatta, Senior Chief Waruhiu,and Chief Josiah Njonjo. At the rally, they denounced Mau Mau and suggested a conciliatory approach.

Several of the things Waruhiu did in his early career determined the course of his life, and ultimately, his death. In the early 1930s, for example Waruhiu sat in a land tribunal in Gachie. The land on the Kiambu side was initially owned by the Athi, who were edged out by the Kikuyu through land buyouts, wars and intermarriage. One of the Athi clans, Mbari ya Tukui, demanded 600 acres of its land back from Mbari ya Kihara. The tribunal granted them 320 acres instead of the 600 acres. That seemed to settle it, but only for a time.

Twenty something years later, an appeal in the case formed the setting for Chief Waruhiu’s murder. In the first case, he had been a mere divisional chief, hungry for power. By the appeal, he was the most senior chief in Kiambu District.


Whoever shot Waruhiu that dull afternoon in 1952 knew exactly where he would be and waited for him. This was odd, because the appeal was due on the 6th and not the 7th, the day he died. He got there almost on time only to find that a critical file was missing. So Waruhiu had his driver for the day, Gichiri, take one of the court’s representatives to fetch it in Kiambu. That errand took forever, and by the time they got back, it was too late. So the tribunal was pushed to Tuesday morning.

It had to have been the perfect plan. That, and a measure of unexplainable luck. First, Waruhiu’s regular chauffer William Gatoto was missing in action when they left for Gachie on October 6th. Gichiri, normally the turn boy, had to take over. They had actually waited for Gatoto for a while, and his absence was never explained. 

Then once the tribunal was done, Waruhiu decided to give his neighbor, Kiburi Thumbi, a lift. That act of altruism ultimately killed him. The problem was that Kiburi had cycled there.  The chief asked his bodyguard, Constable Munai, to cycle back home instead of riding back with them. 

Less than five minutes later, he was dead.

A day after he was arrested and then placed on suicide watch, Gathuku Migwi confessed to killing Senior Chief Waruhiu. Waweru Kamundia confessed too, to driving him and two other men there. In fact, he and Gathuku made two confessions, each increasingly more detailed than the other. The confessions were made to a magistrate, with Detective Heine standing outside the door.

Gathuku said he had been hired for the job by Mbiyu Koinange, the son of the former Senior Chief Koinange Mbiyu, and had been given a gun and 30 shillings.  In Waweru’s first confession, he said he had been hired to drive to the scene but he was threatened when he realized he was a getaway driver. He didn’t remember making his second confession.

Mbiyu, who had dropped his first names ‘John Wesley’ just six months before, was just about to find himself in the middle of a murder trial. It also connected back to his father. 

The Koinange Clan, then the richest and most formidable family in Kiambu, was now drawn into this saga. Intelligence reports had the former Senior Chief at the helm of a growing network of Mau Mau financiers. He provided money and logistics, but also let the freedom movement use his home as an operating base. With Gathuku’s confession, the connection between Waruhiu’s murder, the Koinanges and the Mau Mau seemed obvious. The Koinanges had a fleet of cars, including three Ford Consuls. They had access to money and guns.

So the retired senior chief Koinange and two of his sons were promptly arrested. One son was released, then father and the remaining son found themselves in the docks. They would survive, but only.

All four confessions so far were the result of repeated torture and brutal interrogation. A week after the murder, Gathuku was convulsing from a hemorrhage on the floor of his solitary cell. Because he was on suicide watch, he was shackled to the ground and had to lie on one side at all times. Waweru was beaten too, so badly that he passed out when he was supposedly making his second confession.

Another driver, Mwangi Kamau, had also been arrested around the same time. Mwangi’s mistake was that he had been hired by Mbiyu Koinange to drive him to Kabete, to Gathuku’s shop. He had no idea where his client went, but that didn’t matter as he was beaten by Heine and Coleman. On October 24th, they released him. He came back a week later and made a formal complaint about the torture.

The subsequent inquiry whitewashed the detectives by conveniently ignoring the medical report. It also meant that when Gathuku and Waweru made similar claims, no one really cared.

The main trial began on March 12th 1953 before Supreme Court Justice de Lestang. In total, 16 men were arrested but only nine were charged. The first six on the dock stood to charges of conspiracy to murder: Koinange Mbiyu, Gitau Karani, Daniel Kung’u, Waira Kamau, Mwangi Mwacharia, and Gichuhi Kuria. There was only one witness to their involvement, and she weaved a story that showed that they had met on October 4th 1952 in Jomo Kenyatta’s home to plan the murder (Kenyatta and the Koinanges were in-laws). The testimony was weak and inconclusive, and all six men were acquitted.

They were arrested right outside the courtroom and spent most of the next eight years in detention.


The three men left on the dock couldn’t have been any different. Gathuku Migwi, a shopkeeper, and Waweru Kamundia, a taxi driver, were young men from poor families struggling to make it in a city that was increasingly hostile to them. Mbiyu Koinange was from privilege, and had even been slated to marry one of the dead chief’s daughters before the two families fell out.

In the main murder trial, the economic and social differences were even clearer. Gathuku’s lawyer was AR Kapila, while Jaswant Singh and Dudley Thompson represented Waweru Kamundia. Mbiyu handled his defense separately, led by British lawyer and former legislator (at the time), Dingle Foot. On the prosecution side, the Solicitor-General EN Griffith Jones was assisted by F Pearson.

In mid-March 1953, five months after the murder, the government set out its case. The same Ford Consul, Jones offered, that had chased the Hudson down Karura Road had sped to the main road and backed up to block the exit. That was 900m and involved two turns, one of them in reverse. It would have had to drive really fast on a rough road, while competing with a more powerful car.

The assassin and the getaway driver had confessed, Jones continued. The assassin had been driven to Gachie by the driver, then they lay in wait for the Hudson to leave the tribunal. After he shot and killed their target, the driver sped off to Nairobi. Then they drove to Kiburi House, on River Road, and hid the gun in the ceiling. In this story, Mbiyu had not only provided the gun but he had also potentially been in the car at the time of the murder.

The murder weapon was never found. Nor did it ever come up as an issue.

In Corridors of British Colonial Injustice (2011), written by Chief Waruhiu’s son Samuel, he notes that the witnesses couldn’t agree on exactly what the assassin had been wearing. Did he have a scarf around his neck, or around his head, or both?

Did he have a brown or a black jacket, or just a red shirt? Was he wearing khaki trousers or black ones? Each man in the car that day seemed to have seen a differently dressed person. At one identification parade, one of the older men had asked the men in the line-up to open their mouths, for some unexplained reason.

The defense for Gathuku and Waweru identified this for the bullshit it was, but they focused more on just how the confessions had been obtained. In Gathuku’s confession, he had said “one of the four men got out and shot the chief. I shot him, I Gathuku.” Although this was transcribed verbatim by the magistrate, the structure of the sentence is odd. 

The funeral of Chief Waruhiu, and the beginning of a decade of war, blood, and suffering. The image on the right most likely shows Gathuku Migwi, Waweru Kamundia and Mbiyu Koinange in handcuffs. Source: Life Magazine.

Both men had been beaten to the edge of death and threatened to confess, they added. So they had, to save their own lives.

In Mbiyu’s defense, which was the newest at the main trial, he had met Migwi before when the shop owner went to buy clothes from him. He had a tight alibi at first glance, and the prosecution didn’t seem to notice that he conveniently left out the one and a half hours between 11:30am and 1:00pm, on the day and time Waruhiu died. There was at least one witness who had seen him or one of the Ford Consuls at Banana Hill Petrol Station. Even more compelling was that the Koinange’s Ford Consuls served as taxis.

What if, instead of being the same car, there had actually been two? One to chase the prey and the other to stop it?

Interestingly, a gun was produced at trial. It was a .38 Smith & Wesson, Waruhiu’s gun and the same make of a gun he had been shot with. The man who produced it was Waruhiu’s boss; he said he had removed it from the glove compartment of the Hudson at the crime scene. No one had a problem with accepting a gun that had been removed from a crime scene and hidden for several months.

Both the pathologist and the ballistics expert had conveniently left Kenya after filing their reports, meaning they were never cross-examined. Perhaps if they had, the likelihood that Waruhiu had been shot with his own gun would have come up. The ballistics report said it was the same make of a gun, which was fairly common.

But with only a hostile bench and a seemingly lacklustre defence, the deck was stacked against the men on trial. 

There was enough reasonable doubt to free all three men. In fact, a jury of assessors at trial acquitted them, but the judge disagreed. Except in one man’s case; his name was Mbiyu Koinange. In 1964, he would become Kiambu’s first senator-his father would be dead by then, and his elder brother Peter would become the most powerful minister in the independence government.

Gathuku and Waweru were hanging from a noose by June 29th, 1953.


It seems obvious now that the Mau Mau killed Senior Chief Waruhiu. It’s the position in history books and records, and has stood unchallenged for 65 years. But there’s actually no proof they did. None that is verifiable at least.

Several other men died around the same time. The most famous is Nderi Wang’ombe, another chief, this time from Nyeri. He was hacked to death by a group of recruiters led by Dedan Kimathi just two weeks after the Kiambu Chief’s murder.

A bilingual man, Nderi Wang’ombe (center) was an accomplished double agent before he became a chief. He played his heritage of part-Kikuyu, part-Maasai, to play both sides.

Then there were the assassinations of two city councilors, Tom Mbotela and Ambrose Ofafa, and the attempted murder of a third, Muchohi Gikonyo. At least one recent book claims that Mbotela was killed because he was scheduled to be the star witness at Kenyatta’s trial, a role that ended up going to a perjurer called Rawson Macharia.

In each of these cases, an alternative narrative emerged of a settler community so set on fostering disunity that it was killing off key figures to create disquiet. The Mau Mau, as a militia group working with less resources, made sure to take credit for each murder and mission. A good example here is the Night of the Long Knives, when they swept through Lari and wiped out entire families.

Still, there were local politics and grudges still at play. In 1953, Senior Chief Kasina Ndoo of Kitui was attacked and his hands chopped off. He was a greedy, vile man who showed his loyalty by hanging the Union Jack from his house, but his attack was chalked up to the Mau Mau and not the people whose land and wealth he was actively stealing.

In H. Kahinga Wachanga’s The Swords of Kirinyaga (1975), he writes that the murders of Waruhiu and Nderi “part of a plan to assassinate all senior chiefs, priests and other government servants between October and December 1952.” Wachanga, a former senior ranking member within the Mau Mau, was highly placed enough to know such a plan. Still, the next paragraphs after those words point to a sketchy narrative. In this story, which is also in Caroline Elkins in Britain’s Gulag¸Waruhiu’s driver stopped because he was flagged down by three Kenyan men in colonial police uniforms.

Wachanga also points out that the assassin took away the gun and Waruhiu’s money, although this is untrue. On Nderi’s murder, Wachanga writes that it was a carefully planned assassination, and adds that the chief was shot and killed. He was hacked to death and the Mau Mau took credit for it. In fact, part of the crowd that killed the burly chief included Dedan Kimathi and his future rival, Stanley Mathenge. 

Another critical source, Maina wa Kinyatti’s Agikuyu (1890-1965) tries to explain a bit of the back story. In it, Maina claims that the Mau Mau Central Committee tasked a man called Enoch Mwangi with Waruhiu’s murder. Mwangi was the chief commander in Nairobi, and would have been in charge of planning and logistics. He survived the bloody 1950s, but there’s no proof he ever corroborated this particular story. 

But if it was not Gathuku Migwi who killed the aging chief, then who did?

The most obvious suspect, says Samuel Waruhiu in Corridors of British Colonial Injustice, were the settlers. They had both the means and the motive to do it. The motive was to trigger a three-month state of emergency (it ended up lasting eight years) and get some self-independence for the white highlands. Every other measure at this point had failed, including diplomacy and town hall meetings. They couldn’t let Baring rest for a minute, and made sure that the less he understood about the problem, the more they could manipulate him. What they needed was a smoking gun, or at least the result of it, to become a rallying point to prove their point.

With both the resources and motive to do it, they would have ensured someone else died for it, while sticking to the narrative that it was the Mau Mau. If it was indeed them, then the plan worked like a charm. Baring declared a state of emergency, arrested Kenyatta, cleared Nairobi of the Kikuyu, and began a purge of the forests where the freedom fighters were hiding. But it didn’t achieve their primary motive, self-independence.


Six pall bearers, carrying the Union Jack-draped coffin of Chief Waruhiu on their shoulders, made their way to the grave site. Behind them were two white priests, followed by another contingent of priests, both white and black. A distance further was what seemed like the entire government, and then a crowd of people led by four of his wives (Wanjiru had died in February 1950), and his children.

The police band marches to play at the funeral, as covered by Life magazine.

The procession made its way through the lush banana plantation to the music of the police band.

On the sidelines of the gravesite, the new Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, met the villain he had heard so much about, Jomo Kenyatta. It was their first and only meeting for the next 13 years, but it would change both men and the country in unimaginable ways.

Actually, it already had.

Just a few hours after Chief Waruhiu died, Baring fired the first of many telegrams to his bosses in London saying he was “facing a planned revolutionary movement.” The situation in his new station was untenable, even worse than they had all thought. His predecessor had coyly refused to brief him on the impending storm, choosing instead to retire quietly and leave the mess to someone else.

What Baring, less than two weeks into the job, didn’t know was that he had walked into a situation that was half a decade in the making. On one side was a disenfranchised population, subjugated by poverty and law. On the other was the privileged minority, seeking a way to carve out a small nation of this new land. Men like Chief Waruhiu were supposed to represent the bridge between the two. 

But in the months and years before that October afternoon, that bridge had become increasingly shaky. The bubbling had grown into a chorus, and then into war chants. 

As Waruhiu’s wooden coffin settled at the bottom of the grave, Baring clutched his hat in his left hand tightly. It was just two days after the murder, but he couldn’t wait anymore. Here, right across from him, were probably half the people he needed to arrest to bring order to this chaos he had inherited. Or so he thought.

Featured Image is a crime scene photo of Chief Waruhiu’s body a few hours after his death. Originally developed in black and white, it was colorised for this story by Robert Ngugi Boby.

Owaahh, 2017.

One story is good,

till Another is told.

Last modified: September 3, 2023