News 2008


Spymaster Kanyotu lived and has died an enigma

February 14, 2008


By Patrick Wachira

The death of former spy chief, James Kanyotu, marks the end of an era and with it many secrets.

The former head of the Special Branch who died at the Nairobi Hospital on Wednesday.

Kanyotu is as one of the most mysterious, feared and long serving directors of Intelligence. Under his watch, three political murders that threatened to rock the core of State power were committed and remained unsolved.

Kanyotuís career in the police force culminated in his elevation to head the Intelligence. Given the intricate and widespread nature of the spy network, it has been mysterious that high profile murders remained unresolved.

Kanyotuís residence, a palace in its own right, is a veritable labyrinth and not even his workers know where he slept. Little was known about his private life. On no day would people know which vehicle he would use.

For long, there were no public pictures of the man until 2004 when he attended the burial of his mother and journalists jostled for shots of the burly man in dark glasses.

Kanyotu was head of Intelligence in 1969 when an assassinís bullet felled maverick politician, Tom Mboya, on then Government Road, now Moi Avenue.

Six years later, in 1975, he was the spy chief when Nyandarua North MP, JM Kariuki, was murdered and his body dumped in Ngong Forest.

The discovery of JMís body at a time when he was said to be in Zambia led to riots and demonstrations against the Kenyatta regime.

There had been another attempt at JMís life when a bus belonging to the Overseas Trading Company, was blown up in a bomb explosion that killed 35 people in Nairobi.

Unknown to the would-be-killers, JM had apparently learnt of the plot and skipped the trip to the Coast.

In 1990, Cabinet minister, Robert Ouko was murdered. The subsequent discovery of his body at the foot of Got Alila Hill rocked the Kanu regime to its foundations.

Countrywide riots erupted as the State fumbled and attempted to explain the murder. Attempts to cover-up failed dramatically.

Then Chief Government Pathologist, Jason Kaviti, explained that Ouko committed suicide by shooting himself on the head, dousing himself with petrol and then setting himself ablaze. It was the most absurd story Kenyans had heard in a long time.

There is little reason to believe that these events could have occurred without the Intelligence network being privy to details that could have helped unravel the killings.

There must have been details Kanyotu knew that could have been key in resolving the crimes, having been in spy agency business for long.

The spy chief had taken over from former Police Commissioner, the late Bernard Hinga, who was the first African holder of the post.

Kanyotu handed over to Mr William Kivuvani in 1992, after 26 years of service.

Kanyotu got entangled in the infamous Goldenberg scandal that has refused to go away. In the case, documents showed that he was a farmer, never mind that he was listed as a director of the company alongside Kamlesh Pattni.

Kanyotu will remain a mystery in death as much as he was in life. Even his wealth is a matter of speculation. He lived in secrecy and he has taken the secrets with him.

He was born in Kirinyaga District in 1932 and went to school at Alliance High School. He later joined Makerere College and graduated as a teacher.