A Tribute to John Keen


By Blamuel Njururi – Editor-in-Chief Kenya Confidential, December 20, 2016

He confessed he did not know the number of lorries full of Omo detergent that would clean up the mess Moi had left behind

The sad demise of veteran politician John Keen came as a rude shock to many who had expected him to keep his word when he told a KTN television anchor that he looked forward to the year 2030 to see a different Kenya after the implementation of Vision 2030.

However lightly or literally Keen may have meant when he said he would be around in 2030 was based on his firm believe that Kenyans have a duty to their country to implement Vision 2030 and realize the envisaged development goals that have eluded our motherland over 50 years since independence.

After former President Daniel arap Moi was routed out of power in 2003, Keen did not shy away from telling Kenyans it would take a long, long time to correct the national damage inflicted upon their motherland over 24 years of Moi’s dictatorship. He confessed he did not know the number of lorries full of Omo detergent that would clean up the mess Moi had left behind.

Indeed, the economic wounds the Moi era inflicted upon the Kenyan Nation run deep and will take decades to heel – if ever. Kenyans are just now learning how the education sector was messed up under Moi’s watch with examination cheating becoming part of the national syllabus and corruption a treasured component of national greed.

It will be interesting to see how Moi’s Mt Kenya University will weather Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’s scrutiny with its disrepute as a leader in higher learning cheating practices following in the nyayos of Kabarak.

I first met John Keen as a young standard 7 Kamama Intermediate School pupil in 1962 when he accompanied Jomo Kenyatta during a tour of Embu soon after his release from detention. Keen was then young energetic Kanu organizing secretary and with other Kanu officials they were introducing Kenyatta to potential voters who would eventually sweep him to power as Prime Minister when Kenya attained self-rule government (Madaraka) on June 1, 1963. I never forgot their warn handshake.

The voters that swept Kanu and Kenyatta to power included my late grandmother Gladys Iruki wa Kang’auro, who by the time the former President visited Embu, had been a member of Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) which had swept through Embu and Meru districts but converted to Kanu.She had told the priest to baptize her as Granny which we were calling her but the man of God heard Gladys.

I had seen her Kadu membership card tucked among he emergency Kipande although she was the wife of a former British Kings African Rifles troops that fought in Burma Kang’auro wa Murunga – my grandfather. He was made a sub-chief by the colonialists but he declined to support Mau Mau struggle instead.

I would later frequently meet with John Keen in my career as a Journalist with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Nation Newspaper Group, Weekly Review, Standard Newspaper Group, Kenya Times, Society and Kenya Confidential. I started Kenya Confidential in 1997 to purposely give the opposition politicians a voice, which they had been denied by the mainstream media.

Kenya Confidential focus was on then opposition leader Mwai Kibaki, who had quit Moi’s government in 1992 to team up with John Keen and Njenga Karume in founding the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP).

John Keen used his long experience in political parties organizational acumen to create a Democratic Party that gave Kibaki a powerful national base on which the late Wamalwa Kijana, who inherited Ford Kenya from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Charity Ngilu heading Social Democratic Party (SDP), united to form National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) that later transformed into National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that swept Moi out of power.

NAK had combined with Raila Odinga-led Rainbow Coalition comprising Kanu deserters after Moi declared that Uhuru Kenyatta would be his successor in 2003.

Keen was his own man who spoke his mind without fear or favour. When he first met Uhuru at a party and was introduced to the young man by one of his long time supporters, George Sekento, he bluntly told him, “Baba yako anififunga bila sababu yoyote” (your father detained me for no reason at all).

Neither of them took offense with the young Uhuru retorting “hiyo mambo mimi sijui” (I don’t know about that). Keen sought no favours, gave no favours and called it as it was. His were politics of no brinkmanship or ping-pong. He played clean politics as Martha Karua attested when she condoned the family.

He was detained by the Kenyatta regime when he openly dismissed the Kenyan president and his Tanzania and Uganda counterparts as paying lip service to the East African Community while letting it die away. Little did Keen know that then attorney general Charles Mugane Njonjo was the dynamite that was blowing up the Community and the man that engineered his detention to cover his tracks.

With a stint as a reporter for Taifa Leo, which was started by the Aga Khan to give freedom struggle a voice, Keen never bribed journalists to cover him or any other function like many politicians did and still do. He believed journalism was a calling in which players had a duty to be honest to their call and not maraud begging, extorting and taking from politicians or any other people they covered.

Some six months ago I called John’s number and was answered by his wife. She gave him the mobile phone after asking who wanted to speak with him. We had a long chat as he invited me to visit him after he returned from a medical check up he told me he was going for.

I wished him a safe trip and jokingly told him “hata sisi tunakufuate na shida ze uzee” (we are also following you with old age problems” at which he said “wewe ni kijana”. I told him I would be turning 70 early 2017 and he told me I had a long way to go to catch up. I agreed.

We then agreed to touch base on his return and explore doing a book on his political life. That was the third time we had agreed to do so but fate would not facilitate our meeting. On November 16th I learned he was unwell and twittered “Quick Recovery prayers for veteran patriot of a politician John Keen recuperating at Aga Khan Hospital.”

He was discharged later and I thought I would give him time to recuperate before arranging a meeting that was never to be.

Fare thee well John. May the Good Lord Rest Your Soul in Eternal Peace.