Friday, February 5, 2010



The Honorable Minister Dr. John Robert Ouko (31 March 1931–c. 13 February 1990), commonly known as Robert Ouko, was a Kenyan politician who served as Foreign Minister of Kenya. Robert Ouko served in the government of Kenya from the colonial period through the presidencies of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi. He was a member of the National Assembly for Kisumu and a cabinet minister, rising to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation by 1990. He was murdered in Kenya on February 13, 1990. The murder case remains unsolved.

Early life and education

Ouko was born in Nyahera village, near Kisumu, Nyanza Province. He went to Ogada Primary School and Nyang’ori School. After schooling he studied at the Siriba Teachers Training College. He worked as a primary school teacher. In 1955 he landed a job as the revenue officer of Kisii District. In 1958 He joined the Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, graduating in 1962 with a degree in Public Administration, Economics and Political Science. He then went to Makerere University in Uganda for a diploma in in International Relations and Diplomacy

At the time of his death, he had nearly finished his Doctoral Thesis, for which he was studying at the University of Nairobi. Despite being known as Dr. Ouko, he held only an honorary degree received in 1971 from the Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle.

Political life

Shortly before Kenyan independence in 1963 he worked as an Assistant Secretary in the office of the Governor. He was soon posted as the permanent secretary in the ministry of works. After the East African Community collapsed in 1977, Ouko became a nominated member in the Kenyan parliament and appointed as the Minister for Economic Planning and Community Affairs.

He was elected to the parliament at the 1979 general elections from Kisumu Rural Constituency and retained his seat at the 1983 elections. For the 1988 elections he moved to Kisumu Town Constituency (later split to Kisumu Town West and Kisumu Town East constituencies), and was again elected to the parliament [3]. Ouko represented KANU, the only legally operating party at the time.

Murder investigations

On 27 January 1990, Ouko, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, left Nairobi as part of a delegation of 83 ministers and officials, among them President Daniel arap Moi, to attend a ‘Prayer Breakfast’ meeting in Washington DC. The delegation arrived back in Nairobi on 4 February. On Monday 5 February Ouko met with President Moi, the Japanese Ambassador, the Canadian High Commissioner, Bethuel Kiplagat (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and Hezekiah Oyugi (Permanent Secretary, Internal Security).

Later that day Ouko travelled to his country residence, a farm in Koru (some 300 km from Nairobi) near Kisumu, accompanied by his driver and a bodyguard.
On the night of February 12/13, 1990, Ouko disappeared from his Koru Farm complex near Muhoroni. His housemaid Selina Were Ndalo testified that she "was awakened at about 3am by a noise similar to a door being slammed shut but sufficiently loud enough to startle her awake"and that she saw a white car turning at the bottom of the minister's driveway before driving away.

Francis Cheruyot, a telephonist at Rongo Office, near to the Koru Farm, alleged to Detective Superintendent John Troon of Scotland Yard (see below) that on Tuesday 13 February, 1990, at about 6am, he was on duty on the post office telephone switchboard when he saw Hezekiah Oyugi "who was a passenger in a white car containing three other persons" drive past the post office on two occasions [6] but Cheruyot would not make a written statement to this effect. Oyugi was subsequently unable to produce the daily log of his official car.

Ouko's body was found later that morning (February 13) at approximately 1pm by a local herdsboy Joseph Shikulu, at the foot of nearby Got Alila Hill, 2.8 km from Ouko's country home, but although he told local villagers of the find they did not report the fact to the police. Ouko’s body was eventually officially discovered on the 16th February, following a police search.

Forensic evidence suggested Ouko had been murdered, near to where his body was found, killed by a single shot to the head, his right leg broken in two places and his body left partially burned. There was evidence that a gun had been discharged at the scene (although the bullet was never found). A "single caucasian hair" was also was found "loosely associated with a partially burnt handkerchief found at the scene". Other items including a gun, a diesel can and matches [1] were found nearby. All apart from the diesel can had belonged to Ouko. News of the murder set off riots in Nairobi.

Initial police reports suggested that Ouko had committed suicide but it soon became common knowledge that Ouko had been shot as well as burnt [1]. Public pressure led President Daniel arap Moi to ask British detectives from New Scotland Yard to investigate Ouko's death.

The following investigation by the Kenyan police was supported by the arrival on 21 February of Detective Superintendent John Troon of Scotland Yard’s International Organised Crime Branch, accompanied by two other detectives and a Home Office forensic pathologist.

Troon's theory

Troon's initial investigations uncovered allegations of a row in the Ouko family (mentioned in witness statements by Ouko's wife Christabel, his sister Dorothy Randiak, sister-in-law Esther Mbajah, and the family doctor Dr Joseph Olouch); a dispute with local politicians and allegations of fraud in Kisumu Town Council; and phone calls from a mystery female threatening to kill Mrs. Ouko

However, during Troon’s investigation a theory gained currency that there may have been an argument between Ouko and Nicholas Biwott, then Kenya's Minister of Energy, during the trip to Washington following a supposed meeting by Ouko with President George H.W. Bush; that Ouko had been involved in a dispute with Biwott over the cancellation of a project to build a molasses plant at Kisumu (in Ouko’s constituency); and that Ouko was preparing a report on high level political corruption in the Kenyan government in relation to the Kisumu Molasses Project (which by implication named Biwott).

The basis for Troon’s theory were allegations by a Domenico Airaghi and a Marianne Briner-Mattern, directors of BAK International, a company based in Switzerland that had tendered to Ouko when he was Minister for Industry to re-start the Molasses Project in Kisumu. Troon did accept however that the "factual basis" for the alleged row on the Washington trip was "somewhat tenuous" and based on "hearsay"

Although Troon's final report to the Kenyan authorities, delivered in August 1990, was not conclusive it did recommend further investigation into Ouko’s murder and in particular 'enquiries and further interviews' in respect of Hezekiah Oyugi, a Permanent Secretary in Kenya's Internal Security Department; James Omino, an MP for Kisumu Town and a political opponent of Ouko at the 1988 election; and Nicholas Biwott, the Minister for Energy.

However, Troon’s investigation has since been criticised as being 'fatally flawed' and has been further undermined by subsequent investigations and disclosures[citation needed]. In particular, Troon has been criticised for his reliance on the testimony of Domenico Airaghi and Marianne Briner-Mattern, his failure to investigate their background, and his failure to read important evidence contained in the 'Molasses File', the Kenyan government's file recording all correspondence and minuted decisions relating to the project.

The 'Washington Trip'

In relation to the Washington trip there appears to be no evidence of a dispute, or for the supposed cause of a dispute.

No member of the Kenyan delegation at the time or since recalled any dispute. Nor was there was a meeting between Dr Ouko and President Bush Snr during the trip to Washington, the reason cited for the alleged dispute. President Bush’s official diary makes no mention of it; the US State Department have stated that it did not take place; no member of the delegation was aware or any such meeting, and ‘further’ investigation conducted into Dr Ouko’s murder by the Kenyan police in 1991/92 found that, ‘There is no evidence to confirm that Dr Ouko while in Washington met President Bush’.

The allegation made some 12 years later during a Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry established in March 2003 to again look into the murder of Dr Ouko, that Dr Ouko had been banished by President Moi whilst on the visit to Washington, stripped of his ministerial rank, sent home on a different flight, his bodyguards dismissed, his passport removed on arrival in Nairobi, would also seem to be without foundation.

Passenger manifests and witness testimony prove that Dr Ouko travelled back from Washington with the rest of the Kenyan delegation to Nairobi. The delegation’s return was a public event reported by the Kenyan media and newspaper reports, which are still available, carried photographs of President Moi and Dr Ouko coming out of the plane together and doing the welcoming rounds at Jomo Kenyatta airport.

After his return from Washington Dr Ouko was assigned an official trip to Gambia to deputise for Moi; he would have been unable to travel without a passport and Mrs Ouko’s later gave evidence that she handed her husband’s passport to Detective Superintendent Troon.

Official records and witness testimony also prove that Dr Ouko continued to discharge his official functions, meeting with President Moi, government officials and diplomats and to give instructions to his official staff and travelling to his country residence accompanied by his driver and a bodyguard.
To date, there is no credible evidence to support Troon's conclusion that the 'Washington Trip' was a motive for the murder of Dr. Robert Ouko.

The Kisumu 'Molasses Project'

Troon's second theory based on the allegations of Airaghi and Briner-Mattern, that intermediaries on behalf of Nicholas Biwott, Prof. George Saitoti and others had asked for bribes to facilitate the progress of the Molasses Project and that when these bribes were not paid Nicholas Biwott stood in the way of the project, would also seem to lack any evidential basis. The process and timescale by and over which the decision was taken to bring the Kisumu Molasses project to a halt would also seem to remove it as a likely cause for a dispute in 1990.

Cabinet papers, official records and Dr Ouko’s own correspondence prove that ultimately all decisions relating to the Molasses Project were taken by the Kenyan Cabinet, record that both he and Nicholas Biwott were agreed on the need for the rehabilitation of the ‘Molasses Project’, and attest to the assistance Nicholas Biwott gave him and the cooperation between the two men.

The allegation that Nicholas Biwott championed an alternative tender in order to receive a ‘kickback’ from the project is even more curious as the two companies concerned, the Italian firms ABB Tecnomassio SpA and Tecnomasio Italiano/Brown Boveri, were both introduced to minister Dalmas Otieno by Domenico Airgahi and both belonged to the same multinational group. Thus there was no rival tender and there could have been no bribe asked for or paid for a company to pitch for a tender against itself.

Nicholas Biwott’s involvement with the Molasses Project ended on 3 November 1987 (when the Kenyan cabinet assigned specific duties to develop the project to the Ministries of Industry and Finance, not to Biwott's Ministry of Energy) over two years before Dr Ouko was murdered and the Molasses Project was effectively abandoned in 1988, the decision being taken by Dalmas Otieno who had replaced Dr Ouko as Minister for Industry following the election of that year, a decision taken nearly one-and-a-half years before Dr Ouko was murdered.

Critically, Troon rejected Dalmas Otieno's evidence and did nor read, or ask for, the Kenyan Government's 'Molasses File' that would have substantiated Otieno's testimony.
Dalmas Otieno, in a witness statement made 21 May, 1990, stated, "I personally interviewed Mr Airaghi and I considered he was not competent to handle the project and knew nothing about Molasses. He initially asked for one million US dollars for the feasibility study, he then halved his sum, and eventually settled for 300,000 dollars."

Corruption Report

Marianne Briner-Mattern’s allegation that Dr Ouko had been preparing a report at the time of his death into high level corruption in Kenya and that by implication the report would have accused Nicholas Biwott and which according to Troon could have provided a motive for murder, also can not be substantiated. No such report was discovered at the time and none has appeared since. If, just prior to his murder, Dr Ouko was preparing a report into corruption in respect of the 'Molasses Project', he was doing so some two years after the cancellation of the project.
[edit]Dominico Airaghi and Marianne Briner-Mattern

Troons reliance on the testimony of Domenico Airgahi and Marianne Briner-Mattern and his assessment that they were "truthful and honest" (Judicial Inquiry, 1990) has also been criticised in the light of subsequent revelations.
It was later to be revealed that for the entire period in which Dominic Airaghi was dealing with the Kenyan Government in respect of the Molasses Project he was on a bail, a convicted and sentenced criminal who had been found to have committed an offence of dishonesty. On the 14th March 1987, Dominico Airaghi and an accomplice were convicted (Civil and Criminal Court of Milan) on charges of alleged corruption, it also being found by the Court that Airaghi had presented false evidence and false documents in an attempt to establish his defence. Marianne Briner-Matter, or Marianne Briner as she termed herself at the time, gave evidence in Airaghi’s defence at his trial in Milan. The court found her evidence in support of Airaghi to be false. The judge commented on her “unreliability” as a witness.

Airaghi appealed against his conviction, the final appeal ending in the conviction being upheld on the 4th April, 1991.

After Dr Ouko's murder, Domenico Airgahi and Marianne Briner-Mattern's claim for losses in relation to the 'Molasses Project' increased from $150,000 to $5.975 million. Troon accepted that, in the absence of evidence from Airaghi and Briner-Mattern, there was no evidence against Nicholas Biwott

Public Inquiry

In October 1990, President Moi appointed a public inquiry into the case chaired by Justice Evans Gicheru. The inquiry was terminated by Moi in November 1991 at a point when Troon was being cross-examined on the grounds that he needed to return to the UK. He did not return to Kenya. The Gicheru Commission did not produce a final report.

Following the disbanding of the Giceheru Commission and the onset of the Kenyan police investigation, ten government officials, including Energy Minister Nicholas Biwott and head of internal security Hezekiah Oyugi, were detained for questioning in relation to the murder. Nicholas Biwott was released after two weeks in the absence of "any evidence to support the allegations"

Jonah Anguka, a District Commissioner from Nakuru, was tried for Ouko's murder in 1992 and acquitted, with the crime remaining unsolved. Anguka later fled into exile in the United States, saying he feared for his life. He has since published a book, "Absolute Power," denying his involvement in the Ouko Murder [14].
[edit]Parliamentary Select Committee

In March 2003 the newly elected government of Mwai Kibaki opened a new investigation into Ouko's death to be conducted by a parliamentary select committee. During the course of the Committee’s deliberations several Members of Parliament publicly condemned the manner of its proceedings. Some left the committee and along with others who remained declared that they would not endorse its findings. Domenico Airaghi and Marianne Briner-Mattern agreed to testify on condition that they would not be cross-examined (something they had avoided during Troon’s investigation, the Public Inquiry and the further investigation by the Kenyan police) and Nicholas Biwott was not allowed to call witnesses on his behalf or cross-examine or address other witnesses.

The Select Committee however, did not complete its work. It was disbanded in 2005 on the grounds of ‘interference’ in its deliberations just as Nicholas Biwott was beginning his testimony to it. The (incomplete) report of the ‘Select Committee Investigating Circumstances Leading to the Death of the Late Dr. The Hon. Robert John Ouko, EGH, MP’ was never debated in the Kenyan House of Assembly, or put to a vote.

Personal life

Robert Ouko was married to Christabel Ouko [18]. His first-born son is named Ken [19]. Robert Ouko also had a daughter (born May 1983) by a Miss Herine Violas Ogembo, a relationship that lasted until his death[20].
In 2009 a fundraiser was held to build the Robert Ouko Memorial Community Library in Koru