This week in History

JM Kariuki: Playboy lover of President Kenyatta’s daughter

Wealthy politician and Margaret Kenyatta were also partners in crime

Romeo must die: The late JM Kariuki attacked President Jomo Kenyatta’s government by day while cavorting with his daughter at night. JM and Margaret Kenyatta-President Uhuru’s half sister- were not just lovers but partners in crime as well.
See, JM was the assistant minister for tourism and wildlife-from where dealers in game trophies sought licenses. Little wonder that Margaret, JM Kariuki and their other post-independence robber barons ran a lucrative ivory export venture with an annual turnover of $10 million (Sh1 billion) according to the New Scientist magazine. That was in the 1970s when the highest denomination in Kenya was Sh100!

By GW Ngari

Editor-at-Large

Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, who was assassinated 46 years ago this week, was known for many things: fabulous wealth, financial generosity and populist ‘hustler’ politics. But kept under wraps was that the MP for Nyandarua North was a playboy with a long-running love affair with President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s daughter-Margaret Kenyatta-a spinster one year his senior.

JM Kariuki’s three wives knew of that and other affairs. Before he went missing and bullet wounds found on his 46 year old body, the spouses thought the loaded lover boy was cuddling Margaret at the Hilton Hotel-the last place he was seen alive on March 2, 1975. It was the first place they looked for him.

Just why Margaret Kenyatta’s Nairobi home was one of the places angry rioters caused skirmishes after JM was assassinated. JM Kariuki’s fling with Margaret was made public in 2011 by his one-time aide, Oliver Litondo.

Having the affair was very careless of JM Kariuki as he often cut pints with the police boss, the head of CID-all who reported to the President

Her worship: Margaret Kenyatta was the first African woman Mayor of Nairobi here flanked by her father, President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. On his left is Cabinet Minister Paul Ngei, a womanizer who wrote Margaret love letters in neat Kiswahili phrases while imprisoned for seven years hard labour with Kenyatta. Besides professing his love, Ngei complained the lack of cigarettes, alcohol and women at Lokitaung Prison where Kenyatta accidentally landed on the letters. Ngei was the youngest prisoner at 26. He had been expelled from Makerere University while in second year after stabbing a colleague over a woman during a dance.

Having the affair was very careless of JM Kariuki. Consider: The President’s intelligence advisor, General China (Waruhiu Itote), headed the National Youth Service (NYS)- which JM chaired. JM often cut pints with the police boss, the GSU Commandant, the head honcho of the CID-all who reported to the President.

The love affair though, was not what led to JM Kariuki’s assassination on March 2, 1975. Rather, his aggressive business practices, ego the size of a small planet, undercutting opponents and presidential ambitions couched in countrywide grassroots popularity, were his ultimate Waterloo. 

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One of his enduring quotes that “Kenya was a country of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars,” still stands today. It was from a speech he delivered in 1974 and which so incited his indebted, landless and poor followers, they set ablaze 700 acres of wheat on Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s farm in Rongai, Nakuru County besides maliciously slaughtering his cattle.  

How JM Kariuki acquired his wealth has been a question for the ages

The First Daughter: President Kenyatta stripped JM off his assistant minister’s position for being over critical of his government  and banned trading in ivory. But JM and Margaret (above) still continued exporting game trophies: no one had the balls to arrest the President’s daughter and her lover! Margaret never married but had two children one who rose to High Court Judge, but now deceased.

Never mind JM Kariuki, the assistant minister for tourism and wildlife, was among the 10 millionaires-the one percent of Kenya’s super rich. How JM Kariuki acquired his wealth has been a question for the ages.
For starters, Mau Mau activities got him detained in 1953. Not one to waste opportunities, he compiled the experiences into his 1963 memoirs, Mau Mau Detainee, which did very well in the international market after it was published by Oxford University Press. He wisely invested the loyalties in hotels and secretarial colleges.

JM, a keen gambler, also received financial leg up from wealthy colonial settlers like Lord Delamere and Jack Block, owner of the Block Hotels-Kenya’s largest chain at the time.

More money came JM’s way when he was hired as a Private Secretary of President Kenyatta. Besides pocketing propaganda funds from Washington, JM became a go-between investors coming to Kenya and the President. This was how he earned directorships and shareholdings of foreign companies-without spending a dime.

He was extremely well connected, and knew much more than his position entitled him to

Keeper of secrets: Oliver Litondo plays Kimani Maruge, the world’s oldest pupil in the film, First Grader. He was JM Kariuki’s aide in the 1970s before being known more as a television journalist and lead actor in films like The Bush Trackers and First Grader. Litondo’s revelations about JM Kariuki’s love affair with Margaret Kenyatta were contained in British historian David Branch’s book, Kenya: Between Hope and Despair 1963-2011.


British historian Charles Hornsby informs us in his 2011 effort, Kenya: A History Since Independence, that Jomo Kenyatta, allocated JM a colonial farm and house worth Sh3.3 million as reward for ‘fighting for uhuru’ in 1965.
Hornsby adds that JM acquired significant shares in Kenya Breweries (whose beer he distributed), Block Hotels, Caltex, CMC Motors, Lonrho East Africa, BAT and Stanchart besides exporting game trophies.

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 “He was extremely well connected, and knew much more than his position entitled him to know. He also, inevitably, had large state loans” writes Hornsby.

JM was a ‘better assassination prospect than a presidential one’

Cash castle: JM also had interests in hospitality like the Castle Garden in Garden Estate Nairobi (above) sits on his property. He also made forays in aviation, real estate, ranching, large scale farming and a mining concern with his brother in-law, Harun Muturi of the Mamba Village fame. JM who never hid his wealth also had interests in the Nairobi International Casino (where Jomo Kenyatta was also a shareholder) and horse racing besides chairing Betting Control and Licensing Board.


This combination of his unlimited wealth, flamboyance and fanatical grassroots support did not sit well with elements in Deep-State. JM was exploiting a gap in politics: Tom Mboya had been assassinated in 1969 and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga detained, leaving him without competition.

Being re-elected Nyandarua North MP with the highest number of votes countrywide, got him telling a US diplomat “I am the only candidate for future president.” With an ageing Jomo Kenyatta having one sandaled Gatundu foot in the Mausoleum, meant JM was a veritable presidential candidate. But Romeo had to die.
Moyale MP G.A. Araru had mouthed way back in 1971 that JM, a fierce government critic, was a “better assassination prospect than a presidential one.”
And so it goes, that on March 2, 1975 the hubby of three went missing, and his 46 year old body found five days later.

No arrests were made. The hyenas had eaten one of their own

Playing God: The Sunday Nation under Editor-in-Chief, George Githii (above) ran the planted headline: JM in Zambia. Alas! three days later his body bearing a wrong name tag was found at the City Mortuary on March 11, 1975. University students rioted. Shops closed. Ministers plucked flags off their limos and fled. Waruhiu Itote (General China), the president’s intelligence advisor, threatened to shoot anyone who summoned him to testify on the murder.

Mwai Kibaki was the only parliamentarian who attended JM’s funeral “as a friend.” Hostile mourners booed off Central PC Simeon Nyachae from reading Jomo’s condolences.
A Parliamentary Committee found Jomo’s body guard, Wanyoike Thungu, GSU Commandant Ben Gethi, and Minister in the Office of the President, Mbiyu Koinange culpable of the murder and its cover up in collusion with Police Commissioner Bernard Hinga, his assistant, Sokhi Singh, CID boss Ignatius Nderi, Police reservist Patrick Shaw and General China-all now deceased.
No arrests were made. The hyenas had eaten one of their own. His side dish, Margaret Kenyatta, died in 2017 at 89.

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