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Masinde Muliro

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Henry Pius Masinde Muliro (June 30, 1922 – August 14, 1992) was a Kenyan politician from the Bukusu sub-tribe of the larger Abaluhya people of western Kenya. He was one of the central figures in the shaping of the political landscape in Kenya. A renowned anti-colonial activist, he campaigned for the restoration of multi-party democracy in Kenya in his later years. He was a ruthless negotiator and a proponent of peaceful but focused politics. He had a reputation for integrity rivaled only by Ngala. He was considered by some as one of the best leaders that never became president, it has been speculated that had he not died, he may have beaten Moi for the presidency in 1992.

Early life

Henry Pius Masinde Muliro was born in Matili village, Kimilili area of Kenya, the son of Muliro Kisingilie and his wife Makinia. His farmer father was a Roman Catholic, and after his parents died, he was brought up by an older stepbrother, Aibu Naburuku. He undertook his elementary and secondary school studies in Kenya and Uganda, He attended several mission schools run by the Catholics, including the intellectually stimulating St Peter’s College in TororoUganda. He joined the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 1949, enrolling for a Bachelor of Arts degree in HistoryPhilosophy and Education. He graduated in 1953 with degree in Arts and Education. In 1954 he returned home with a South African wife Marcia. He taught for a while at a government school. In 1957, he quit his job to join politics. His early political and social ideas were formed when he was at the University of Cape Town.

The Honorable
Henry Pius Masinde Muliro
BornHenry Pius Masinde Muliro
24 May 1922
MatiliWestern KenyaEast Africa Protectorate
Died14 August 1992 (aged 70)
Burial placeSibangaTrans NzoiaKenya.
EducationUniversity of Cape TownBA in Education
Years active1957—1992
OrganisationParliament of Kenya
Known forBeing the undisputed and de facto leader of the Abaluhya community.
TitleMember of Parliament from Kitale East Constituency
Trans Nzoia CountyKenya
PredecessorFredrick Fidelis Omulo Gumo
SuccessorKipruto Rono Arap Kirwa
Political partyFORD (since 1992)
Other political
KANU (before 1992)
SpouseMama Marcia Muliro​​(m.1953; until death of husband 1992)

Political career

In 1948, Muliro had joined the Kenya African Union (KAU), a body formed to champion the interests of Africans in colonial Kenya. When he quit teaching in 1957, he contested the Nyanza North Legislative Council seat which was then held by W.W.W. Awori (Elder brother of the former Kenyan vice president Moody Awori). Muliro won the election. Among his fellow legislators were Daniel arap Moi representing the Rift valley, Tom Mboya representing Nairobi area, Bernard Mate representing Central Province, Ronald Ngala representing Coast Province, James Nzau Muimi representing Eastern Province, Lawrence Oguda representing Nyanza South, and Oginga Odinga representing Nyanza Central. In 1958 Muliro formed the Kenya National Party with the support of 9 Legco members. He later on dissolved his party to join the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). He was subsequently appointed minister of commerce just before Kenya gained independence in 1963. Muliro worked in various positions in later governments, but was frequently on the wrong side of President Jomo Kenyatta.

After Kenyatta’s death, he vied for the Kitale East seat in the 1979 general election but the new president Daniel Arap Moi, seeking to assert his authority – ensured his old ally Muliro is rigged out in Kitale East in favour of ex-Mayor Fred Gumo. He remained in the cold between 1979—1984, he is again rigged out in the 1983 snap election by the KANU party. However, in the ensuing 1984 by-election after Gumo’s win invalidation due to ballot box stuffing, Muliro narrowly wins the resulting by-election against a Kalenjin candidate, Hon Joseph Yego in an election marred by widespread election rigging and malpractises.

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He served as the Kitale East Constituency MP until 1988, when the constituency was split up and he contested the newly created Cherangany Constituency parliamentary seat in the infamous 1988 Mlolongo election. He narrowly wins the Cherangany Constituency parliamentary seat in the 1988 election, but his election is immediately nullified. At the 1989 by-election, a newcomer Kalenjin Hon Kipruto Arap Kirwa defeats him. 

Multi-party campaign

In 1989, Muliro teamed up with Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, Martin ShikukuPhillip Gachoka and Oginga Odinga to form FORD (Forum for restoration of democracy), a pressure-group agitating for a return to pluralist politics. After violent clashes pitting FORD supporters against police and government supporters, the KANU government accepted multi-partyism in 1991. FORD became a party with Muliro as its vice chairman.

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Disagreements soon cropped up with two main rivals Oginga Odinga and Kenneth Matiba each wanting to run for presidency and not wanting to listen to reason. It was Shortly after this that Muliro left for London for a fundraising mission for the newly formed Ford political party. It was to be an ill-fated trip: on his return, upon his arrival at the Nairobi airport on the morning of August 14, 1992 he collapsed and died. The controversy of his death was heightened by the absence of an official post mortem. Muliro was buried on his rural farm in Sibanga area of Kenya.

The party, then split into two factions after Muliro died due to a disagreement on who was to run for the presidency against President Moi. Kenneth Matiba and Martin Shikuku claiming that they are the real owners of Ford splitting to form Ford Asili and Odinga and others forming Ford Kenya. Had Masinde Muliro not died, the original FORD would have remained united and possibly would have removed president Moi in 1992.

Personal life

He married Mama Marcia Muliro in 1953, a South African beauty who would later be described as a champion of education and strong-willed community development mobiliser.

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Marcia quickly grasped the Bukusu culture, customs and traditions and became the pillar behind  her politician husband.

Burudi Nabwera, former ambassador and Cabinet minister once describes her as a straightforward woman who spoke her mind, complemented her husband’s political career and ensured many youth were educated.

Together they were blessed with children among them Mwambu Mukasa Muliro, who has been trying to fit into his father’s shoes. The family lives in their rural farm SibangaKitale where Muliro and his beloved wife Marcia were interred.



[[:List of things named aft er Masinde Muliro]]

Obituary: Masinde Muliro

Friday 28 August 1992 23:02

Massinde Muliro, politician, born Matili Kenya 30 June 1920, died Nairobi 14 August 1992.

AT THE highest level, Kenyan politics often resembles a game of poker played by some of the most astute minds in Africa. Over the last six months, a fascinating struggle for the leadership of Kenya’s main opposition party, FORD (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy), has held the Kenyan masses in thrall. But as the rivalry for FORD’s leadership and, by implication, the national presidency intensified, the sophisticated dealing gave way to a naked lust for power among the country’s major opposition figures.

FORD, the only organisation that has a realistic chance of wresting control of the government from the ruling party, KANU (Kenya African National Union), was on the verge of disintegration when the veteran nationalist Masinde Muliro startled everyone by declaring his intention of entering the presidential race. The 70-year-old Muliro had emerged from political hibernation to become a founder member of the oppositon FORD movement and had since played a low-key, supportive role, as vice-chairman of the organisation, to more flamboyant personalities like Oginga Odinga.

His quietly stated decision to go for the highest political office when the whole opposition movement appeared to be floundering was typical of the man. He was offering himself as a compromise candidate in order to maintain unity within the opposition ranks. His candidature had an immediate and sobering effect on the opposition front-runners, Odinga and Kenneth Matiba. It also galvanised a surge of public support for this professorial, highly idealistic politician who had never relinquished public respect since his entry into politics some 35 years ago.

One month after his decision to run for President, Muliro died of heart failure while he was on his way back to Kenya after a brief visit to London.

Masinde Muliro was born in 1922 at Matili in western Kenya. His farmer father was a Roman Catholic. He attended several mission schools run by the Catholics, including the intellectually stimulating St Peter’s College in Tororo, Uganda. His early political and social ideas were formed when he was at the University of Cape Town from which he graduated in 1954 with a BA in History, Philosophy and Education.

When he returned to Kenya, he lectured at the Siriba Training College but he was already laying the groundwork for a future in politics. He met the passionate and fiery Odinga and the two embarked on a course of radical politics that was to shape and define the African struggle for independence in Kenya.

Muliro fought for and won a seat in the first ever direct African elections to the colonial legislative council in 1957. The scholarly, pipe-smoking former lecturer often found himself clashing with some of his less far-sighted colleagues on the council. He formed the Kenya National Party, a multiracial organisation that made radical demands on the colonial government.

In 1960, the two largest ethnic groups in Kenya, the Luo and the Kikuyu, formed KANU (Kenya African Nationalist Union) as the political instrument that would take the country into independence. Muliro (who came from the third largest ethnic group, the Luhya), Ronald Ngala, from the coast, and Daniel arap Moi formed KADU (Kenya African Democratic Party) to represent the interests of the smaller ethnic groups.

Although KADU was defeated in the 1961 elections, Muliro retained his seat and was made Minister for Commerce, Industry and Communications in a joint government. In 1963, KANU, now under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta who had been released from detention in 1962, prior to independence, swept all before it and comprehensively defeated KADU. The following year KADU was dissolved and former members of the party, including Muliro, crossed the floor to join KANU.

At this point, Muliro, who had acquired a reputation as an intellectual and a formidable debater, appeared to lose his appetite for political in-fighting and instead turned to commerce. He became chairman of several parastatal marketing boards and developed his own farming and transport interests. Nevertheless, he remained the undisputed leader of the Luhya community and always spoke out, succinctly and often devastatingly, against injustice and corruption from the parliamentary back benches.

Muliro had carved out a unique position for himself in the country’s political landscape. While he was regarded as a non-conformist by the government, there was no doubting his sincerity or idealism. In parliament, the force of his logic during debates made him an outstanding champion of causes which might otherwise have been lost.

In 1969, the government, under Jomo Kenyatta, made him a full minister in charge of Co-operatives and Social Services. His penchant for standing up for his principles, however, brought him into direct confrontation with the goverment.

When the government tabled a motion to proscribe Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union (KPU) after some members of the party stoned Jomo Kenyatta during a political rally, Muliro was the only member of the ruling party to set his face against the motion. He said that while he found the incident abhorrent, banning the opposition party would make Kenya the laughing stock of Africa. Odinga’s party was eventually banned and Kenya became a de facto one-party state.

In 1975, Muliro was the only minister to vote against the government over a report into the murder of a popular politicians JM Kariuki. His vote swung the balance and the government lost the motion. For his pains, he was dismissed from his ministerial post by the imperious Kenyatta and was never to regain any position in government.

He continued to speak out against some government policies from the back benches but preferred to do so from within the party. There were several attempts to unseat him but he successfully petitioned one election result through the courts and regained his place in parliament.

From 1986 onwards, now under Daniel arap Moi’s presidency, Muliro’s criticism of the government and the ruling party increased. He accused the party of rigging elections and said that the cult of sycophancy being encouraged in parliament was turning it into a ‘rubber stamp’ for the executive.

He engaged in spectacular public clashes with Shariff Nassir who controlled the port of Mombasa and was one of President Moi’s most loyal supporters. Nassir called him ‘anti-government’ and accused him of being in the pay of ‘foreign masters’. Muliro countered by saying that parliamentary democracy was being eroded by the likes of Nassir who did not want members to ‘speak out their minds and freely express their opinions’.

Although Muliro retained the support of the Luhya community and the respect of the nation, he had antagonised too many people by refusing to go along with the tide and he lost his parliamentary seat for the last time in a by-election in 1989.

He appeared to have dropped off the political landscape after this but bounced right back nearly three years later to become a founder member of FORD. His initial role as vice-chairman of FORD was that of a bridge-builder between the strong personalities who represented the largest ethnic groupings in the country. His own declaration of intent only came when the opposition party began to fragment and only after strong public pressure had forced his hand. Masinde Muliro always took the lonely road of honesty and plain-speaking in public affairs and it was perhaps this dedication to democratic principles that denied him higher office in government.

The purpose of Muliro’s brief visit to London was to persuade the Foreign Office to keep faith with FORD. He also met a delegation from the UK branch of FORD who expressed their dismay at the personality clashes within the opposition group and told them categorically that he was willing to relinquish his bid for the presidency if that would enhance party unity.

The chairman of UK FORD, Joseph Gitari, who probably held the last formal discussion with Muliro, said that he, more than any other politician, had emphasised the defence of human rights above other political considerations. ‘What he wanted above all,’ said Gitari, ‘was the restoration of true democracy and he told us quite emphatically that his, or anyone else’s, personal ambitions mattered not the least in the interests of the national good.’

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