He won public admiration for pitching tent at the hospital beside his wife Dr Wanjiru Kihoro, who had been injured in a January 2003 plane crash in Busia while flying from a celebration of the Narc victory for which she had worked so hard.
Waking up to see his wife, who was in a coma for four years, drained him emotionally and financially, but Mr Wanyiri Kihoro still insists he never considered switching off his wife’s life support machine.
The lawyer, economist and probably one of Kenya’s foremost crusaders for land reforms, says despite his detention and Wanjiru’s suffering and death six years ago, he remains strong and unbowed.
And despite not being elected to the National Assembly or the Senate, the 60-year-old former Nyeri Town MP is confident his children, writing books and his 7,000 coffee trees on the slopes of Mt Kenya will keep him going.
An eloquent commentator on Kenya’s socio-political condition and author of, among others, Politics and Parliamentarians in Kenya 1944-2007 and The Kapenguria Six, places little hope in the new Jubilee administration and has an axe to grind with retired President Kibaki.
He told us why.
Q: You were once known as Fred Muhorozi from Muhavura Mountains in South-Western Uganda. When did you become Wanyiri Kihoro?
A: Ha ha ha. It was 1990 when I was informed that Moi was plotting a second round of repression and, having suffered at Shimo La Tewa, Nyayo House, Naivasha and Kamiti maximum security prisons I decided to run away.
I went through Tanzania because I feared re-arrest at the airport. But at the Sirare-Tarime border point, I was arrested, charged and fined for being an undesirable alien.
I was given 14 days to leave the country. I drove on to the Tanzanian-Ugandan border from where my friend Yoweri Museveni sent a car and an escort who drove me into Kampala.
I was friends with Ugandan Defence minister Amama Mbabazi. I stayed for some time before I left for London on a Ugandan passport. In London I was granted asylum and secured a UN passport as Wanyiri Kihoro. I was Muhorozi for two years.
Q: Yet despite this you were one of the few Kenyan politicians to attend Julius Nyerere’s funeral in 1999.
A: No other person in Africa cared for the liberation of Africa as did Nyerere. Tanzania was a poor country, but it played host to liberation movements from the Ruvuma to the Congo; from the Limpopo to the Kunene and from the Cape to the Orange.
Then in 1961 he said “we are going to delay our independence so that all of us — Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya — can be free in one day.” I had to be at the funeral of this icon.
Q: How did you meet your wife Wanjiru?
A: We met at J.M. Kariuki’s burial on March 16, 1975 at Kanyamu Farm near Gilgil. I was a student leader and I spoke at the event. Later she told me that it was at that point that she vowed ‘this man must become my husband.’
Q: Dr Wanjiru’s situation — staying in a coma for nearly four years — was compared to Terry Schavo, whose husband said life support should be removed after spending 15 years in a hospice. Did you at any point get close to removing her air and foot tubes?
A: No, no, no. Even when she died, I was still hopeful that she would wake up. Four years wasn’t a long time. Somebody in America went to into a coma when the daughter had just been born. When she woke up 17 years later, her daughter was a grown up woman.
It might have been difficult seeing Wanjiru in that condition day in, day out but it was still better to have been seeing her. She was my friend, my wife, the mother of my children. I wrote three books at that time just to distract myself, you know, just to keep sane. The mind is vulnerable. If one is not careful he can die ahead of the patient.
Q: How are Wanjiru’s children?
A: They are fine. Wangari is married in Lancaster. Her brother, Pambana, runs a car business also in London. I named him after the seditious paper which I was accused of distributing to see what Moi would do.
In him is immortalised my struggle and rejection of the Moi dictatorship. Amandla is graduating from South Africa this year while Wairimu, who was most affected by her mother’s condition, is at the University of Kent.
Q: Have you married again?
A: No marriage for me. I can’t marry again. It is very difficult. In many ways I had been a mother to my kids as I used to cook, wash, and take them to school.
Q: You have been holed up in the Parliament library for the past six months. What are you investigating?
A: I am writing books. One is on land and unemployment, the other on truth and peace and the last one on African freedom heroes. I am also reading. You know I am a serious reader.
Q: But at 17 years, you are one of the longest PhD students. What prevents you from finishing it?
A: The vagaries of Kenyan life. In 1996 I registered for my PhD on law and the land question at the University of Cambridge but my commitment to the country, writing all these books have taken my time. I, however, hope to complete it in the near future.
Q: You used to host President Kibaki in London and once served as a DP legislator. Many also attribute your win of Nyeri Town in 1997 to Kibaki. When did you part ways?
A: Not just that. Wanjiru and I donated Sh16 million for his 2002 campaign, money we fund-raised from friends in London and South Africa and he said then we were fantastic people.
Yet for the two years she lay at Nairobi Hospital, a stone’s throw away from State House Gate B, Kibaki never visited; never sent even a bouquet of flowers nor a get-well a card to Wanjiru.
I never got to see Kibaki in the 10 years he was in power. He is heartless and mean. He does not have a friend in the lower classes. When he attempted to come to Wanjiru’s funeral, I told him to keep off. Why can’t he refund the money?
Q: In ‘Never Say Die’ you chronicle your harrowing experience as a political prisoner. Why did you refuse to die?
A: I am hoping our people will one day say never say die, too, to their own struggles and assume the leadership of their own destiny. As it is now, the vote is a cheap commodity.
Q: You were one of the first leaders to publicly call Jomo Kenyatta a land grabber. Do you think Jubilee has the answer to the land question in Kenya?
A: No. Like father like son — politically, socially and economically. We fought for the Second Liberation. What did Uhuru Kenyatta do for it? Now he is the beneficiary. The Mau Mau worked for the first liberation and its leader, Dedan Kimathi, was killed for it.
But who took power? Jomo Kenyatta who did not hold any office in the movement. I saw the president’s mother pulling out jiggers from Kiambu children the other day.
If Kenyatta had brought progress, how is it that 50 years after independence our children are still infested with jiggers brought about by poverty and dirt? I would rather be eaten by a lion than by a jigger.
Q: You refused to appear before the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Is the national search for truth a lost cause?
A: The TJRC was a lost cause from the word go. How do you put a hyena in charge of herding goats? The TJRC leadership was an interested party all along and Kibaki was using the process to cover up (misdeeds).
Q: Do you see the report being implemented?
Jubilee won’t implement it because some of the people mentioned — whether alive or dead — are close to the big two. They are out to cover up.
Q: You stood naked without food in ankle-deep water for 576 straight hours in the Nyayo House torture chambers in 1986. What kept you alive?
A: I am the record holder of the Nyayo House detainees. I stayed there from July 29, 1986 to October 10, 1989. There they put you in water and forget you. I stood for the first 10 days in water without food.
I am the only human amphibian in Kenya on land and in water. The belief that I was standing for my rights, those of my family and my fellow countrymen kept me alive.
Q: Was it worth it?
A: It was not worth it. The personal freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are still out of reach for the ordinary person. Today justice in our courts is very expensive.
Q: Have you forgiven Moi?
A: I have no quarrel with him. But he should be more forthcoming and own up for the atrocities he committed against Kenyans. He should say sorry.
Q: Some say you fought Moi because he is not Kikuyu. Why have your guns gone silent?
A: That is very offensive. I was on the same side with Moi opposing a Constitution we were convinced, and we are now vindicated, was burdensome. I fought Kenyatta before him yet he was Kikuyu.
He even at one point asked: “Who is this lad who has begun talking back at me?” He was informed that I was the son of Wanyiri, the son of Wambugu whom he easily recognised. My grandfather was a chief and Kenyatta had been to our home to drink muratina. He was a great consumer of the traditional brew.
Q: In ‘A Nation in Motion’ you say Kenya is in a constant move. Where are we going?
A: Running round in circles. We are now back to where we started. Look at the current scenario, for instance where, a Kenyatta is facing off with an Odinga. Remember the Limuru Conference of 1966 where the plot to sideline Jaramogi Odinga was hatched. Yet the Kenyatta-Jaramogi coalition was very important in arresting the decline into the current tribal tension. Jubilee is actually minus 50 years.
Q: Koigi has raised the alarm that the Jubilee duo are reading from the Kenyatta-Moi script. Is it a continuation of Nyayo?
A: A continuation of colonialism. What is the difference between Kenyatta and Delamere Avenue? We have been moving 180 degrees without a bend all through. Kenyatta continued with the colonial system.
He had married the West. How could he fight athoniwa? (in-laws)? Moi said ‘nitafuata Nyayo,’ Kibaki sang ‘kazi iendelee’ and now Uhuru is ‘kazi iendelee zaidi.’
We went off tangent as early as 1946 when Kenyatta returned from Europe a changed man. Many who had held him in high regard like the Caribbean scholar CLR James who wrote for him Facing Mount Kenya, and the Guyanese historian Walter Rodney, felt betrayed by the change in the man they had deferred to as the Burning Spear.
Q: What book would you buy for Uhuru?
A: I want him to read Chapter 6 of my book The Price of Freedom. It is titled ‘Uhuru, Bloody Uhuru.’ It was written in 2005, long before he became president. It will tell him where we are coming from and the struggles of our people. It will tell him that his name embodies the vision and dream of our people from colonialism to date.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I am waiting for an upcoming book on Mandela. It will be published locally by Oxford University Press. I have got every other book on the legend.
Q: Kenyans have been accused of not reading books by their compatriots.
A: I read Ngugi’s books, especially the earlier ones like A Grain of Wheat and Ngaahika Ndeenda. The problem in Kenya is that leaders don’t write books. Many Kenyans have taken their rich history to the grave.
Look at people like Moi, Dr Njoroge Mungai and Charles Njonjo. By the time he died at the age of 39, Tom Mboya had written three books.
Q: Why do your ideas no longer resonate with the peasants of Nyeri and the slum dwellers of Nairobi?
A: Just like I had refused to join Gema in the DP days, I declined to join the dominant political group. Had I joined TNA, I would have easily won. But I said I’d rather be outside Parliament with my integrity intact.