Biography: Koigi Wamwere – A Kenyan Activist, Politician and Author
Koigi Wamwere received scholarship to attend Cornell University, U.S.A after he graduated from high school. At the university he became interested in politics. The likes of Martin Luther King and Malcom X inspired Koigi to become interested in politics. As a result, he halted his studies at the university. He desired to return to Kenya and do something about the political situation in Kenya.
During this era, Kenya was ruled by the second president of Kenya, Daniel Torotich arap Moi. Moi was put in the likes of Iddi Amnin, a dictator who ruled Kenya with an iron fist for more than twenty years. Nonetheless, he didn’t suffer only at the hands of Daniel Moi but also at the hands of the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta.
He is remembered for fighting for democracy, championing for women’s rights and for political reforms. This did not go well with the leaders of the nation who saw him as a threat. Koigi Wamwere is likened to the late Nelson Mandela as he had spent more than thirteen years in prison.
In 1947 he contested for Nakuru Constituency, currently called Subukia Constituency as a Member of Parliament but was defeated by Kihika Kimani. During this period only one political party was functioning, KANU, the government’s political party.
His first detention in 1975, which saw him held at Kamiti Maximum Prison, resulted from an article he wrote critical of Jomo Kenyatta. As a detainee at Kamiti Maximum Prison he wrote his first book, Conscience on Trial between 1975 and 1978. The book details the reasons why he was detained by Jomo Kenyatta, whether the fight for freedom and justice comes at the expense of justice, life in prison, for example, food containing snails and spiders, isolation which can lead a detainee to insanity among other injustices which were practiced during that era.
Koigi wrote the second book, A Woman Reborn while still in detention. The book was written to champion for women rights. During this era women rights were not respected by the government. He wrote the book believing in liberation for all who were oppressed and not only for a selected few. He wrote the book with the help of Ngugi wa Thiong’o who was also a detainee at the prison.
He was released from prison together with Ngugi wa Thiong’o by the second president, Daniel Torotich arap Moi after the death of Jomo Kenyatta in December 1978.
In 1979 Koigi won the Nakuru North Constituency as a Member of Parliament defeating Kihika Kimani. He served as an MP for three years.
During this period as a sitting MP, he wrote his third book, People’s Representative and The Tyrants. Believing in the freedom of expression and right to decide, he turned down an offer to be a minister, he asked sensitive questions which were not supposed to be asked during the era. Daniel Moi was worshipped as a god and if any person spoke up against the injustices that were committed by his government that person would either be jailed or killed.
Koigi was jailed again in 1982 as it was believed by the president that Koigi was involved in the 1982 coup to overthrow his government. He lost the parliamentary seat in 1982 by-elections to Francis Kimosop. However, in 1986 Kimosop committed suicide. Koigi who was released from prison in 1984 contested for the vacant seat in 1986 by-election but was defeated by President’s Moi’s brother-in-law, Eric Bomett. Fearing for his life, he fled to Norway in the same year.
His fleeing the country resulted from a threat he received from Kariuki Chotora that if he didn’t stop his criticisms against the KANU government, then he would be silenced for good. The book, People’s Representative and The Tyrant exposed the degree to which the KANU government ruled the country with fists of iron. It was a reign of terror as there were a lot of oppressions and killings. It was a dark age in the history of Kenya.
In 1990 Koigi visited Uganda but found himself detained again at Kamiti Maximum Prison. He was abducted by Kenyan security personnel while in Uganda. He was charged with treason of attempting to overthrow Moi from his seat. He was released in 1993 after the charges were dropped. Koigi maintains he was never involved in the coup. Once again fearing for his life, he fled to Norway. However when he returned to Kenya in 1995, he was arrested, this time his sins were that he was involved and therefore charged with robbery with violence. The charges were he attempted to steal weapons in a police station to be used to overthrow Moi’s government. He spent four years in prison plus an additional of six lashes. The sentence for treason was death penalty. Nonetheless, due to international pressure backed by Amnesty International his sentence including those of his brother and brother-in-law whom they were detained together were reduced to four years in prison. The international community regarded the three as political detainees.
While in Norway, Koigi wrote two books. The first one was Tears of the Heart: A Profile of Racism in Norway and Europe. He wrote this book as a result of facing racial discrimination while in Norway when he first fled from his country.
The other book was, I Refuse to Die. This book details his life history tracing his roots, the struggles he underwent and the fight for democracy in Kenya. He wrote his autobiography while recovering from injuries he sustained in a motor accident in Norway.
He left Norway and went to Columbia University as a visiting scholar. He published a researched book, Towards Genocide in Kenya: The Curse of negative Ethnicity. In the book he talks about how ethnic hate is a very big and dangerous disease or problem that has led to more than 100 million Africans killed in massacres and genocides.
Koigi lost the Nakuru North Constituency parliamentary seat in the 1997 General Elections forcing him once again to flee the country in 1998.
In 2002 General Elections which saw many politicians from different political parties coming together to form a one-big umbrella political party, NARC, for the overthrow of President Moi and his government, Koigi won the Subukia parliamentary seat as an MP and served in the position of Assistant Minister for Information after NARC won. Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner and was sworn in as the third president t of Kenya.
Currently, Koigi is back in politics. He is contesting for the seat of Senator in Nakuru County. He does write op-ed articles for the Kenyan Press on political matters and he owns a radio station in Nakuru called Mwananchi.