Barrack Mbajah, a younger brother of Dr Robert Ouko, Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who was murdered near his Koru farm on February 13, 1990, has died. He was 79.
Mbajah died in an American hospital on Monday where he had been undergoing treatment after suffering a stroke five years ago. It is customary not to speak ill of the dead: Barrack Mbajah, however, deserves no such courtesy.
Over the years, through his ever-changing testimony, Mbajah made multiple allegations as to who killed his brother Robert and why. But Mbajah the serial accuser was also an inveterate liar.
It was from Mbajah that the New Scotland Yard detective John Troon, brought in at the request of President Daniel Moi to investigate Ouko’s murder, heard about a ‘private’ meeting in the US that allegedly infuriated President Moi and Minister Nicholas Biwott.
Mbajah told Troon that during a ‘private’ visit to Washington D.C. by a delegation of 83 ministers and civil servants headed by President Moi just prior to Ouko’s murder, his brother had met with President George H.W Bush allegedly to the chagrin of Biwott and Moi.
Troon admitted that Mbajah’s testimony was “tenuous”, “circumstantial” and based on “hearsay”. So it was.
Mbajah, who had not been on the Washington trip, said he had heard of the alleged row from a Malaki Odenyo, an official in Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But Odenyo too had not been on the Washington trip. He also denied ever telling Mbajah of a meeting with Bush or of any row.
In addition to Mbajah’s testimony being hearsay, his story was also provably untrue. He told Troon that the supposed Bush-Ouko meeting took place after Dr Ouko had delivered a press conference on the day of the delegation’s departure from Washington DC. But President Bush’s diary and other reliable testimony prove beyond doubt that Bush was not even in the US capital at the time.
In late October 1990, a few days before he was due to give testimony and face questions in front of the public inquiry into the Ouko murder headed by Justice Evans Gicheru, Mbajah fled Kenya. He was subsequently granted asylum in the United States. He was never to face cross-examination.
In September 1991, now living in ‘exile’ in Seattle, Mbajah swore an affidavit which was delivered to the inquiry and in which his testimony changed from the statement he had given to the New Scotland Yard detectives.
Mbajah’s affidavit was odd and again its contents untrue.
In it, he said that on the evening of his return from the Washington trip, his brother told him of a meeting the next day in State House, of a car accident that occurred the following Friday, and that he tried to visit President Moi in Central Region a week later. How could Ouko have told Mbajah of these events before they’d even happened?
In the affidavit, Mbajah also alleged that Dr Robert Ouko had been sacked by President Moi during the Washington trip, sent home on a different flight to the rest of the delegation, his passport seized on arrival, his security guard and official driver removed and Ouko himself banished to his Koru farmhouse.
Witness testimony, official documents, flight manifests together with archive film and photographs prove beyond doubt that Mbajah’s story was entirely untrue.
In the same affidavit Barrack Mbajah also alleged that Dr Ouko had somehow left a ‘note’ for him with Selina Were, the maid at his Koru farmhouse, on the morning he disappeared.
In the note, he said, the minister named his abductors who he alleged included Jonah Anguka, District Commissioner of Nakuru; George Oraro, advocate; and Paul Gondi, a banker; assisted by Eric Onyango.
Mbajah had never mentioned the note before, or its alleged contents in his written statements to Troon, or when questioned by the Kenyan Police. Selina Were denied ever having received the note. No note was ever produced or found.
It would seem very unlikely that Ouko’s abductors would have allowed him time to return to his house to write a message, or that the minister would have asked the maid to pass it on to his brother Barrack. All accounts show the brothers were hardly on speaking terms at the time and indeed had a long-running dispute.
Ouko’s sister Dorothy Randiak cited the cause of the row between Ouko and Mbajah.
“In 1985 the following happened. Barrack was working as Deputy PC in Nakuru in the Rift Valley Province. From there he was transferred to Deputy Secretary at the Attorney General’s office. He did not want this move and he blamed it on Robert because he had ambition to become Provincial Commissioner”.
The testimony of Robert Ouko’s wife Christabel supported Randiak’s story, “It has been common knowledge that my husband and his brothers Barrack and Collins were not speaking to each other and there was a serious situation between them and that conflict existed between them… at the time of my husband disappearing the conflict still existed.”
Mbajah told Troon however that at the time of his brother’s murder they “were on good terms and there were no bad feelings” between them.
But even Barrak Mbajah’s wife, Esther, said otherwise: “Up until the time of Robert’s death the relationship between Robert and Barrack remained the same, they had not settled their differences”.
“We then discussed the problem with his brothers. So I talked with my husband about this and he was still unhappy about it all. His last words were, ‘I’ll try my best to forget about it, but pray for me’.”
Although Barrack Mbajah promised many times (including to me) to reveal the facts that he said he knew about his brother’s murder “when the time is right”, apparently the time was never right enough for him to do so.
The press declared that Mbajah has taken his secrets to the grave: perhaps so but not in the way they mean. Barrack Mbajah’s ‘secrets’ would in all likelihood only reveal his own mendacity, or possibly even his own culpability. Why else did he tell so many lies?