An influential political figure in Kenyan political history, Koigi wa Wamwere was detained four times during the reign of the first and second president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi. He was critical of their rule, and is remembered for fighting for democracy, political reforms and advocating for women's rights.
Koigi was born in Rugongo, Nakuru on December 18, 1949. After completing his education at Nyeri High School, he received a scholarship to study at Cornell University, U.S.
He became interested in politics while studying at Cornell University, inspired by U.S. political figures such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X. With the burning desire to change the political situation in Kenya, he halted his studies at the university.
In 1974, he contended for Nakuru Constituency (currently, Subukia Constituency) as a Member of Parliament but was defeated by Kihika Kimani by a minor margin of 800 votes.
In 1975, Koigi was detained at Kamiti Maximum Prison for three years after writing an article critical of Jomo Kenyatta for Sunday Post as a freelance writer.
While detained at Kamiti, 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 among other injustices which were practiced during Kenyatta's presidency.
He wrote a second book, 'A Woman Reborn' while still in detention. The book was written to champion for women's rights. He wrote the book believing in liberation for all who were oppressed; not for a selected few. He wrote the book with the help of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, another political activist who was also a detainee at the prison.
Koigi was released from prison together with Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Martin Shikuku (another political activist) in December 1978 after the death of Kenyatta. He served a total of three years before he's released by the second president.
In 1979, Koigi defeated Kihika Kimani as a Member of Parliament for Nakuru North Constituency. He served in the capacity of MP for three years.
As a sitting MP, he wrote a third book, 'People's Representative and the Tyrants.' He believed people have a right to express themselves freely and to make an informed decision. He turned an offer to be a minister. More so, he became the enemy of the state by asking sensitive questions. Moi was feared for his iron-fist rule. Anyone who opposed or was critical of him was either imprisoned unjustifiably or murdered in mysterious means.
Koigi was detained for a second time during the reign of Moi. He's accused of participating in 1982 coup to overthrow Moi. Subsequently, he lost his parliamentary seat in 1982 by-elections to Francis Kimosop.
In 1986, Kimosop committed suicide leaving a vacant seat which was won by Moi's brother-in-law, Eric Bomett. Koigi was unsuccessful in re-gaining the seat after being released from prison in 1984.
Fearing for his life, he fled to Norway in the same year.
In 1990, Koigi was abducted by Kenyan security personnel while on a visit in Uganda. He was charged for treason (involvement in the 1982 coup) and consequently, detained at Kamiti Maximum Prison.
The charges against him were dropped leading to his release in 1993. Koigi maintained he was never involved in the coup.
Once again fearing for his life, he fled to Norway. Nonetheless, he was arrested in 1995 on his return to Kenya. This time, his sins were engaging in robbery with violence. The charges were that he attempted to steal weapons in a police station with the intention of using them to forcefully remove Moi from his seat. He was sentenced to four years in prison and six lashes by cane.
Koigi and his brother-in-law faced death penalty on the allegedly count of attempting to commit treason. The sentence was reduced to four years due to international pressure backed by Amnesty International. Both were acknowledged by the international community as political detainees.
Protests by activists led by his mother and international displeasure in consideration of his failing health, Koigi was released in December 13, 1996.
Koigi lost the Nakuru North Constituency parliamentary seat in the 1997 General Elections forcing him to flee Kenya in 1998.
In 2002, several political parties merged to form an umbrella-coalition party, NARC (National ). Their intention was to end the rule of KANU as Moi was retiring from politics. Moi Kibaki, the flag bearer of the coalition party became the third president of Kenya. Koigi reclaimed his parliamentary seat and also served as Assistant Minister for Information in Kibaki's government.
He lost the parliamentary seat in 2007 General Elections.
Koigi wrote two books while in exile. The first one was 'Tears of the Heart: A Profile of Racism in Norway and Europe.' He wrote this book after encountering firsthand experience of racial discrimination while in Norway as a political refugee.
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 big and dangerous disease that has resulted in more than 100 million Africans killed in massacres and genocides.
Koigi is still involved in politics. He writes op-ed articles for the Kenyan Press on political matters and owns a radio station in Nakuru, Sauti ya Mwananchi.
© 2014 Alianess Benny Njuguna