Who and what killed Marie Seroney?

By: JOHN KAMAU

Apart from a few wires strutting out of the unmarked grave, little else indicates where Jean Marie Seroney was buried some 33 years ago.

His death, too, remains unresolved.

A new book, set to be launched in London next Friday, now says the former Tinderet MP, who was once detained for supporting Martin Shikuku’s “Kanu is Dead” proclamation, was forcibly given an injection a day before he was about to be released from hospital.

The book, titled Just for Today: Life and Times of Jean Marie Seroney and authored by Godfrey Sang, will rekindle debate on what killed the former legislator.

That Friday, December 3, 1982, Seroney was awaiting discharge from a Nairobi hospital where he had been admitted.

A prominent politician then called and said he wanted to visit him in hospital, but Seroney declined, saying he was feeling better and expected to be discharged.

But before he left hospital, things took a strange turn: “That evening someone came to give him an injection at about 11pm at night. He asked why he needed the injection yet he was due for discharge the following day,” the author writes.

According to the book, Seroney was suspicious and was always frightened of facing the fate of former Dagoretti MP Johnstone Muthiora, who died of a suspicious injection.

“[Seroney] was told that he had to take the injection but he disputed very strongly. Reinforcement was called in and he was held down and injected. Shortly afterwards, his health began to deteriorate,” says the book, quoting confidante Samson ole Surtan.

Surtan was always with Seroney at the hospital bed.

SERONEY’S DEATH

That evening, Seroney asked Surtan to hand him a rosary.

“He closed his eyes and chanted prayers, holding the rosary to his heart. He then feebly asked ole Surtan to lift his hand up — the hand holding the rosary. Surtan felt the hand to be unusually heavy. He lifted it up straight but it came down [Seroney] was becoming weaker, so he called a nurse.”

Seroney went down very quickly and his doctor, Mrs Nalini Mandevia, ordered he be taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately.

He never recovered. On Monday morning, December 6 at 6.45am, he died.

Although the doctor explained the cause of death to be “hepatitis, jaundice and anaemia”, questions still linger, according to the book, on the exact cause.

“Besides, why did the government not order an autopsy to ascertain the cause of death?” asks the book.

Seroney was a firebrand and a non-conformist.

A graduate of India’s Allahabad University, he was the second black Kenyan after Argwings Kodhek to become a barrister and was the first to have an undergraduate law degree.

A brief written by then Deputy Governor to the Director for Colonial Scholars, dated March 1952, described Seroney as a “sincere Catholic” and a “dangerous political agitator.”

“It is hoped that by the time he returns here (from Britain) he will have matured and will have had a chance to absorb British ideas”, says the note.

WARRING PERSPECTIVES

On February 7, 1956, Seroney braved the London cold to go to the Hall at the Inner Temple where he made history by becoming the first Kenyan to be called to the Bar of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.

His seniors, Argwings-Kodhek, who had been called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1952, and Charles Njonjo, who had been called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1954, did not hold law degrees.

The book says it was the absence of Seroney from Kenya that saw Daniel arap Moi rise to stardom, especially in the Rift Valley.

“Moi happened to be at the right place at the right time,” says the book regarding the resignation of John ole Tameno from the colonial legislative council as member for Rift Valley to pave the way for a younger educated leader.

“[Moi] never smoked or drank alcohol, never took hard positions on anything and was generally an amiable spirit.”

Seroney was different. When he stayed with Moi in Nairobi’s Ziwani Estate after returning to Kenya, Moi appears not to have liked him.

“Seroney had the annoying habit of cooking steak and strong-smelling chillies every night,” laments Moi in his autobiography.

It was in Nandi politics that both Moi and Seroney fell out.

The new book says “Moi wanted Nandi people to be loyal to the colonialists, whom they hated, while Seroney wanted the people to fight for freedom and independence.”

After he was employed at the State Law office where he joined Njonjo and also became a friend of Tom Mboya, the trio would, during the weekends, go to Kaloleni Social Hall for dances.

Seroney, Njonjo is quoted saying, would appear at the dances with a well-dressed Kalenjin girl.

A TARGETED MAN

After they learnt that the girl was a house-help in one of the European residences, they told Seroney “that he could do better than that now that he was a barrister”.

Mboya was dating a white girl, while Njonjo was dating Margaret Wanjiru, a daughter of Senior Chief Koinange.

Eventually, Seroney dropped Jemeli, while Mboya ended up marrying politician Walter Odede’s daughter, Pamela.

Njonjo married a white girl.

On the political scene, Seroney joined Kadu and became a critic of Jomo Kenyatta, who was receiving immense attention after his release.

“We are not impressed by the cheap publicity given to Kenyatta going to London. If he has not got the guts to sit down with us, why does he go to the Colonial Office?”

During the rally, another Kadu supporter, Martin Shikuku, told the crowd: “Kenyatta’s days are numbered. He is old. He knows he cannot live for another 20 years, so he doesn’t care about Kenya.”

Kanu leaders criticised Seroney heavily for speaking about violence, and most of them demanded that he be arrested.

He had become a marked person and would pay for that later (together with Shikuku).

Seroney became the most vocal voice against the settlement of other communities in the Rift Valley after independence.

He even threatened to cede Kalenjin land from Kenya and threatened to kick out the white settlers.

In the 1963 election, he was arguably the most popular Kalenjin leader and easily won the Nandi North seat, obtaining 21,000 votes against his opponent’s 2,000.

He was the most visible of the Kenyatta government critics.

ILLUMINATING INJUSTICES

It was Mboya who would convince his friend to leave Kadu a few months to Kenya becoming a republic.

He also managed to bring on board two other Kalenjin firebrands: Taita Towett and William Murgor.

“I have taken this step in the hope that I can carry the Rift Valley Regional Assembly and the people of my constituency with me,” said Seroney.

He had hoped to be appointed into Kenyatta’s Cabinet (he wasn’t) and he was rather surprised by the cold reception he got when he returned to Kapsabet.

Frustrated, Seroney hit the bottle, according to the author.

The MP would sometimes “go on a drinking binge and often passed out, leaving his life in great danger.”

In the book, Senator Gerald Kalya tells of Seroney’s visit to his Kapsabet home.

“After they retired for the night, his wife woke him up saying she smelt smoke. They traced the smoke to Seroney’s room, and when they opened the door, sure enough the pillow was aflame and the mattress was already catching fire yet Seroney remained fast asleep! A cigarette he’d failed to put off was responsible for the fire,” says the author.

Moi rose to become a Cabinet minister and, after the resignation of Joseph Murumbi, he become the vice-president.

In Parliament, Seroney continued to decry limitations on personal freedoms that came in the guise of security and tried to secure an appointment with Kenyatta with little success.

He differed with Njonjo’s various amendments to the Constitution which gave the President imperial powers.

With Oginga Odinga’s fall from Kanu, Seroney became a Kenya People’s Union (KPU) sympathiser.

It was the 1969 Nandi Declaration led by Seroney that saw him painted as a warmonger.

The document was populist and while it defended the land rights of the Kalenjin, it worried Moi.

“There were now two camps in Kanu Nandi, one controlled by Seroney and the other controlled by Moi,” says the book.

Seroney was arrested and charged with sedition, fined and asked to keep peace.

While his popularity always saw him elected, his rivalry with Moi never ended.

The writer traces the rivalry to the days when Moi was prevailed upon to become a teacher while Seroney joined Alliance High School.

Ever since the early 1960s when Seroney joined politics and Moi’s preference of Shadrack Kimalel over him, Seroney developed a competitive spirit against Moi.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, according to the book, was the incident at Chemundu when Moi was shouted down for speaking ill of Seroney while supporting Kimalel.

“Another reason for their discord was the fact that Moi was (and still is) a strict teetotaller who never touched tobacco, while Seroney had formed the habit of constant binge drinking and tobacco usage,” the author writes.

The book says that Moi was highly acquisitive while Seroney was largely distributive and spent his meagre funds mostly from his salary on the people he led.

Seroney often complained that his efforts were being obstructed by jealous politicians.

TO SHIKUKU’S DEFENCE

His fundraisers were frequently disrupted and Seroney attempted to shield himself by seeking to have a Constitutional clause: The Amendment Bill stipulated, among other things, that no one could use “state machinery to sabotage or obstruct self-help projects initiated by a Member of Parliament with a view to discrediting that Member.”

Moi knew he was the target and he organised a press conference to denounce Seroney.

Seroney’s election as deputy speaker became his Waterloo.

One day Shikuku lamented that some people wanted to kill Parliament the way they had killed Kanu.

Challenged to substantiate, Seroney came to Shikuku’s defence and said one cannot substantiate the obvious.

Moi, then Leader of Government Business, led a walk-out and Seroney and Shikuku were detained.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION