Family releases burial programme for veteran politician John Keen

When he came back in the late 1960s, he joined politics and was among Kenyan politicians who participated in the pre-independence Lancaster House Conference talks in London.PHOTO: COURTESY
Veteran politician and conservationist John Keen, who died on Christmas Day, will be buried on Friday.

According to the programme released by the family yesterday, the burial will take place at his Osilale Ranch in Namanga, Kajiado County.

On Thursday, the family said burial rites will be performed according to Maasai tradition. And tomorrow, there will be an interdenominational service held at his Karen home in Nairobi starting 2pm.

The late outspoken politician, who died at Aga Khan Hospital on Christmas Day, was born to a German father and Kenyan mother in Kajiado in 1930. He joined African Government

 School Narok in 1937 at later joined Alliance High School. He later left for US for further studies.

When he came back in the late 1960s, he joined politics and was among Kenyan politicians who participated in the pre-independence Lancaster House Conference talks in London.

After independence, he served as legislator for Kajiado North for a decade from 1969 to 1979.

He also served as an assistant minister for agriculture during the reign of former President Daniel Moi in the 1980s.

Described as illustrious, astute and forthright politician by those who knew him, Keen openly spoke his mind without fear of retribution.

It is due to his forthrightness and crusade for good governance, respect for human rights and rights of the marginalised Kenyans that saw Keen being detained by both the colonial and post-independence regimes.

Keen became the first Kenyan to be detained in independent Kenya in 1967 after he accused Kenya’s founding President, the late Jomo Kenyatta, late Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere and late Uganda’s President Milton Obote of being the main stumbling blocks towards the formation of an East African Federation.

Though a Kenya African National Union (Kanu) MP, Keen kept Moi’s regime on its toes, accusing it of not working for its people and this prompted his fall-out with Moi over the majimbo issue.


He opposed the 1988 Kanu elections, saying they were full of gross irregularities and rigging.

Then, Moi had directed that elections would not be held by secret ballot but through the queuing system. Protests were widespread when many candidates were rigged out because they did not meet loyalty standards.

During the political upheaval, Keen’s friend, former President Mwai Kibaki, who had also been re-elected in Othaya, was dropped as vice president and appointed minister for Health.

Kibaki considered the appointment as an insult because at the time the Ministry of Health was bedevilled by mismanagement and corruption just like now.

The late Dr Josephat Karanja was selected to replace Kibaki and this did not go down well with Kibaki’s allies or the Kikuyu community, despite Karanja being a Kikuyu.

Keen joined other politicians like Kenneth Matiba, Ahmed Bahmariz, Paul Muite, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku, George Anyona, Charles Rubia, James Orengo, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his son Raila Odinga to agitate for the repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution.

Matiba later resigned from Parliament and together with Rubia and other anti-establishment politicians began a campaign to make Kenya a multiparty democracy.

Moi detained both Matiba and Rubia. The disgruntled politicians formed an umbrella movement called the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD).

At this point, Keen with his friends Kibaki and former Cabinet Minister Njenga Karume then agreed to form their own political party.

Kibaki announced his resignation from Parliament while in Mombasa on December 31, 1991. They made the announcement the formation of Democratic Party where Kibaki was chairman and Keen the secretary general.

From Eastern Province, David Mwiraria and Joseph Munyao were brought on board while Mohamed Ogle was selected to represent North Eastern. The Treasurer’s post went to Eliud Mwamunga and Mohamed Ogle was chosen as the party’s Organising Secretary. Munyao was picked as the Assistant Secretary. Munyao had actually been poached from FORD.

Keen criticised wealthy Asians for giving money to government officials in the run up to the December 1992 polls.

Kibaki sat back and listened carefully as Mr Keen issued his threats at a rally in Githunguri in July of 1992.

At that time Kenyan businessman Ketan Somaia was accused of having come to the country and met some government officials.

But Keen was equally accused of preaching racism and was accused of doublespeak.

Yesterday, Keen’s home was a bee hive of activity.

There was a sombre mood as friends and acquaintances of the late politician visited the home to condole with the family.

Among local leaders who visited the home were Kajiado West MP Moses ole Sakuda, his Kajiado North counterpart Joseph Manje, and former minister Joseph Munyao.

The family’s spokesperson Antony Keen described his father’s demise as an unexpected shock to the family.

“We are still congregating as a family some are still out of the country. Until we come together that is when we can be able to accurately devise what next,” said Antony.

Yesterday, the family was holed up in a meeting for the better part of the day. The meeting was also attended by some local leaders, among them Sekuda.

“It was Keen’s wish that he be buried immediately but due to some logistical issues as some of the family members stay out of the country, the Friday date was ideal,” said Sekuda.

Sekuda further said before his death, Keen had requested to be buried according to the rites of the Masai community.

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