Why State paid Achieng Oneko Sh100 monthly for violation of rights

Achieng Oneko addressing a rally in Ngong. On the left is then-Kajiado MP Stanley Oloitiptip, December 1964. [File, Standard]

History has been unkind to one of Kenya’s least talked about freedom fighter, Ramogi Achieng Oneko. He sacrificed his youth by speaking against the injustices visited on his fellow countrymen by an administration which responded by locking him up and throwing away the law and the prison keys.

Unlike the five other political prisoners, Jomo Kenyatta, Kungu Karumba, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai and Bildad Kaggia, whose sentences were upheld after being convicted for managing Mau Mau, Oneko successfully appealed his sentence and was set free by the Supreme Court in 1954.

However, he was arrested and detained without any charges. His fate was exposed by a group of MPs from the UK who led a spirited campaign to have him released.

Oneko’s problems with the colonial government escalated after he was sent to Britain to present Kenya African Union’s (KAU) grievances on land. The government marked him since he was KAU’s secretary general and arrested him together with over 300 leaders accused of planning Mau Mau revolt on October 10, 1952.

Dingle Foot, who had defended the detainees during the trial in Kapenguria, told Parliament on April 14, 1958, that after realising that they had nothing against Oneko, the government coerced him to confess being a Mau Mau member and make an undertaking that once released he would retired from politics.

Oneko refused and the government confined him first in Manda Island, Lamu, and later in Marsabit where his friends and relatives were banned from visiting him.

When the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, was put to task to explain why the government had violated the law, he retorted:

“Achieng Oneko held high office in the Kenya African Union. There is always a danger that these things get forgotten, but the House needs no reminder that this Union was proscribed in 1953 for deep involvement in Mau Mau. Mr Achieng Oneko was General Secretary of this Union from August to October, 1952.”

He argued that although Oneko had been absolved of any crimes by the Supreme Court, he was detained by the authority of a detention order made by the governor of Kenya to maintain law and order.

The colonial secretary insisted that the security agents had reason to hold Oneko and a handful of hardened political detainees because they were dangerous.

Despite a spirited attempt to have Oneko’s wife granted access to see him in detention in Manda and Marsabit, the government refused and instead offered to be paying him Sh100 subsistence allowance.  

On April 1959, Boyd said: "Achieng Oneko's detention order has been suspended, and he is now living in restricted residence at Marsabit Township. He occupies a two-roomed, furnished house, and will be paid a subsistence allowance of 100 shillings a month while he is at Marsabit. He is being asked if he wishes his wife to join him and if he does this will be arranged."

Oneko had denied any links with Mau Mau as demonstrated in a letter, dated April 12, 1958: "It is as well important to add at this stage my very sincere condemnation and denunciation of any connection with Mau Mau; its obscenity or violence and murders perpetrated by it. I have never approved neither supported violent method as a means of settling our problems in Kenya."