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JM Kariuki brought to life through film

By | March 9th 2012

The documentary on assasination of once popular Laikipa MP Josiah Mwangi premiered at the Alliance Francaise to a packed auditorium charged with emotions, writes KIUNDU WAWERU

Two related teary and emotional events happened this past week. On Friday, a documentary film on Josiah Mwangi Kariuki’s assassination premiered, and on Monday, JM Kariuki’s family narrated their ordeal to the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commision.

It was a coincidence of sorts, as if to show that the spirit of JM lived on. From the conception of the film 12 years ago to completion just in time for JM’s 37th anniversary since his murder. And two days later, the hearing that brought tears to commissioners and the public?

In search of my Father is directed by Ndungi Githuku and features Rosemary Machua, JM’s daughter.

The production includes various works on JM Kariuki earlier life and assassination, mostly from newspaper cut outs. The film traces his closest friends who paint a loving family man, an incorruptible politician, a loyal friend and a Pan-Africanist.

Life in photos

The film uses narrations from people who knew JM from family members, schoolmates, politicians; Newspaper articles, and also TV footages although Githuku says there is not much of it. Owing to JM’s popularity, Githuku wonders why there is no footage of JM at KBC, the only broadcaster then.

Family pictures come handy, and it seems JM just loved photos. Githuku says he was lost on which ones to use, as Rosemary had two suitcases of photographs. "Whenever JM went, he took pictures," says Githuku. Unknowingly he was documenting his soon to be cut short life. The Docu- film also features beautiful score composed by Mutinda and Abbi.

Githuku had met Rosemary in 2008 at one of her father’s anniversaries commemorated every year by human rights activists. It hit Githuku that Rosemary did not know much about her father.

She was only 11 when her father met his fate, and in the film, Rosemary only remembers him as a father who gave her children a lot of work around the home, and then rewarded them with trips to orphanages.

Rosemary was willing to trace the footsteps and roots of her dad, and Githuku, a filmmaker suggested they document the journey in film, for archival of history and posterity.

The interviews started in 2000, taking them to Kanyamwi Farm that houses a sprawling bungalow, JM’s family home in Gilgil. Here Rosemary’s mother, Doris Nyambura and JM’s first wife, remembers meeting JM for the first time in Nyeri. She says he talked big, which made him proud. He also spoke a lot about his days in detention. Later, JM took Doris down the aisle in the "most beautiful wedding she has ever seen".

JM’s old schoolmates and friends, including journalist Victor Riitho and Wanyiri Kihoro describes JM as a handsome, sharp dresser; a man of the people. The chief Justice Willy Mutunga, also featured in the documentary says of JM, "his personality and demeanour gave politics a human face".

Rosemary and Githuku then travel to Zambia and interview Vernon Mwaanga, the first Zambian Foreign Minister and a good friend to JM. When JM was reported missing in March 2, 1975, the Government issued a statement saying he was in Zambia visiting Vernon.

In the film, Vernon says, "I immediately realised that something sinister might have happened, for JM had visited Zambia earlier and left for home."

In searching for her father, Rosemary realised that she could not wish away her father’s assassination. Fondly described by the interviewees as an astute politician, his ambition and nationalism angered the status quo.

Cover up

Rosemary unearthed chilling details of an elaborate kidnapping of her dad from the Hilton Hotel by very "senior government people" and the cover up; the Zambian connection that had MPs almost fooled.

Musaite Ole Tunda the Maasai herdsman who stumbled upon JM’s body in Ngong is still alive, and he takes Rosemary to the spot he found the body, so many moons back.

The documentary premiered at the Alliance Francaise Friday to a packed auditorium that was charged with emotions. In the audience was JM’s family, Paul Muite, Kabando wa Kabando and Wanyiri Kihoro.

In a heated debate, the audience expressed their anger about the many cases of political assassinations that have gone unresolved. Muite said the Kenyan people should confront the past; "it is not the government, but us who can seek the truth."

Another speaker was incensed that there is talk of a memorial park in memory of the just departed John Michuki, while the likes of JM Kariuki, Pio Gama Pinto and Robert Ouko, killed while serving Kenyans have been forgotten in oblivion.

Githuku says; "By doing this film, I am sending a message to current rulers, that whatever injustice they commit against the people of Kenya, we are watching, and at one point in life we will re-tell their stories, for the future generations and to the world."

The documentary will be screened in schools, colleges and universities and will also be available on DVD.

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