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Jomo's lucky escape on dark day of prison knife attack

Kariuki Chotara [File]

How could a teenager break out of a heavily guarded detention camp, navigate through hundreds of kilometers in a wilderness infested with blood thirsty lions and other beasts and attempt to alter the course of Kenya’s history?  

The teenager, Kariuki Chotara, had caused the colonial police in 1957 to issue a Hue and Cry Notice, authored in a mix of Gikuyu, Kiswahili and English. So desperate were the police to capture Chotara, who was at the time a minor with a Sh1,000 bounty on his head.

In their undated notice, the police pleaded with the public: “Andu aya agwete haha ni marendwo ni undu was gutoroka makoima thiini wa Kambi ya Manyani (The people mentioned here are wanted for escaping from Manyani detention camp..Kariuki s/o Muthanga ID /NBI-100 44212 Id 71180/NBI. Ama kwa jina lingine Kariuki Chotara (also known as Kariuki Chotara).

Kariuki had earned himself the detention stint long before he was 18 years for engaging in freedom fighting. One of his most notorious exploits was planning the attack on Athi River Prison on September 17, 1954 where a group of 20 fighters took hostage the facility and freed all the prisoners.

Colonial records credit Chotara with three counts of murder for which he could not be hanged for because he was a minor. Some skeptics are unconvinced that the minor actually broke out of Manyani without assistance. 

There has been speculation that Chotara was assisted to break out of Manyani but was arrested later so that her could be transferred to Lokitaung in Lodwar where he was locked up alongside the country’s most priced political prisoners, Jomo Kenyatta and his five colleagues. 

Some of Kenyatta’s fellow inmates, particularly Paul Ngei had complained about the quality of food and Kenyatta’s cooking and wanted him to be assigned manual labour.

At the Lokitaung, Chotara (pictured) almost altered the course of Kenya’s history when he attempted to murder Kenyatta. There are various accounts of what really happened on that day.

An official inquiry indicated that Chotara, a recent newcomer to the prison, had set upon Mzee with a knife but he was prevented by a prison warder.

Chotara had allegedly been recruited by some of Kenyatta’s fellow inmates and had been briefed to submerge his victim in boiling porridge. At the time, Kenyatta had been assigned lighter duties of cooking for other prisoners on account of his age as he could not do hard labour.

The Lokitaung Annual Report of 1957 indicated that an attempt had been staged in last week of July 1957. The young man attacked Mzee Kenyatta during breakfast. 

In the ensuing scuffle, Chotara’s trouser was caught up in a splinter of broken wood from a table as he was charging to stick the knife into Kenyatta’s body.

Chotara was evacuated to Lodwar and locked up in solitary confinement and given 12 strokes of the cane and placed on penal diet.

A distraught Kenyatta wrote to his daughter, Margaret that, “Envy and hatred had no mercy… now, calm your heart, for although the attack was planned secretly and craftily, it didn’t achieve its aim. Almighty God brought me out of this danger…. I was not badly injured”…