Dr. Fredrick Masinde (left) and Raila Odinga in 1994. [File, Standard]

He was to be among the first team of MPs after the return of multiparty democracy in Kenya. After losing the Mathare seat unfairly, he successfully petitioned and won the subsequent by-election in June 1994 when he was already dead. What could have gone wrong for a man who defeated his political opponents even in death?

Dr Fredrick Simiyu Masinde was a candidate for then expansive Mathare Constituency, Nairobi, during the first general election in 1992 after the return of multiparty democracy in Kenya. He was a Ford-Kenya candidate but when results were announced, it was Ford-Asili’s Muraya Macharia who was declared a winner.

Dissatisfied with the outcome, Dr Masinde successfully petitioned the election and Muraya’s win was nullified setting the stage for a by-election on June 27, 1994. According to his brother Cpt. Charles Masinde, “Dr Masinde was a very close friend to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.” It was a high-stakes by-election owing to several factors. Kanu had a commanding number in parliament: One hundred elected MPs and 12 nominated ones. The opposition parties that had split before the general election fared this way:

Jaramogi’s Ford Kenya and Kenneth Matiba’s Ford Asili had 31 MPs each followed by Mwai Kibaki’s DP that had 23 lawmakers. George Anyona’s Kenya Social Congress party, Kenya National Congress and John Haroun Mwau’s Party of Independent Candidates (PICK) had one MP each. Dr Masinde successful petition meant that Ford Asili could lose a seat to Ford-Kenya, a political fight they were not ready to lose that easily. On the other hand, the ruling party, Kanu, was under siege in Nairobi, the country’s seat of power as the opposition had swept all parliamentary seats.

Dr. Fredrick Masinde hits the campaign trail. [File, Standard]

Ford Kenya was the only party that had secured parliamentary seats in all the eight provinces, giving it a national outlook thus making it a hot cake as the Mathare by-election was staged. Masinde was the man to watch. Says Otieno Mak’Onyango, former MP, and Alego Usonga: “It was very sensitive because this was a seat contested by three major parties... it was originally held by Ford Asili candidate. But Dr Masinde encountered a major challenge. He faced financial constraints, having exhausted his finances during the hotly-contested 1992 general election and the subsequent election petition and now there was a by-election. His Ford Kenya party was not helping matters either.

According to Mak’Onyango, “a number of considerations come into play…. to win an election you need big money… unfortunately, Ford Kenya was financially starved”. According to James Khwatenge, a former special branch agent, “During the 1992 petition he (Dr Masinde) had spent a lot and was running broke, he asked Ford Kenya to assist but they didn’t.” Amid his financial woes and cut-throat competition from Ford Asili which sought to retain the seat and fend off any attempts by Ford-Kenya to capture the seat, emissaries are said to have been sent to entice Masinde to withdraw from the race, a matter that would have denied Ford Kenya an additional seat in parliament. Cpt. Masinde says his brother was “either to defect to Kanu or be offered a job somewhere in the Scandinavian countries… We said no, it would look like a betrayal to the cause of dynamic multiparty politics, and the mood in the country was something else.” At some point when political pressure intensified few days to the June 27 by-election, Dr Masinde convened a news conference and announced his withdrawal from the race, leaving Ford Kenya in deep shock. Says Khwatenge: “After being paid, he was promised to be made an ambassador to Austria.” But a murky roller-coaster of events was in the offing.

A few hours after his "withdrawal" from the race, he dramatically convened another media briefing and denounced his move. Listen to Cpt. Masinde: "I advised him that it was not proper for him to defect…Raila, Wamalwa, Muite stopped everything.” According to Khwatenge, “When Dr Masinde called a news conference and withdrew, Ford Kenya piled pressure on him…he denounced the withdrawal”. According to Mak’Onyango, the issue was resources.

“Here was a candidate who was very popular and stood best chances [of winning], yet his party was lacking resources ...he had that conflict of interest.”

Cpt. Masinde, who was kicked out of the army in April 1982 at the age of 27, was always with Dr Masinde and his other brothers Richard and Chris. His main role was to provide round clock security surveillance on his brother. The only few hours they were not together, tragedy struck. It was two days to the much-hyped by-election. “Dr Masinde and I were always together, the only single day I decided not to sleep at his place was Saturday before the election on Monday… that day was Richard our eldest brother’s [turn] …I didn’t go to pick him as we had agreed…then came the suspicious accident,” recalls Cpt. Masinde. “When we went to pick him up from the house to sign agents’ forms, we found he had already left,” recalls Odeny Gor who was Dr Masinde’s assistant.

That Sunday, June 26, 1994, at about 8:45, Dr Masinde, the Ford Kenya candidate for Mathare Constituency by-election was involved in a dreadful road accident on Ngong Road, near City Mortuary. Masinde had left his house in Woodley Estate together with his elder brother Richard and boarded a taxi at Adams Arcade. Dr Masinde was heading to Mathare for final preparation meeting ahead of the by-election on Monday.

That was his last movement before calamity struck, their vehicle collided head-on with an oncoming car, as another one rammed them from behind. The tragic incident became appeared fishy in all aspects. Says Mak’Onyango: “Accidents are stage-managed… in this case considering who the subject was, I think it was more than an accident.” According to Khwatenge, “Simiyu Masinde was killed Bishop Muge-style….an accident occurs, you start bleeding, somebody comes out with a poisoned handkerchief and wipes your nose”. Pain, panic and confusion gripped Dr Masinde’s family and his Ford Kenya party. He was rushed to Kenyatta National Referral Hospital in a bid to save his life. He was in critical condition.” Recalls Gor: “We met Captain in Mathare and we informed him. We continued with preps while he was on a life support machine.” Adds Cpt. Masinde: “We agreed as a family that Dr Masinde and Richard will be taken care of in hospital with my other brother Chris, while I will push on with the campaigns.”

News of his suspicious accident shook Mathare residents to the core, political shock waves that were felt across the country. The following day, Monday 27, voting took place. Cpt. Masinde says the elections “were done and he died on Tuesday… he was on life support machine... his forehead had a mark which he never had… he was assassinated … he didn’t die from natural causes”.

Ford-Kenya luminaries Farah Maalim, James Orengo and Dr. Fredrick Masinde in 1994. [File, Standard]

Nonetheless, the by-election went on uninterrupted as his family and his party hoped against hope that he would pull through both at the hospital and the ballot box. It was a tense moment. Vote counting went on as Masinde battled in a critical care unit for his life. Eventually, he was declared the winner with a commanding margin, a victory he never lived to celebrate. He was declared Member of Parliament posthumously.

Says Capt. Masinde: “I knew my brother had died during the tallying. On the morning about 4; 30 am when we were doing the tallying, I was informed my bro Dr Masinde had died… I also knew at that time that he was going to win the election ….I knew there was nothing I could to for him…I am happy he conquered his opponents even while in death.” But hope springs eternal.

“We lost a great man. It affected us but we were happy that he won the election ...the people of Mathare voted for a dead person and left those that were alive,” says Gor. In parliament, a question was put by private notice Mak’onyango, who was Ford Kenya’s information and publicity secretary, demanding an explanation from the government on the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of Dr Masinde and why there was an attempted cover-up. “The circumstances surrounding the death were suspect in more than one way or another,” says Mak’Otieno. As for Khwatenge, “the whole thing was being covered but still, there was evidence.”

Capt. Masinde told this writer “eventually I was told that the scene of the accident had been washed immediately.” According to Gor, somebody took a picture at the scene while Khwatenge says ‘the two vehicles had false number plates.”

Dr Masinde’s family insists their kin had been living on borrowed time all along, and the writing had been on the wall long enough. “In those days, there was what is called hostile surveillance: people couldn’t hide …every day you wake up, there were people outside the gate….some would come into the compound, pick a chair and sit”.

Dr Masinde had been kidnapped the previous night, harassed and intimidated, a situation that had seen him announce his withdrawal from the by-election before denouncing the same. “The moment he was released from captivity after being tortured he announced he was stepping down …but later we assured him all was well and that changing his mind would have amounted to betraying Jaramogi Oginga who had died a few months ago,” recounts Capt. Masinde, adding “fear did not break him…his death did not break the family.” Just like that, life ended for a man who had initially represented Bungoma South in parliament from 1969 before he was dethroned by Lawrence Sifuna. In his "season two" attempt under multiparty democracy, he was declared MP posthumously. “Unfortunately since his death, no law has been enacted to compensate people who die in this manner,” says Capt. Masinde. As for Gor, “Masinde’s episode is a manifestation of the brutal politics”.