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MARTIN SHIKUKU OYONDI

Martin Shikuku

Martin Shikuku, the self-declared "People's Watchman" of Kenyan politics has had a long, interesting and often tumultuous political career. One of Kenya's champions in the struggle for independence, Shikuku became quite popular among ordinary Kenyans, especially the poor who embraced his populist ideas that attacked Kenya's wealthy elites; elites Shikuku claimed were being insensitive to ordinary Kenyans' demands. On several occasions for example, he stunned his often wealthy colleagues in Parliament by appealing to the government to lower the prices of Maize Meal(Unga) and other items that comprise Kenya's staple diet. Ever since his debut in Kenya's Parliament in 1963, Shikuku has been a star figure at the Parliamentary floor for his amazing grasp of Parliamentary rules and procedures.

Martin Shikuku was born near Lake Magadi in Rift Valley Province, where his parents worked at the Magadi Soda Mining Company. His parents however, were of the Luhya community in Western Province. Shikuku attended Mumias Secondary School and St. Peters Seminary in Mukumu both in Western Province. His independent thinking and political nature however, led to his expulsion from the Seminary for allegedly questioning the rationale behind some of its rules and regulations. Shikuku ventured into politics proper in 1959 when he joined the Nairobi People's Convention Party(NPR), and soon became its Secretary-General. He later resigned from NPR to join the Kenya African Democratic Union(KADU) where he became its Youth Leader. His colleagues at KADU included none other than President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi and Ronald Ngala. You will remember that KADU was formed largely to counter the force of KANU, which was considered the party of Kenya's two most influential communities at that time, the Kikuyus and Luos. KANU was accused of being insensitive to the demands of the "smaller" communities in the country and this was the reason given for the formation of KADU. Whereas KANU advocated a strong Central Government, KADU favoured Federalism(Majimboism), which it argued was the only way to protect the "smaller" communities.

In 1963 Shikuku was elected Member of Parliament for Butere Constituency in Western Province. Shortly after however, Shikuku together with his colleagues disbanded KADU to join KANU in a merger of the two parties. This was in the spirit of unity that descended upon Kenya after Independence in 1963. Shikuku was victorious again in 1969 at the General Elections and President Jomo Kenyatta rewarded him with the post of Assistant Minister in the Office of the Vice-President and Home Affairs. But not long after this, in a vintage Shikuku Parliamentary theatric, he sarcastically referred to the Kenyatta's KANU government as "dead". When other KANU Parliamentarians demanded that he substantiate his allegations, then Deputy Speaker of the House and Member of Parliament for Tinderet, the late Jean Marie Seroney defended Shikuku by saying his remarks were self-explanatory and needed no further substantiation. As expected, this incident got both Shikuku and Seroney in serious political trouble with Kenyatta's administration. Needless to say, Shikuku lost his job as Assistant Minister as a result of this. In fact, Both Shikuku and Seroney were arrested within the precincts of Parliament and placed on detention without trial, both of which are flagrant violations of Kenyan laws. Just as is the case in most democratic countries, the law prohibits Parliamentarians from being arrested for utterances they make in Parliament during the course of a Parliamentary session. Detention without trial is also against the law in Kenya. It was a scare tactic used by the colonial government in Kenya to silence Kenyan dissidents, but has unfortunately continued to be used by post-independence Kenyan regimes.

When President Moi, Shikuku's former KADU colleague came to power in 1978 after the death of President Jomo Kenyatta, he released the ailing Shikuku from detention and allowed him to proceed to Sweden for specialized treatment. On his return to Kenya, Shikuku bounced back into politics and recaptured the Butere Parliamentary seat. President Moi appointed him Assistant Minister for Livestock Development. Shikuku would re-emerge again in Kenya's political limelight in the 1990's with the clamour for Multi-Party Democracy in Kenya. Teaming up with the late Jaramogi Odinga, the late Masinde Muliro, and Messrs Ahmed Baharmariz, Philip Gachoka and George Nthenge, they formed the original Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). However, it later disintegrated into Ford-Kenya, led by Odinga and Ford-Asili, chaired by Kenneth Matiba assisted by Shikuku. In the 1992 General Elections, Shikuku and Matiba's FORD-Asili put up a remarkable performance against KANU, coming very close to dislodging KANU from power. This was thanks in a large part to Shikuku, who helped FORD-Asili carry most of the votes from the populous Western Province. But all was not well in the FORD-Asili camp, and after constant allegations that Shikuku was secretly working with KANU to destroy the opposition, Matiba and Shikuku broke ranks. This put a nail in the coffin of this once fledging political party. Both Shikuku and Matiba have since been relegated to the political backseat and one can only guess whether they will bounce back in the years to come.

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