Kariuki Chotara: Powerful, unapologetic Nakuru KANU chairman in Moi era

For eight years, until his demise on 9th of January 1988 Kariuki Chotara dominated Nakuru politics overshadowing even elected Parliamentarians.

During his eight years as Nakuru District KANU chairman, he made himself into a no-nonsense institution and was an un-understood enigma to many. Somehow, Kariuki who has a road in Naivasha town named after him built enviable political power around himself and was envied by many of his counterparts.

Chotara started his journey in party politics when he was elected the Naivasha sub-branch chairman in 1966. He held the post for 10 years until 1976 when he ran against Kihika Kimani as Nakuru District chairman.

Chotara became powerful following the passing on of Kenya’s founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. He was a useful tool that Kenya’s second President, Daniel Moi utilized to deal with the “Nakuru Mafia.” The “Nakuru Mafia” was a clique of wealthy and powerful Kikuyus who had emerged in Rift Valley during the reign of President Kenyatta. The faction had grown into affluence and political impunity in Kenyatta’s last days as President and Moi was looking for a way to trim their influence.

In the 1976 KANU Party elections, Kariuki Chotara had the temerity to challenge Kihika Kani the Nakuru KANU supremo in the party chairmanship. Of course he lost in the elections but he maintains that the elections aaaawere rigged. He even went ahead to file an appeal. Two years later, in 1979, following Kenyatta’s death the previous year, the appeal against Kihika was upheld and Kariuki Chotara took over as Chairman unopposed. He was also elected councillor to Naivasha Urban Council.

Kariuki Chotara as Nakuru KANU Chairman

Kariuki took to his new position as Nakuru KANU chairman with gusto and passion. He had a sharp tongue, made unbridled statements and spoke in black and white. The 1979 elections saw many of the previous political powerhouses in Nakuru lose their positions. The newly elected MPs and Councillors, all under the only political party KANU, soon learnt to toe the line behind Chotara.

Around this time, he was once quoted in the media saying that Nakuru being the President’s home town, the people needed to be peaceful and loyal to the President.

Moi loved Chotara and his way of doing things. He actually seemed to encourage it thereby building Chotara’s stature more and more. This in turn gave Chotara the confidence to continue running the party and political affairs of Nakuru the way he deemed fit. Anyone in Nakuru District hoping to make it in the political career had to pay homage to him.

During the 1983 General election, only those aligned to Chotara were elected. These were people expected to be loyal to Chotara, Moi and KANU. Kefa Wagara lost to Fred Kubai in Nakuru East while Francis Kimosop was elected in Nakuru North. Amos Kimemia was elected in Nakuru Town ousting Mark Mwithaga and Njenga Mungai was re-elected in Nakuru West.

Twelve candidates from Naivasha Urban Council who were to vie for civic seats but were opposed to Chotara were denied party clearance. This completely denied them to vie proving Chotara’s authority in Nakuru politics.

For his “splendid performance,” Moi rewarded Chotara with a nomination to parliament. Moi even went ahead to praise Chotara as a selfless man of action who could not be compared to any other KANU chairman in the republic.

During his term as chairman, Nakuru was the most active party branch. Weekly meetings were held to recruit more members but more so to warn those who were going against the party.

Having dealt with the “Nakuru Mafia,” Chotara turned his attention to the Kikuyus in Mt. Kenya whom he accused of all manner of schemes against the party, the President and himself. He went ahead to claim that there was a plot to assassinate him. His ruthlessness in dealing with his kinsmen earned him a lot of enemies from Kikuyu land who saw him as a traitor.

Kariuki Chotara early days

Kariuki is said to have been born in Murang’a District in the early 1920s. His original name was Maina Mwangi but he was nicknamed Chotara because he was very light-skinned. At some point when the police were looking for him after he broke out of detention, he was described in The Standard newspaper as a man of small build, light-skinned almost yellow skin, with a small beard. He had dark brown eyes, very dark brown curly hair and a small mouth. Chotara used to stoop and walk with small steps and had the habit of hanging his head.

In the 1950s, it is reported that he moved to Nairobi where he joined the anti-colonial nationalist movement. In February 1955, Chotara was arrested and taken to Manyani Detention Camp. Three months later, on 7th May 1955, Kariuki Chotara and another identified as Mwangi Thuita escaped from Manyani. The two had crawled through the barbed wire making a successful break.

The police discovered the daring escape almost a week later and immediately mounted a manhunt for the two Maumau organisers. The police offered 450 British pounds for information leading to the arrest of each of them. On 21st June 1955, Kariuki and his fellow escapee were re-arrested in Parklands area, Nairobi.

…….to be continued.

Martin Gichinga
Author: Martin Gichinga

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