Koigi’s early days and education
Koigi wa Wamwere was born on 18 December 1949 at Rugongo forest in Dundori. His father, Wamwere Kuria and his mother, Wangu Wamwere, used to work in the forest. While part of the forest had indigenous, the other half had been planted with exotic trees by the settlers.
The colonialists used some of the black people to clear the indigenous forest without pay. Instead, they were allowed to grow food as they took care of the exotic trees planted by the whites. Similar to the current day. The colonialists had built a primary school for the children of the forest workers which Koigi attended.
“The school was for the interests of the colonialists,” says Koigi who also reveals that children were required to leave after attaining the age of eighteen unless employed to work in the forest.
Even as he grew up as a young boy, Koigi knew there was a struggle going on. Now and then, Maumau warriors would come to the homes in the forest to collect money and food.
“But I always knew that the struggle would end once the black people overcame the whites and took over power,” reveals Koigi who reveals he was disappointed once Kenya became independent.
“I thought Kenya would become like heaven once blacks came into power. Independence Day was the happiest day of my life. Unfortunately, disappointment followed soon after. We got self-rule without democracy” says a sad Koigi.
Growing up in the forest, Koigi Wamwere’s greatest desire was to join Nakuru High School (then called Francis Scott) for his secondary education. However, he ended up joining a seminary in Eldoret for his secondary education. He had decided to become a Catholic priest.
Koigi was first baptized as Johnson. However, when he joined Mother of Apostles Seminary, he was forced to change his name to Michael. Apparently, Johnson was not Catholic enough and he was almost not admitted.
Koigi Wamwere as a young adult
It was a priest at the seminary who pushed him into leadership, reveals Koigi.
“The rector, a Father Devoir, forced me to be the dining hall captain while in form two. I refused but he asked to pack and leave if I wasn’t willing to take up the role,” says Koigi.
“In the initial days, I had trouble running the hall and had to wash the dishes,” adds the former legislator.
After seminary, he had already decided not to become a priest. Instead, he made up his mind to make a career in politics.
“I’ve always seen myself as a soldier. I fight for what is good for everybody,” he says.
After form four, Koigi joined Nyeri High School for his A-Level.
“The headmaster at Nyeri High School, Mr Gaiti, was a very difficult man. He would take things belonging to students for his own use. Being who I am, I could not take it lying down and unlike the other students, I decided to speak out,” says Koigi who adds that his mouth was to get him into trouble many more times in the future.
While in Nyeri High, he was elected the dining hall captain. Unlike the previous school where the headmaster had forced him on the post, the headteacher at Nyeri refused to let Koigi take up the position. He was elected a prefect without a portfolio. This left him with a lot of free time and he enrolled for the form six exam while still in form five.
“I knew I wouldn’t last long at Nyeri high school so I decided to make the most of my time. The relationship with the headteacher was so bad he would even tear my exam papers at times.”
Koigi dropped out of school when the situation worsened. He took up a teaching post at Kairi Secondary School in Kiambu.
As a teacher, he continued with his studies. He had already registered for the Form six exam and passed well. He was accepted at Dar el Salaam University. However, he got a scholarship to Cornell University in New York, USA. He joined Cornell in 1970.
At Cornell, he dropped his Christian names, Michael Clement, after being challenged by an American girl on his second day. The white girl had considered the names as nicknames greatly embarrassing Koigi.
It was at Cornell that his desire to fight injustices came to the very fore. He met the likes of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Maina Kinyatti and Muthumi Ngatho. He dropped out and returned to Kenya to correct the wrongs he felt the government was doing. He says he came back to fight for the second freedom, because, in his words, “the struggle for democracy was aborted.” That was in 1973.
Koigi gets into politics proper
Koigi had what could be described as utopian dreams. He had seen the developments the US had made over the years and he believed Kenya too had the potential.
“If the US could beat Britain and develop that much, Kenya too could do it,” he thought.
It was a shock for family and friends when he returned without a degree ostensibly “to find for freedom.”
Back home, he and a few friends had formed a study group where they would discuss current affairs. Among them was Dr Sally Kosgey who was a teacher at Nakuru High school. It was also during this time that he met MP J.M Kariuki who became his mentor. He says the only difference he and JM had was that while he believed in Marxism, JM believed in Social Democracy.
Koigi had taken up a job as a tutor at Jogoo Commercial College. He was teaching accounts and typing. At the same time had become a freelance writer and used to write for the Sunday Post which had been started by Salim Lone in 1971. The paper did not go well with the politics of the day and Salim Lone was forced to close. To date, Koigi believes former Minister Njoroge Mungai was involved in putting the publication out of circulation.
“I used to write about the current affairs and especially the everyday issues affecting people. I wrote about work conditions, squatters and such. But every time I published an article, the police would come for me,” he reveals.
“The police would even come to the house I used to share with a friend. They would come into the house and stay overnight saying they had been asked to do so. They intimidated and harassed me a lot as a writer until 1973 when the Sunday Post was taken down.
However, Koigi would not be silenced. He continued to speak out and in 1974 he decided to vie for Subukia Constituency MP against Kihika Kimani. For his campaigns, a friend had given him a small car, an Anglia Beetle. He lost the election to Kihika by over 800 votes.
In March 1975, his friend and mentor J. M. Kariuki was assassinated.
“The killers of JM also wanted to do away with Mark Mwithaga, but they were afraid that I would take over as MP so they spared me,” he reveals.
In August 1975, Koigi was detained by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. He was in detention for three and half years until Daniel Moi ascended to power in 1978. While in detention, he met and interacted with the likes of Vujika, Seroney, Mathaga, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Martin Shikuku, Achieng’ Oneko and Fred Kubai. Being with his fellow detainees was the only reason why he left detention alive. Ochieng’ Oneko taught him how to survive in detention.
Koigi Wamwere in Parliament
He was first elected MP for Nakuru North in 1979 beating Kihika Kimani. Shortly after while at Kariuki G.G’s home, President Moi offered him a ministerial post provided he agreed to support the government. He however asked to stay on the backbench for a year “to be able to ask questions for the people.”
“Before the year was over, I had fallen out with Moi. Having been released from detention by Moi, and considering how Moi was popular then, I used to see him as a Joshua sent to save the people. Unfortunately, this impression died soon after as Moi broke one promise after the other,” says Koigi. That is how he never became Minister.
“Moi would say one thing but mean the other,” he reveals.
Before his term was cut short prematurely, by the attempted coup which saw him back in detention, Koigi had sponsored a motion on land reforms. The motion unfortunately was killed and Koigi blames Nyayo for this.
“The president called me for a breakfast meeting. I was warned not to discuss land issues and before I left, I was given a piece of land near Kabarak. I was supposed to pay for the land in instalments. However, the land was taken back “because I talked too much” according to the District Commissioner, B. K. M. Ogol. This was just before the August 1982 coup.
In March 1982, Moi had made Kenya a one-party state through a bill of parliament. Those who had voted against the bill would be warned of detention. The Subukia MP decided to fight for the right to oppose but the speaker, Fred Mati, denied him the chance to speak. It was during this part that he became part of the “Seven Bearded Sister.”
The president was to call Koigi for another Kamukunji later. Also in attendance were Charles Njonjo, Jeremiah Kiereni and Simeon Nyachae. He reveals that he was meant to oppose Vice President Kibaki in government. Koigi was offered another piece of land this time at Kiambogo Settlement Scheme. He paid for it until the year 2018.
Koigi back in detention and exile
Koigi lost his seat when he was arrested on suspicions that he was part of the 1982 coup and sent to detention on 5th August 1982. He was detained in Manyani in Mombasa for two and half years up to 1984. In the ensuing by-election, Francis Kimosop was elected MP.
“Kimosop was close to Moi. The president had helped him become councillor and chairman of Sirikwa ward before he came to vie for MP,” says Koigi. Kimosop was later to commit suicide in 1986.
In 1986, Koigi went into exile. He first went to Uganda and with the help of President Museveni, he went to Norway where he continued his struggle.
In 1989, Koigi returned to the country. He was however arrested and charged with treason. He was remanded for two years.
In June 1992, he was again arrested and charged with robbery with violence. In 1994, he was sentenced to four years to be released in 1997. The same year, he vied for the Presidency on a Chama cha Mwananchi (CCM) ticket. He got 60,000 votes. Although he knew he wouldn’t win, he wanted to enjoy the freedom of vying against President Moi. The CCM party was later sold to the first governor for Bomet, Isaac Ruto, who renamed it Chama Cha Mashinani.
After the elections, he returned to Norway where his family was based to intending to leave politics. Later, he returned to the US where he joined Columbia University as a visiting Professor.
Koigi wa Wamwere was elected for his second term representing Subukia in 2003 on a NARC party ticket. As a member of parliament, President Mwai Kibaki also appointed him to serve as an assistant minister in the ministry of Broadcasting. During this time, he started Sauti ya Mwananchi radio which broadcasts in Kiswahili.
In 2017, he once again tried his hand in politics when he vied as Nakuru County senator. He lost to Susan Kihika.
Koigi the author (Books written by Koigi Wamwere)
Koigi is an accomplished author who has written eight books and numerous newspaper articles. His first novel was ‘A Woman Reborn.”
While at Columbia University as a travelling lecturer, Koigi wrote two books; “I refuse to Die” and “Towards Genocide in Kenya.”
Another book he wrote, “Tears of the Heart: A Portrait of Racism in Norway and Europe” was inspired by his experiences in Norway. He says that racism is widespread and his son was not spared. He once saw a young African boy die due to racist attacks.
” To expose the pandemic of systematic racism with roots in the white world, I wrote “Tears of the Heart: A Portrait of Racism in Norway and Europe” that should today be read worldwide to understand the racism that anti-racism protesters all over the world are fighting against,” says Koigi about the book.
Below is a list of books written by Koigi and their years of publication;
- A Woman Reborn, Speak Books – 1980
- Conscience on Trial: Why I Was Detained: Notes of a Political Prisoner in Kenya, Africa World Press – 1988
- People’s Representative and the Tyrants – 1992
- Dream of Freedom – 1997
- Tears of the Heart: A Portrait of Racism in Norway and Europe- 2000
- I Refuse to Die: My Journey for Freedom- 2003
- Negative Ethnicity: From Bias to Genocide, Seven Stories Press – 2003
- Towards Genocide in Kenya: The Curse of Negative Ethnicity – 2008
Koigi spends most of his time at his radio station in Heshima on the way to Bahati. In May 2019, the County Government of Nakuru honoured him by naming a road after him.