The mystery of Chief Waruhiu Kungu’s murder

by Julie Ngigi

The story of Chief Waruhiu Kung’u’s assassination reads like a scene out of your favourite action movie.

As the face of colonial loyalists, who were determined to maintain the status quo as pressure on the British to leave Kenya gained momentum in the 1950s, Waruhiu became a target.

For 30 years, Waruhiu had discharged his duties as a colonial chief with little opposition. He was rich. He owned a pistol and a car, all symbols of power.

But on October 7th 1952, as he was chauffeured in his black Hudson, a prestigious car, he was waylaid and shot dead. Waruhiu had undying loyalty to the colonialists who had given him the car as a sign of appreciation.

But on that day, Waruhiu, his driver Gachihi Mbatia, Chief Kirichu and then renowned business man Kiburi Thumbi were travelling from a meeting. What they did not know is that Chief Waruhiu was living on borrowed time. His killers were on his trail.

The death of Waruhiu changed the course of Kenya’s history for it led to the State of Emergency as the colonial government realized that the agitation for change had taken a new turn.

Interestingly, the rest of the passengers in Waruhiu’s car were unharmed and would turn into State witnesses to one of the most documented murders of the colonial times .

Witnesses reported to have seen a brown Ford Consul trailing Chief Waruhiu’s car. The blocked the road.

A tall skinny man donning a brown leather jacket and a scarf stepped out of the Ford Consul and approached the Chief’s car. The assailant did not have a lot of time. He asked Chief Waruhiu to identify himself then drew a pistol from his pocket and shot him three times. Two bullets penetrated his chest and a single bullet in his mouth.

The other passengers and the driver managed to escape unscathed as Chief Waruhiu bled to death.

The Mau Mau war had taken a new turn. Prior to that fateful day, Mau Mau had made many attempts to kill the chief and his family. In 1939, the chief’s house had been torched  but nobody died.  In 1940 , two attackers tried to kill his son without success.

In August 1952, the chief received a cryptic note from the Mau Mau. After reporting the threat to his life, the government armed him with a pistol to protect himself from attacks.

But why  did the Mau Mau want the chief dead?

Chief Waruhiu believed in the supremacy of the white people. He was a staunch supporter of colonialism, irritating the Mau Mau leaning Africans. The chief believed African were ill prepared for independence. As such, chief Waruhiu became a darling for the colonial settlers and administrators but a villain to the Kikuyu.

During his burial, the British imperialists, African loyalists, and African leaders gathered to pay their last respects. His casket was carried to his grave draped in a Union Jack, a symbol of respect by the British government. Chief Waruhiu was a decorated Member of the British Empire. Colonial operatives eulogized the chief as a “great citizen of Kenya who was a victim of his own people.”

“Death is final,” an adage goes. His burial marked the end of era of a powerful chief who ruled with an iron fist. It was an end to a reign of a powerful figure who not only enjoyed state power but also an individual who pulled himself from poverty by the bootstraps.  

But the Chief’s death remains shrouded in mystery. Some of the most pertinent questions are; who killed the powerful chief and why? The obvious guess from the colonial government was that Mau Mau were responsible. Could they have finally achieved their goal of killing him?

His death heightened calls for declaration of a state of emergency from the settler community. Others called for the arrest of African leaders.

Chief Waruhiu had made enough adversaries – even in high places. He had a long running feud with fellow Senior Chief Koinange. As such, investigations on Chief Waruhiu’s murder became a complex puzzle as the government sought to nail the culprits.

Detective Gerald Heine was tasked with the responsibility of solving this puzzle. A day after the Chief’s death, a brown Ford Consul was towed to Kingsway Police Station. Two days later, one Waweru Kamundia was arrested when he went to the police station to enquire about the car. The police believed Waweru was the getaway driver.

On 11 October 1952, the police arrested Githuku Migwi a shopkeeper from Uthiru, Kiambu, in connection with Chief Waruhiu’s death. Reportedly, the two suspects were tortured to admit participation in the murder. Githuku Migwi was even hospitalized for “attempted suicide.”

Githuku said that he had been hired for 30 shillings to assassinate Chief Waruhiu by Mbiyu Koinange, son of the late Chief Koinange. The courts later acquitted Mbiyu Koinange but sentenced Githuku and Waweru to death. They were sent to the hangman’s noose on 29 June 1953.

Amid the rumors of coerced confessions, there was no clear connection between Chief Waruhiu’s murder and the Mau Mau. This disappointed the settler community that was waiting for the connection to pressurize the government to unleash brutal counter Mau Mau strategies.

To date, there is no consensus on who killed the chief. It is still a ‘whodunit’ case.

What is clear, however, is that the assassination was one of the events that informed the declaration of a state of emergency on 20 October 1952. It also informed the arrest of  African leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta and other suspected Mau Mau members.

The killing of Chief Waruhiu, which even attracted international media coverage, remains a pivotal point in Kenya’s war of independence.

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3 comments April 1, 2021 - 5:40 pm

Hello, this weekend is pleasant in support of me, since this time i am reading this wonderful
educational paragraph here at my house.

Mugo Theuri April 7, 2021 - 2:46 pm

Hi. These are fantastic articles. It is our duty to record our side of the story and to correct the distortions of the imperialists. Thank you and congratulations

Peter Mwaura Njoro . April 11, 2021 - 5:12 pm

An informative article showing where we have come from as a nation and the sacrifices our forefathers made to be where we are today …..


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