As a young man, Martin Shikuku was one of the strong proponents of independent thinking. As an older man, he fought against tyranny in all its forms, and carved a name for himself as “The People’s Watchman” in Parliament.
An early advocate of the devolved government, Shikuku once said “For those who come from some areas, I would like to say that we have never achieved independence. We have no roads, health facilities and water.”
Born near Lake Magadi, in the Rift Valley, Shikuku initially wanted to become a priest. He attended Mumias Secondary School and later St. Peter’s Seminary where he was expelled for defying the school administration.
After leaving the seminary, Shikuku joined the freedom movement. He first joined the Nairobi People’s Convention Party (NPC) in 1959 and quickly rose through the ranks to become its Secretary General. As independence politics took shape, he left NPC to join the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) as the youth leader. It was from this vantage position that he joined the Kenyan delegation to the Lancaster House talks in 1962 – the youngest member at the talks.
Shikuku was the last person to cross the floor when his party joined the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) in 1964.
Shikuku displayed great moral courage, both inside and outside the walls of Parliament, famously declaring “Kanu is dead!” at a time such proclamations were considered as treason. For that, he and his fellow legislator, Jean Marie Seroney, were detained and humiliated for three and a half years.
In 1992, Shikuku was one of the founders of Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) and its splinter, Ford-Asili. One of the most enduring images of Martin Shikuku is that of him seated atop a pickup fitted with loud speakers, rallying the masses to the Kamukunji grounds for a pro-democracy rally that was never to be.
Police cancelled the rally and engaged those who had assembled in running battles, triggering riots that lasted four days. About 20 were killed and many more injured, in what’s memorialised today as the Saba Saba riots.
Shikuku died in August, 2012 after battling prostate cancer. Even in death, the man known as “the son of Oyondi” still held his audience captive as he had dug his grave eight years earlier – and specified how his final journey was to be conducted – with strictly no donations from outside.