Crucible: Macharia’s Costly Delusion

March 1990

The farcical “Kapenguria Six” trial was a watershed moment in Kenya’s history. Six leaders involved in organized opposition to colonial rule were accused of participating in the management of Mau Mau, the guerilla-style terrorist movement that played a significant role in forcing the British to relinquish one of their prize colonies. Railroaded by a government desperate to discredit and halt those engaged in legitimate political dissent, the six were sentenced to prison and hard labor. Among them was the man who would eventually become the first president of an independent Kenya.  Chronicled in the book “The Trial of Jomo Kenyatta,” Kapenguria resulted in Kenyatta’s imprisonment from 1953 until 1959, and his subsequent detention in Lodwar, in the remote frontier of Turkana District, until 1961.   

Exacerbating the prejudicial disposition of an openly hostile judge, who during the trial remained in secret contact with the colonial governor of the time, was the prosecution’s duplicitous main witness. Rawson Mbugua Macharia, a diminutive, bookish former government clerk and local KAU branch secretary testified that at the home of Joram Waweru on March 16, 1950, he had been administered the oath at the hand of Kenyatta himself, in a ceremony that he claimed involved the drinking of human blood, and nudity. It was the only evidence presented of a direct link between Kenyatta and Mau MauFive years later Macharia swore in an affidavit that he had perjured himself, admitting to being among those bribed by the colonial government to give false testimony. Among his rewards, Macharia was sent to England for studies immediately after the trial. It was only upon his return to Kenya in 1956 that he came to terms with his disillusionment, blowing the whistle on his own participation in a perjury-for-profit scheme.

RM: There may be some cheats, but they are the best people you could meet in the world.

DB: The British . . .


DB: So you had a good experience with them . . .

RM: Oh yes, ohhhhh... oh yes, oh yes. You see, I don't regard them as angels but if you are lucky to meet the best of them . . . they are so honest in their dealing, and they are disciplined people. Not all, but particularly the educated class, you can rely on.

DB: On the other hand, they're the same ones who enticed you to, in your own words, in your own experience, to perjure yourself in court.

RM: They were not the typical people-- they were colonial people, and they are working on their profit. They lived here to make money, you follow me? You wouldn't regard them as typical Englishmen. When I'm talking about Englishmen, I'm not talking about British colonial power, I'm talking about an individual Englishman at home, in England. You can really trust them-- they won't play you tricks, as they did here. You see, the policeman here, Henderson, I don't know if you know about him, he was an agent of the colonial government, so he was doing his duty, you see?

Thus a less momentous but still significant trial was held in 1959: the trial of Rawson Macharia. The colonial government tried him on the charge of filing a false affidavit, employing a disingenuously ironic twist by accusing him of lying about being bribed to lie during the Kapenguria trial. Magistrate I. Rosen’s scathing 50-page ruling was highlighted by vintage British colonial imperiousness, dissecting events in studious detail to discredit Macharia and dispel any notion of wrongdoing by the crown. Rosen described him as “bone idle,” a “Judas,” a “mammonistic mythist,” and “a wicked, unscrupulous individual,” claiming that “his love of the limelight would lead him, and has led him, to be prepared to pay whatever price, except money, to be considered important.” In his sentencing, Rosen expressed great regret that the law limited Macharia’s penalty to two years of imprisonment. “I can’t really conceive a more serious offense. The accused indicted the Government and Senior Officers and didn’t care about it, didn’t care who he hurt. He didn’t mind what happened to the country which he claims to belongs to. Is that not a case for giving him as much as the court can award?”

Such is the infamy that became the crucible of Rawson Macharia, who in spite of being known as perhaps the most notorious traitor in Kenya’s colonial history, lived out his life in relative peace and obscurity in the rather typical Kikuyu village of Muthurumbi in Thika District, just outside of Gatundu town. Interestingly, the original homes of Macharia and Kenyatta are located within a few kilometers of each other.

I first learned about Rawson Macharia from an article published in one of the Kenyan newspapers. It reported that Macharia is working on a book in which he claims he is going to tell the whole truth about Kenyatta and the trials. We tracked him down, showing up unannounced at his home, and ended up visiting him three times over a period of several weeks. We always met in the dank sitting room of his mud and mabati house, unlit save for whatever light made it in through a couple of dusty glass windows, and a paraffin lantern at night. Cluttered with stacks of books and papers, Macharia was perfectly suited, favoring a well-worn three-piece suit, sans jacket and tie. Spry, intellectually nimble and occasionally feisty as he approached 80, Macharia seemed pleased by the attention, though he did express some initial paranoia about our intentions, wondering aloud if I was doing the bidding of either the CIA or the Kenyan government. Concerned that something I wrote might hurt the sales of the book he’d been working on for more than 12 years, he was nevertheless happy to lend me the rough transcripts, in the hope that I might be able to help him find a publisher for the mea culpa.

While offering interesting insights on Mau Mau, it read as a poorly edited mixture of excerpts from his trial records, some introductory background information he wrote with the help of someone else, and personal observations that appeared to confirm the narcissistic tendencies the judge had so severely censured him for at his trial, and compromise his integrity and hence standing as a historical figure. During one of our conversations, his enthusiasm over the prospect of getting his book published bubbled over gleefully. “I’ll be famous! More famous that I already am!” Other anecdotes reinforce the delusion: one of the more noteworthy facts about the Macharia trial is that Kenyatta, immensely popular, and just a few years from assuming first the role of Prime Minister and then the Presidency, attended. It was the first time Kenyatta had been in Nairobi during his detention. Thousands thronged to the courthouse. Macharia credited this to his own fame.

DB: As far as you now, were you the only person they were asking, or were they asking many people?

RM: I don't know, I knew they were particularly interested in me, because the DC knew I was in the political party. In fact, I was not a stranger to the government, because I had been in politics since 1937. And then, there were very few educated people in this part of the country. So I don't know if he was asking many people. But one thing I'm sure of, they were looking for any information that would connect Kenyatta and KAU with Mau Mau, the link.... you follow me?

Poor old Rawson Macharia, I believe he really did suffer from guilt, but his base desires were affirmation and acknowledgment that he was a man of consequence, regardless of actual consequences. This longing for attention or even fame may have driven him more than his sense of patriotic loyalty or remorse, as disgrace and disaster are compartmentalized in his rationale. Despite the judgment Rawson Macharia steadfastly insisted that while he had admits perjuring himself at Kapenguria, he and other witnesses at Kapenguria had indeed been coached, and compensation had been offered and delivered. The British government itself later conceded that this was in fact true. 

In the transcripts he lent me, Macharia answered the judgment against him with a bold closing statement, begun with a lawyerly flourish: “And, that, ladies and gentlemen of the ‘jury,’ was the verdict. I leave it to you to give your own verdict.”  Standing by his affidavit, he argued that whether “people regard it as a bribe, protection or compensation or whatever other description, it was all an inducement to us to give false evidence. It was not because we were in the first instance interested in giving false evidence against our national leaders—personally… I had no grudge against Mzee Jomo Kenyatta . . . it is the inducement as above which made all the difference. If no promise was made for compensation, I believe none of us would have bothered—after all, it was an act of great risk.” Macharia, to his credit, stuck to his story to the end, righteously implicating the system itself in the national tragedy “ . . . the judge should have been an outsider,” he wrote, “one who had no vested interest in the colony. As it were . . . he was specifically appointed to try my case in order to secure a conviction in support of Government falsehood and wickedness. I did not expect to be acquitted—it would have been unthinkable. That the truth was now revealed, I felt much reliefed (sic) and looked forward to my imprisonment not as a punishment but as a reward that I deserved for my great sins.”

Editors note—Macharia’s book, “The Truth About the Trial of Jomo Kenyatta,” was finally published by Longman in 1991. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 96, after being hit by a motorcycle while crossing Thika Road.