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Author: David William Cohen
Title: Reading the Minister's remains: investigations into the death of the Honourable Minister John Robert Ouko in Kenya, February, 1990
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: Reading the Minister's remains: investigations into the death of the Honourable Minister John Robert Ouko in Kenya, February, 1990
David William Cohen

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 7, pp. 14-15,18, 1994
Issue title: Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities: Texts in Objects
Author Biography: David William Cohen is the Director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan.

Reading the Minister's remains: Investigations into the death of the Honourable Minister John Robert Ouko in Kenya, February, 1990 [1]


On Thursday evening, February 15, 1990, the Voice of Kenya radio and television services issued an astonishing announcement:

The family of the minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, Dr. Robert Ouko, has reported that the minister left his Koru home (in western Kenya) last Tuesday, February 13, in the morning, and has not been seen since. Could Dr. Ouko please contact his family or the nearest police station. Any member of the public who might have any information as to the minister's whereabouts should report to the nearest police station.

And then, on Friday, February 16, 1990, the President issued additional statements, including one formally announcing the death of his minister of foreign affairs:

It is with profound sorrow that I have to announce the death of the Honourable Robert Ouko, minister for foreign affairs and international co-operation and member of parliament for Kisumu Town. On learning of the report of his disappearance on Wednesday, the government mounted an intensive search for Dr. Ouko, using all means at its disposal. Dr. Ouko's partly burnt body was discovered today six kilometres away from his Koru home in circumstances which at the moment suggest foul play. Further investigations are being conducted into the death of the Hon. Dr. Ouko but I would like to assure the public that anyone who may be associated with this horrible event will most certainly be apprehended and brought to justice.

Within hours of President Moi's February 16 statement, and amidst interpretations of early government announcements that seemed to reckon Ouko's death a suicide ... then with the eruption of civil disturbances across Kenya ... and against a rising tide of popular anger ... President Daniel arap Moi invited a team of Scotland Yard experts to investigate Ouko's death. The British team, under the direction of Detective Superintendent John H. B. Troon, began their investigation on February 21, managing their own pathological examination just before Ouko's corpse was moved on February 23 from a Nairobi funeral home to Kisumu and then to Koru for burial on February 24. The Yard team completed their investigations in Kenya in mid-June 1990. After a lengthy stand-off with the Attorney General of Kenya over the proprieties of transmittal, Troon delivered on Monday, September 20, 1990—literally into the hands of a still reticent, virtually reclusive, Attorney General—a final (and sealed) report dated August 28.

The Scotland Yard investigation was one of—to date—five major (and still other lesser) inquiries into Ouko's death, the first having been a Kenya CID and Special Branch investigation begun with the discovery of Ouko's disappearance ... and then the recent and most lengthy prosecution of Jonah Anguka, a former district commissioner, on charges of murdering Robert Ouko.

Over the months of the Yard's active investigations, and then over further months of waiting for the presentation and release of the report, there was enormous speculation in the Kenya press and abroad, and in the streets, bars, buses, and taxis of Kenya, concerning the findings of the Scotland Yard investigation. The Ouko investigation inhabited all the Kenya newspapers. Some of the Kenya newspapers played up the grisly details of the found corpse. Others, particularly the weekly and monthly journals, saw the evolution of the Ouko investigation in the context of human rights and multiparty campaigns, with the government itself on trial as to the possibility of its investigative independence and success.

The Nairobi Law Monthly was a key player here, carrying a number of stories critical of the government over the two years following Ouko's death. The Monthly itself had an almost surreal relationship to the circumstances of Ouko's death, for—on Ouko's last full day on earth—the journal's celebrated and imprisoned editor Gitobu Imanyara was "presented" the Robert F. Kennedy Prize in Human Rights by Ethel Kennedy and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, who chose to visit Nairobi to present the award when Gitobu was not himself allowed to travel to the United States to receive it. Some who would be implicated in the circumstances surrounding Ouko's disappearance and death were at lunch with the Kennedys in Nairobi just thirteen hours before Ouko's disappearance.

On October 2, 1990, with the Scotland Yard report still closed to public inspection and with spiraling rumors and controversy, President Moi constituted a Judicial Commission of Inquiry (under the chairmanship of Court of Appeals Justice John Evans Gicheru) to investigate Minister Ouko's disappearance and then death. But then, on November 26, 1991, after taking evidence from 172 witnesses over 246 days of inquiry (meeting openly and reported extensively in the press, but its report never released in an "official account" of its work), the Gicheru Commission was dissolved by the President, who, instantly, called for intensive police investigations leading to indictments and prosecutions.

On the day the President dissolved the Commission, several very prominent and powerful individuals—including Jonah Anguka, District Commissioner, Nakuru; Nicholas Biwott, Minister for Industry; and Hezekiah Oyugi, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, responsible for provincial administration and internal security—were ordered arrested, along with a host of others, including a score of witnesses deposed by the Commission and picked up by the police in the last days of the Gicheru hearings. This latter wave of arrests included George Oraro, senior counsel to the Ouko family (the immediate family, not the clan) who was their constant representative before the Gicheru Commission. The Ouko family counsel's arrest was recognized by Commission members as part of an accelerating campaign to intimidate and undermine the Commission.

Only Anguka was ultimately sent to trial on charges of murder. Hezekiah Oyugi died in August 1992, after having been released of the charges; Nicholas Biwott was also released of charges and is serving now as an elected member of Kenya's Seventh Parliament, still a member on the governing party KANU's side of the house. And on a number of occasions from 1992 to the present there have been calls for a fresh inquiry.

The book that is proposed here is not a fresh inquiry, but rather a study of the nature of such inquiry. Unspeakable Bodies: The Death of The Honourable Minister Robert Ouko in Kenya, February, 1990 will explore the generation of public and official knowledge concerning the death, and subsequent inquiries into the murder, of the Minister, including the massive records of public interpretation and debate, reflected in extraordinary press coverage; in the investigations by Scotland Yard and Kenyan police agencies, and the reports therefrom and thereon; in the thirteen months of proceedings of the judicial commission of inquiry; and in the records of the prosecution for murder of Jonah Anguka. Taken together, these materials provide extraordinary opportunities to re-examine the openings and closures between the workings of official and public knowledge, and between the speakable and the unspeakable in different contexts. Within the study of the Ouko materials, it may be possible to explore the definitions of "public" and "official" activity that are used in a consensual way by diverse parties to the Ouko investigations to encompass the totality of Kenya, 1990-92. Beyond seeing the Ouko episode as permitting an examination of public sphere and civil society models in a late twentieth-century Kenya context, the challenge for the moment is in discerning the practices, programs, discourses and theories (seated within Kenya) through which Kenyans locate, constitute, operationalize, reproduce, comprehend, represent, and theorize distinctive fields of political interest, continuing from some of the insights that David Parkin educed from research in Kenya a decade and a half ago. [2]

The present study seeks to develop an address—or better, a sense of the multiplicity of possible addresses—to the Ouko case. I, for one, am not interested at all in establishing myself as some privileged authority capable of educing the "true facts" of what happened to Robert Ouko and his body between the night of February 12-13, 1990, when he was last seen alive, and February 16, 1990, when a police-organized search party found Ouko's body. As author, I have none of the skills of the forensic scientist, nor, obviously, am I a detective, and I am uninterested in doing again the most effective and not so effective investigative work that has already been done by the Scotland Yard team, the Kenya Police, and the panel of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

While the present project does not seek to "solve" the crime in a forensic sense, this reading of the Ouko case will, should, or can be defended as having other objectives. One goal is certainly the re-examination of the state of political studies of Africa, for questions are raised about the ways in which such a judicial inquiry—for example the testimony and examination of the Kenyan pathologist Oluoch—provides portraits of power in Kenya that surpass in many respects the portraits produced by a generation of political scientists. [3] Immediately, one's comfort with a national frame of reference is certainly tested by observations of the ways in which power is observed to organize itself not so much in Nairobi as along the many conduits connecting international agencies, foreign corporations, and Kenyan officials. And as the results of inquiries in Kenya into Ouko's death overlap with investigations of Mafia-influenced government corruption in Italy, one catches a glimpse of a well-seated transnational or international episteme.

I am also interested in pursuing further the work of Adam Ashforth on "commissions of inquiry" as a political field, [4] and in following the lead of such journals as the Nairobi Law Monthly which at an early stage postulated the notion that Kenya was, essentially, governed by "commissions of inquiry," [5] anticipating readings of the present Goldstone Commission as a state within a state in South Africa and forcing attention to the near century-long history of commissions of inquiry in the organization of the political landscape of East Africa. [6]

Ashforth's grim comparison of the work of state commissions of inquiry and the work of state torture [7] establishes an all too baroque stage on which the Ouko saga was enacted. Ouko, a frightened prey, dragged from his home ... a beaten and broken living body, stilled by a bullet through the brain ... a blood-soaked corpse moved from the site of torture and killing to Got Alila ... the prone corpse bathed in diesel fuel, set alight, and left to burn and smolder ... months later the readings of the tortured body the core text of the state inquiry [8].

In attending to the deeper history of this phenomenon—commissions, that is, not state torture or political murders—an important question is the way the "commission of inquiry," in formalizing official inscriptions of already existing public knowledge, shrinks the distance between "revulsion" and "consent." Those in Kenya, South Africa, the United States, Japan, Italy, and France who demand "official inquiries" into truth qualities of what is already understood, averred, known, or comprehended—turning, if possible, convictions into convictions—are after all actively engaged in, first, constructing the grounds and terms of consent, and, second, agreeing to those terms. How or why, following a question posed by Tim Burke, do

discursive communities—gathered around conspiracies, disappearances, assassinations, or martyrdoms—all indisputably "know" the truth about the event, though they dispute powerfully the specifics of that truth ... a compelling question [is] ... why such communities then insist that the state formally and officially confirm that truth. [9]

It is this very contradiction that impels such inquiries forward, a demanding community forcing into existence a Gicheru Commission. Inevitably, as both observer and practitioner in this further intervention into the Ouko episode, I stumble into the global phenomenon of "never finished" inquiries such as the investigations into the death of JFK and what they mean for the present and future of nations. Here, it seems, the programs of consent embedded in public appeals for official instantiation of public knowledge are intrinsically related to public dissent in regard to the hearing or reading of official productions of knowledge ... a critical piece of—one might assert—the late twentieth-century dissolution of the nineteenth-century nation-state into the nation against the state.

The Ouko materials are, indeed, empty of explicit talk of sovereignty and nationalism. Rather they are full of extraordinary detail concerning international contracting, finance, transnational clientelism, and so forth. Terms like "neo-colonialism" seem to have no purchase or value against the play of detailed and thickly textured practices of managing state administrations, development projects, foreign investments, consultations, commercial agencies, bank accounts, and so forth. One is hardly surprised by the revelations of corruption; but one is surely surprised by the highly conventionalized and naturalized, or systematized, practices through which men in power in Kenya have sought to extend their power and amass their wealth. But what is virtually unremarkable to coteries of journalists, university lecturers, IMF experts, diplomats, and government officials themselves becomes simply poison in the hands of Minister Robert Ouko.

There is a double sense of gravity to such proceedings as the Gicheru Commission, the Warren Commission, and the Goldstone Commission in South Africa; their weight or import is such that one is powerfully drawn—practically subjected—to the terms and languages of the official exercise—"Was there a gunman on the grassy knoll?" "Was the wound an exit wound?" "How many shots were actually fired?"—and missing the opportunities to read a more complex world of practice, routine, meaning, language, power, and interest out of such massive and unique sources, and avoiding the questions which Adam Ashforth, recently, and others have asked about what such commissions of inquiry are actually about.

These extraordinary inquiries have produced extraordinary materials, and one may see them providing views not only of the extraordinary events which led Robert Ouko to his death but also views of an "everyday world" of appointment books, business travel, letters of understanding, social conversations, and telephone calls through which ministers of state maintained their responsibilities and house-maids maintained routines of order and security. The materials produced by the layers of investigations into the Ouko murder provide an unequalled text on Kenya society—for example, on the operations of a household; on the meanings of time within the schedules of the days and the weeks; on the spatialities of farm and household work; on the geography of security and risk; on the constitution of office life; on friendship and affection; and on marriage and trust. What are the meanings to be drawn from Minister Ouko asking his house-maid—at 10:30 in the evening—for a key to an exterior security gate? What are the understandings to be drawn from reports of Ouko sitting next to President Moi for eight hours on a flight between London and Nairobi after Ouko was said to have infuriated the President by upstaging him at a February 2, 1990, press conference during an "unofficial visit" to Washington, D.C.? How do we understand the fields of meaning surrounding the President's order to Robert Ouko to put his official duties aside and return to his Koru farm and take a rest?

There are distinguishable archaeologies of knowledge in the Ouko case as they build through specific moments and sites of investigation, revelation, inquiry, and cover-up ... of how what is "known" at a particular moment is constituted in its own sociology and politics, informing, enforcing, and enabling a next moment as inquiries of various shapes, sizes, and capacities have proceeded. By locating the study of knowledge within such a detailed examination of its constitution, formulation, articulation, and reception, one may also identify, re-contextualize, and represent programs of knowledge production, both public and official. Through a close analysis of the workings of interest and institution within the movements of knowledge into different forms and formulations, and over time, one may reckon the significance of interstitial, intermediate, indeterminate, unfinished moments of knowing operating within and upon official programs of construction of findings, critiques, answers, explanations, excuses, and alibis.

In this sense, the investigations of Robert Ouko's death inevitably became within Kenya—and also to a certain extent abroad—examinations of the Kenyan state, thickly involved throughout the Ouko episode with the on-going multiparty and human rights campaigns in the country. Discourses on Ouko's disappeared and found body came to constitute a means of speaking about the state—in Kenya and, indeed, also in Africa—in expressive and powerful, and also novel and highly detailed, ways.

This present text on the Ouko investigations is one of my own early presentations of a series of approaches, arguments, and programs of reading. It is a work-in-progress and also a program statement for lines of inquiry that might be further developed. It will eventually, I hope, be engaged with my colleague E. S. Atieno Odhiambo's first writings on the topic, and we foresee a process of co-authoring extending across two or three years. While the tactics of reading and co-authoring may be clear at this point, the topics that will draw our separate and collaborative attention remain to be defined. But there are, clearly, a few issues small and large that have attracted my attention. One concerns the various readings done of the found body of Robert Ouko.

Reading the found body

On Friday morning, February 16, [1990], at approximately 10:30 a.m., the burnt remains of the body of Hon. Dr. Ouko was found by a search party lying in the bush six kilometres away from his Koru home. The following items were found near the body: a super-dip jerrycan, Hon. Ouko's Somali-sword and walking stick. Near Hon Ouko's head on the right, near the right hand was a .38 special revolver with one empty cartridge in it. This revolver has been confirmed by the chief firearms licensing officer, Central Firearms Bureau, as the one the minister was licensed to possess. About three to four metres from his burnt body a polythene bag containing well-folded socks and a pair of jeans, a kitenge shirt, a leather jacket in whose pocket were four rounds of ammunition and some shs. 450 were found. All these were confirmed by the maid as belonging to Dr. Ouko. A box of matches and a torch which was still on but dimly were lying next to the body on the left side. The ground immediately around Hon. Ouko's body was charred. The body was identified beyond doubt by the following persons: Mr. Barrack Mbajah....

—from a Government of Kenya official statement, February 19, 1990, printed in the Weekly Review, February 23, 1990.

It is difficult to conceive that the little grassy opening which is almost surrounded by thickets of wild guava and other plants near the foot of a small hill known to the local people in Koru, Kisumu District, as Got Alila, has acquired a historic and sinister significance since Friday last week. It is in that small, almost circular, grassy patch, hardly four kilometres from his large farm house perched on another small hill, that the badly charred body of the late Kenyan minister for foreign affairs and international co-operation, Dr. Robert John Ouko, was discovered on the fateful Friday, February 16, after his mysterious disappearance on Tuesday, February 13, and the frantic search that ensued. The spot where Ouko's mortal remains were found still bears the marks of the horrifying occurrence, despite the many thousands of human feet that have trodden the place since, and the rains that have lashed the area in recent days. A blackened patch of grass, roughly equally and nearly formed in the shape of an adult human body, marks the exact spot where Ouko's body was immolated. Directly above the spot, a singed branch of a guava shrub seems to point to the possibility that the minister's body was burned by fire that did not, however, spread to surrounding grass or shrubs.

—"The Scene of the Crime," The Weekly Review, February 23, 1990.

The body lay on its back with most of the trunk destroyed by fire. The face and head had escaped burning and were easily identified. A torch owned by the minister's driver Joseph Otieno (of which the minister had temporarily borrowed) lay beside his left leg in the off position. Behind and to the right of his head lay his .38 five-chambered revolver, with one spent round at the twelve o'clock position. Approximately 3-4 feet to the right of the body was a plastic six-litre white jerrycan with the top open. A matchbox containing several matches lay nearby. Approximately 15 feet to the west of the body lay a walking stick, holster, jerrycan top, pair of Wellington boots, a plastic bag containing one pair of socks, jeans and a shirt. One leather jacket containing in the pockets four live rounds .38 ammunition, one pair of glasses and cash Shs. 400. Most items were subsequently identified as belonging to the minister ... The body was examined at the scene by Dr. Jason Ndaka Kaviti MB, ChD, DMJ (Path) the Kenyan State Pathologist ... He did ascertain at the scene that the late minister had a through and through bullet wound to the head. The entry wound being eight cm above the right ear, and exit being six cm about the left ear. He also observed a fracture of the right tibia and fibula which in his first statement he attributed to heat, but in an additional statement mentions other causes, which could have been application of a blunt or sharp force.

—from the Scotland Yard report produced before the Gicheru Commission of Inquiry by Detective Superintendent John H. B. Troon, and published in The Standard, December 4, 1991.

(1) Cause of death was by a firearm wound to the head which occurred in life. (2) The burning of Ouko's body [is] ... consistent with burns ... during the post-mortem period. (3) There are no indications that the deceased body was on fire whilst he was alive. (4) The heat damage indicates a slow but intense fire which caused severe burning to the back of the trunk, abdomen, and to a lesser degree to the limbs. (5) There was no indication that the deceased had been on fire whilst in an upright position. (6) There was no evidence to confirm that the firearm entry wound was a contact wound. (7) The wound was not in the usual position for a suicidal gunshot. (8) The amount of skull damage was more severe than one would normally associate with a standard .38 special round. A slightly more powerful round could produce the injury. (9) The distribution of the blood flow over the deceased's face as seen in the photographs taken of the deceased at the scene indicate that the head had been moved after the fatal injury had occurred and within six hours of death. (10) He would have lost consciousness immediately the firearm wound was inflicted and would have lost all muscular activity at that time. (11) The compound fracture of the deceased's right ankle was caused in life and was consistent with a heavy fall or blow....

—Summary by Detective Superintendent John H. B. Troon of the findings of the postmortem performed by Dr. Iain West MB Ch.D, FRC, Path DMJ, a Home Office (UK) Forensic Pathologist, of Guys and St. Thomas Hospitals, London, from the presentation of the Scotland Yard report to the Gicheru Judicial Commission of Inquiry, and printed in The Standard, December 4, 1993.

Gicheru: His legs, how were they?

Shikuku: One of them was broken but I can't remember—

Gicheru: Was it broken or snapped?

Shikuku: Broken. (The witness demonstrates.)

Gicheru: You saw his hands?

Shikuku: I also saw but they were burnt.

Gicheru: How much were they burnt?

Shikuku: They were burnt, the fingers could not be seen.

Gicheru: Could you still see the bones of the hands?

Shikuku: The flesh was there but had dried up ...

—Extract from the examination of Paul Shikuku, "herdsboy," by the Gicheru Judicial Commission of Inquiry, November 21, 1993, as reported in the Daily Nation, November 22, 1990.

These five "readings" of the found remains of Robert Ouko suggest a range of the public and official accounts of the body and its site of discovery. One might well speculate that thousands of individuals [10] "read" the body of Robert Ouko from the time, on the night of February 12-13, 1990, he left, or was taken from, his house at Koru, through to occasion of the public viewing of the deceased in an open coffin at Moi Stadium, Kisumu, on Friday, February 23, to the moment of the burial of Ouko's body at Koru on Saturday, February 24. Within the official investigations and inquiries into Ouko's disappearance and murder alone, more than twenty individuals spoke, or were examined at length, on the found remains. They included Paul Shikuku, the "herdsboy," who was reported as first finding the body—having noted something burning at a distance—on February 13, then returning to the site on February 16. They included Harris Otieno Ouma, a farm employee, who reported to the Gicheru Judicial Commission of Inquiry that on February 13 Paul Shikuku had brought his attention to the burning corpse, and that from 200 meters away he could see the smoke.

The smoke was not much. The smell was like that of roasted meat. I don't eat meat and its smell makes me feel like vomiting. I left the place and started grazing towards home.

They included Inspector James Owino Gendi, of the administrative police, who had joined a police search for Minister Ouko in the area near Ouko's home, and who reported that the found remains resembled the Minister. They included Corporal Charles Nzomo of the Koru Police Station who was one of the party of four policeman to discover the body on February 16, though twice Nzomo had given statements saying that he had found the body on the 15th. They included Geoffrey Paul Warman, a Ph.D. in Material Science and a scientist at the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) Forensic Science Laboratory, who examined some evidence from the body and from the scene by use of electron microscopy. They included Superintendent Vincent Martin Wamalwa, the Kisumu Deputy Officer Commanding Police Division, who reported to the Gicheru Judicial Commission his opinion that the scene of discovery of the remains might have been faked. And they included Dr. Joseph Hannington Oluoch, a private physician in Nairobi, and Robert Ouko's personal physician, who represented the Ouko family during the post-mortem examinations carried out in Nairobi by Dr. Kaviti and Dr. West.

The "readings of the found remains" constitute an immense and peculiar body of texts, but it is both the quantity of texts and their peculiar quality that suggests the value of an extensive program of reading and analysis. As noted, more than twenty individuals provide their readings of the remains to one inquiry or investigation or another, and like the Weekly Review account above, the weekly and daily press in Kenya have published their own reporters' and editors' "readings of the found remains." Most of these individuals have been examined multiple times, with their testimonies being given in different contexts over as much as two years. Charles Nzomo provided numerous statements to various proceedings, including four statements in a two month period.

The inquiries, with multiple counsel, assign particular interest to observed contradictions within the serial testimonies of many witnesses. As text, they assume different narrative forms. Some are extremely contingent on examination by counsel; others are readings into a tribunal of reports drafted in laboratories and offices. Some are available to the public (and therefore to all the potential "readers of the found remains") within a day of the testimony, through the press, through radio and television broadcasts, and through open and public hearings; while others are privileged and contained within ongoing investigations only to be released—and sometimes only in summary form—within the published investigatory reports. Some are referential, picking up on earlier testimony by the speaker or by another witness. Some are summaries rendering the testimony or witness of others. Within many of the testimonies, and within the examinations of counsel, there are attempts to locate what materials an individual might have seen or had access to at a particular point of speaking.

There are issues of vision, of how this scene of discovery is reconstituted and narrated as a "seen scene" by various witnesses. One witness may have viewed the scene from no closer than two hundred meters; another read the scene from the observations made by electron microscopy in a London laboratory. And as the succession of inquiries proceeded, the official and public "readers of the found remains" (like the present "reader") developed a more sophisticated control of the "props" on the stage of the Got Alila site: the jerrycan, the walking stick, the handgun, the torch, the leather coat, the smoke, the smell, the guava branch, the match, the sock, the burnt earth, the posture of the body, and so forth. Rummaging through the many months of the Gicheru Judicial Commission of Inquiry, one might be excused for detecting a shift from an inquiry in which witnesses were sought who could "restage" the scene toward an inquiry in which the veracity, capacity, and interests of a witness could be thoroughly evaluated by reference to how they successfully managed the "props" intrinsic to the emergent narrative. But this is but a preliminary suggestion from an early phase of reading these testimonies. What is suggested here, and perhaps worth pursuing as an approach to reading these sources, is to understand the ways in which emergent and unarticulated narratives—produced outside the official register of investigation—provide, indeed structure and animate, the narratives of official inquiry. How does one explore the surface between these two narrative programs, one thick in protocol and fully in view, the other hardly articulated in public spaces?

One may also, with presumably a large section of the Kenyan public, move beyond the forensic questions enabled by the close look at Ouko's mutilated corpse toward a comprehension of the poetics and dramaturgics of the body's transfiguration as a state and nation ... to see how the dead body, and the inquiries over and into it, themselves animate and enable, and also shape and constrain, a new social and political reckoning ... new political programs, democratization in all its varied dress, new forms of consciousness, new forms of critique and self-critique ... much as the S. M. Otieno litigation, our earlier object of study, was not only expressive and diagnostic but also constructive of a nation. [11] One may also see, or judge, how the very indeterminacies of the readings and revisions of readings of the facts of Ouko's mutilated body may enable a comprehension of the indeterminacies of power ... the incomplete dialectics of experience.

In his 1984 Power in the Blood, [12] David Sabean produced a remarkable and comparable model for such a multilayered reading of serial accounts of a single "event," the May 9, 1733, death of Pastor Friederich Wilheim Breuninger of Württemberg. Reading across the grain of a variety of village, state, and ecclesiastical sources, Sabean sought

to understand how events, issues, and struggles were experienced, to consider the dialectic between external reality and the notions which people had to grasp that reality with. [13]

In the Ouko episode, one notes the way the "reality" of it—the disappearance, murder, inquests, investigations, conspiracies, and cover-ups—are thickly enraveled in people's regard of this reality. It was the struggle of Troon and his investigators and the struggle of Gicheru's commissioners to make transparent so much of this regard. Nevertheless, within the constrained and mannered setting of the Commission of Inquiry—with its concern for the "props" of Ouko's demise and of his body's discovery—this regard made it possible to speak the unspeakable.

1. In 1993, staff of the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University, assembled a great deal of the documentation of the Gicheru Judicial Commission of Inquiry, 1990-91, from the transcripts in the Daily Nation. I am most grateful to Mark Auslander, Keith Breckenridge, Tim Burke, Catherine Burns, Matt Cenzer, Carolyn Hamilton, Amanda Majisu, Tim Marchant, E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, Keith Shear, Ben Soares, Lynn Thomas, and Luise White for their readings and discussions of related parts of this program of writing, and to students and faculty at the University of Michigan and Stanford University, who in April and May, 1993, commented on an earlier treatment of the investigations of Robert Ouko's disappearance and murder. This earlier work—"Unspeakable Bodies"—defined the larger project into which this version attempts to situate one body of sources: the multiple and varied readings of Robert Ouko's found remains and the site of their discovery.

2. David Parkin, The Cultural Definition of Political Response: Lineal Destiny among the Luo (London: Academic Press, 1978).

3. Ashforth remarks that

... the representation of Truth produced by Commissions of Inquiry are an important institutional form in modern states through which the parameters of "responsible" political action and debate are constructed ... the questions facing those who would seek to understand commissions of inquiry concern the ways in which this "truth" of State is constructed through public inquiry ... analysis of these dimensions of commission work ... can reveal some of the discursive formations underlying State power: ways of speaking about social life which make possible the work of organizing political subjection.

Adam Ashforth, "Reckoning Schemes of Legitimation: on Commissions of Inquiry as Power/Knowledge Forms," The Journal of Historical Sociology 3, 1 (March, 1990), 17.

4. See Adam Ashforth, "Reckoning Schemes of Legitimation: on Commissions of Inquiry as Power/Knowledge Forms," The Journal of Historical Sociology 3, 1 (March, 1990), 1-22; also, Adam Ashforth, The Politics of Official Discourse in Twentieth-Century South Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1990).

5. Chris Mburu, "A Government by Commissions of Inquiry and Probe Committees," Nairobi Law Monthly, 37 (October, 1991), 27.

6. If there were a comic side to the Gicheru Commission of Inquiry it was in its Commission members waking up one morning to discover that, just as it was focusing on the controversies and scandals surrounding the failure to complete yet new plans to finish the Kisumu Molasses Plant as integral to the investigation of Robert Ouko's death, President Moi announced the formation of another Commission of Inquiry, this one to examine the Kisumu Molasses project.

7. Adam Ashforth, "Reckoning Schemes ... ," 10-11.

8. Of course, Kenyans observed the paradox of what many have recognized as a governmental self-inquiry. Oginga Odinga observed in 1991 that "It is an insult to the intelligence of Kenyans to set up a commission of inquiry to clear the same mess it has created."

See Nairobi Law Monthly, 37 (October, 1991), 27.

9. Timothy J. Burke, personal communication, March 31, 1993.

10. Including of course individuals complicit with the disappearance and murder of the Minister.

11. In Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991) revised edition, 10, Benedict Anderson offers that "... it may be useful to begin a consideration of the cultural roots of nationalism with death, as the last of a whole gamut of fatalities." While Benedict sets up such a discussion, the book hardly proceeds past a few suggestive associations. In Burying SM, Atieno Odhiambo and I noted that one of the enabling features of the case that occasioned a national debate over the disposition of S. M. Otieno's remains was that SM was both present and absent, centered in discourse, positioned to be spoken for, but unable to speak. Likewise, the broad and intense national speculation and interpretation centered on the last three to five hours of Robert Ouko's life were only possible in the context of a corpse present which was also the absent witness.

12. Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 147-163.

13. Power ... , 146.

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