Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 11/07/2018
John Sibi-Okumu

In this regular column a teacher, writer and media personality starts from personal anecdote to present an outsider’s reflections on the experience of a different community. The views expressed are entirely his own. His website: www.johnsibi-okumu.com

Website: johnsibi-okumu.com

Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder

Author: Grace A Musila

Publ: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. Pps 235

ISBN: 978-1-84701-137-4

Reviewer: John Sibi-Okumu

The ancient Greeks had it that, in experiencing certain forms of artistic expression, plays in particular, there was a moment of catharsis, when all the negative and pitiful emotions which may have been engendered hitherto were replaced by relief and exaltation. It serves to state that Grace A Musila’s academic treatise, A DEATH RETOLD IN TRUTH AND RUMOUR; Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, offers no such catharsis after one has read the final sentence of the Afterword. And even the truth referred to in the title, apart from drawing attention to the admirable human qualities of several people depicted in the narrative, not least Julie Ward herself, is cause for despondency of ‘the more things change, the more things remain the same’ variety.

Because the story in itself is not her primary concern, Grace A Musila feels that she is not letting the cat out of the bag by laying out major milestones at the very outset in three pages dedicated to the Julie Ward Case Timeline 1988-2012.The said timeline informs one that in 1988, the beginning of the story in question, Julie Ward finds herself in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park as a 28 year old woman, at the tail end of an across Africa expedition which had started seven months earlier in the UK. She is left alone with a broken down car in the expectation that a friend will send the necessary spare part soon. She goes missing. Her father is alerted. A while later her partly burnt remains are found in the Mara. Her skull is found about a month later and at one point delivered, wrapped up in a bag, to her father in his hotel room by Kenyan police agents. One then registers the protracted investigations to find out who murdered her, although initially it is put about that it was the animals. How the animals could have burnt her body is never quite explained. John Ward, Julie’s rich, hotelier father, spends prodigious sums of money, coming in and out of Kenya to ensure that failed investigations are abandoned to make way for others under different political regimes. There is a string of court cases, with accusations and acquittals. On 3 March 2012: John Ward publishes report in Nairobi Law Monthly claiming Mr B killed his daughter. Five days later: Mr B’s lawyers publish denial of claims in a response published in The Nairobi Star. Mr B’s identity is not revealed in the book for fear, one surmises, of legal consequences. Eventually, there is no end to the story, no catharsis whatsoever because in the book’s last chapter, entitled Engaging Modernity there is a disappointing admission. The search for the murderer(s) is still on, and new reports and allegations continue to emerge…… In November 2011, BBC News reported that a team of six Scotland Yard investigators had flown to Kenya to launch new investigations into the murder. Online research attributes the following quotation from Julie Wards’s father in 2013, twenty five years after his daughter’s death: ‘I know I have been badly messed about. When Julie was murdered, the British had all manner of interests in Kenya to protect. When (the Kenyan government) signalled (it) did not want Julie’s death to be murder, the Foreign Office had to decide whether to support (it) or justice. The situation makes Foreign Office mandarins uncomfortable, in case their activities are exposed. I believe there are people who know who murdered Julie. I can’t think of another motive for them behaving as they have. Time goes by and I am getting older – I am 80 this year – but she is still my daughter and I would like to convict the people who killed her.’ Online research does not reveal whether John Ward is still alive in 2018 or whether he has died, a broken man, adding even more woe to an already woeful saga.

To draw earlier attention to a chapter heading was apt because it was to draw attention to Grace A Musila’s real concerns. With others such as Versions of Truth; Portrait of an Assassin State; Sex, Gender and the ‘Criminal’ State and Fault Lines in the Official British Response to the Julie Ward Murder, she seeks to use the Julie Ward case as a point of departure from which to examine what makes post-independence Kenya tick, in relation to itself and in relation to its former colonising power. Hers are the big issues of social intercourse: race, gender, the postcolonial African state, the Western superiority complex, female sexuality and rape, black male sexuality and the myth of the ‘Noble Savage’, the sentimental attachment to the land and conservation, the fallibility of the legal system, the role of cinema in sustaining prejudices, amongst several others. As a quote from the back cover proclaims, more elaborately: Musila reveals the wider, layered versions of historical truth and the cosy complicities of interest in the British and Kenyan political establishments….. By contrast, as Musila demonstrates, popular rumour and speculation expose the manipulation of formal legal ‘fact’.

Grace A Musila’s book, with its occasional footnotes; its references to fellow academics; to thinkers like Max Weber, Edward Said and Mahmood Mamdani;  to writers like Franz Fanon, Ferdinand Oyono, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Karen Blixen, James Fox, J M Coetzee and John le Carré; to musicians like D O Misiani; with its use of weird words like historiography, epistemological disarticulation and social imaginaries, may well make the lay reader feel intellectually inferior for having no knowledge of the names, works and definitions which are referred to. However, it is worth putting aside one’s befuddlement in order to take in the essence of her argument: an argument which points to the myriad machinations which the State employs to confuse, to control and, if necessary, to silence the wily citizen or political opponent.

As a Kenyan national, the great sadness in reading A DEATH RETOLD IN TRUTH AND RUMOUR is that developments since 2010, the year of the promulgation of the new constitution do not give cause for catharsis, either. The relentless assault on the constitution’s provisions by the legislature and executive and, in particular, the current attempts to render the judiciary absolutely powerless, making ‘the rule of law’ something of a meaningless phrase is enough to give Kenyan people pause. The more things change, the more things get worse, it seems. In this regard, Grace A Musila’s study, although not outwardly so, should be for public consumption, if only so that we, as citizens, are not duped by what we are given to believe.


Copyright: John Sibi-Okumu

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 19:01

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