KENY­ATTA

THE CAR­PEN­TER WHO BE­CAME A RENOWNED PAN-AFRICAN­IST

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Jomo Kenyatta - Words: DI­ETER GÖTTERT

Mzee Jomo Keny­atta was a pi­o­neer and po­lit­i­cal gi­ant among his coun­try­men dur­ing his time of gov­er­nance in Kenya. Lead­ing his na­tion into in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish colo­nial rule as Kenya’s first Prime Min­is­ter and Pres­i­dent, many will ar­gue that were it not for men such as Keny­atta, Africa’s progress and lib­er­a­tion as a con­ti­nent free from Euro­pean dom­i­na­tion may have come at a much slower pace.

born on Oc­to­ber 20, 1891 at Ichaw­eri, Jomo Keny­atta was also known as John­stone Ka­mau Ngengi as a child. When his mother died, Ka­mau moved to live with his grand­fa­ther, Kungu Man­gana, who was a noted medicine man in the area. Around the age of 10, suf­fer­ing from an in­fec­tion, Ka­mau was taken to the Church of Scot­land mis­sion at Thogoto (about 20 kms north of Nairobi), where surgery was suc­cess­fully car­ried out on both feet and one leg. Ka­mau was im­pressed by his first ex­po­sure to Euro­peans, and de­ter­mined to join the mis­sion school. He ran away from home to be­come a res­i­dent pupil at the mis­sion, study­ing amongst other sub­jects, the Bi­ble, English, Math­e­mat­ics, and car­pen­try. He paid the school fees by work­ing as a house­boy and cook for a nearby white set­tler. The year 1912 saw Keny­atta com­plete his mis­sion school ed­u­ca­tion and be­gin his life as a young man. He had to first un­dergo cer­tain tra­di­tional cer­e­monies in or­der to gain the re­spect within so­ci­ety as was ex­pected at the time. This be­gan in 1913 by un­der­go­ing a Kikuyu ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­mony (in­clud­ing cir­cum­ci­sion), which con­firmed his stand­ing as a young man hold­ing his place firmLY in the eyes of Kenyan so­ci­ety. In Au­gust 1914, Ka­mau was bap­tised at the Church of Scot­land mis­sion, ini­tially tak­ing the name John Peter Ka­mau, but swiftly chang­ing it to John­son Ka­mau. Look­ing for­ward to a bright fu­ture, he de­parted from the mis­sion to go to Nairobi to seek em­ploy­ment. John­son Ka­mau man­aged to se­cure em­ploy­ment as an ap­pren­tice car­pen­ter on a sisal farm in Thika un­der the tute­lage of John Cook, who had been in charge of the build­ing pro­gramme at Thogoto. De­spite his seem­ingly smooth pro­gres­sion in life, forces be­yond his con­trol be­gan to af­fect him. Word War I was in progress, mak­ing Ka­mau a prime can­di­date for forced re­cruit­ment. Like many other fel­low Kikuyu coun­try­men, he re­fused to fight for the Bri­tish. Ka­mau evaded the forced re­cruit­ment by mov­ing to Narok, a town south of Nairobi, where he lived among the Maa­sai peo­ple, finding em­ploy­ment as a clerk at a lo­cal con­trac­tor. Al­though Keny­atta was of the Kikuyu ori­gin, he in­ter­grated very well within the Maa­sai com­mu­nity and even adopted some Maa­sai cus­toms in­clud­ing the wear­ing of a kiny­ata a beaded tra­di­tional belt. In 1919, Keny­atta met his first wife Grace Wahu. In­ter­est­ingly, church elders or­dered Keny­atta to marry her af­ter learn­ing that Wahu was preg­nant and ac­cord­ing to Kikuyu tra­di­tions, Keny­atta got mar­ried in a tra­di­tional cer­e­mony. How­ever, a Euro­pean mag­is­trate or­dered him to fol­low Chris­tian mar­riage rites. On 20 Novem­ber, Peter Muigai, Keny­atta’s first son was born, and two years later, Keny­atta fi­nally mar­ried Grace Wahu in a civil cer­e­mony. In the mean­time, Ka­mau had been un­der­tak­ing sev­eral jobs in­clud­ing be­ing an in­ter­preter for the High Court. Keny­atta be­gan work­ing for the Nairobi Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil as a wa­ter-me­ter reader and store clerk, once again un­der John Cook who was the Wa­ter Su­per­in­ten­dent. Me­ter read­ing helped him meet many KenyanAsians at their homes who would be­come im­por­tant al­lies later on. This marked the start of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Harry Thuku, a re­spected Kikuyu had formed the East African As­so­ci­a­tion (EAA) the pre­vi­ous year. The or­gan­i­sa­tion had an ob­jec­tive of cam­paign­ing for the re­turn of Kikuyu lands that had been taken by white set­tlers when Kenya be­came a Bri­tish Crown Colony in 1920. Keny­atta en­tered pol­i­tics af­ter tak­ing an in­ter­est in the po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties of James Beaut­tah and Joseph Kang'ethe, the lead­ers of the Kikuyu Cen­tral As­so­ci­a­tion (KCA). He joined KCA in 1924 and rose up in the ranks of the as­so­ci­a­tion. Even­tu­ally, he be­gan to edit the move­ment's Kikuyu news­pa­per. In 1928, he had be­come the KCA's gen­eral sec­re­tary. May 1928 marked the launch of the KCA backed Kikuyu-lan­guage mag­a­zine, Muĩg­with­a­nia (roughly trans­lated as "The

Like many other fel­low Kikuyu coun­try­men, he re­fused to fight for the Bri­tish. Ka­mau evaded the forced re­cruit­ment by mov­ing to Narok, a town south of Nairobi, where he lived among the Maa­sai peo­ple, finding em­ploy­ment as a clerk at a lo­cal con­trac­tor.

Rec­on­ciler" or "The Uni­fier"), which pub­lished news, ar­ti­cles with the pur­pose of uni­fy­ing Kikuyu peo­ple and raising funds for the KCA. With cer­tain con­cerns about the fu­ture of its East African ter­ri­to­ries, the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment be­gan toy­ing with the idea of form­ing a union of Kenya, Uganda and Tan­ganyika. Al­though this idea was fully sup­ported by white set­tlers in the Cen­tral High­lands, it would be dis­as­trous to Kikuyu in­ter­ests as it was widely be­lieved that set­tlers would be given self-gov­ern­ment, while the rights of the Kikuyu would be ig­nored. In Fe­bru­ary 1929, Keny­atta was dis­patched to Lon­don to rep­re­sent the KCA in dis­cus­sions with the Colo­nial Of­fice, but the Sec­re­tary of State for the Colonies re­fused to meet him. Un­de­terred, Keny­atta wrote sev­eral let­ters to Bri­tish news­pa­pers, in­clud­ing The Times, raising aware­ness among the colo­nial power. Keny­atta re­turned to Kenya on 24 Septem­ber 1930 and de­spite fail­ing in his mis­sion, he had made progress in re­quest­ing for the devel­op­ment of in­de­pen­dent ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions for Kenyans. Keny­atta re­turned to Bri­tain to rep­re­sent KCA’s griev­ances. He de­cided to en­roll to Quaker Col­lege af­ter his ef­forts were ig­nored by the Colo­nial Of­fice. He suc­cess­fully com­pleted his stud­ies in 1932, and in Au­gust the same year, he left for Rus­sia to study at Moscow Uni­ver­sity af­ter re­ceiv­ing an in­vi­ta­tion from Ge­orge Pad­more who was a rad­i­cal West In­dian. How­ever, in 1933 Keny­atta was forced to ter­mi­nate his stud­ies and re­turn to Bri­tain af­ter Pad­more had a dis­agree­ment with the Rus­sians. He pur­sued his stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity Col­lege in Lon­don and in 1936, he man­aged to break through a po­lice cor­don to ex­press his sol­i­dar­ity for Em­peror Haile Se­lassie from Ethiopia at the Lon­don Rail­way sta­tion. Keny­atta pub­lished ‘Fac­ing Mount Kenya,’ us­ing the name Jomo Keny­atta; and from then hence­forth peo­ple em­braced Jomo Keny­atta as his name. Later in Oc­to­ber 1945, Keny­atta joined Kwame Nkrumah from Ghana to or­gan­ise the fifth Pan African congress. In 1944, the Kenya African Union (KAU) came into be­ing as the only po­lit­i­cal out­let for indigenous Africans in the colony. In 1947, KAU's Pres­i­dent James Gichuru stepped down, cre­at­ing an op­por­tu­nity for Keny­atta to be elected as his re­place­ment. Prov­ing to be a pop­u­lar leader and draw­ing large crowds wher­ever he trav­elled in Kikuyu­land, Kikuyu me­dia de­scribed him as the "Saviour", "Great El­der", and "Hero of Our Race". With great in­sight, Keny­atta knew that in or­der for in­de­pen­dence to be achieved, KAU as a po­lit­i­cal party needed the sup­port of all Kenyan indigenous tribes and eth­nic groups. Keny­atta clev­erly in­sisted on in­ter­tribal rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the KAU ex­ec­u­tive, thereby en­sur­ing that party busi­ness was

Keny­atta sub­se­quently em­barked on a huge na­tional cam­paign to sen­si­tize Kenyans on the im­por­tance of get­ting their own land back and seek­ing in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties. The Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties be­gan sens­ing Keny­atta’s pop­u­lar­ity and banned the KAU, trig­ger­ing the for­mi­da­ble Mau Mau re­bel­lion – a re­sult of years of op­pres­sive colo­nial rule and much aligned to the dis­pos­ses­sion of rich agri­cul­tural lands that were in the hands of Bri­tish set­tlers.

con­ducted in Swahili, a widely spo­ken lan­guage. Keny­atta sub­se­quently em­barked on a huge na­tional cam­paign to sen­si­tise Kenyans on the im­por­tance of get­ting their own land back and seek­ing in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties. The Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties be­gan sens­ing Keny­atta’s pop­u­lar­ity and banned the KAU, trig­ger­ing the for­mi­da­ble Mau Mau re­bel­lion – a re­sult of years of op­pres­sive colo­nial rule and much aligned to the dis­pos­ses­sion of rich agri­cul­tural lands that were in the hands of Bri­tish set­tlers. How­ever, the re­bel­lion was even­tu­ally quelled at great cost to the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment, fail­ing to cap­ture wide­spread pub­lic sup­port partly due to the Bri­tish pol­icy of di­vide and rule as well as the protest move­ment re­main­ing in­ter­nally di­vided de­spite at­tempts to unify its var­i­ous strands. The Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties in Kenya de­clared a state of emer­gency and Keny­atta, to­gether with other 182 African lead­ers, was ar­rested. Al­though high-pow­ered at­tor­neys de­fended Keny­atta, he was sen­tenced to 7 years in­def­i­nite re­stric­tion and hard labour in 1953, serv­ing his sen­tence in North West­ern Kenya, at Lok­i­taung. April 14 1959 marked the day Keny­atta was set free af­ter com­plet­ing his sen­tence, but he was still re­stricted by the au­thor­i­ties to the largest town in north­west­ern Kenya, Lord­war. Elec­tions were then held in May 1963, pit­ting Keny­atta's KANU (Kenya African Na­tional Union), which ad­vo­cated for Kenya to be a uni­tary state against the KADU (Kenya African Demo­cratic Union), which ad­vo­cated for Kenya to be an eth­nic fed­eral state. KANU de­feated KADU by win­ning 83 seats out of 124 and on 1 June 1963, Jomo Keny­atta be­came the first Prime Min­is­ter of the first au­ton­o­mous Kenyan gov­ern­ment. How­ever, af­ter in­de­pen­dence, Queen El­iz­a­beth II still re­mained as Head of State (af­ter In­de­pen­dence, styled as Queen of Kenya), rep­re­sented by a Bri­tish Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral who con­sis­tently asked white set­tlers not to leave Kenya and sup­ported rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Keny­atta re­tained the role of Prime Min­is­ter af­ter

in­de­pen­dence was de­clared and this was ju­bi­lantly cel­e­brated on 12 De­cem­ber 1963. In 1964, Keny­atta had Par­lia­ment amend the Con­sti­tu­tion to make Kenya a repub­lic. The of­fice of Prime Min­is­ter was re­placed by a Pres­i­dent with wide ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive pow­ers. Elected by the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Jomo Keny­atta be­came head of State, head of Gov­ern­ment and Com­man­der-inChief of the armed forces. Un­der the pro­vi­sions of the amend­ment, this en­abled Keny­atta to au­to­mat­i­cally be­come Pres­i­dent. Elected for three con­sec­u­tive terms, Keny­atta en­joyed com­plete po­lit­i­cal con­trol of his na­tion, but not without con­tro­versy. His au­thor­i­tar­ian style, char­ac­terised by pa­tron­age, favouritism, trib­al­ism and nepo­tism drew crit­i­cism and dis­sent, set­ting a bad ex­am­ple fol­lowed by his suc­ces­sor Daniel arap Moi in years to come. For in­stance, Keny­atta amended the Con­sti­tu­tion rad­i­cally to ex­pand his pow­ers, thereby con­sol­i­dat­ing ex­ec­u­tive power. His poli­cies are also crit­i­cised, which led to a large in­come and devel­op­ment in­equal­ity gap in the coun­try. Devel­op­ment and re­source al­lo­ca­tion in the coun­try dur­ing his reign was seen to have favoured some re­gions of the coun­try over others. The re­set­tle­ment of many Kikuyu tribes­men in the coun­try's Rift Val­ley prov­ince is widely con­sid­ered to have been done un­fairly un­der his gov­ern­ment. One of his fa­mous say­ings is the fol­low­ing: “When the Mis­sion­ar­ies ar­rived, the Africans had the land and the Mis­sion­ar­ies had the Bi­ble. They taught how us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bi­ble.” How­ever, dur­ing the 1970s, ad­vanc­ing age kept Keny­atta from the day-to-day man­age­ment of gov­ern­ment af­fairs. He in­ter­vened only when nec­es­sary to set­tle dis­puted is­sues and this relative iso­la­tion re­sulted in in­creas­ing dom­i­na­tion of Kenya’s af­fairs by well-con­nected Kikuyu who ac­quired great wealth as a re­sult. His in­creas­ingly fee­ble health meant that his in­ner cir­cle ef­fec­tively ruled the coun­try, and greatly en­riched their own per­sonal in­ter­ests in his name. Well into his 80s, Jomo Keny­atta suf­fered a mas­sive heart at­tack. Prophet­i­cally on 14 Au­gust 1978, Keny­atta called upon his en­tire fam­ily, in­clud­ing his son Peter Muigai Keny­atta who flew in from Bri­tain with his fam­ily, to a re­union in Mom­basa. How­ever, 22 Au­gust 1978 will be re­mem­bered as the day when Pres­i­dent Keny­atta died in Mom­basa of nat­u­ral causes due to old age. Mzee Jomo Keny­atta was buried on 31 Au­gust 1978 in Nairobi in a state funeral at a mau­soleum on Par­lia­ment grounds. Jomo Keny­atta left a sub­stan­tial large fam­ily of con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. His fourth wife, the best known due to her role as First Lady, was Ngina Keny­atta (née Muhoho), also known as Mama Ngina. She bore Keny­atta four chil­dren: Chris­tine Wam­bui, Uhuru Muigai Keny­atta, Anna Nyok­abi and Muhoho Keny­atta. Mama Ngina lives qui­etly as a wealthy widow and is also one of Kenya’s wealth­i­est women due to her fam­ily’s po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence con­nec­tions. Uhuru Keny­atta, Ngina and Jomo Keny­atta's son and po­lit­i­cal heir, un­suc­cess­fully stood for the Kenyan pres­i­dency as Pres­i­dent Moi's pre­ferred suc­ces­sor in 2002, but was later suc­cess­fully elected Kenya's fourth Pres­i­dent in 2013. Jomo Keny­atta had much in com­mon with the Ghana­ian leader Kwame Nkrumah who both pi­o­neered the break from colo­nial­ism and Bri­tish rule, yet will also be re­mem­bered for self­ish pres­i­den­tial rule, one party dic­ta­tor­ship, eth­nic­ity and crony­ism. Yet ,without such men, African coun­tries may have taken much longer to achieve self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and democ­racy thereby con­tribut­ing to­wards pro­pel­ling Africa into the 21st cen­tury. Jomo Keny­atta ruled in of­fice from 1 June 1963 un­til 22 Au­gust 1978 when he was suc­ceeded by Daniel arap Moi.

For­mer Is­re­ali Prime Min­is­ter - Levy Eshkol and Jomo Keny­atta at the state house in Nairobi, Kenya on 15 June 1966.

Mzee Jomo Keny­atta’s first cab­i­net in 1963.

Jomo Keny­atta ad­dress­ing grad­u­ates at Nairobi Uni­ver­sity on Septem­ber 29, 1969.

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