THE CARPENTER WHO BECAME A RENOWNED PAN-AFRICANIST
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.