THE BIG READ, Jomo Kenyatta: emblematic figure of the Independence Movement
Friday, June 20, 2008
Jomo Kenyatta (October 20, 1894 - August 22, 1978) served as the first Prime Minister (1963-1964) and President (1964-1978) of Kenya. He is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation. Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Ngengi in the village of Ngenda, Gatundu, in British East Africa (now Kenya), a member of Kikuyu people. After the death of his parents, his uncle Ngengi and his medicine man grandfather K_ng_ wa Magana took over his upbringing; he became particularly close to K_ng_ He went to school in the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) at Thogoto, close to Kikuyu Town, about 12 miles north-west of Nairobi. Under the influence of the CSM missionaries, led by John Arthur, he converted to Christianity in 1914, assuming the name John Peter, which he would later change to Johnstone Kamau. He moved to Nairobi. During the First World War he lived with Maasai relatives in Narok and worked as a clerk.
In 1922 he married Grace Wahu and worked in the Nairobi City Council water department. His son Peter Muigai was born on November 20. Jomo Kenyatta entered politics in 1924 and began to take interest in political activities of KCA (Kikuyu Central Association) leaders, James Beauttah and Joseph Kang'ethe. This is also when he joined the Kikuyu Central Association. In 1928 he worked on K_k_y_ land problems before the Hilton Young Commission in Nairobi. In 1928 he began to edit the newspaper Muigwithania (Reconciler).
In 1929 the KCA sent Kenyatta to London to lobby for their views on Kikuyu tribal land affairs. He wrote articles to British newspapers about the matter. He returned to Kenya in September 24th, 1930 in the midst of much debate over female genital cutting. He and his wife Wahu reached Mombasa to be welcomed by James Beauttah. He worked for Kikuyu Independent Schools in Githunguri. In 1931 he went back to London and enrolled in Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham.
In 1932-1933 he briefly studied economics in Moscow at the Comintern school, KUTVU (University of the Toilers of the East) before his sponsor, the Trinidadian Communist George Padmore, fell out with his Soviet hosts, and he was forced to move back to London. In 1934 he enrolled at University College London and from 1935 studied social anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics.
During all this time he lobbied on Kikuyu land affairs. He published his revised LSE thesis as Facing Mount Kenya in 1938 under his new name Jomo Kenyatta. During this period he also was an active member of a group of African, Caribbean and American intellectuals that included at various times C.L.R. James, Eric Williams, W.A. Wallace Johnson, Paul Robeson, and Ralph Bunche. He also was an extra in the film Sanders of the River (1934), directed by Alexander Korda and starring Paul Robeson.
During World War II he labored at a British farm in Sussex to avoid conscription into the British army, and also lectured on Africa for the Workers' Educational Association. He married Englishwoman Edna Clarke who gave birth to his son Peter Magana in 1943. He later left her to return to Kenya in 1946
Return to Kenya
In 1946 enyatta founded the Pan-African Federation with Kwame Nkrumah.In the same year he returned to Kenya and was married for the third time, to Grace Wanjiku. He became a principal of Kenya Teachers College. In 1947 he became a president of the Kenya African Union (KAU). He began to receive death threats from white settlers after his election.
Grace Wanjiku died in childbirth in 1950 when she gave birth to daughter Jane Wambui. In 1951 Kenyatta married Ngina Muhoho.
His reputation with the British government was marred by his assumed involvement with the Mau Mau Rebellion. He was arrested in October 1952 and indicted with six others on the charges of "managing and being a member" of the Mau Mau Society. The trial lasted five months: the main prosecution witness turned out to have perjured himself; the judge - who had only recently been awarded an unusually large pension, and who maintained secret contact with Baring during the trial - was openly hostile to the defendants' cause.
The defense argued that the white settlers were trying to scapegoat Kenyatta and that there was no evidence tying him to the Mau Mau. Louis Leakey was brought in as translator and was accused of mistranslating because of prejudice, a charge Leakey rejected. After Leakey withdrew from his role as translator, the Church of Scotland missionary, Robert Philp, acted as court translator. The court sentenced Kenyatta on April 8, 1953 to seven years of hard labor and permanent restriction thereafter. He was then sent into exile on probation in Lodwar, a remote part of Kenya.
Contemporary opinion linked him with the Mau Mau, but later research has conclusively demonstrated otherwise. Kenyatta remained in prison until 1959.
The state of emergency was lifted in December 1960. In 1961, both successors of the former KAU party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) demanded his release. On May 14, 1960, Kenyatta was elected KANU president in absentia. He was fully released on August 21, 1961. He was admitted into the Legislative Council the next year when one member handed over his seat, and contributed to the creation of a new constitution. His initial attempt to reunify KAU failed.
KANU won 83 seats out of 124 in elections in May 1963. On June 1 Kenyatta became prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government, and was known as mzee (a Swahili word meaning old man or elder). At this stage he asked white settlers not to leave Kenya and supported reconciliation. He retained the role of prime minister after independence was declared on December 12, 1963. On December 12, 1964, Kenya became a republic, with Kenyatta as executive president.
Kenyatta's policy was in the sign of continuity and he kept many colonial civil servants in their old jobs. He asked for British troops' help against Somali rebels Shiftas in the northeast and an army mutiny in Nairobi (January 1964), a subsequent mutiny in (1971) was nipped in the bud with the then Attorney General (Kitili Mwenda) and Army commander (Major Ndolo) forced to resign. Some British troops remained in the country. On November 10, 1964, KADU's representatives joined the ranks of KANU, forming a single party.
Kenyatta instituted a relatively peaceful land reform; on the bad side, his land policies deeply entrenched corruption within Kenya with choice parcels of land given to his relatives and friends (the so-called "Kiambu Mafia"), and Kenyatta becoming the nation's largest landowner.
To his credit he oversaw Kenya admission in the United Nations and concluded trade agreements with Milton Obote's Uganda and Julius Nyerere's Tanzania. He pursued a pro-Western, anti-Communist foreign policy. Stability attracted foreign investment and he was an influential figure everywhere in Africa. However, his authoritarian policies drew criticism and dissent.
Kenyatta was re-elected in 1966 and the next year changed the constitution to gain extended powers. This term brought border conflicts with Somalia and more political opposition. He made the K_k_y_-led KANU practically the only political party of Kenya. His security forces harassed dissidents and are suspected to be linked to several murders of opposition figures, that is Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and J.M. Kariuki. Some have also tried to link him to the deaths of C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek and Ronald Ngala, but this needs clarification as they both died in car accidents. He was re-elected again in 1974 in elections that were neither free nor fair, in which he ran alone. He died on August 22, 1978 in Mombasa and was buried on August 31 in Nairobi.
Kenyatta was a controversial figure. He is accused by his critics of having left the Kenyan republic at risk from tribal rivalries, given that his dominant K_k_y_ tribesmen did not like the idea of having a president from a different tribe. He was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi. Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is named after him and has a holiday to his honor
Kenyatta had two children from his first marriage with Grace Wahu: son Peter Muigai Kenyatta (born 1920), who later became a deputy minister; and daughter Margaret Kenyatta (born 1928), who served the mayor of Nairobi between 1970-76. Grace Wahu died in April 2007.
Kenyatta had one son, Peter Magana Kenyatta (born 1943) from his short marriage with Edna Clarke.
Kenyatta's third wife, Grace Wanjiku, died when giving birth in 1950. Daughter Jane Wambui survived.
His fourth wife, the most known of Kenyatta's wives, was Ngina Kenyatta (née Muhoho), also known as Mama Ngina. She often accompanied him in public. They had four children: Christine Wambui (born 1952), Uhuru Kenyatta (born 1963), Anna Nyokabi (also known as Jeni) and Muhoho Kenyatta (born 1964). Uhuru Kenyatta is today the Kenyan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade.
. "The basis of any independent government is a national language, and we can no longer continue aping our former colonizers ... those who feel they cannot do without English can as well pack up and go." (1974)
. "Don't be fooled into turning to Communism looking for food."
. "The European condemns the Africans for having two wives yet he keeps two mistresses"