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Jomo Kenyatta, Kenyan independence leader, is freed from prison

Jomo Kenyatta, Kenyan independence leader, is freed from prison

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Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenyan independence movement, is released by British colonial authorities after nearly nine years of imprisonment and detention. Two years later, Kenya achieved independence and Kenyatta became prime minister. Once portrayed as a menacing symbol of African nationalism, he brought stability to the country and defended Western interests during his 15 years as Kenyan leader.

Kenyatta was born in the East African highlands southwest of Mount Kenya sometime in the late 1890s. He was a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group–Kenya’s largest–and was educated by Presbyterian missionaries. In 1920, Kenya formally became a British colony, and by 1921 Kenyatta was living in the colonial capital of Nairobi. There he became involved in African nationalist movements and by 1928 had risen to the post of general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association, an organization opposed to the seizure of tribal land by European settlers. In 1929, he first went to London to protest colonial policy, but authorities refused to meet with him.

Kenyatta returned to London several times over the next few years to petition for African rights and then remained in Europe in the 1930s to receive a formal education at various institutions, including Moscow University. In 1938, he published his seminal work, Facing Mount Kenya, which praised traditional Kikuyu society and discussed its plight under colonial rule. During World War II, he lived in England, lecturing and writing.

In 1946, he returned to Kenya and in 1947 became president of the newly formed Kenya African Union (KAU). He pushed for majority rule, recruiting both Kikuyus and non-Kikuyus into the nonviolent movement, but the white settler minority was unyielding in refusing a significant role for blacks in the colonial government.

In 1952, an extremist Kikuyu group called Mau Mau began a guerrilla war against the settlers and colonial government, leading to bloodshed, political turmoil, and the forced internment of tens of thousands of Kikuyus in detainment camps. Kenyatta played little role in the rebellion, but he was vilified by the British and put on trial in 1952 with five other KUA leaders for “managing the Mau Mau terrorist organization.” An advocate of nonviolence and conservatism, he pleaded innocent in the highly politicized trial but was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.

He spent six years in jail and then was sent to an internal exile at Lodwar, where he lived under house arrest. Meanwhile, the British government slowly began steering Kenya to black majority rule. In 1960, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was organized by black nationalists, and Kenyatta was elected president in absentia. The party announced it would not take part in any government until Kenyatta was freed. Kenyatta pledged the protection of settlers’ rights in an independent Kenya, and on August 14, 1961, he was finally allowed to return to Kikuyuland. After a week of house arrest in the company of his family and supporters, he was formally released on August 21.

In 1962, he went to London to negotiate Kenyan independence, and in May 1963 he led the KANU to victory in pre-independence elections. On December 12, 1963, Kenya celebrated its independence, and Kenyatta formally became prime minister. The next year, a new constitution established Kenya as a republic, and Kenyatta was elected president.

As Kenya’s leader until his death in 1978, Kenyatta encouraged racial cooperation, promoted capitalist economic policies, and adopted a pro-Western foreign policy. He used his authority to suppress political opposition, particularly from radical groups. Under his rule, Kenya became a one-party state, and the stability that resulted attracted foreign investment in Kenya. After he died on August 22, 1978, he was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, who continued most of his policies. Affectionately known in his later years as mzee, or “old man” in Swahili, Kenyatta is celebrated as the founding father of Kenya. He was also influential throughout Africa.

Jomo Kenyatta

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Jomo Kenyatta, original name Kamau Ngengi, (born c. 1894, Ichaweri, British East Africa [now in Kenya]—died August 22, 1978, Mombasa, Kenya), African statesman and nationalist, the first prime minister (1963–64) and then the first president (1964–78) of independent Kenya.

How did Jomo Kenyatta get involved in politics?

Throughout the 1920s Jomo Kenyatta immersed himself in the movement against a white-settler-dominated Kenyan government. As a member of the Kikuyu people, he traveled to London in 1929 to protest the British government’s recommendation that its East African territories be more closely united at the expense of Kikuyu interests. He successfully stalled plans for the union.

How did Jomo Kenyatta help lead Kenya to independence?

While president of the nationalist Kenya African Union, Jomo Kenyatta was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in 1953 in alleged connection with the violent 1952 Mau Mau rebellion. He denied this affiliation. After his release he negotiated the constitutional terms of Kenya’s independence, and in 1963 he became prime minister of a free Kenya.

What was Jomo Kenyatta’s domestic policy?

In 1964 Jomo Kenyatta transitioned Kenya from a parliamentary system to a one-party republic and became president. His government comprised members of various ethnic groups in order to calm ethnic tensions. Kenyatta enacted capitalist economic policies, and for the first 20 years of its independence Kenya had one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent.

How did Jomo Kenyatta’s fiscal policy affect low-income Kenyans?

Much of the wealth created by Jomo Kenyatta’s capitalist fiscal policy was concentrated in the hands of his friends and family. The widening wealth gap skewed in favour of the dominant Kikuyu at the expense of low-income Kenyans and members of other ethnic groups, a problem that was exacerbated by rapid population growth.

What was Jomo Kenyatta’s foreign policy?

Unlike some of his African contemporaries, Jomo Kenyatta’s government was notably favourable to the British and other Western powers. Kenyatta established the Kenyan republic within the British Commonwealth, and the capitalist international community poured resources into developing Kenya’s infrastructure as a result of its Western alignment during the Cold War.

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Until and during his reign, this self-perception was never lost on Kenya’s first president. He was a bourgeoisie, and part of his calling was to be that Platonic philosopher-king.

All of this is in stark contrast to Kenyatta’s earliest introduction and interest in political ideology.

On his first travel to England, Kenyatta fraternised with the League Against Imperialism, as well as leftist politicians. He even had contacts among the radical left of the early 20th century UK Labour Party.

In the 1930s, his friendship with Caribbean Marxist theorist George Padmore, further cemented Kenyatta’s credentials as a socialist, at least. He even contributed an article to the November 1933 issue of Labour Monthly.

It is fair to say Kenyatta’s views were indistinguishable from those of his Pan-Africanist peers, led by none other than Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah.

The mantra was simple: Africa deserves self-government, all the independence struggles were linked and socialism was the future.

When the 1960s came, however, Kenyatta was not on this page. At least, in what was the popular philosophy of the Pan-Africanists, Kenyatta differed.

In fairness to Kenyatta, it was Nkrumah who personified what Pan-Africanism meant in the golden age of African independence. It was not enough to be pro-independence for Africa one had to be anti-imperialist and be an “African socialist”.

It was Nkrumah who successfully drew a philosophical link from Pan-Africanism as a general sentiment of independence to the foundational principle of organising around the commonality of the global black experience.

People of African descent have experienced the worst humanity seemed capable of. Pan-Africanism was all black people’s duty the coming together was the destination of all “black” countries.

It was not enough being independent, Nkrumah thought. Black people had to stay independent by self-providing the material means to remain relevant in a world where Western gaze was all over.

In the argument on how to provide the material necessities of existence, Nkrumah conflated African communalism and Marxist socialism. This was a bid to sell collectivism as a phenomenon ontologically African.

Many independence leaders bought into this, sometimes in selfish perpetuation of their autocracy. Nkrumah himself was deposed in Ghana’s first coup in 1966 partly because there was belief that he despised opposition.

But separately, Kenyatta never bought into Nkrumah’s brand of Pan-Africanism. The Kenyan leader was of course, for a free Africa but he never quite got around to an overriding sense of Africanness.

Kenyatta chose his tribe over any other elaborate identities farther removed from his immediate self-perception. He was first and foremost, a Kenyan if not Kikuuyu, nationalist who also loved Africa enough to want its countries independent.

The other point of departure from Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism was that Kenyatta simply fancied European liberalism and capitalism.

Kenyan political writer William Ochieng called Kenyatta “an African capitalist”, with Donald Savage, adding that “Kenyatta’s direction was hardly towards the creation of a radical new socialist society”.

Kenyatta owed no one any reason for his philosophical brand and he gave none. It is better for us to accept that he exhibited diversity in thought that was rare in his time.

Central Kenya's resistance to Uhuru a repeat of history

• The resistance and opposition by elected leaders in Central Kenya to Uhuru Kenyatta has very many parallels with what his father, Jomo Kenyatta, faced in 1958.

• This was at a time when Jomo was in detention in Lokituang (in present day Turkana county) under the State of Emergency decreed by the British colonial government.

Outside of Central Kenya, there is a tendency to think of the Kikuyu community as the most united vote bloc in the country, and one that can be relied on to support their recognised “muthamaki” (supreme leader) in all his political initiatives.

But recent events have revealed what should really have been an open secret all this time. That the people of that region are actually very independent minded, and that their support cannot be taken for granted even by a serving president of Kikuyu ethnicity, in this case, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Nor is this a new development. In 1992, in an election coming after many years of state-sponsored frustration of Kikuyu-owned enterprises, the prospect of putting an end to the Daniel Moi presidency did not produce political unanimity among the Kikuyu voters. Instead, they had two strong presidential candidates, in Kenneth Matiba and Mwai Kibaki – candidates whose total vote tally in the end easily exceeded that of President Moi, but being thus divided, allowed the incumbent to prevail.

And in 2002, again we saw two strong Kikuyu presidential candidates — Kibaki and Uhuru — fighting it out at the ballot and sharing the support available from their backyard.

Central Kenya is thus often deeply divided, and often at times when a political transition is at hand, in which they have every reason to present the rest of the country with a united front.

The voters of Central Kenya only seem to coalesce around a single leader after some degree of fluctuation.

In this context, the real power and influence wielded by a dominant leader from the region often depends on his being able to receive support from other parts of the country.

What is odd here is that the drama being played out before our eyes – that of Uhuru apparently being resisted and opposed by elected leaders in Central Kenya – has very many parallels with what his father, Jomo Kenyatta, faced in 1958. This was at a time when Jomo was in detention in Lokituang (in present day Turkana county) under the State of Emergency decreed by the British colonial government.


From the autobiography of the late Jaramogi Odinga, titled Not Yet Uhuru and first published in 1966, we get details of what happened when Jaramogi demanded that Jomo and his fellow detainees be released.

In a chapter appropriately titled “Bombshell in the House”, Jaramogi gives this account, which is well worth quoting in some detail:

“My opportunity to raise the Kenyatta issue came soon. The British Observer [newspaper] carried a letter from Kenyatta and the other four prisoners at Lokitaung complaining about the conditions under which they were detained. The government replied: ‘Lengthy and careful inquiries have been carried out and no evidence of any irregularities has come to light.The letter from Lokitaung had begun: ‘We Political Prisoners . . .’ The government objected that these men were not political prisoners…”

‘These people,’ I told the council, ‘before they were arrested were the political leaders of the Africans in the country, and the Africans respected them as their political leaders, and even at this moment, in the heart of hearts of the Africans, they are still the political leaders…Sir Charles Markham shouted: ‘You are going . . .’ but in the ensuing uproar I could not hear the end of his sentence.”

‘This has got to be known,’ I continued above the shouting, ‘because it is right deeply rooted in the African heart.’ The uproar and shouts rose again. I had been given the floor at the end of the day and the council adjourned in the middle of my speech. I resumed the following day.

…I was interrupted by shouts, and the Speaker struggled to call the House to order. One of the members shouted: ‘Mau Mau!’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘maybe you take them to be Mau Mau or you take them to be any other thing, but I am giving you what you should know about our feelings towards them as the African people, and before you realize that you can never get the cooperation of the African people.’ I was ordered to stop speaking…”

“The press had a field day. They reported gasps in the House when I made my speech…One paper said, ‘Let the people come forward now and hound Odinga out of political life forever.”

But this was not the end of the drama surrounding Jaramogi’s call for Jomo’s release from detention.


Jaramogi then goes on to explain that not all the elected leaders within the Legislative Council shared his views about Jomo, and in particular, not all elected leaders from Central Kenya.

He has this to say about Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano, then a Member of the LegCo and already incredibly famous as the first indigenous Kenyan ever to obtain a PhD. [Dr Kiano was to go on to serve for many years in first Cabinet under Jomo, and subsequently under Moi]

“…That same weekend Kiano told a baraza at Fort Hall that he disagreed with my statement that Kenyatta and the others were still our real political leaders. He said the statement had been made in a fit of anger, and the only leaders of the African people were ‘those of us whom you elected and the chiefs.”

Dr Kiano was not alone in his lack of enthusiasm to have Jomo portrayed as the indispensable leader of the indigenous communities of Kenya.

There was also the saintly Jeremiah Nyaga, who was to go on to serve for decades in Cabinet and was famous as one of the very few ministers in all Kenyan history who was never once touched by any hint of a corruption scandal.

Well, political saint or not, Nyaga had his doubts about Jomo at that time, for according to Jaramogi:

“Central Province loyalists put pressure on Mr Nyagah, the member for Embu who told a public meeting: My colleagues and I are of the opinion that Mr Odinga’s statement was unfortunate and harmful to the progress of the people of Central Province. When I replied, through a press statement, to Mr Nyagah’s charge that my Kenyatta speech was harmful, the Kenya Weekly News published my reply, under the headline ‘Oginga Odinga Brays Again’.

We need to be reminded at this point that this Kenyatta was not just a random dreadlocked Mau Mau fighter who had been plucked out of the forests of Central Kenya, or a small-time regional political activist.

This was a man who, even by this stage of his life, had already spent decades living in relative penury in Europe agitating for the land rights of Kenyans, and arguing for the right to self-determination for the indigenous communities of the country.

Whatever may have been later said of him and the government he formed after independence — corruption scandals, assassinations, allegations of nepotism and land grabbing— at this stage, he was as close as you could get to a genuine liberator, who had struggled mightily to free his people from what Kenyans now love to term as “the yoke of colonialism”.

But this did not prevent, arguably, two of the finest politicians ever produced by Central Kenya — and political giants in their own right —Kiano and Nyagah — from deserting Jomo in his hour of need.


This spectacle deeply dismayed two of the prominent Kenyan leaders of the time. These were Joseph Murumbi, who was later to be Kenyatta’s second Vice President following Jaramogi’s resignation in 1966, and Mbiyu Koinange, who was Kenyatta’s brother-in-law and was to later one of the most powerful Cabinet ministers in Jomo’s government. Both men were then living in London.

They wrote to Jaramogi in great confidence, a letter the Star has since obtained a copy. It was considered so sensitive that they did not dare entrust it to the Post Office and instead sent it through the Indian Government’s diplomatic bag, ie, via the Indian High Commission in London, to the Indian High Commission in Nairobi. India had by then gained its independence and also already established as a strong supporter of Kenya’s struggle for independence.

India’s role in the fight for Kenya’s independence was to later be swept under the carpet by the indigenous political leaders, as were indeed the many sacrifices and contributions of patriots from within the Kenyan Asian community.

But now to the letter itself: It is dated September 16, 1948, and postmarked “110 Savernake Road, London NW3.”

The two salute Jaramogi and then state: We are writing jointly to congratulate you on the stand you have taken in support of Kenyatta. We are indeed very disappointed to hear that some members of the legislative council have disagreed with you and what is worse have openly attacked you…You have our full support for your statement about Kenyatta and we hope you will not give in to the pressures that are being imposed on you by European and African members of the legislature.”

Thereafter follows expressions of hope that there will be a restoration of “the spirit of unanimity which existed among the African members of the Leg Co” a request for information concerning various “Mau Mau incidents” a hope that “the relaxation of the State of Emergency” might soon come requests for Jaramogi’s support for various fundraising initiatives a planned tour of various independent African countries (Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia etc) to try and raise funds etc.

All in all, clear signs of dedicated “activists” as we would now call them, working under great difficulty and in the face of daunting odds to end the reign of the British colonial government, and to help move their country towards self-rule.


But what should be of particular interest to us at this time when Uhuru is having to really exert himself to try and get all of Central Kenya behind the Building Bridges Initiative, is that his father faced much the same challenge and did so while he was in prison.

Jomo may well have had a good part of the Central Kenya grassroots solidly behind him. But he did not have the unquestioning loyalty of the Central Kenya elite, as represented by the elected leaders from that region.

Thus, it was only through the support of Jaramogi, a man who commanded the unwavering support of his corner of the country, Nyanza, that Jomo was in due course able to restore himself firmly as the leader of the struggle for independence.

There can be no real comparison between a colonized people’s quest for self-determination, economic opportunity, and political liberty – and what we know as the BBI, which is basically an effort to immunize the nation against the temptations of succession such efforts towards succession being the result of a perception recently mentioned by Uhuru, that just two tribes out of 44 have been able to monopolize the presidency for over 50 years of independence.

But all the same, the parallels between “the fruits of the handshake”, which have seen formerly “irreconcilable political rivals” Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga, working together – and the manner in which their fathers also worked together starting from the period just before independence is indeed remarkable.

And no less remarkable is how Uhuru – like his father before him – was to find that when he most needed it, the support from his own political backyard in Central Kenya was wanting.

Marin Academy Library

Kenyatta came to prominence through the nationalist (independence-seeking), anti-colonial movement that arose in Africa after World War II (1939-45). He rose quickly to the leadership of an influential nationalist organization and became a principal voice in the growing opposition to British colonial rule. In an attempt to silence him, the colonial government arrested and imprisoned him for nearly seven years. When Britain realized that the African people would not submit to colonial rule and agreed to an independent Kenya in the early 1960s, Kenyatta became the new nation’s first president. At first his nationalist government was extremely popular, but as time passed, the Kenyatta regime became increasingly centralized and authoritarian. It also became corrupt, enriching colleagues and families close to the leaders. Opposition parties were either absorbed into the ruling party or silenced. Nonetheless, Kenyatta is remembered by many in eastern Africa as a leader who contributed greatly to the building of an independent new nation.

A beaded belt: mucibi wa kinyata

According to most biographers, Jomo Kenyatta was born on October 20, 1891, at Ngenda, Kikuyuland, British East Africa. Questions have always been raised about his birth date, though, because of the unusual way the Kikuyu kept records. Kenyatta said that even he wasn’t sure of his true date of birth.

Kenyatta’s father was Muigai, a farmer, and his mother was Wambui. His parents named him Kamau wa Ngengi, but he later took the name “Kenyatta” from the Kikuyu name for the beaded workers’ belt that he wore as a youth ( mucibi wa kinyata ). He went to the Church of Scotland Mission near Nairobi for his first five years of schooling. In August 1914 he was baptized as a Presbyterian in the Church of Scotland.

From 1921 to 1926 Kenyatta worked for the Nairobi municipal water board and served as an interpreter of the Kikuyu language for the Kenya Supreme Court. In 1922 he joined the Young Kikuyu Association, a nationalistic organization formed by the Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group in the country. The Africans of British East Africa had been receptive to many aspects of British culture, but gradually they learned to use the institutions of British democracy to achieve their own nationalistic goals.

British colonialism: Kenya’s– and Kenyatta’s–background

Back in the late 1800s, the British East Africa Company–a private company backed by the British government–looked after British interests in East Africa. With the opening of the Suez Canal (connecting the Red and Mediterranean seas in northeastern Africa) in 1869, Britain realized the importance of controlling the headwaters of the world’s longest river, the Nile. The White Nile flows out of Lake Victoria and joins the Blue Nile, flowing out of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana. The two join at Khartoum in the Sudan to become the Nile River. The southern half of Lake Victoria is in Tanzania and the northern half is mostly in Uganda, with a small portion in the northwest of Kenya.

The British government decided to build a rail line from Mombasa, a key port off the southern coast of Kenya, to Lake Victoria and made the surrounding portion of British East Africa a British colony. One of the stops along the rail line, Nairobi in Kenya, became the administrative center and later the country’s capital city. Once construction of the railway was under way, the British government began urging its citizens to settle in Kenya and take up farming. Britain was determined to turn Kenya into a “white man’s” country.

After World War I (1914-18) nearly 9,000 Europeans had settled in Kenya, and much of the highlands outside Nairobi had been set aside for whites. Close to 7 million acres of African land were taken–mostly from the Maasai and Kikuyu peoples–for European settlement.

The idea of white settlers owning Kikuyu land outraged the Kikuyu. As one of the educated elite among the Kikuyu, Jomo Kenyatta played a leading role in the Young Kikuyu Association’s struggle for black rights. From this organization grew the Kikuyu Central Association and the East African Association. In 1928 the Kikuyu Central Association elected Kenyatta its general secretary. He worked hard to broaden the organization’s base of support, educating the Kikuyu in the politics of land expropriation (Britain’s policy of taking over tribal lands). In 1929, in an effort to reach the distant villages comprising Kikuyu territory, the association started a monthly Kikuyu-language newspaper called the Muigwithania. Kenyatta became the editor of Muigwithania, the first newspaper produced by Africans in Kenya.

Travels and lives in Europe

In 1928 the British government held meetings to get views on a projected federation, or union, of British East African territories. Kenyatta testified before the Hilton-Young Commission on the topic. The next year the Kikuyu Central Association sent Kenyatta to London to present their land claims and testify against the proposed union of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. While in Europe, Kenyatta became involved with more radical anti-colonial organizations–organizations that favored a more revolutionary approach to achieving their goals.

Kenyatta traveled to various European cities and then spent several weeks in the Soviet Union in August 1929. Returning to Kenya in the fall of 1930, he gained permission for the Kikuyu to control their own schools despite opposition from Christian missionaries in the region. The following spring the Kikuyu Central Association sent Kenyatta to London as a delegate to a parliamentary committee studying the East Africa Federation plans. He stayed there for 15 years before returning home. During this time Kenyatta studied English at the Quaker Woodbrooke College and at Selly Oak in Birmingham. After teaching language courses at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London from 1933 to 1936, he earned a postgraduate degree in anthropology (the study of human societies, origins, racial relationships, and cultures) under Professor Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. His thesis, Facing Mount Kenya, a study of Kikuyu culture and society, was published in 1938. It is one of the earliest works on cultural nationalism by an African nationalist about his society.

During World War II (1939-45) Kenyatta worked on a farm in Surrey, England, and served as a lecturer on Africa for the Worker’s Educational Association. In 1945 Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, and other African nationalists established the Pan-African Federation (an organization dedicated to the union of all Africans) and set up the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester with the theme “Africa for the Africans.”

Leads nationalists

Kenyatta left England in 1946 to return to Kenya. He was immediately elected president of the Kenya African Union (KAU), a newly formed nationalist organization in his homeland. Kenyatta reignited the feud over Kikuyu land that pitted tribal members against the colonial government and white British settlers. His strong personality, fiery speeches, and well-organized freedom marches captured the attention of other Kenyan tribal leaders and brought new members into the KAU. Its membership soon swelled to more than 100,000 people.

A Striking Appearance

Jomo Kenyatta was considered a flashy dresser back in the late 1940s. Most photos show him in traditional African dress, usually wearing an animal-skinned or feathered hat. Sometimes he draped a cape of monkey skins around his shoulders, and he wore a heavy red-stoned signet ring on his left hand. In his right hand Kenyatta carried a large ebony walking stick. Africans greeted him with shouts of “Savior,” “Great Elder,” and “Hero of Our Race.”

As the 1940s progressed black Africans became increasingly frustrated with the white-dominated government in British East Africa. The KAU had a long-established policy of working for a peaceful change to white-minority rule in Kenya, but the opposition was growing more and more discontented. Militant blacks–black Africans who were ready to fight for their freedom–organized direct challenges to British authority.

Despite his denials, Kenyatta was suspected of heading the fanatical Mau Mau, a secret Kikuyu society whose members had taken an oath to rid Kenya of its white settlers and began a violent rebellion that broke out during the late 1940s in the European farming area of Kenya. Mau Mau began with the murder of a few British farmers and the destruction of their cattle. The Kikuyu wanted their land back and hoped to frighten the Europeans into leaving the country. The government responded by arresting Jomo Kenyatta and other well-known Kikuyu leaders and rounding up Kikuyu farmers and forcing them to live in guarded compounds. By the end of 1955 the revolt had been put down. About 100 British settlers were killed in the uprising nearly 3,000 Kikuyu died in the civil war that pitted Kenyan rebels against blacks who were suspected of supporting the white regime.

In a world-famous trial in the remote town of Kapenguria, Kenyatta and his associates were found guilty of the charges leveled against them. In April 1953 they were sentenced to seven years of hard labor. British authorities hoped that by removing Kenyatta from public life, the Mau Mau movement would become disorganized and eventually disappear. But during his six and a half years in prison in the desert of Lokitaung in northwestern Kenya, the terrorism actually increased in violence and frequency. Thousands of Kikuyu militants fled to the forest areas of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, where they continued their battle against the government. Britain sent in troops to reinforce the colony’s security forces.

While Kenyatta was in prison, the British declared a state of emergency, outlawing all political party activity. The Kenya Federation of Labor under Tom Mboya led political activism during the time political parties were outlawed. By 1955 the government was allowing limited, district-level political organizations in the non-Kikuyu areas to start up these groups began to take up the labor union’s political activities.

With Kenyatta’s release from prison in 1959, violence in the region subsided. Nevertheless, the government restricted him to an additional two years of house arrest in the Northern Frontier district town of Lodwar. A new generation of Kenyan nationalists continued to agitate for Kenyatta’s release. Meanwhile, the British government began to accept the idea that the existing colonial government could no longer control Kenya. Making a firm move toward granting Kenya its independence, Great Britain revised its colonial constitution several times in the late 1950s. Each constitutional step increased African involvement in self-government.

Kenyan leaders insisted on Kenyatta’s participation in any government leading to independence. In March 1960 members of the old Kenya African Union (KAU) reorganized themselves as the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and elected Kenyatta as their president, even though he remained under house arrest. Finally, on August 14, 1961, the British authorities permitted Kenyatta to return to Kikuyuland.

Forms independent government

KANU took a radical nationalist stand and drew its membership from the groups most affected by colonial rule, especially the Kikuyu and the Luo. The Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), created in 1960, was more conservative (more traditional and less supportive of change brought on by revolutionary means). Headed by Ronald Ngala and Daniel arap Moi, KADU represented the interests of the smaller ethnic groups.

On January 12, 1962, voters in the Fort Hall constituency elected Kenyatta to the Kenyan legislative assembly. That April he agreed to serve in a coalition (combination British and African) government as minister of state for constitutional affairs and economic planning. In March 1963 the legislative assembly met for the last time in a colonial form. The election that followed would decide who would lead Kenya into independence. On the heels of KANU’s overwhelming victory in the election, Kenyatta became self-governing Kenya’s first prime minister on June 1, 1963.

Kenyatta took extraordinary steps to reassure European farmers about their future. He also appealed to the freedom fighters and members of Mau Mau to lay down their arms and join the new nation. On December 12, 1963, Kenya received its independence from Great Britain. The following year it became a republic with Kenyatta as its president. Once in power, Kenyatta continued to build a new nation based on racial and tribal harmony under the old workers’ slogan Harambee, meaning “pull together.” Britain helped Kenya to finance a massive land purchase scheme that permitted the settlers in the “white highlands” to sell their lands to Africans. Most white farmers in the highlands agreed to sell.

Conflicts arise

Kenya’s new president was not a firm backer of “African socialism,” the political trend of his day. (Socialism is a political and economic system based on the idea that the society rather than individuals should own the means of production). Kenyatta adopted a capitalistic system, and Kenya’s economy developed rapidly, but some inequities existed in opportunity and distribution of wealth. The Kikuyu people and Kenyatta’s immediate family (four wives and seven children) profited the most from the new economic system. At independence, the constitution gave considerable powers to various autonomous (self-governing) regions in Kenya. Kenyatta soon abolished these regional powers and replaced them with a highly centralized and authoritarian system. For instance, in 1964, when the Somali people living in Kenya’s North-West province wanted to join the Somali Republic across the border, Kenyatta sent in troops to crush the separatist movement.

Kenyatta persuaded the Kenya African Democratic Union to drop its political opposition and to voluntarily dissolve itself in November 1964. KADU–KANU’s greatest rival–supported at least limited regional self-government, while Kenyatta’s party argued for the concentration of power in a strong central government. The conflicting views of key figures in the government–mainly friction between Kenyatta and former leaders of KADU–fueled a political crisis in Kenya. Kenyatta’s vice president eventually resigned to form an opposition party known as the Kenya Peoples’ Union Party (KPU). In response, the ruling party redoubled its efforts to put down the opposition.

On July 5, 1969, Tom Mboya, a popular Luo politician, was assassinated by a Kikuyu. Although the assassin was tried and executed, the Luo were not satisfied. Kenyatta’s appearance in Luo country that October set off riots and threatened to divide the country. At first he ignored the problem, but finally he was forced to take action. Kenyatta banned the KPU, making Kenya a virtual one-party state.

Kenyatta’s legacy

In foreign policy, Kenyatta accepted aid from communist and capitalist countries while remaining as politically neutral as possible in global affairs. (Communism is a system of government in which the state controls the means of production and the distribution of goods.) His strategy helped Kenya take the lead in economic development in eastern Africa. Kenyatta became the undisputed leader in East Africa and achieved his greatest foreign policy success when he helped to settle a border dispute between Uganda and Tanzania in 1971.

But the 1970s were marred by political violence in Kenya. Alleged attempts to overthrow the Kenyatta regime brought severe government crackdowns. And the 1975 assassination of Josiah Kariuki, an outspoken critic of the government and member of parliament, sparked rumors that the government would resort to murder to stifle the opposition.

All criticisms aside, Kenyatta made independent Kenya a showcase nation among the former African colonial states. He is best remembered for stabilizing relations with whites in the region and turning Kenya into a viable twentieth-century society. Kenyatta was revered by many as Mzee, the “wise father” of Kenya. He died in Mombasa on August 22, 1978. As a tribute to Kenya’s first president, his successor, Daniel arap Moi, suggested a continuation of Kenyatta’s policies by calling his own program Nyayo or “footsteps.”

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A street in Kenya’s capital Nairobi has since been named in Haile Selassie’s honor.

Kenyatta led Kenya from its independence in 1963, ushering in new change for the nation after years of British rule. Born on an unknown date in the 1890s, Kenyatta’s political ambitions grew when he joined the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), becoming the group’s general secretary in 1928. Working on behalf of the KCA, Kenyatta traveled to London to lobby over the right to tribal lands.

Kenyatta did not get support from the British regarding the claims, but he remained in London and attended college there. It is documented that while studying in London’s Quaker College in Woodbroke, Kenyatta adored Haile Selassie so much so that he kept a red, green and gold Ethiopian flag in his room in England. During that period, they were already good friends, according to Murray-Brown.

Kenyatta would eventually become Kenya’s first president under independence. His health became poor when he suffered a heart attack. He ruled, however, as a leader open to reconciliation with the British and Asian settlers in the land. Kenyatta embraced a capitalist model of the government, although some experts write that he selfishly promoted those from his own circle and tribal line to positions of power. Still, Kenyatta was beloved by many, despite the rumblings that in his later years he had no control over government affairs due to his failing health.

Kenyatta died of natural causes, later succeeded by his Vice President Daniel Moi. Today, his son, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the current president of Kenya.

Colonization (1895–1939)

As imperialism drove the conquest of Kenya through pacts and through violence, the native populations of what was to become Kenya soon found themselves fighting against the new master for control of resources. The Colony of Kenya had plentiful land for agricultural needs for the natives or for the production of goods desired in the Empire’s capital market.

One of the most hit areas by land grabbing was the central highlands. So many white settlers came to the area that the place became known as White Highlands throughout the colonial period. The problem was that the settlers were not taking an empty land, they were taking Kikuyu land.

The Kikuyu were mainly an agricultural group and land played a major role in their social sphere. It is through land that a Kikuyu acquire richness it is through land that a Kikuyu builds a family it is through land that a Kikuyu will be remembered by the future generations. And land was being taken away.

Land dispossessed Kikuyu, also know as ahoi, were becoming working hands in British farms in exchange for low wages. Former landowners were selling their workforce or paying a price to squat in settler owned land. Taxes were also implemented and those who could not pay faced forced labor.

When World War I came, thousands of subjects of the Crown were draft into the carrier corps and many died fighting the Germans and their famous guerrilla commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870–1964) in what would later be known as Tanzania. The end of the war did not bring amelioration. Law after law was written to restrict ownership of the land by natives, to punish those who did not work, to increase, and to create new taxes.

The land was becoming the central question in Kikuyu life together with the hard work conditions. In 1922 Harry Thuku spoke up against the Colonial Government during a general strike in Nairobi and was imprisoned for his defiance. The mob that gathered to protest his arrest was received with bullets. It was no turning point for Kenyan alliances and groups who would later develop Kenyan nationalism and fight for decolonization and independence.

Even with mobilization and strikes the Colonial Government never ceded to any of the African demands. Contrary, they elevated each time more and more the harsher conditions for the working men and women. It was in the nature of the colonial state to mistreat people it considered to be lacking in humanity. And, as a capitalist power, the British colonial state understood people as coal to be burned for infinite gain.

Former Ministry of Defence Cabinet Ministers/Secretaries


Dr Munyua Waiyaki

Dr. Munyua Waiyaki was elected as a member of parliament for North-Eastern Nairobi Currently Kasarani constituency in 1963.

He was later appointed the Parliamentary Secretary (Assistant Minister) in the PM’s office in charge of Internal Security and Defence.

During his tenure , Dr. Waiyaki spent most of the time with the Prime Minister (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta) discussing the answers he (Waiyaki) would give on the PM’s behalf in the House of Representatives in regards to Shifta war which was a major security concern at the time.

He also handled the Mau Mau issue with the objective of ensuring that freedom fighters left the forest since Kenya had attained independence, an assignment the Prime minister followed keenly.

Later in his career, Dr. Waiyaki was appointed Kenya’s Minister for Foreign Affairs where he was tasked by the Prime Minister to pursued US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger into authorizing sale of F5 fighter jets to Kenya , an aircraft simulator and train those who would operate them.


Dr. Njoroge Mungai, M.D. EGH 1965-1966

In independent Kenya, Njoroge Mungai would serve

In independent Kenya, Njoroge Mungai would serve first as Minister for Health in which capacity he established Kenya’s first medical school.

He was later moved to the Defense Ministry and it was during his tenure at the Ministry that the Shifta War between Kenya and Somalia broke out. He led a mediation team to Kinshasa which resulted in the Arusha Accord of 1967, bringing a close to the conflict.

But he would gain fame during his term as Minister for Foreign Affairs. An astute diplomat, he successfully lobbied to have the United Nations Environmental Programme headquartered in Nairobi. He further successfully lobbied the OAU to supply arms to forces fighting the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the Portuguese colonial regime in Mozambique.

Kenya also had a seat on the Security Council during his tenure and he was instrumental in pushing for sanctions against South Africa and Southern Rhodesia.


Hon. James Gichuru 1974-1978

James Gichuru was Kenya’s first Finance Minister after independence. He was also known to be at the centre of talks between Kenyan and British officials on the take-over of one million acres of mixed farmland owned by Europeans to resettle landless Kenyans.

He was later appointed Minister for Defence during President Kenyatta tenure. President Moi retained him briefly when he took over from President Kenyatta in 1978.

during President Kenyatta tenure. President Moi retained him briefly when he took over from President Kenyatta in 1978


The Ministry of Defence was renamed Department of Defence (DoD) and placed under the Office of the President. The highest civilian official was the Deputy Secretary.


Hon. Amb. Julius L. Ole Sunkuli, EGH, EBS

Hon. Julius Sunkuli 2000-2003

Julius Lekakeny Sunkuli was a member of parliament for Kilgoris Constituency in the National Assembly of Kenya between 1997-2002.

Sunkuli was appointed Minister of State for the newly formed Ministry of State for Defence in 2000 where he served for three years during President Moi’s Administration.

It was during Sunkuli’s tenure that Kenyan troops serving in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) were attacked by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group led by Foday Saybana Sankoh. The rebel group was supported by Charles Taylor-led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in the 11-year-long Sierra Leone Civil War.

Sunkuli led Kenya’s delegation consisting of Kenya’s Parliamentary Defence and Foreign Relations Committee that ensured the release of the Kenyan soldiers who had been captured by the rebel group in Sierra Leone.


Hon Christopher Ndarathi Murungaru

Hon Christopher Ndarathi Murungaru 2003-2005

Hon Christopher Murungaru was a Member of Parliament for Kieni Constituency. Hon. Murungaru was appointed Minister of State for Provincial Administration & National Security.

During his two-year tenure, Defence was a department in the Office of the of President and was amalgamated with Internal Security.


Hon. James Njenga Karume 2006-2007

Hon Njenga Karume was a Member of Parliament for Kiambaa Constituency.

He was appointed Minister of State for Defense in 2005 and served until December 2007.


Hon. Mohamed Yusuf Haji 2008-2013

Hon. Mohamed Yusuf Haji was a career civil servant turn politician. He was a member of Parliament for Ijara Constituency in Garissa County.

Hon Haji was appointed Minister of State for Defence in 2008 and served until 2013. He was later elected as a Senator for Garissa County.

Hon. Haji was a gifted politician, a devoted and top notch administrator who advocated for peace and harmony in the country. Hon Haji, also had ground breaking mediation skills. He is remembered for his wise counsel and steadfast leadership.

It was during Honourable Haji’s tenure that Kenyan troops entered into Somalia on 14 th October 2011 in a campaign aimed at securing Kenya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against the threat that emanated from the Al Shabaab and its affiliates.

Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia re-energized regional and international resolve to address the Al Shabaab’s threat to peace and security. In that context, and in order to sustain the gains made by KDF, the UN and AU invited Kenya to incorporate KDF into AMISOM in November 2011.


Ambassador Raychelle Omamo SC, EGH

Ambassador Raychelle Omamo SC, EGH 2013-2020

Ambassador Raychelle Awuor Omamo was appointed Cabinet Secretary for Defence in 2013, the first female in the country to hold the post, and served until January 2020. She was later reshuffled and transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same capacity.

Amb Omamo is a Senior Counsel and an advocate of High Court of Kenya for 28 years. As a practitioner she was the first female Chairperson of the Law Society of Kenya from 2001 to 2003 after serving as a council member from 1996 to 2000 and Kenyan first female ambassador to France, Portugal, The Holy See and Serbia as well as the Permanent Delegate of Kenya to UNESCO.

During her stint in the Ministry of Defence, KDF continued engagement in the Somalia theatre, under AMISOM. The troops degraded Al Shabaab and liberated several towns in the war torn country.

Amb. Omamo also spearheaded the construction and commissioning of the civilian administrative office blocks at MoD headquarters, Kahawa Barracks, Moi Air Base and Kenya Navy Mtongwe with the objective of improving work environment for the civilian component in the Ministry.

President Jomo Kenyatta Was Both A Friend And Enemy Of Freedom

Indeed I grew up hero-worshipping Kenyatta as the Moses of black people who would rescue Africans from the Egypt of white colonialism and deliver them to the Promised Land of freedom and independence. To many Africans, the name Kenyatta was synonymous with the word freedom.

Later in life, after meeting Jaramogi Oginga Odinga I learnt that for playing contradictory roles in history, Kenyatta had more than one personality.

When fighting for independence, Kenyatta was a freedom fighter and a hero of Africans everywhere. When he became President and turned his back against freedom and democracy, he became a king, dictator for life and an anti-hero of downtrodden Kenyans.

During the struggle for freedom, Kenyatta was my personal hero who symbolised all the good that I valued. To hear him and other freedom fighters like Mboya, Odinga and Kaggia speak, at the tender age of 12 and 13 years, I would travel 30 kilometres from our forest village Rugongo to Nakuru town barefoot.

But when Kenyatta became President, instead of creating democracy and promoting freedom, he championed one party, one man rule.

Indeed, the person who had symbolised everything good that I dreamt of, Kenyatta became a traitor of freedom and democracy.

Yes, the person whose freedom had become the dream of my life became my detainer and arch enemy of my personal freedom. As a champion of dictatorship, he also became the enemy of the nation, freedom and democracy.

After independence, it was tragic that instead of Kenyatta creating democracy for Kenya, he terrorised Kenyans with dictatorship.

Indeed, I could hardly believe when Kenyatta’s government carted me away into indefinite detention without trial in the same prisons of Kamiti, Manyani and Hola where Kenyatta and his comrades had been detained, tortured and killed by colonial tyrants in the name of white supremacy.

My first shock at Kenyatta rule was when he abandoned the Mau Mau who had fought and died in his name and country and subjected his closest friends like Achieng Oneko to the same detention where he had languished under colonial tyranny. As a friend of detention, Kenyatta had become the worst enemy of freedom.

However, President Kenyatta was not all evil. Once he saved me from death when he dismissed a false claim by some of his sharks that I had hidden guns in our home compound.

Later, I also learnt from Njoroge Mungai that Kenyatta had refused to make Kenya a de jure one-party state, arguing that de facto one-party rule was enough for his generation, which had no right to impose political tyranny on their children.

But Kenyatta’s one-party dictatorship had not only undermined the spirit of freedom, it had also sabotaged and substituted the best in humans with the worst in them.

Worst of all, under detention, our freedom was never a right. It was a privilege that President Kenyatta and later President Moi could take away at will. Once detained, a person never knew when his freedom would be given back. The President had authority to keep a detainee in prison forever.

Worse, when in detention, courts could not be resorted to for freedom because they were themselves emasculated into kangaroo courts that could never release anyone that the President wanted in prison.

Whimsically, it was always Presidents who pardoned detainees for sins uncommitted and released them, not to exercise justice, but display self-serving magnanimity.

Other than for self-glory, Presidential magnanimity was also exercised to subject political enemies and critics to total surrender and prostration of politicians that the President knew personally.

As for most unknown detainees, their release would be pleaded for by people who knew the President personally or from outside pressure. But when detainees grew completely hopeless, they prayed for the President’s death to rescue them from the hell of detention.

In 1978, Kenyatta’s death became the liberator of detainees, not because detainees wished Kenyatta dead, but because Kenyatta had made his death the only key that could open the doors of detention.

Indeed the despair of detention had driven detainees to such low levels that many times they caught themselves unwillingly praying for the demise of detainers and tormentors whom they rightly believed had put them into detention to die from torture.

Apart from detention, Kenyatta made himself an enemy of freedom by abandoning Kenyans in the desert when he died before he landed them in the Promised Land into which he secretly entered with his family and close friends.

Nor did it assist freedom when Kenyatta government became an exterminator of political enemies and critics through political assassinations.

Like Solomon who was considered a great philosopher king but left Rehoboam his dictator son to succeed him at great expense to the people who had begged him to give them better leadership but refused, Kenyatta also bequeathed power and kingship to Presidents Daniel arap Moi who became a greater dictator than him, while those who came after Moi – Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta – continue to compromise freedom with their failure to eradicate negative ethnicity whose worst expression was post-election violence of 2007-08.

And though tyranny was not confined to Kenya, it defied belief to see Presidents Kenyatta and Moi justify their dictatorship with African culture and deification of Presidency, a horror that persists to date.

Ultimately, Kenyatta’s lasting legacy is not that he fought for independence and was even detained for it – which was great – but that, tragically, he later betrayed his fellow freedom fighters like the Mau Mau, Kaggia, Odinga and Achieng Oneko, and subverted the very freedom and democracy that he fought and sacrificed so much for.

Kenya President Jomo Kenyatta Died On This Day In 1978

D.L. Chandler is a veteran of the Washington D.C. Metro writing scene, working as a journalist, reporter and culture critic. Getting his start in the late 1990s in print, D.L. joined the growing field of online reporting in 1998. His first big break came with the now-defunct Politically Black in 1999, the nation's first Black political news portal. D.L. has worked in the past for OkayPlayer, MTV News, Metro Connection and several other publications and magazines. D.L., a native Washingtonian, resides in the Greater Washington area.

Jomo Kenyatta (pictured) led Kenya from its independence in 1963, ushering in new change for the nation after years of British rule. While still in office, Kenyatta died on this day in 1978, leaving behind a legacy that has been both praised and criticized.

Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Ngengi on an unknown date in the 1890s. Early birth records of Kenyans were not kept so there is no way to determine the official day. Kenyatta was raised in the village of Gatundu by his parents as part of the Kikuyu people. After his father died, he was adopted by an uncle and later lived with his grandfather who was a local medicine man.

Entering a Christian missionary school as a boy, Kenyatta worked small chores and odd jobs to pay for his studies. He then converted to the Christian faith and found work as a carpenter. Kenyatta married his first wife, Grace Wahu, in 1920 under Kikuyu customs but was ordered to have their union solidified by a European magistrate.

Kenyatta’s political ambitions grew when he joined the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), becoming the group’s general secretary in 1928. Working on behalf of the KCA, Kenyatta traveled to London to lobby over the right to tribal lands.

Kenyatta did not get support from the British regarding the claims, but he remained in London and attended college there. While at University College London, Kenyatta studied social anthropology.

Kenyatta came to embrace Pan-Africanism during his time with the International African Service Bureau, which was headed by former international Communist leader George Padmore. Kenyatta’s thesis from the London School of Economics was turned into a book, “Facing Mount Kenya,” and he went on to become one of the leading Black-emancipation intellectuals alongside Padmore, Ralph Bunche, C.L.R. James, Paul Robeson, Amy Ashwood Garvey, among others.

The Mau Mau Rebellion of 1951 was a time of political turmoil in Kenya, still known as British East Africa. The Mau Mau were in open opposition of British colonizers, and Kenyatta was linked to the group. Despite little evidence connecting Kenyatta to the “Kapenguria Six” – the individuals accused of leading the Mau Maus, Kenyatta spent nine years in prison.

He was released in August 1961, which set the stage for bringing about Kenya’s independence.

Kenyatta joined the Legislative Council, and he lead the Kenya African National Union (KANU) against the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) in a May 1963 election. KANU ran on a unitary state ticket, while KAU wanted Kenya to run as an ethnic-federal state.

KANU defeated KADU handily, and in June 1963, Kenyatta became the prime minister of the Kenyan government. Although the transfer of power was slow to come, with Queen Elizabeth II remaining as “Queen Of Kenya,” Kenyatta eventually became the nation’s first president under independence.

Kenyatta’s health had been poor since 1966, when he suffered a heart attack. He ruled, however, as a leader open to reconciliation with the British and Asian settlers in the land. Kenyatta embraced a capitalist model of the government, although some experts write that he selfishly promoted those from his own circle and tribal line to positions of power. Still, Kenyatta was beloved by many all the same, despite the rumblings that in his later years he had no control over government affairs due to his failing health.

Kenyatta died of natural causes, later succeeded by his Vice President Daniel Moi. Today, the late-first president’s son, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the current and fourth president of Kenya.

Watch the video: Mzee Jomo kenyatta arriving from prison (June 2022).


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