What is Jomo Kenyatta’s legacy, achievements and importance to Kenyan history?
A 12 ft statue of the first president of independent Kenya sits on the cobbled lawn of Kenyatta International Conference Centre. The statue is a masterpiece that captured intricate details of Kenyatta from his sandals to his African coat and hat. Unveiled in 1973, the statue of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta seems to watch over the city. Or does it…
Jomo Kenyatta’s name and image was forcefully stamped across Kenya. From the currency (almost all coins and money notes), airports (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport), national monuments (Jomo Kenyatta Statue), National parks (Uhuru Park, Uhuru Gardens), major roads (Uhuru Highway, Kenyatta Avenue), biggest hospitals (Kenyatta National Hospital), schools, universities (Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology), buildings (Kenyatta International Conference Center), companies (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation Publishers),… The list is endless.
Jomo Kenyatta’s real name was Kamau Wa Ngengi. He was born on 20th October 1891 (approx.) to parents Muigai wa Kung’u and Wambui in Ng’enda village, Gatundu Division, Kiambu, in British East Africa (now Kenya ). His date of birth, sometime in the early to mid 1890s, is unclear as his parents were almost certainly illiterate, and no formal birth records of native Africans were kept in Kenya at that time. His mother died in childbirth and his father died when Jomo was very young.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta served as the first Prime Minister (1963–1964) and President (1964–1978) of Kenya. At age 10, the young Kamau reportedly left home to become a resident pupil studying the Bible, English, Mathematics and Carpentry at the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) at Thogoto, next to Kikuyu town a few miles from Nairobi.
His name changed about five times: In 1914, he converted to Christianity, assuming the name John Peter, which he then changed to Johnstone Kamau. Jomo left home to become a resident pupil student at the Church of Scotland at Thogoto, He studied the Bible, English, mathematics, and carpentry. After his father’s death at a young age, he was taken in by one of his uncles, uncle Ngengi. This made him change his name to Kamau wa Ngengi.
He married four times. Grace Wahu m. 1919, Edna Clarke m. 1942-46, Grace Wanjiku m. 1946-50, Mama Ngina Kenyatta 1951-78. He had eight children. His children included President Uhuru Kenyatta, by his fourth and youngest wife, Mama Ngina. Little is known about Kenyatta’s other wives and children. His eldest son Peter Muigai Kenyatta by first wife Grace Wahu was born in 1920 and died in October 1979, barely a year after his father’s demise on August 22, 1978.
Kenyatta’s first wife, Wahu died in October 1979, second wife Edna, died in 1995 and third wife Grace Wanjiku, died in 1950 leaving only former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the family matriarch. Muhoho Kenyatta, Uhuru’s brother, was born in 1964 and operates the Kenyatta family’s vast business empire. They include the Heritage Hotels, Mediamax Group that owns K24 and the People Daily, Commercial Bank of Africa and Brookside Dairy, of which he is the executive chairman.
Grace Wahu Kenyatta was the first wife of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya. Records indicate that Wahu married Kenyatta, then known as Johnstone Kamau, around 1917 or 1919. She had two children with Jomo Kenyatta: Peter Muigai Kenyatta and Margaret Wambui Kenyatta. When Grace got pregnant, his church elders ordered him to get married before a European magistrate, and undertake the appropriate church rites. Grace Wahu lived in the Dagoretti home until her death in April 2007 at the age of around 100.
According to some historical reports, he had some relatives in Narok. He regularly visited his Maasai relatives. In the process, he fell in love with the beaded Maasai belts, popularly known as Kinyatta. In 1928, he dropped his second and third names and became Johnstone Kenyatta. In 1938, Kenyatta he changed his names to Jomo Kenyatta. This was after his supervisor Professor Bronislaw Malinowski from the London School of Economics (LSE) advised him to change his names. He had to Africanize his thesis he had gone to present in the UK. Kenyatta picked Jomo which he said were a good combination for Johnstone and Muigai.
He joined KCA in 1924 and rose up the ranks of the association. Eventually he began to edit the movement’s Kikuyu newspaper. By 1928 he had become the KCA’s general secretary. In 1928 he launched a monthly Kikuyu language newspaper called Muĩgwithania ( Reconciler) which aimed to unite all sections of the Kikuyu. The paper, supported by an Asian-owned printing press, had a mild and unassuming tone, and was tolerated by the colonial government.
He adopted the name of Jomo Kenyatta taking his first name from the Kikuyu word for “burning spear” and his last name from the masai word for the bead belt that he often wore. His son Uhuru Kenyatta, who he fathered late in life, is the current and fourth President of Kenya.
Jomo Kenyatta managed to consolidate and maintain his power in kenya through fear an a series of assassinations that scared off any opposition. Since kenya was a single-party state, there was also the uncertainty as to who will be his successor when he died of a Heart attack in Mombasa on the 22 August 1978, in Mombasa at the age of 86 years. Mzee Jomo had amassed wealth to last generations. This can still be seen by looking at his children I.e Uuru Kenyatta (a Kenyan politician, businessman, and the fourth and current President of the Republic of Kenya.), Margaret Kenyatta, Christine Wambui, Peter Muigai Kenyatta, Anna Nyokabi, Peter Magana Kenyatta, Muhoho Kenyatta and Jane Wambui as well as his children’s children.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and five others were charged of “managing and being a member” of the Mau Mau Society (a radical anti-colonial movement engaged in rebellion against Kenya’s British rulers) and were charged with seven years imprisonment with hard labor and indefinite restriction thereafter.
Jomo Kenyatta was detained between 1953 and 1961 for his part in the organization of the Mau Mau movement, which explains the long hiatus before the arrival of Uhuru in 1961. Uhuru was the second child Kenyatta had with Mama Ngina and was named so to herald the coming of independence that was attained two years later.
On 28 February 1961, a public meeting of 25,000 in Nairobi demanded his release. On 15 April 1960, over a million signatures for a plea to release him were presented to the Governor. On 14 May 1960, he was elected KANU President in absent. On 23 March 1961, Kenyan leaders, including Daniel arap Moi, later his longtime Vice President and successor as president, visited him at Lodwar. On 11 April 1961, he was moved to Maralal with daughter Margaret where he met world press for the first time in eight years. On 14 August 1961, he was released and brought to Gatundu.
People talk of how Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah differ: Well… While contemporary opinion linked Kenyatta with the Mau Mau, historians have questioned his alleged leadership of the radical movement. Kenyatta was in truth a political moderate. His marriage of Colonial Chief’s daughters, his post independence Kikuyu allies mainly being former colonial collaborators (though also from his tribe), and his short shrift treatment of former Mau Mau fighters after he came to power, all strongly suggest he had scant regard for the Mau Mau.
We all know Some Kenyatta’s famous quote: “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”
Quotes and name changes aside, what did Jomo Kenyatta really do and accomplish for Kenya, whose impact we can see and feel today?