Mzee Jomo Kenyatta Biography
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was born Kamau Wa Ngengi at Ng’enda village, Gatundu Division, Kiambu in 1889. He was the son of Muigai and Wambui. In 1896 his father died and Wambui was inherited by Muigai’s younger brother Ngengi. That is the union through which James Muigai, Kamau’s half-brother was born. Kamau’s mother later returned to her parents where she died. Kamau moved from Ng’enda for Muthiga to live with his grandfather Kingu wa Magana who was a fortune teller and medicine man. He took interest in Agikuyu culture and customs and used to assist his grandfather in the practice of medicine.
In 1909, Kamau joined the Church of Scotland Mission, Thogoto, where he obtained elementary education and carpentry training. In 1912 he finished elementary school and became an apprentice carpenter. In 1913 he was circumcised at Nyogara stream near Thogoto Mission to become a member of Kihiu Mwigi/Mebengi age group.
In 1914, he was baptized as a Christian and given the name John Peter which he changed to Johnstone. He later changed his name to Jomo and during his later years was known as Jomo Kenyatta. During World War 1, when the British government was forcefully conscripting Africans into the army, Kenyatta took refuge in Narok where he worked as a clerk to an Asian trader. After the war, he served as a storekeeper to a European firm and this time, he began wearing his beaded belt, Kenyatta.
He married Grace Wahu in 1920, with whom they had two children, Peter Muigai and Margaret Wambui. He worked in the Nairobi City Council water department between 1921-26 on a salary of about Kenya shillings 250.00 per month. Though he owned a shamba (farm) and a house at Dagoretti, he preferred to live closer to town at Kilimani in a hut and cycled home during weekends.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta Political Career
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta took interest in the political activities of the Kikuyu Central Association leaders James Beauttah and Joseph Kang’ethe. By 1926, he was the secretary of KCA. He was also chosen to represent the Kikuyu land problems before the Hilton Young Commission in Nairobi. This marked the beginning of his career in politics.
In 1928, he published a Gikuyu weekly newspaper, Muigwithania that dealt with the Kikuyu culture and new farming methods. The Kikuyu Central Association sent him to England in 1929 to influence British opinion on tribal land. After touring some parts of Europe, including Russia in 1930, he returned to Kenya to fight cases of female circumcision together with the Scottish Mission. He supported the idea of independent schools.
In 1931, he again went to England to present a written petition to parliament. It is during this time that he met India’s Mahatma Gandhi in November 1932. After giving evidence before the Morris Carter Commission, he proceeded to Moscow to study Economics at the invitation of George Padmore, a radical West Indian. He was forced to return to Britain by 1933 when Padmore fell out with the Russians and he continued with political campaigns in the UK.
During the gold rush, land in Kakamega reserve was being distributed to settlers, something which angered Mzee Jomo Kenyatta causing him to speak about Britain’s injustice. It is for this reason that the British dubbed him a communist. He taught Gikuyu at the University College, London and also wrote a book on the Kikuyu language in 1937. Under Professor Malinowski, he studied Anthropology at the famous London School of Economics (LSE). In 1938, he published a book entitled “Facing Mount Kenya”.
During World War II, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta served on a farm in the United Kingdom. He owned his own farm in the UK. He married Edna Clarke, mother of his son, Peter Magana in 1942. Along with other African leaders, including Nkrumah of Ghana, he took part in the 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945 at Manchester.v
On October 20, 1952, Sir Evelyn, Baring, newly appointed Governor of Kenya, declared a state of emergency in the country. Jomo Kenyatta and other prominent leaders were arrested. He was tried at Kapenguria on April 8, 1953, for managing Mau Mau. He was sentenced to 7 years in imprison with hard labor and to indefinite restriction thereafter. On April 14, 1959, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta completed his sentence at Lokitaung but remained in restriction at Lodwar. Later, he was moved to Maralal, where he remained until August 1961. On August 14, 1961, he was allowed to return to his Gatundu home. On August 21, 1961, nine years after his arrest, he was freed from all restrictions.
On October 28, 1961, Kenyatta became the President of the Kenya African National Union and a month later he headed a KANU delegation to London for talks to prepare the way for the Lancaster House Conference.
On June 1, 1963, Mzee Kenyatta became the first Prime Minister of self-governing Kenya. At midnight on December 12, 1963, at Uhuru Stadium, amid world leaders and multitudes of people, a new nation was born and a year later, on December 12, 1964, Kenya became a republic with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta as the President.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is acclaimed from all quarters of the world as a true son of Africa, a visionary leader. During his tenure, Kenya enjoyed political stability and economic progress. In 1974, he declared free primary education up to primary grade 4.He is also remembered for urging Kenyans to preserve their culture and heritage.
Trial and Imprisonment
Kenyatta was arrested in October 1952 and indicted with five others on the charges of “managing and being a member” of the Mau Mau Society, a radical anti-colonial movement engaged in rebellion against Kenya’s British rulers. The accused were known as the “Kapenguria Six”.
The trial lasted five months: Rawson Macharia, 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 the then colonial Governor of Kenya Evelyn Baring during the trial—was openly hostile to the defendants’ cause.
The defence, led by British barrister D. N. Pritt, argued that the white settlers were trying to scapegoat Kenyatta and that there was no evidence tying him to the Mau Mau. The court sentenced Kenyatta on 8 April 1953 to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labor and indefinite restriction thereafter. The subsequent appeal was refused by the British Privy Council in 1954.
Kenyatta remained in prison until 1959, after which he was detained in Lodwar, a remote part of Kenya. The state of emergency was lifted on 12 January 1960.
Tanzanian children with signs demanding Kenyatta’s release in March 1961.
On 28 February 1960, 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 absentia. 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.
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 suggest a lack of strong ties to the Mau Mau.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta Family, Wives and Children
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta married Grace Wahu in 1920, with whom they had two children, Peter Muigai and Margaret Wambui. He married Edna Clarke, mother of his son, Peter Magana in 1942. In 1946, he married Wanjiku, Senior Chief Koinange’s daughter, who was the mother of his child, Jane Wambui.His last wife was Mama Ngina, the mother of Christine Wambui, Uhuru Kenyatta, Anna Nyokabi and Muhoho.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta Death
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died on 22nd August 1978 at 3.30 A.M. in Mombasa at the age of 89 years, while on a working holiday. Today, the late Kenyatta is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest men of the 20th century who played a key role in the independence of Kenya and other African nations. His name is always mentioned alongside the likes of Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.
Jomo Kenyatta Quotes
- We have no reason to look back, forget the past and look towards the future.
- Europeans assume that, given the right knowledge and ideas, personal relations can be left largely to take of themselves, and this is perhaps the most fundamental difference in outlook between Africans and Europeans.
- To all the disposed youth of Africa: for the perpetuation of communion with ancestral spirits through the fight for African freedom and in the firm faith that the dead the living and the unborn will unite to rebuild the destroyed shrines
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta – Legacy
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, as he was popularly known, was an important and influential statesman in Africa. He is credited with leading Kenya to independence and setting up the country as a relatively prosperous capitalist state. He pursued a moderate pro-Western, anti-Communist economic philosophy and foreign policy. He oversaw a peaceful land reform process, oversaw the setting up of the institutions of independent Kenya, and also oversaw Kenya’s admission into the United Nations.
However, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was not without major flaws and did also bequeath Kenya some major problems which continue to bedevil the country to date, hindering her development, and threatening her existence as a peaceful unitary multi-ethnic state.
He failed to mold Kenya, being its founding father, into a homogeneous multi-ethnic state. Instead, the country remains a de facto confederation of competing for tribal interests.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s authoritarian style, characterized by patronage, favoritism, tribalism and/or nepotism drew criticism and dissent and set an example followed by his successors. He had the Constitution amended to expand his powers, consolidating executive power.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is also criticized for having ruled through a group consisting largely of his relatives, other Kikuyus, mostly from his native Kiambu district, offspring of former colonial chiefs, and African Kikuyu colonial collaborators and their offspring, while giving scant reward to those whom many consider the real fighters for Kenya’s independence. This clique became the wealthiest, most powerful and most influential class in Kenya.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta has further been criticized for encouraging the culture of wealth accumulation by public officials using the power and influence of their offices, thereby entrenching corruption in Kenya. He is regularly charged with having accumulated huge land holdings in Kenya. “The regime of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was riddled with land grabbing which was perpetrated by him for his benefit and members of his family…between 1964 and 1966, one-sixth of European settlers’ lands that were intended for settlement of landless and land-scarce Africans were cheaply sold to the then President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and his wife Ngina as well as his children…throughout the years of President Kenyatta’s administration, his relatives friends and officials in his administration also benefited from the vice with wanton impunity.” a report by Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was recently quoted as saying.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s policies are also criticized for perpetuating a large income and development inequality gap in the country. Development and resource allocation in the country during his reign was seen to have favored some regions of the country over others. His resettlement of many Kikuyu tribesmen in the country’s Rift Valley province is widely considered to have been done unfairly.