Emperor Haile Selassie’s gift that left Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta fuming

The late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Emperor Haile Selassie. Image via The Standard

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had few close friends while he was president of Kenya. One of them was Ethiopian leader Emperor Haile Selassie. They were such good friends, that Kenyatta made sure that the Emperor was Kenya’s first foreign dignitary invited during the Jamhuri Day celebrations in 1964. Jamhuri Day is a Kenyan holiday, celebrating its independence from Great Britain on December 12, 1963, and the establishment of its republic.

During the celebrations in 1964, Haile Selassie gifted Kenyatta a white pet dog. The Emperor didn’t know that Kenyatta hated pets. Indeed, the gift angered the Kenyan leader, who, according to biographer Jeremy Murray-Brown, would have preferred a cow. But, due to their close friendship, Kenyatta “bought a Mercedes Benz to ferry the dog as a sign of respect to his friend,” a report said.

As Lee Njiru, who served Kenyatta, wrote: “The friendship was so deep that when he was gifted the white little dog during his visit to Ethiopia, he bought it a Mercedes Benz 280S.”

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.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 13, 2021


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