How will you describe your first president? Kenyans take a turn with theirs and it’s ugly

Ismail Akwei August 22, 2018
Kenya's first president Jomo Kenyatta and son, current president Uhuru Kenyatta

It is exactly 40 years since the death of Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who led the East African country to independence from British rule in 1963. He died on August 22, 1978.

How will you describe your first president? Kenyans take a turn with theirs and it's ugly

As the government, led by Kenyatta’s son and now President Uhuru Kenyatta, is honouring the founding father, it is surprising to note that the known Pan-Africanist who prior to independence spent nine years in prison for allegedly masterminding the Mau Mau Rebellion of 1951 against the British is being remembered for the wrong reasons by Kenyans on social media.

“Political frustration of Jaramogi, sidelining real freedom fighters, rewarding colonial loyalists, massive land grabbing, cronyism, Kisumu massacre, Pio Gama Pinto’s murder, General Baimungī’s murder, Mass murder in North Eastern, centralizing the government to enable marginalization, JM Kariuki’s murder, setting up infrastructure for tribalism and exclusion, Kiambu Mafia (and ultimately Tom Mboya’s murder), misappropriation of resettlement funds” and many other allegations were noted by one Twitter user out of over a hundred who were replying to a tweet about their fond memories of Jomo Kenyatta.

It didn’t end there as many other replies followed and were filled with negative sentiments against the first president who was originally named Kamau wa Ngengi.

Indeed little is mentioned of the good works of Jomo Kenyatta besides leading as the president of the country.

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 travelled 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 led 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.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: August 22, 2018


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