Jomo Kenyatta[a] (c. 1897 – 22 August 1978) was a Kenyan anti-colonial activist and politician who governed Kenya as its Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964 and then as its first President from 1964 to his death in 1978. He was the country's first black head of government and played a significant role in the transformation of Kenya from a colony of the British Empire into an independent republic. Ideologically an African nationalist and conservative, he led the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party from 1961 until his death.
|Mzee Jomo Kenyatta|
President Kenyatta in 1966
|1st President of Kenya|
12 December 1964 – 22 August 1978
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga|
Daniel arap Moi
as Prime Minister of Kenya
|Succeeded by||Daniel arap Moi|
|1st Prime Minister of Kenya|
1 June 1963 – 12 December 1964
|Governor-General||Malcolm MacDonald (1963–1964)|
|Governor||Malcolm MacDonald (1963)|
|Succeeded by||Raila Odinga (2008)|
|Chairman of KANU|
|Preceded by||James Gichuru|
|Succeeded by||Daniel arap Moi|
Kamau wa Ngengi|
Gatundu, British East Africa
August 22, 1978|
Mombasa, Coast, Kenya
|Resting place||Nairobi, Kenya|
Grace Wahu (m. 1919)|
Edna Clarke (1942–1946)
Grace Wanjiku (d.1950)
Mama Ngina (1951–1978)
|Alma mater||University College London, London School of Economics|
|Notable work(s)||Facing Mount Kenya|
Kenyatta was born to Kikuyu farmers in Kiambu, British East Africa. Educated at a mission school, he worked in various jobs before becoming politically engaged through the Kikuyu Central Association. In 1929, he travelled to London to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land affairs. During the 1930s, he studied at Moscow's Communist University of the Toilers of the East, University College London and the London School of Economics. In 1938, he published an anthropological study of Kikuyu life before working as a farm labourer in Sussex during the Second World War. Influenced by his friend George Padmore, he embraced anti-colonialist and Pan-African ideas, co-organising the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester. In 1946, he returned to Kenya and became a school principal. In 1947, he was elected President of the Kenya African Union, through which he lobbied for independence from British colonial rule, attracting widespread indigenous support yet animosity from white settlers. In 1952, he was among the Kapenguria Six arrested and charged with masterminding the anti-colonial Mau Mau Uprising. Although protesting his innocence—a view shared by later historians—he was convicted. He remained imprisoned at Lokitaung until 1959 and then exiled in Lodwar until 1961.
On his release, Kenyatta was appointed President of KANU and led the party to victory in the 1963 general election. As Prime Minister, he oversaw the transition of the Kenya Colony into an independent republic, of which he became President in 1964. Desiring a one-party state, he transferred regional powers to his central government, suppressed much political dissent and prohibited KANU's only rival—the leftist Kenya People's Union—from competing in elections. He promoted reconciliation between the country's indigenous tribal groups and its European minority, although his relations with the Kenyan Indians were strained. His government pursued capitalist economic policies and the "Africanisation" of the economy, with non-citizens prohibited from controlling key industries. Education and healthcare were expanded, while UK-funded land redistribution favoured KANU loyalists and exacerbated tribal tensions. Under Kenyatta, Kenya joined the Organisation of African Unity and the Commonwealth of Nations, espousing a pro-Western and anti-communist foreign policy. His government faced border conflicts with Somalia. Kenyatta died in office and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi; his son Uhuru later became Kenya's fourth President in 2013.
Kenyatta was a divisive figure; prior to Kenyan independence, many of its white settlers regarded him as an agitator and malcontent, although across Africa he gained widespread respect as an anti-colonialist. During his presidency, he was given the honorary title of Mzee and lauded as the Father of the Nation, securing support from both the black majority and white minority with his message of reconciliation. Conversely, his rule was criticised as dictatorial and authoritarian, of favouring Kikuyu over other ethnic groups and of overseeing a growth in corruption and cronyism which have generated long-term problems for Kenya.
Kenyatta was born into the Kikuyu people in the village of Nginda, which lay in an area of sugar cane and cattle pasture. His father was named Muigai, and his mother Wambui. They were shamba folk, living in a homestead built on a spur of land near the River Thiririka; they were farmers, raising crops and breeding both sheep and goats. Muigai was sufficiently wealthy that he could afford to keep several wives, each of whom lived in a separate nyūmba (woman's hut). Kenyatta's exact date of birth is not known, as birth records were not traditionally kept by the Kikuyu. It is known that he was probably born sometime in the 1890s. The Kikuyu custom at the time was to divide boys into age groups, in which they would be initiated into manhood together. The older members of Kenyatta's age group are believed to have been born around 1890. One biographer, Jules Archer, suggested that his year of birth was likely 1890, although a fuller analysis performed by Jeremy Murray-Brown concluded that he was likely born circa 1897 or 1898. Kenyatta was raised according to traditional Kikuyu custom and religious belief, and was taught the skills needed to herd the family flock. When he was ten years old, his earlobes were pierced to mark his transition away from childhood.
Wambui subsequently bore another son, Kongo, but Muigai died shortly after. In keeping with Kikuyu tradition, Wambui was then married to her late husband's younger brother, Ngengi. Kenyatta was then given the name of Kamau wa Ngengi ("Kamau, son of Ngengi"). Wambui bore her new husband a son, whom they also named Muigai. Ngengi was harsh and resentful toward these three boys, with Wambui deciding to take her youngest son with her to stay with her parental family further north. It was there that she died, and Kenyatta—who was very fond of the younger Muigai—travelled through the forest to collect his infant half-brother. Kenyatta then moved in with his grandfather, Kongo wa Magana, and assisted the latter in his role as a medicine man.
— Kenyatta, in a BBC interview, 1963
In November 1909, Kenyatta left home and enrolled as a pupil at the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) at Thogoto. He informed the British missionaries based there that he wished to learn from them. These missionaries were zealous Christians who believed that bringing Christianity to the indigenous peoples of Eastern Africa was part of Britain's civilising mission. While there, Kenyatta stayed at the small boarding school, where he learnt stories from the Bible, and was taught to read and write in English. He also performed chores for the mission, among them washing the dishes and weeding the gardens. Several months after arriving, Kenyatta was taken ill with tuberculosis. Kenyatta was soon joined at the mission dormitory by his brother Kongo. Many of their generation were increasingly resenting the patronising way in which most of the British missionaries treated them.
Kenyatta's academic progress was unremarkable, and in July 1912 he became an apprentice to the carpenter at the mission. At Easter 1912, he professed his dedication to Christianity and began undergoing catechism. In 1913, he underwent the Kikuyu circumcision ritual; the missionaries generally disapproved of this custom, but it was an important aspect of Kikuyu tradition, allowing Kenyatta to be recognised as an adult. Asked to take a Christian name, he chose both John and Peter after the eponymous Apostles in the New Testament. The missionaries however insisted that he select only one, and so he chose Johnstone, the -stone being selected because it was a Biblical reference to Peter. Accordingly, he was baptised as Johnstone Kamau in August 1914. After his baptism, Kenyatta moved out of the mission dormitory and lived with friends. Having completed his apprenticeship to a carpenter, Kenyatta requested that the mission allow him to be an apprentice stonemason, but they refused. Kenyatta then requested that he be recommended for employment, but the head missionary refused because of an allegation of minor dishonesty.
Kenyatta moved to Thika, where he gained employment with the engineering firm run by Briton John Cook. In this position, he was tasked with fetching the company wages from a bank in Nairobi, 25 miles away. Kenyatta had to leave his job when he again became seriously ill. He stayed at the home of his friend Charles Kasaja, located at the Tumutumu Presbyterian mission, in order to recuperate. At the time, the British Empire was involved in World War I, and it had recruited many Kikuyu to serve in the British Army. One of those who joined was Kongo, who disappeared during the conflict; his family never learned of his fate. Kenyatta did not join the armed forces, and like many Kikuyu he moved to live among the Maasai, who had refused to fight for the British war effort. Kenyatta had an aunt who had married a Maasai chief and began living with her family. He adopted a number of Maasai customs, and took to wearing the Maasai jewellery, including a beaded belt which was known as kinyata in the Kikuyu language.
In 1917, Kenyatta moved to Narok, where he was involved in transporting livestock to Nairobi, possibly as an administrative clerk or a ranching hand. After the British Army conquered German East Africa, Kenyatta relocated to Nairobi where he worked in a store selling farming and engineering equipment. In the evenings, he took classes in a Church Mission School. Several months later he returned to Thika to work with another company, and then gained employment constructing houses for the Thogota Mission. He also lived for a time in Dagoretti, where he became a retainer for a local sub-chief, Kioi; in 1919 he assisted Kioi in putting the latter's case in a land dispute before a Nairobi court.
Kenyatta sought to find a wife; his first attempt failed when it was revealed that his proposed bride was related to his clan. He subsequently entered a relationship with Grace Wahu, who had attended the CMS School in Kabete; she initially moved in to Kenyatta's family homestead, although joined Kenyatta in Dagoretti when Ngengi drove her out. On 20 November 1920 their son was born, and named Peter Muigui. In October 1920, Kenyatta was called before the Thogota Kirk Session and suspended from taking Holy Communion; the suspension was in response to his drinking and his relations with Wahu out of wedlock. The church insisted that a traditional Kikuyu wedding would be inadequate, and that he must undergo a Christian civil marriage; this took place on 8 November 1922. Kenyatta had initially refused to cease drinking, but in July 1923 officially renounced alcohol and was allowed to return to Holy Communion.
In April 1922, Kenyatta began a job working as a stores clerk and meter reader for Cook, who had been appointed water superintendent for the Nairobi municipal council. In this position he earned 250 shillings a month, a particularly high wage for a native African, which brought him financial independence and a growing sense of self-confidence. Kenyatta lived in Kilimani, although financed the construction of a second home at Dagoretti; he referred to this latter hut as the Kinyata Stores for he used it to hold general provisions for the neighbourhood. He had sufficient funds that he could lend money to European clerks in the offices, and could enjoy the lifestyle offered by Nairobi, which included cinemas, football matches, and imported British fashions.
Kikuyu Central Association: 1922–1929Edit
Anti-imperialist sentiment was on the rise among both native and Indian communities in Kenya following the success of the Irish War of Independence and the Russian October Revolution. Many indigenous Africans were deeply resentful that they had to carry the kipande identity certificate at all times, were forbidden from growing coffee, and had to pay taxation without political representation. Various political upheavals occurred in Kikuyuland following the end of World War I, among them the campaigns of Harry Thuku and the East African Association which resulted in the government massacre of 21 native protesters in March 1922. Kenyatta had not taken part in any of these events, perhaps so as not to disrupt his lucrative employment prospects. Kenyatta's interest in politics stemmed from his friendship with James Beauttah, a senior figure in the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). Beauttah took Kenyatta to a political meeting in Pumwani, although this led to no firm involvement at the time. In either 1925 or early 1926, Beauttah moved to Uganda, although remained in contact with Kenyatta. When the KCA wrote to Beauttah and asked him to travel to London as their representative, he declined, but recommended that Kenyatta—who had a good command of the English language—go in his place. Kenyatta accepted, probably on the condition that the Association matched his pre-existing wage. He thus became the group's secretary.
It is likely that the KCA purchased a motorbike for Kenyatta, which he used to travel around both Kikuyuland and neighbouring areas inhabited by the Meru and Embu, helping to establish new KCA branches. In February 1928, he was part of a KCA party that visited Government House in Nairobi to give evidence in front of the Hilton Young Commission, which was then considering a federation between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. In June, he was part of a KCA team who appeared before a select committee of the Kenyan Legislative Council to express concerns about the recent introduction of Land Boards. Introduced by the British Governor of Kenya, Edward Grigg, these Land Boards sought to hold all land in native reserves in trust for each tribal group and would have the ability to regulate land exchange. Both the KCA and the Kikuyu Association expressed frustration at these Land Boards, which treated Kikuyu land as a collective entity rather than recognising the ownership of land by individual Kikuyu. Also in February, his daughter, Wambui Margaret, was born. By this point he was increasingly using the name "Kenyatta", which had a more African appearance than "Johnstone".
In May 1928, the KCA launched a Kikuyu-language magazine, Muĩgwithania (roughly translated as "The Reconciler" or "The Unifier"), in which it published news, articles, and homilies. Its purpose was to help unify the Kikuyu and to raise funds for the KCA. Kenyatta, now described as Secretary of the KCA, was listed as the publication's editor, although Murray-Brown suggested that he was not the guiding hand behind it and that his duties were largely confined to translating things into Kikuyu. Kenyatta's approach to campaigning was cautious; he was aware that Thuku had been exiled for his activism. In Muĩgwithania, he expressed support for the churches, district commissioners, and chiefs. He also praised the British Empire, stating that: "The first thing [about the Empire] is that all people are governed justly, big or small – equally. The second thing is that nobody is regarded as a slave, everyone is free to do what he or she likes without being hindered." This did not prevent Grigg from writing to the authorities in London requesting that he be allowed to shut the magazine down.
After the KCA raised sufficient funds, in February 1929 Kenyatta sailed to Britain from Mombasa. Grigg's administration could not legally prevent Kenyatta's journey but instructed London's Colonial Office not to meet with him. Arriving in London, Kenyatta initially stayed at the West African Students' Union premises in West London, where he met Ladipo Solanke. He then lodged with a prostitute; both this and Kenyatta's lavish spending brought concern from members of the Church Mission Society. His landlord subsequently impounded his belongings due to unpaid debt. In the city, Kenyatta met with W. McGregor Ross at the Royal Empire Society, with Ross briefing him on how best to deal with the Colonial Office. Kenyatta became friends with Ross' family, and accompanied them to social events in Hampstead. He also contacted anti-imperialists active in Britain, including the League Against Imperialism, Fenner Brockway, and Kingsley Martin. Grigg was in London at the same time and, despite his opposition to Kenyatta's visit, agreed to meet with him at the Rhodes Trust headquarters in April. At the meeting, Kenyatta raised the land issue and the exile of Thuku, with the atmosphere between the two being friendly. However, following the meeting Grigg got Special Branch to begin monitoring Kenyatta.
Kenyatta also developed contacts with radicals to the left of the Labour Party, including several communists. In the summer of 1929, he left London and visited Moscow via Berlin, alleging that the trip had been financed by an African-American friend. He returned to London in October. Kenyatta was strongly influenced by his time in the Soviet Union. Back in England, he wrote three articles on the Kenyan situation for the Communist Party of Great Britain's newspapers, the Daily Worker and Sunday Worker, one published in October and the others in January 1930. In these articles, his criticism of British imperialism was far stronger than it had been in Muĩgwithania. These communist links concerned many of Kenyatta's liberal patrons. In January, Kenyatta met with Drummond Shiels, the undersecretary-of-state, at the House of Commons. Kenyatta told Shiels that he was not affiliated with communist circles and was unaware as to the nature of the newspaper which published his articles. Shiels' advice was for Kenyatta to return home, where he could promote Kikuyu involvement in the constitutional process and discourage violence and extremism. After eighteen months in Europe, Kenyatta had run out of money. The Anti-Slavery Society advanced him funds to pay off his debts and return to Kenya. Although Kenyatta enjoyed life in London and feared arrest if he returned home, he arrived in Mombasa in September 1930. On his return, his prestige among the Kikuyu was high because of his time spent in Europe.
In his absence, the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) had become a topic of strong debate in Kikuyu society. The Protestant churches, backed by European medics and the colonial authorities, supported the abolition of this traditional practice, but the KCA rallied to its defence, claiming that its abolition would be a threat to the structure and customs of Kikuyu society. Anger between the two sides had heightened, with several churches expelling KCA members from their congregations, and it was widely believed that the January 1930 killing of the American nun, Hulda Stumpf, had been due to the issue. As Secretary of the KCA, Kenyatta soon attended a meeting with church representatives. There, he expressed the view that although he personally opposed FGM, he regarded its legal abolition as counter-productive, and that the churches should focus on eradicating the practice through education of its harmful effects on women's health. The meeting ended without compromise, and John Arthur—the head of the Church of Scotland in Kenya—later complained about what he described as Kenyatta's dishonesty during the debate, expelling him from the church. In 1931, Kenyatta took his son out of the church school at Thogota and enrolled him in a KCA-approved, independent school.
Return to Europe: 1931–1933Edit
— Kenyatta in the Labour Monthly, November 1933
In May 1931, Kenyatta and Parmenas Mockerie set sail for Europe, intent on representing the KCA as a joint select committee of parliament on the future of East Africa. Kenyatta would not return to Kenya for fifteen years. In Britain, he spent the summer attending ILP summer schools and gatherings of the Fabian Society. In June, he visited Geneva, Switzerland to attend a conference on African children run by the Save the Children charity. In November, he met the Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi while in London. That month, he enrolled in the Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham, where he remained until the spring of 1932, attaining a certificate in English writing.
In Britain, Kenyatta befriended an Afro-Caribbean Marxist, George Padmore, who was working for the Soviet-run Comintern. Over time, he became Padmore's protégé. In late 1932, he joined Padmore in Germany. Before the end of the year, the duo relocated to Moscow, where Kenyatta was instructed in becoming a professional revolutionary at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East. There, he was among those students who complained about the food, accommodation, and poor quality of English instruction. During his time in the Soviet Union, Kenyatta also visited Siberia, probably as part of an official guided tour. The emergence of the Nazi administration in Germany shifted political allegiances in Europe, as the Soviet Union sought to establish formal alliances with France and Czechoslovakia, thereby reducing its support for the movement against British and French colonial rule in Africa. As a result, Comintern disbanded the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, to which both Padmore and Kenyatta were affiliated. Padmore resigned from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in protest, and was subsequently vilified in the Soviet press. Both Padmore and Kenyatta left the Soviet Union, with the latter returning to London in August 1933.
Kenyatta had continued writing articles, in which he reflected Padmore's influence. He produced an article for a January 1933 issue of the Negro Worker, and then another for a November 1933 issue of Labour Monthly. He also wrote the entry on Kenya for Negro, an anthology edited by Nancy Cunard and published in 1934. In these, he took a more extreme position than he had in the past, calling for complete self-rule in Kenya. In doing so he was virtually alone among political Kenyans, with figures like Thuku and Jesse Kariuki being far less radical in their demands. The pro-independence sentiments that he was able to express in Britain would not have been permitted in Kenya itself.
University College London and the London School of Economics: 1933–1939Edit
Between 1935 and 1937, Kenyatta was employed as a linguistic informant for the Phonetics Department at University College London (UCL); his voice recordings of the Kikuyu language assisted Lilias Armstrong in her production of The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Kikuyu. The book was posthumously published under Armstrong's name, although Kenyatta claimed that he should have been recognised as co-author. He enrolled at UCL as a student, studying an English course between January and July 1935 and then a course in phonetics from October 1935 to June 1936. Enabled by a grant from the International African Institute, he also took a social anthropology course under Bronisław Malinowski at the London School of Economics (LSE). Kenyatta lacked the qualifications normally required to join the course, but Malinowski was keen to support the participation of indigenous peoples in anthropological research. For Kenyatta, acquiring an advanced degree would bolster his status among Kenyans and display his intellectual equality with white Europeans. Over the course of his studies, Kenyatta and Malinowski became close friends. Fellow course-mates included the anthropologists Audrey Richards, Lucy Mair, and Elspeth Huxley. Another of his fellow LSE students was Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, who invited Kenyatta to come and stay with him and his mother, Princess Marie Bonaparte, in Paris during the spring of 1936.
Kenyatta returned to his former dwellings at 95 Cambridge Street, but did not pay his landlady for over a year, owing over £100 in rent. This angered Ross and contributed to the breakdown of their friendship. He then rented a flat in Camden Town with his friend Dinah Snock, whom he had met at an anti-imperialist rally in Trafalgar Square. Kenyatta socialised at the Student Movement House in Russell Square, which he had joined in the spring of 1934, and befriended various Africans in the city. To earn money, he worked as one of 250 black extras in the film Sanders of the River, filmed at Shepperton Studios in Autumn 1934. A number of other Africans in London criticised him for doing so, arguing that the film degraded black people. Appearing in the film also allowed him to meet and befriend its star, the African-American Paul Robeson.
In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia), incensing Kenyatta and other Africans in London; he became the honorary secretary of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, a group established by Padmore and C. L. R. James. When Ethiopia's monarch Haile Selassie fled to London in exile, Kenyatta personally welcomed him. This group developed into a wider pan-Africanist organisation, the International African Service Bureau (IASB), which Kenyatta joined. Kenyatta began giving anti-colonial lectures across Britain for groups like the IASB and the Workers' Educational Association. In October 1938, he gave a talk to the Manchester Fabian Society in which he described British colonial policy as fascism and compared the treatment of indigenous people in East Africa to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. In response to these activities, the British Colonial Office reopened their file on him, although could not find any evidence that he was engaged in anything sufficiently seditious to warrant prosecution.
Kenyatta assembled the seminar papers on Kikuyu society that he had written for Malinowski's class, publishing these as Facing Mount Kenya in 1938. Malinowski wrote an introduction for the book, while the jacket cover featured an image of Kenyatta in traditional dress, wearing a skin cloak over one shoulder and carrying a spear. The book was published under the name "Jomo Kenyatta", the first time that he had done so; the term Jomo was close to a Kikuyu word describing the removal of a sword from its scabbard. Facing Mount Kenya was a commercial failure, selling only 517 copies, but was generally well received; an exception was among white Kenyans, whose assumptions about the Kikuyu it challenged.
The book reflected Kenyatta's desire to use anthropology as a weapon against colonialism. In it, Kenyatta challenged the Eurocentric view of history by presenting an image of a golden African past by emphasising the perceived order, virtue, and self-sufficiency of Kikuyu society. Utilising a functionalist framework, he promoted the idea that traditional Kikuyu society had a cohesion and integrity that was better than anything offered by European colonialism. In this book, Kenyatta made clear his belief that the rights of the individual should be downgraded in favour of the interests of the group. The book also reflected his changing views on female genital mutilation; where once he opposed it, he now unequivocally supported the practice, downplaying the medical dangers that it posed to women. Murray-Brown later described it as "a propaganda tour de force. No other African had made such an uncompromising stand for tribal integrity." Bodil Folke Frederiksen, a scholar of development studies, referred to it as "probably the most well-known and influential African scholarly work of its time", while for fellow scholar Simon Gikandi, it was "one of the major texts in what has come to be known as the invention of tradition in colonial Africa".
World War II: 1939–1945Edit
— Kenyatta, during World War II
After the United Kingdom entered World War II in September 1939, Kenyatta and Stock left London for the village of Storrington in Sussex. There, Kenyatta remained for the duration of the war, renting a flat and a small plot of land to grow vegetables and raise chickens. He settled into rural Sussex life, and became a regular at the village pub, where he gained the nickname "Jumbo". In August 1940, he took a job at a local farm as an agricultural worker; this allowed him to evade military conscription. He later worked at the tomato houses at Lindfield. He also attempted to join the local Home Guard, but was turned down. He began a relationship with an English woman, Edna Grace Clarke, and they married at Chanctonbury Registry Office on 11 May 1942. On 11 August 1943, their son, Peter Magana, was born.
As a result of the war, communication between Kenya and Britain was greatly curtailed, and the Kenyan authorities banned the KCA in 1940. Towards the end of the conflict, Kenyatta was becoming restless and frustrated by the distance between him and Kenya. To Edna, he stated that he felt "like a general separated by 5000 miles from his troops". While in Sussex, he wrote an essay for the United Society for Christian Literature, My People of Kikuyu and the Life of Chief Wangombe, in which he called for his tribe's political independence. He also began—although never finished—a novel partly based on his life experiences. He continued to give lectures around the country, including to groups of East African soldiers stationed in Britain.
Kenyatta and other senior IASB members began planning the fifth Pan-African Congress, held in Manchester in October 1945. They were assisted by Kwame Nkrumah, a West African who arrived in Britain earlier that year. Kenyatta spoke at the conference, although made no particular impact on the proceedings. Much of the debate that took place centred on whether indigenous Africans should continue pursuing a gradual campaign for independence or whether they should seek the military overthrow of the European imperialists. The conference ended with a statement declaring that while delegates desired a peaceful transition to African self-rule, Africans "as a last resort, may have to appeal to force in the effort to achieve Freedom". Kenyatta supported this resolution, although was more cautious than other delegates and made no open commitment to violence. He subsequently authored an IASB pamphlet, Kenya: The Land of Conflict, in which he again blended political calls for independence with romanticised descriptions of an idealised pre-colonial African past.
Return to KenyaEdit
Presidency of the Kenya African Union: 1946–1952Edit
After British victory in World War II, Kenyatta received a call to return to Kenya in September 1946, sailing back that month. Edna was pregnant with a second child, although she expected to never see her husband again; Kenyatta was aware that if they joined him in Kenya their lives would be made very difficult by the colony's racial laws. On his arrival in Mombasa, Kenyatta was greeted by his first wife and their children. He built a bungalow at Gatundu, near to where he was born, and began farming his 32-acre estate. Kenyata met with the new Governor of Kenya, Philip Euen Mitchell, and in March 1947 accepted a post on an African Land Settlement Board, holding the post for two years. He also met with Mbiyu Koinange to discuss the future of the Koinange Independent Teachers' College in Githungui, with Koinange appointing Kenyatta as its Vice-Principal. In May 1947, Koinange moved to England, leaving Kenyatta to take full control of the college. Under Kenyatta's leadership, additional funds were raised for the construction of school buildings and the number of boys in attendance rose from 250 to 900. It was also beset with problems, including a decline in standards and teachers' strikes over non-payment of wages. Gradually, the number of enrolled pupils fell. Kenyatta built a friendship with Koinange's father, a Senior Chief, who gave Kenyatta one of his daughters to take as his third wife. She bore him another child, but later died in childbirth. In 1951, he married his fourth wife, Ngina, who was one of the few female students at his college. She gave birth to a daughter.
In August 1944, the Kenya African Union (KAU) had been founded as the only political outlet for indigenous Africans in the colony. At its June 1947 annual general meeting, KAU's President James Gichuru stepped down and Kenyatta was elected as his replacement. Kenyatta began to draw large crowds wherever he travelled in Kikuyuland, and Kikuyu press began describing him as the "Saviour", "Great Elder", and "Hero of Our Race". He was nevertheless aware that for independence to be achieved, KAU would need the support of other indigenous tribes and ethnic groups. This was made difficult by the fact that many Masai and Luo—tribes traditionally hostile to the Kikuyu—regarded him as an advocate of Kikuyu dominance. He insisted on intertribal representation on the KAU executive and ensured that party business was conducted in Swahili, a language spoken by many groups.
To attract support from Kenya's Indian community, he made contact with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Indian republic. Nehru's response was supportive, sending a message to Kenya's Indian minority reminding them that they were the guests of the indigenous African population. Relations with the white minority nevertheless remained strained; for most white Kenyans, Kenyatta was their principal enemy, an agitator with links to the Soviet Union and who had the impertinence to marry a white woman. They too increasingly called for further Kenyan autonomy from the British government, but wanted continued white-minority rule and closer links to the white-minority governments of South Africa, Northern Rhodesia, and Southern Rhodesia; they viewed the newly elected Labour Party government of Britain with great suspicion. The white Electors' Union had put forward a 'Kenya Plan' which proposed greater white settlement in Kenya, bringing Tanganyika into the British Empire, and incorporating it within their new British East African Dominion. In April 1950, Kenyatta was present at a joint meeting of KAU and the East African Indian National Congress in which they both expressed opposition to the Kenya Plan.
By 1952, Kenyatta was widely recognised as a national leader, both by his supporters and his opponents. As KAU leader, he was at pains to oppose all illegal activity, including workers' strikes. He called on his supporters to work hard, and to abandon laziness, theft, and crime. He also insisted that in an independent Kenya, all racial groups would be safeguarded. Kenyatta's gradualist and peaceful approach contrasted with the growth of the Mau Mau Uprising, as armed guerrilla groups began targeting the white minority and members of the Kikuyu community who did not support them. By 1959, the Mau Mau had killed around 1,880 people. For many young Mau Mau militants, Kenyatta was regarded as a hero. In April 1952, Kenyatta began a speaking tour in which he denounced the Mau Mau to assembled crowds, insisting that independence must be achieved through peaceful means. In August he attended a much publicised mass meeting in Kiambu where—in front of 30,000 people—he said that "Mau Mau has spoiled the country. Let Mau Mau perish for ever. All people should search for Mau Mau and kill it." Despite Kenyatta's vocal opposition to the Mau Mau, KAU had moved towards a position of greater militancy. At its 1951 AGM, more militant African nationalists had taken senior positions and the party officially announced its call for Kenyan independence within three years. In January 1952, KAU members formed a secret Central Committee devoted to direct action, formulated along a cell structure. Whatever Kenyatta's views on these developments, he had little ability to control them.
In October 1952, Kenyatta was arrested at his Githunguri home and driven to Nairobi, where he was taken aboard a plane and flown to Lokitaung, one of the most remote locations in the country. From there he was allowed to write to his family to let them know of his situation. The Kenyan authorities believed that detaining Kenyatta would help to quell the civil unrest. Many white settlers wanted him exiled, a course of action that the government feared would turn him into a martyr for the anti-colonialist cause. They thought it better that he be convicted and imprisoned, although at the time of his detainment had nothing to charge Kenyatta with, and so began looking through his personal files for evidence of any involvement in criminal activity. Eventually, they charged both him and five senior KAU members with masterminding the Mau Mau guerrillas, which were a proscribed group. The historian A. B. Assensoh later suggested that the authorities "knew very well" that Kenyatta was not involved in the Mau Mau, but that they were nevertheless committed to silencing his calls for independence. While contemporary opinion linked Kenyatta with the Mau Mau, historians have questioned his alleged leadership of the radical movement.
The trial took place in Kapenguria, a remote area that the authorities hoped would not attract crowds or attention. Together, Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Achieng Oneko and Kung'u Karumba—the "Kapenguria Six"—were put on trial. They assembled an international team of defence lawyers, including Chaman Lall, H. O. Davies, and Dudley Thompson, while they were led by British lawyer and Member of Parliament Denis Nowell Pritt. Pritt's involvement brought much media attention, and during the trial he faced government harassment and received various death threats. The judge in the case, Ransley Thacker, had recently retired from the Supreme Court of Kenya. The trial lasted five months: Rawson Macharia, the main prosecution witness, turned out to have perjured himself; the judge had only recently been awarded an unusually large pension and maintained secret contact with the then colonial Governor Evelyn Baring. The prosecution failed to produce any strong evidence that Kenyatta or the other accused had any involvement in managing the Mau Mau. Nevertheless, in April 1953, the judge found the defendants guilty. They were sentenced to seven years' hard labour, which was to be followed by indefinite restriction preventing him from leaving a given area without permission. Kenyatta then addressed the court, stating that he and the others did not recognise the judge's findings and that they had been scapegoated by the government. The government followed the verdict with a wider crackdown, banning KAU in June 1953, and closing down most of the independent schools in the country, including Kenyatta's.
In remand status, Kenyatta and the others were returned to Lokitaung, where they resided in huts while awaiting the results of the appeal process. Pritt pointed out that Thacker had been appointed magistrate for the wrong district, a technicality that meant the whole trial was void; the Supreme Court of Kenya concurred and Kenyatta and the others were freed in July 1953, although immediately re-arrested. The government then took the case the East African Court of Appeal, which reversed the Supreme Court's decision in August. The appeals process resumed in October 1953, and in January 1954 the Supreme Court upheld the convictions against all but Oneko. Pritt finally took the case to the Privy Council in London, but they refused his petition without providing an explanation. He later noted that this was despite the fact his case was one of the strongest he had ever presented during his career. It is likely that political, rather than legal considerations, informed their decision to reject the case.
During the appeal process, a prison had been built at Lokitaung, where Kenyatta and the four others were then interned. The others were set to break rocks in the hot sun but Kenyatta, because of his age, was instead appointed as their cook, preparing a daily diet of beans and mielie-meal. In 1955, P. de Robeck became the District Officer, after which Kenyatta and the other inmates were treated more leniently. In April 1954, they had been joined by a captured Mau Mau commander, Waruhio Itote; Kenyatta befriended him, and gave him English lessons. By 1957, the inmates had formed into two rival cliques, with Kenyatta and Itote on one side and the other KAU members—now calling themselves the "National Democratic Party"—on the other. In one incident, one of his rivals made an unsuccessful attempt to stab Kenyatta at breakfast. Kenyatta's health had deteriorated in prison; the manacles that all prisoners wore had caused problems for his feet and he had eczema across his body.
Kenyatta's imprisonment transformed him into a political martyr for many Kenyans, further enhancing his status. A Luo anti-colonial activist, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, was the first to publicly call for Kenyatta's release, an issue that gained growing support among Kenya's anti-colonialists. In 1955, the British writer Montagu Slater—a socialist sympathetic to Kenyatta's plight—released The Trial of Jomo Kenyatta, a book which raised the profile of the case. By the late 1950s, the imprisoned Kenyatta had become a symbol of African nationalism across the continent. Calls for his release were being made outside Kenya: resolutions to that effect were produced at the All-African Peoples' Conferences held in Tunis in 1960 and Cairo in 1961. Tanganyikan President Julius Nyerere also did so. Activists in the Kenyan Asian community also backed him, with the Kenya Indian Congress calling for his release. In April 1959, Kenyatta was released from Lokitaung. The administration then placed a restricting order on Kenyatta, forcing him to reside in the remote area of Lodwar, where he had to report to the district commissioner twice a day. There, he was joined by his wife Ngina. In October 1961 she bore him another son, Uhuru, and later on another daughter, Nyokabi, and a further son, Muhoho. Kenyatta spent two years in Lodwar.
By this point, it was widely accepted that Kenyan independence was inevitable, with the British Empire having been dismantled throughout much of Asia and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan having made his "Wind of Change" speech. In January 1960, the British government made its intentions for Kenya to transition to independence and majority-rule clear. It invited representatives of the Kenyan anti-colonial movement to discuss the transition at London's Lancaster House. An agreement was reached that an election would be called for a new 65-seat Legislative Council, with 33 seats reserved for black Africans, 20 for other ethnic groups, and 12 as 'national members' elected by a pan-racial electorate. It was clear to all concerned that Kenyatta was going to be the key to the future of Kenyan politics.
After the Lancaster House negotiations, the anti-colonial movement had split into two parties, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which was dominated by Kikuyu and Luo, and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), which was led largely by members of smaller tribal groups. In May 1960, KANU nominated Kenyatta as its President, although the government vetoed it, insisting that he had been an instigator of the Mau Mau. KANU then declared that it would refuse to take part in any government unless Kenyatta was freed. KANU campaigned on the issue of Kenyatta's detainment in the February 1961 election, where it gained a majority of votes. KANU nevertheless refused to form a government, which was instead created through a KADU-led coalition of smaller parties. Kenyatta had kept abreast of these developments, although refused to back either KANU or KADU, instead insisting on unity between the two parties.
Preparing for independence: 1961–1963Edit
In April 1961, the government flew Kenyatta to Maralal, where he was permitted to speak to the press. To reporters, he maintained his innocence of the charges but said that he bore no grudges. He reiterated that he had never supported violence or illegal oathing, and denied having ever been a Marxist, stating that "I shall always remain an African Nationalist to the end". In August, he was moved to Gatundu in Kikuyuland, where he was greeted by a crowd of 10,000. He was now a free man, and able to travel to cities like Nairobi and Mombasa to make public appearances.
After his release, Kenyatta set about trying to ensure that he was the only realistic option as Kenya's future leader. In August he met with the Governor of Kenya, Patrick Muir Renison, at Kiambu, and he was interviewed by the BBC's Face to Face program. In August he also attended a KANU-KADU meeting, where the two parties disagreed on the question of federalism: KANU wanted a centralised state while KADU feared that this would result in Kikuyu dominance of an independent Kenya. In October 1961, Kenyatta accepted the KANU Presidency, and in January 1962 was elected unopposed as the KANU representative for the Fort Hall constituency in the legislative council after its sitting member, Kariuki Njiiri, resigned.
In 1962 he returned to London to attend one of the Lancaster House conferences. There, representatives of KANU and KADU met with British officials to establish the nature of a new constitution. It was agreed that Kenya would be divided into six regions, each with a regional assembly, but that there would also be a strong central government and both an upper and lower house. At the time, Kenyatta was willing to make concessions to KADU on issues like regional authority, aware that he would amend these aspects of the constitution when in office. On his return, he accepted a minor post in the coalition government, that of the Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs and Economic Planning.
Kenyatta sought to gain the confidence of the white settler community. In 1962, the white minority had produced 80% of the country's exports and were a vital part of its economy, yet between 1962 and 1963 they were leaving Kenya at a rate of 700 a month; Kenyatta feared that this white exodus would cause a brain drain and skills shortage that would be detrimental to the economy. He was also aware that the confidence of the white minority would be crucial to securing Western investment in Kenya's economy. Kenyatta made it clear that when in power, he would not sack any white civil servants unless there were competent black individuals capable of replacing them. He was sufficiently successful that a number of prominent white Kenyans backed KANU in the subsequent election. A key issue facing Kenya was a border dispute in North East Province, alongside Somalia. Ethnic Somalis inhabited this region and claimed that it should be part of Somalia, not Kenya. Kenyatta refused to accede to their demands, insisting that the land remain Kenyan. In June 1962 Kenyatta travelled to Mogadishu to discuss the issue with the Somalian authorities, but the two sides could not reach an agreement.
Elections were held in May 1963, pitting Kenyatta's KANU against KADU, the Akamba People's Party, and various independent candidates; the former were victorious with 83 seats out of 124. On 1 June 1963, Kenyatta was sworn in as prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government. He was the country's first Prime Minister to come from its indigenous population. Kenya remained a monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. In November 1963, Kenyatta's government introduced a law making it a criminal offence to disrespect the Prime Minister, with exile as a punishment. Kenyatta's personality became a central aspect of the creation of the new state. In December, Nairobi's Delamere Avenue was renamed Kenyatta Avenue, and a bronze statue of him was erected beside the country's National Assembly. Photographs of Kenyatta were widely displayed in shop windows, and a likeness of his face was also printed on the new currency. In 1964, Oxford University Press published a collection of Kenyatta's speeches under the title of Harambee!.
Kenya's first cabinet included not only Kikuyu but also members of the Luo, Kamba, Kisii, and Maragoli tribal groups. In June 1963, Kenyatta met with the Tanganyikan President Julius Nyerere and Ugandan President Milton Obote in Nairobi. The trio discussed the possibility of merging their three nations (plus Zanzibar) into a single East African Federation, agreeing that this would be accomplished by the end of the year. Privately, Kenyatta was more reluctant regarding the arrangement and as 1964 came around the federation had not come to pass. Many radical voices in Kenya urged him to pursue the project; in May 1964, Kenyatta rejected a back-benchers resolution calling for speedier federation. He publicly stated that talk of a federation had always been a ruse to hasten the pace of Kenyan independence from Britain, but Nyerere denied that this was true.
Continuing to emphasise good relations with the white settlers, in August 1963 Kenyatta met with 300 white farmers at Nakuru. He reassured them that they would be safe and welcome in an independent Kenya, and more broadly talked of forgiving and forgetting the conflicts of the past. Despite his attempts at wooing white support, he did not do the same with the Indian minority. Like many indigenous Africans in Kenya, Kenyatta bore a sense of resentment towards this community, despite the role that many Indians had played in securing the country's independence. He also encouraged the remaining Mau Mau fighters to leave the forests and settle in society. However, throughout Kenyatta's rule, many of these individuals would remain unemployed, with unemployment being one of the most persistent problems facing his government.
A celebration to mark independence was held in a specially constructed stadium on 12 December 1963. During the ceremony, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh—representing the British monarchy—formally handed over control of the country to Kenyatta. Also in attendance were leading figures from the Mau Mau. In a speech, Kenyatta described it as "the greatest day in Kenya's history and the happiest day in my life." He had flown Edna and Peter over for the ceremony, and in Kenya they were welcomed into Kenyatta's family by his other wives. Kenyatta nevertheless faced domestic opposition and in January 1964, sections of the army launched a mutiny in Nairobi, with Kenyatta calling on the British Army to put down the rebellion. Similar armed uprisings had taken place in neighbouring Uganda and Tanganyika. Kenyatta publicly rebuked the mutineers, emphasising the need for law and order in Kenya. At Kenyatta's prompting, in November 1964, KADU officially dissolved and its representatives joined KANU. Two of the senior members of KADU, Ronald Ngala and Daniel arap Moi, subsequently became some of Kenyatta's most loyal supporters in KANU. Kenya therefore became a de facto one-party state.
In December 1964, Kenya was officially proclaimed a republic. Kenyatta became its executive President, a role combining the head of state and head of government. Over the course of 1965 and 1966, various constitutional amendments were made that enhanced the President's power. For instance, a May 1966 amendment gave the president the ability to order the detention of individuals without trial if the security of the state was regarded as threatened. Kenyatta sought to attain the support of Kenya's second largest tribal group, the Luo, thus appointing the Luo activist Odinga as his Vice President. However, the Kikuyu—who made up around 20 percent of the Kenyan population—still held most of the important government and administrative positions in the country. This contributed to a perception among many in the country that independence had simply seen the dominance of a European elite replaced by the dominance of a Kikuyu elite.
Kenyatta's calls to forgive and forget the past was a keystone of his government. He preserved various elements of the old colonial order in his administration, particularly on issues of law and order. The police and military structures were left largely intact. White Kenyans were left in senior positions within the judiciary, civil service, and parliament, with the white Kenyans Bruce Mackenzie and Humphrey Slade being among Kenyatta's top officials. Kenyatta's government nevertheless rejected the idea that the European and Asian minorities could be permitted dual citizenship, and expected that these groups should offer their total loyalty to the independent Kenyan state. His administration pressured whites-only social clubs to adopt multi-racial entry policies, and in 1964 schools formerly reserved for European pupils were opened to Africans and Asians.
Kenyatta's government recognised the need to cultivate a sense of a united Kenyan national culture. To this end, it made efforts to assert the dignity of indigenous African cultures which had been belittled as "primitive" by the colonial authorities and missionaries. An East African Literature Bureau was created to publish the work of indigenous writers. The Kenya Cultural Centre supported indigenous art and music, with hundreds of traditional music and dance groups being formed; Kenyatta personally insisted that such performances were held at all national celebrations. Support was given to the preservation of historic and cultural monuments, while street names referencing colonial figures were renamed and symbols of colonialism—like the statue of Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere in the city centre of Nairobi—were removed. The government encouraged the use of Swahili as a national language, although English remained the main medium for parliamentary debates and the language of instruction in schools and universities. The historian Robert M. Maxon nevertheless suggested that "no national culture emerged during the Kenyatta era", with most artistic and cultural expressions reflecting particular ethnic groups rather than a broader sense of Kenyanness and Western culture remaining heavily influential over the country's elites.
Independent Kenya had an economy heavily moulded by colonial rule; agriculture dominated while industry was limited, and there was a heavy reliance on exporting primary goods while importing capital and manufactured goods. Under Kenyatta, the structure of this economy did not fundamentally change, remaining externally oriented and dominated by multinational corporations and foreign capital. Kenyatta's economic policy was capitalist and entrepreneurial, with no serious socialist policies being pursued; its focus was on achieving economic growth as opposed to equitable redistribution.
In contrast to the economic policies pursued, Kenyatta had publicly claimed that he would create a democratic socialist state with an equitable distribution of economic and social development. In 1965, when Thomas Mboya was minister for economic planning and development, the government issued a session paper titled "African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya", in which it officially declared its commitment to what it called an "African socialist" economic model. The session proposed a mixed economy with an important role for private capital, with Kenyatta's government specifying that it would only consider nationalisation in instances where national security was at risk. Left-wing critics highlighted that the image of "African socialism" portrayed in the document provided for no major shift away from the colonial economy. The government also passed laws to encourage foreign investment, recognising that Kenya needed foreign-trained specialists in scientific and technical fields to aid its economic development. Under Kenyatta, Western companies regarded Kenya as a safe and profitable place for investment; between 1964 and 1970, large-scale foreign investment and industry in Kenya nearly doubled.
Kenya's agricultural and industrial sectors were then dominated by Europeans and its commerce and trade dominated by Asians; post-independence, one of the most pressing issues was to bring the economy under indigenous control. There was growing black resentment towards the Asian domination of the small business sector, with Kenyatta's government putting pressure on Asian-owned businesses, intending to replace them with African-owned counterparts. The 1965 session paper promised an "Africanization" of the Kenyan economy, with the government increasingly pushing for a form of "black capitalism". The government established the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation to provide loans for black-owned businesses, and secured a 51% share in the Kenya National Assurance Company. In 1965, the government established the Kenya National Trading Corporation to ensure indigenous control over the trade in essential commodities, while the Trade Licensing Act of 1967 prohibited non-citizens from involvement in the rice, sugar, and maize trade. During the 1970s, this was expanded to cover the trade in soap, cement, and textiles. Many Asians had retained British citizenship rather than taking on Kenyan citizenship and were affected by these measures, with their work permits not being renewed. Between late 1967 and early 1968, growing numbers of Kenyan Asians migrated to Britain, with a crisis emerging in February 1968 as large numbers of them sought to migrate quickly before a legal change revoked their right to do so. Kenyatta was not sympathetic to those leaving, stating that "Kenya's identity as an African country is not going to be altered by the whims and malaises of groups of uncommitted individuals."
Land, healthcare, and education reformEdit
The question of land ownership had deep emotional resonance within Kenya, having been a major source of grievance against the British colonialists. As part of the Lancaster House negotiations, the British government had agreed to provide Kenya with £27 million with which to buy out white farmers and redistribute their land among the indigenous population. To ease the smooth running of this transition, Kenyatta made white farmer Bruce McKenzie the Minister of Agriculture and Land. Kenyatta's government encouraged the establishment of private land-buying companies that were often headed by prominent politicians. The government sold or leased lands in the former White Highlands to these companies, who in turn subdivided them among individual shareholders. In this way, there was a bias in the land redistribution programs that favoured the ruling part's chief constituency. Kenyatta himself expanded the land that he owned around Gatundu. Kenyans who made claims to land on the basis of ancestral ownership often found the land given to other people, including Kenyans from different parts of the country. Voices began to condemn the redistribution; in 1969, the MP Jean Seroney for instance openly censured the sale of historically Nandi lands in the Rift to non-Nandi, describing the settlement schemes as "Kenyatta's colonization of the rift".
In part fuelled by high rates or rural unemployment, Kenya witnessed growing migration from rural to urban areas under Kenyatta's government. This led to growing urban unemployment and housing shortages, with squatter settlements and slums growing up and urban crime rates rising. Kenyatta was concerned by this, and promoted the reversal of this rural-to-urban migration, but in this was unsuccessful. Kenyatta's government was eager to control the country's trade unions, fearing their ability to disrupt the economy. To this end it emphasised various social welfare schemes over traditional industrial institutions, and in 1965 transformed the Kenya Federation of Labour into the Central Organization of Trade (COT), a body which came under strong government influence. No strikes could be legally carried out in Kenya without COT's permission. There were also measures to Africanise the civil service, which by mid-1967 had become 91% African. During the 1960s and 1970s the public sector grew faster than the private sector. The growth in the public sector contributed to the significant expansion of the indigenous middle class in Kenyatta's Kenya.
The government oversaw a massive expansion in education facilities across Kenya. In June 1963, Kenyatta had ordered the Ominda Commission to determine a framework for meeting Kenya's educational needs, with their report being released eight months later. The report set out the long-term goal of universal free primary education in Kenya but also argued that the government's emphasis should be on secondary and higher education to facilitate the training of indigenous African personnel to take over the civil service and other jobs requiring such an education. Between 1964 and 1966, the number of primary schools in Kenya grew by 11.6%, while the number of secondary schools grew by 80%. By the time of Kenyatta's death, Kenya's first universities—the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University—had been established. Although Kenyatta died without having attained the goal of free, universal primary education in Kenya, the country had made significant advances in that direction, with 85% of Kenyan children in primary education, and within a decade of independence had trained sufficient numbers of indigenous Africans to take over the civil service.
Another priority for the newly independent government was in improving access to healthcare services. Kenyatta's government stated that its long-term goal was to establish a system of free, universal medical care in Kenya. In the short-term, its emphasis was on increasing the overall number of doctors and registered nurses while decreasing the number of expatriates in those positions. In 1965, the government introduced free medical services for out-patients and children. By Kenyatta's death, the majority of Kenyans had access to significantly better healthcare than they had had in the colonial period. Prior to independence, the average life expectancy in Kenya was 45, but by the end of the 1970s it was 55, the second highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. This improved medical care had resulted in declining mortality rates while birth rates remained high, resulting in a rapidly growing population; from 1962 to 1979, Kenya's population grew by just under 4% a year, the highest rate in the world at the time. This put a severe strain on social services, with Kenyatta's government promoting family planning projects to stem the birth-rate, although these had little success.
In part due to his advanced years, Kenyatta rarely travelled outside of Eastern Africa. Under Kenyatta, Kenya was largely uninvolved in the affairs of other states, including those in the East African Community. Despite his reservations about any immediate East African Federation, in June 1967 Kenyatta signed the Treaty for East African Co-operation. In December he attended a meeting with Tanzanian and Ugandan representatives to form the East African Economic Community, reflecting Kenyatta's cautious approach toward regional integration. He also took on a mediating role during the Congo Crisis, heading the Organisation of African Unity's Conciliation Commission on the Congo.
Facing the pressures of the Cold War, Kenyatta officially pursued a policy of "positive non-alignment". In reality, his foreign policy was pro-Western and in particular pro-British. Kenya became a member of the British Commonwealth, using this as a vehicle to put pressure on the white-minority apartheid regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia. Britain remained one of Kenya's foremost sources of foreign trade; British aid to Kenya was among the highest in Africa. In 1964, Kenya and the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding, one of only two military alliances that Kenyatta's government made. Various commentators argued that Britain's relationship with Kenyatta's Kenya was a neo-colonial one, with the British having exchanged their position of political power for one of influence. The historian Poppy Cullen nevertheless noted that there was no "dictatorial neo-colonial control" in Kenyatta's Kenya. Although many white Kenyans had come to accept his rule, he remained opposed by far right activists; while in London at the July 1964 Commonwealth Conference, Kenyatta was assaulted by Martin Webster, a British neo-Nazi. Kenyatta also maintained a warm relationship with Israel, including when other East African nations had endorsed Arab hostility to the state; he for instance permitted Israeli jets to refuel in Kenya on their way back from the Entebbe raid.
Kenyatta and his government were anti-communist, and in June 1965 he warned that "it is naive to think that there is no danger of imperialism from the East. In world power politics the East has as much designs upon us as the West and would like to serve their own interests." His governance was often criticised by communists and other leftists, some of whom accused him of being a fascist. When Chinese Communist official Zhou Enlai visited Dar es Salaam, his statement that "Africa is ripe for revolution" was clearly aimed largely at Kenya. In 1964, Kenyatta impounded a secret shipment of Chinese armaments that passed through Kenyan territory on its way to Uganda. Obote personally visited Kenyatta to apologise. In June 1967, Kenyatta declared the Chinese Chargé d'Affairs persona non grata in Kenya and recalled the Kenyan ambassador from Peking. Relations with the Soviet Union were also strained; Kenyatta shut down the Lumumba Institute—an organisation named after the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba—on the basis that it was a front for Soviet influence in Kenya.
Dissent and the one-party stateEdit
Kenyatta had made clear his belief that Kenya should become a one-party state, regarding this as a better expression of national unity than a multi-party system. In the first five years of independence, he consolidated his control of the central government, seeking to prevent the entrenchment of tribal power bases by removing the autonomy of the country's provinces. He argued that centralised control of the government was needed to deal with the growth in demands for local services and to assist more rapid economic development. In 1966, it launched a commission to examine reforms to local government operations. In 1969, it passed the Transfer of Functions Act, which stopped grants to local authorities and transferred major services from provincial to central control.
A major focus for Kenyatta during the first three and a half years of Kenya's independence were the divisions within KANU itself. Opposition to Kenyatta's government grew, particularly following the assassination of Pio Pinto in February 1965. Relations between Kenyatta and Odinga were strained, and at the March 1966 party conference, Odinga's post—that of party vice president—was divided among eight different politicians. In 1966, Odinga stepped down as state vice president, claiming that Kenya had failed to achieve economic independence and needed to adopt socialist policies. Backed by several other senior KANU figures and trade unionists, he formed the Kenya Peoples Union (KPU). In its manifesto, the KPU stated that it would pursue "truly socialist policies" like the nationalisation of public utilities and that Kenyatta's government "want to build a capitalist system in the image of Western capitalism but are too embarrassed or dishonest to call it that." The KPU were legally recognised as the official opposition, thus restoring the country's two party system.
The new party was a direct challenge to Kenyatta's rule, and he regarded it as a communist-inspired plot to oust him. Soon after the KPU's creation, the Kenyan Parliament amended the constitution to ensure that the defectors—who had originally been elected on the KANU ticket—could not automatically retain their seats and would have to stand for re-election. This resulted in the election of June 1966. The Luo increasingly rallied around the KPU, which experienced localized violence that hindered its ability to campaign, although Kenyatta's government officially disavowed this violence. Of the 29 defectors, only 9 were re-elected on the KPU ticket; Odinga was among them, having retained his Central Nyanza seat with a high majority. Odinga was replaced as Vice President by Joseph Murumbi, who in turn would be replaced by Moi.
In July 1969, Mboya—a prominent and popular Luo politician—was assassinated by a Kikuyu. Kenyatta had reportedly been concerned that Mboya, with U.S. backing, could remove him from the presidency, and in Kenyan society there were suspicions voiced that Kenyatta's government had been responsible for Mboya's death. The killing sparked riots in Nairobi, and ethnic tensions were stoked across Kenya. In October 1969, Kenyatta visited Kisumu, located in Luo territory, in order to open a hospital financed with Soviet aid. He was greeted by a crowd shouting KPU slogans and he lost his temper. When members of the crowd started throwing stones, Kenyatta's bodyguards opened fire on them, killing and wounding several. In response to the rise of KPU, Kenyatta had introduced oathing, a Kikiyu cultural tradition in which individuals came to Gatundu to swear their loyalty to him. Journalists were discouraged from reporting on the oathing system, and several were deported when they tried to do so. Many were pressured or forced to conduct the oaths, generating a condemnation from the country's Christian establishment. In response to the growing condemnation, the oathing was terminated in September 1969, and Kenyatta invited leaders from other ethnic groups to a meeting in Gatundi.
Kenyatta's government resorted to un-democratic measures to restrict the opposition. It used laws on detention and deportation to perpetuate its own political hold in the country. In 1966, it passed the Public Security (Detained and Restricted Persons) Regulations, allowing the authorities to arrest and detain anyone "for the preservation of public security" without putting them on trial. The government banned the KPU, and arrested Odinga before putting him under indefinite detainment. With the organised opposition eliminated, from 1969, Kenya was once again a de facto one-party state. Over coming years, many other political and intellectual figures considered hostile to Kenyatta's rule were detained or imprisoned, including Flomena Chelagat, George Anyona, Martin Shikuku, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and Jean-Marie Seroney. Other political figures who were critical of Kenyatta's administration, including Ronald Ngala and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, were killed in incidents that many speculated were government assassinations.
The December 1969 general election—in which all candidates were from the ruling KANU—resulted in Kenyatta's government remaining in power, but many members of his government lost their parliamentary seats to rivals from within the party.
Kenyatta had a mild stroke in 1966, and then a second stroke in May 1968. By 1970, he was increasingly feeble and senile. Four Kikuyu politicians—Koinange, James Gichuru, Njoroge Mungai, and Charles Njonjo—formed his inner circle of associates, and he was rarely seen in public without one of them present. This clique faced opposition from KANU back-benchers spearheaded by J. M. Kariuki; in March 1975, Kariuki was found murdered in the Ngong Hills.
On 22 August 1978, Kenyatta died in the State House, Mombasa. The Kenyan government had been preparing for Kenyatta's death since at least his 1968 stroke; it had requested British assistance in organising his state funeral as a result of the UK's longstanding experience in this area. McKenzie had been employed as a go-between, and the structure of the funeral was orchestrated to deliberately imitate that of deceased British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In doing so, senior Kenyans sought to project an image of their country as a modern nation-state rather than one incumbent on tradition. The funeral took place at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, six days after Kenyatta's death. Britain's heir to the throne, Charles, Prince of Wales, attended the event, a symbol of the value that the British government perceived in its relationship with Kenya.
The question of Kenyatta's succession had been an issue of debate in Kenya ever since independence, and he had not unreservedly nominated a successor. The Kikuyu clique surrounding him had sought to amend the constitution to prevent vice president Moi—who was from the Kalenjin people rather than the Kikuyu—from automatically becoming acting president, but their attempts had failed amid sustained popular and parliamentary opposition. After Kenyatta's death, the transition of power proved smooth, something which surprised many international commentators. As vice president, Moi was sworn in as acting president for a 90-day interim period. In October he was unanimously elected KANU President and subsequently declared President of Kenya itself. Moi emphasised his loyalty to Kenyatta—"I followed and was faithful to him until his last day, even when his closest friends forsook him"—and there was much expectation that he would continue the policies inaugurated by Kenyatta. He nevertheless criticised the corruption, land grabbing, and capitalistic ethos that had characterised Kenyatta's period and expressed populist tendencies by emphasising a closer link to the poor. In 1982 he would amend the Kenyan constitution to create a de jure one-party state.
— Guy Arnold
Kenyatta was an African nationalist, and was committed to the belief that European colonial rule in Africa must end. Like other anti-colonialists, he believed that under colonialism, the human and natural resources of Africa had been used not for the benefit of Africa's population but for the enrichment of the colonisers and their European homelands. For Kenyatta, independence meant not just self-rule, but an end to the colour bar and to the patronising attitudes and racist slang of Kenya's white minority. According to Murray-Brown, Kenyatta's "basic philosophy" throughout his life was that "all men deserved the right to develop peacefully according to their own wishes". Kenyatta expressed this in his statement that "I have stood always for the purposes of human dignity in freedom, and for the values of tolerance and peace." This approach was similar to the Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda's ideology of "African humanism".
Murray-Brown noted that "Kenyatta had always kept himself free from ideological commitments", while the historian William R. Ochieng observed that "Kenyatta articulated no particular social philosophy". Similarly, Assensoh noted that Kenyatta was "not interested in social philosophies and slogans". Various commentators and biographers described him as being politically conservative, an ideological viewpoint likely bolstered by his training in functionalist anthropology. Kenyatta biographer Guy Arnold described the Kenyan leader as "a pragmatist and a moderate", noting that his only "radicalism" came in the form of his "nationalist attack" on imperialism. Arnold also noted that Kenyatta "absorbed a great deal of the British approach to politics: pragmatism, only dealing with problems when they become crises, [and] tolerance as long as the other side is only talking". Donald Savage described Kenyatta as displaying "a remarkably consistent view of development through self-help and hard work" and believing in "the importance of authority and tradition". Kenyatta was also an elitist and encouraged the emergence of an elite class in Kenya. He wrestled with a contradiction between his conservative desire for a renewal of traditional custom and his reformist urges to embrace Western modernity. He also faced a contradiction between his internal debates on Kikuyu ethics and belief in tribal identity with his need to create a non-tribalised Kenyan nationalism.
Kenyatta was a Pan-Africanist. Assensoh suggested that Kenyatta initially had socialist inclinations but "became a victim of capitalist circumstances"; conversely, Savage stated that "Kenyatta's direction was hardly towards the creation of a radical new socialist society", and Ochieng called him "an African capitalist". When in power, he displayed a preoccupation with individual and mbari land rights that were at odds with any socialist-oriented collectivisation. He had been exposed to Marxist-Leninist ideas through his friendship with Padmore and the time spent in the Soviet Union, but had also been exposed to Western forms of liberal democratic government through his many years in Britain. He had been influenced by Marxist frameworks for analysing society, for instance in developing the belief that British colonialism had to be destroyed rather than simply reformed. However, he disagreed with the Marxist attitude that tribalism was backward and retrograde; his positive attitude toward tribal society frustrated some of Kenyatta's Marxist Pan-Africanist friends in Britain, among them Padmore, James, and Ras T. Makonnen, who regarded it as parochial and un-progressive. He appears to have had no further involvement with the communist movement after 1934.
Personality and personal lifeEdit
— Kenyatta biographer Jeremy Murray-Brown
Kenyatta was a flamboyant character, with an extroverted personality. According to Murray-Brown, he "liked being at the centre of life", and was always "a rebel at heart" who enjoyed "earthly pleasures". One of Kenyatta's fellow LSE students, Elspeth Huxley, referred to him as "a showman to his finger tips; jovial, a good companion, shrewd, fluent, quick, devious, subtle, [and] flesh-pot loving". Murray-Brown noted that Kenyatta had the ability to "appear all things to all men", also displaying a "consummate ability to keep his true purposes and abilities to himself", for instance concealing his connections with communists and the Soviet Union from both members of the British Labour Party and Kikuyu figures at home. This deviousness was sometimes interpreted as dishonesty by those who met him.
Kenyatta liked to dress elaborately; throughout most of his adult life, he wore finger rings and while studying at university in London took to wearing a fez and cloak and carrying a silver-topped black cane. He adopted his surname, "Kenyatta", after the name of a beaded belt he often wore in early life. As President he collected a variety of expensive cars. Referring to Kenyatta's appearance in 1920s Kenya, Murray-Brown stated the leader presented himself to Europeans as "an agreeable if somewhat seedy 'Europeanized' native" and to indigenous Africans as "a sophisticated man-about-town about whose political earnestness they had certain reservations".
Simon Gikandi argued that Kenyatta, like a number of his contemporaries in the Pan-African movement, was an "Afro-Victorian", someone whose identity had been shaped "by the culture of colonialism and colonial institutions", especially those of the Victorian era. During the 1920s and 1930s, Kenyatta cultivated the image of a "colonial gentleman"; in England, he displayed "pleasant manners" and a flexible attitude in adapting to urban situations dissimilar to the lands he had grown up in. A. R. Barlow, a member of the Church of Scotland Mission at Kikuyu, met with Kenyatta in Britain, later relating that he was impressed by how Kenyatta could "mix on equal terms with Europeans and to hold his end up in spite of his handicaps, educationally and socially." The South African Peter Abrahams met Kenyatta in London, noting that of all the black men involved in the city's Pan-Africanist movement, he was "the most relaxed, sophisticated and 'westernized' of the lot of us". As President, Kenyatta often reminisced nostalgically about his time in England, referring to it as "home" on several occasions. His life has been described as being preoccupied with "a search for the reconciliation of the Western modernity he embraced and an equally valued Kikuyuness he could not discard". Gikandi argued that Kenyatta's "identification with Englishness was much more profound than both his friends and enemies have been willing to admit".
He has also been described as a talented orator, author, and editor. Kenyatta had dictatorial and autocratic tendencies, as well as a fierce temper that could emerge as rage on occasion. Murray-Brown noted that Kenyatta could be "quite unscrupulous, even brutal" in using others to get what he wanted, but that he never displayed any physical cruelty or nihilism. Murray-Brown characterised Kenyatta as an "affectionate father" to his children, but one who was frequently absent. Kenyatta had two children from his first marriage with Grace Wahu: son Peter Muigai Kenyatta (born 1920), who later became a deputy minister; and daughter Margaret Kenyatta (born 1928). Margaret served as mayor of Nairobi between 1970 and 1976 and then as Kenya's ambassador to the United Nations from 1976 to 1986. Grace Wahu died in April 2007. His daughter, Wambui Margaret, became his closest confidante. He viewed monogamy through an anthropological lens as an interesting Western phenomenon but did not adopt the practice himself, instead having sexual relations with a wide range of women throughout his life.
— Kenyatta, April 1961
During his trial, Kenyatta described himself as a Christian, stating that "I do not follow any particular denomination. I believe in Christianity as a whole." Arnold stated that in England, Kenyatta's adherence to Christianity was "desultory". While in London, Kenyatta had taken an interest in the atheist speakers at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, while an Irish Muslim friend had unsuccessfully urged Kenyatta to convert to Islam. During his imprisonment, Kenyatta read up on Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism through books supplied to him by Stock. The Israeli diplomat Asher Naim visited him in this period, noting that although Kenyatta was "not a religious man, he was appreciative of the Bible". Despite portraying himself as a Christian, he found the attitudes of many European missionaries intolerable, in particular their readiness to see everything African as evil. In Facing Mount Kenya, he challenged the missionaries' dismissive attitude toward ancestor veneration, which he instead preferred to call "ancestor communion". In that book's dedication, Kenyatta invoked "ancestral spirits" as part of "the Fight for African Freedom."
Kenyatta had no racist impulses regarding white Europeans, as can for instance be seen through his marriage to a white English woman. He told his daughter that "the English are wonderful people to live with in England." He welcomed white support for his cause, so long as it was generous and unconditional, and spoke of a Kenya in which indigenous Africans, Europeans, Arabs, and Indians could all regard themselves as Kenyans, working and living alongside each other peacefully. He nevertheless exhibited a general dislike of Indians, believing that they exploited indigenous Africans in Kenya.
Within Kenya, Kenyatta came to be regarded as the "Father of the Nation", viewed as a father figure by Kikuyu, Kenyans, and Africans more widely. In Kenya, he became a popular symbol of the nation itself, something furthered by the similarities between their names, while he was also given the unofficial title of Mzee, a Swahili term meaning "grand old man". In 1974, Arnold referred to Kenyatta as "one of the outstanding African leaders now living", someone who had become "synonymous with Kenya". He added that Kenyatta had been "one of the shrewdest politicians" on the continent, regarded as "one of the great architects of African nationalist achievement since 1945". Kenneth O. Nyangena described him as "one of the greatest men of the twentieth century", having been "a beacon, a rallying point for suffering Kenyans to fight for their rights, justice and freedom" whose "brilliance gave strength and aspiration to people beyond the boundaries of Kenya". In their examination of his writings, Bruce J. Berman and John M. Lonsdale described him as a "pioneer" for being one of the very first Kikuyu to write and publish; "his representational achievement was unique".
Maxon noted that in the areas of health and education, Kenya under Kenyatta "achieved more in a decade and a half than the colonial state had accomplished in the preceding six decades." By the time of Kenyatta's death, Kenya had gained higher life expectancy rates than most of Sub-Saharan Africa. There had been an expansion in primary, secondary, and higher education, and the country had taken what Maxon called "giant steps" toward achieving its goal of universal primary education for Kenyan children. Another significant success had been in dismantling the colonial-era system of racial segregation in schools, public facilities, and social clubs peacefully and with minimal disruption.
During much of his life, Kenya's white settlers had regarded Kenyatta as a malcontent and an agitator. As noted by Arnold, "no figure in the whole of British Africa, with the possible exception of [Nkrumah], excited among the settlers and the colonial authorities alike so many expressions of anger, denigration and fury as did Kenyatta." As the historian Keith Kyle put it, for many whites Kenyatta was "Satan Incarnate". This white animosity reached its apogee between 1950 and 1952. By 1964, this image had largely shifted, with many white settlers referring to him as "Good Old Mzee". Murray-Brown expressed the view that for many, Kenyatta's "message of reconciliation, 'to forgive and forget', was perhaps his greatest contribution to his country and to history."
To Ochieng, Kenyatta was "a personification of conservative social forces and tendencies" in Kenya. Towards the end of his Presidency, many younger Kenyans—while respecting Kenyatta's role in attaining independence—were regarding him as a reactionary. Those desiring radical transformation of Kenyan society often compared Kenyatta's Kenya unfavourably with its southern neighbour, Nyerere's Tanzania. The criticisms that leftists like Odinga made of Kenyatta's leadership were similar to those that the intellectual Frantz Fanon had made of post-colonial leaders throughout Africa. Drawing upon Marxist theory, Jay O'Brien for instance argued that Kenyatta had come to power "as a representative of a would-be bourgeoisie", a coalition of "relatively privileged petty bourgeois African elements" who desired to replace the British colonialists and "Asian commercial bourgeoisie". He suggested that the British supported Kenyatta in this, seeing him as a bulwark against growing worker and peasant militancy who would ensure continued neo-colonial dominance.
Assensoh argued that in his life story, Kenyatta had a great deal in common with the Ghanaian leader, Nkrumah. Simon Gikandi noted that Kenyatta, like Nkrumah, was remembered for "initiating the discourse and process that plotted the narrative of African freedom", but at the same time both were "often remembered for their careless institution of presidential rule, one party dictatorship, ethnicity and cronyism. They are remembered both for making the dream of African independence a reality and for their invention of postcolonial authoritarianism." In 1991, the Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist Gibson Kamau Kuria noted that in abolishing the federal system, banning independent candidates from standing in elections, setting up a unicameral legislature, and relaxing restrictions on the use of emergency powers, Kenyatta had laid "the groundwork" for Moi to further advance dictatorial power in Kenya during the late 1970s and 1980s.
Kenyatta was accused by Kenya's Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in its report released in May 2013 of using his authority as President to allocate large tracts of land to himself and his family across Kenya. The Kenyatta family is among Kenya's biggest landowners. During the 1990s, there was still much frustration among various tribal groups, namely in the Nandi, Nakuru, Uasin-Gishu, and Trans-Nzoia Districts, that under Kenyatta's government they had not regained the lands taken by European settlers and that more of their land had been sold to those regarded as "foreigners"—Kenyans from other tribes. Among these groups there were widespread calls for restitution and in 1991 and 1992 there were violent attacks against many of those who obtained land through Kenyatta's patronage in these areas. The violence continued sporadically until 1996, with an estimated 1500 killed and 300,000 displaced in the Rift Valley. Kenyatta's government also made little progress in advancing women's rights in Kenya, where women remained second-class citizens.
In President Barack Obama's memoir, Dreams of My Father, he makes reference to the relationship between Kenyatta and Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr. According to Barack II's memoir, Obama's conflict with the Kenyan President destroyed his career. He came under suspicion after Tom Mboya was assassinated in 1969, as he had been a protege of the ruler. Kenyatta fired Obama, who was blacklisted in Kenya and found it impossible to get work.
|Year of publication||Title||Publisher|
|1938||Facing Mount Kenya||Secker and Warburg|
|1944||My People of Kikuyu and the Life of Chief Wangombe||United Society for Christian Literature|
|1944||Kenya: The Land of Conflict||International African Service Bureau|
|1968||Suffering Without Bitterness||East African Publishing House|
|1971||The Challenge of Uhuru: The Progress of Kenya, 1968 to 1970||East African Publishing House|
- Jones, Daniel (1940). Preface. The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Kikuyu. By Armstrong, Lilias. E. London: International Africa Institute. p. vi.
Mr. Jomo Kenyatta [njɔmɔ keɲaata (– – – – –)]. [...] Mr. Kenyatta prefers to spell his name as shown here, without an n preceding the j. Nj would be more consistent, but the dropping of the n can be justified on the ground that the nasal sound is sometimes not heard in initial position. (see §90).
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Films about Jomo KenyattaEdit
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jomo Kenyatta.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Jomo Kenyatta|
- Jomo Kenyatta sworn in as President – 1964 newsreel
- Mzee Jomo Kenyatta
- Famous People in Kenya: Jomo Kenyatta
- The short film Kenyatta Profile (1971) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
|New office|| Prime Minister of Kenya
Title next held byRaila Odinga
| President of Kenya
Daniel arap Moi