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Jomo Kenyatta[a] (circa 1890 – 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 1978. He played a significant role in the transformation of Kenya from a colony of the British Empire into an independent republic. Ideologically an African nationalist, he led the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta
Jomo Kenyatta 1966-06-15.jpg
President Kenyatta in 1966
1st President of Kenya
In office
12 December 1964 – 22 August 1978
Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
Joseph Murumbi
Daniel arap Moi
Preceded by Elizabeth II
as Queen of Kenya
as Prime Minister of Kenya
Succeeded by Daniel arap Moi
1st Prime Minister of Kenya
In office
1 June 1963 – 12 December 1964
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Malcolm MacDonald
since 12 December 1963
Governor Malcolm MacDonald
until 12 December 1963
Succeeded by Raila Odinga
non-immediate, as Prime Minister
Chairman of KANU
In office
Preceded by James Gichuru
Succeeded by Daniel arap Moi
Personal details
Born Kamau wa Ngengi
(1891-10-20)October 20, 1891
Gatundu, British East Africa
Died August 22, 1978(1978-08-22) (aged 86)
Mombasa, Coast, Kenya
Resting place Nairobi, Kenya
Nationality Kenyan
Political party KANU
Spouse(s) 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 parents in Kiambu, British East Africa. Educated at a Church of Scotland mission, 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. From 1933–34 he studied political tactics at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, Moscow, and then anthropology and phonetics at University College London and the London School of Economics from 1935–37. He worked as a farm labourer in Sussex during the Second World War. Influenced by George Padmore, he embraced anti-colonialist and Pan-African ideas, co-organising the fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945. In 1946, he returned to East Africa and became a teacher. In 1947 he was elected President of the Kenya African Union, through which he began lobbying for independence from British colonial rule. In 1952, he was among the Kapenguria Six arrested and charged with involvement in the Mau Mau Uprising against the British. He was convicted despite protesting his innocence. He remained imprisoned until 1961. He then led the KANU delegation at the negotiations which secured Kenya's independence.

In the 1963 general election, Kenyatta led KANU to victory. As Prime Minister, he led the transition of the Kenya Colony into an independent republic, of which he became President. Centralising power in his party, he prohibited KANU's only rival, Kenya People's Union, from competing in elections; Kenya thus became a de facto one-party state. His regime faced border conflicts with Somalia and an army mutiny in Nairobi. Despite his earlier links to the Soviet Union, his economic policies were conservative and capitalist, and he espoused a pro-Western and anti-communist foreign policy. Following Kenyatta's death, he was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi.

Kenyatta is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.[2] Kenyatta was a well-educated intellectual who authored several books, and is remembered as a Pan-Africanist. He was criticised as authoritarian and for overseeing a growth in corruption and systems of patronage. Many places have been named after him. He is also the father of Kenya's fourth and current President, Uhuru Kenyatta.


Early lifeEdit

Childhood: c.1890–1914Edit

Kenyatta was born at Ngenda, an area of sugar cane and cattle pasture.[3] His date of birth is not known, as birth records were not traditionally kept by the Kikuyu.[4] One biographer, Jules Archer, later suggested that it was likely in 1890,[5] although a fuller analysis performed by Jeremy Murray-Brown concluded that he was likely born circa 1897 or 1898.[6] His father was named Muigai, and his mother Wambui.[3] 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.[3] Muigai was sufficiently wealthy that he could afford to keep several wives, each of whom lived in a separate nymoba (woman's hut).[7] Kenyatta was raised according to traditional Kikuyu custom and religious belief, and was taught the skills needed to herd the family flock.[8] When he was ten years old, his earlobes were pierced to mark his transition away from childhood.[9]

Wambui subsequently bore another son, Kongo,[10] but Muigai died shortly after.[11] In keeping with Kikuyu tradition, Wambui was then married to her late husband's younger brother, Ngengi.[11] Kenyatta was then given the name of Kamau wa Ngengi ("Kamau, son of Ngengi").[12] Wambui bore her new husband a son, whom they also named Muigai.[11] Ngengi was harsh and resentful toward these three boys, with Muigai deciding to take her youngest son with her to stay with her parental family further north.[11] 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.[11] Kenyatta then moved in with his grandfather, Kongo wa Magana, and assisted the latter in his role as a medicine man.[13]

Missionaries have done a lot of good work because it was through the missionary that many of the Kikuyu got their first education... and were able to learn how to read and write... Also, the medical side of it: the missionary did very well. At the same time I think the missionaries... did not understand the value of the African custom, and many of them tried to stamp out some of the customs without knowing the part they play in the life of the Kikuyu... They upset the life of the people.

— Kenyatta, in a BBC interview, 1963[14]

In November 1909, Kenyatta left home and enrolled as a pupil at the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) at Thogoto.[15] He informed the British missionaries based there that we wished to learn from them.[16] These missionaries were zealous Christian who believed that bringing Christianity to the indigenous peoples of Eastern Africa was part of Britain's civilising mission.[17] While there, Kenyatta stayed at the small boarding school, where he learnt stories from the Bible,[18] and was taught to read and write in English.[19] He also performed chores for the mission, among them washing the dishes and weeding the gardens.[16] Several months after arriving, Kenyatta was taken ill with tuberculosis.[18] Kenyatta was soon joined at the mission dormitory by his brother Kongo.[20] Many of their generation were increasingly resenting the patronising way in which most of the British missionaries treated them.[21]

Kenyatta's academic progress was unremarkable, and in July 1912 he became an apprentice to the carpenter at the mission.[22] At Easter 1912, he professed his dedication to Christianity and began undergoing catechism.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] Accordingly, he was baptised as Johnstone Kamau in August 1914.[24] After his baptism, Kenyatta moved out of the mission dormitory and lived with friends.[25] Having completed his apprenticeship to a carpenter, Kenyatta requested that the mission allow him to be an apprentice stonemason, but they refused.[25] Kenyatta then requested that he be recommended for employment, but the head missionary refused because of an allegation of minor dishonesty.[26]

Nairobi: 1914–1922Edit

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.[26] 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.[27] 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, but he disappeared during the conflict; his family never learned of his fate.[28] 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.[28] Kenyatta had an aunt who had married a Maasai chief and began living with her family.[29] He adopted a number of Maasai custims, and took to wearing the Maasai jewellery which was known as kinyata in the Kikuyu language.[30]

Kenyatta spent much of his time in Nairobi

In 1917, Kenyatta moved to Narok, where he was involved in transporting livestock to Nairobi, possibly as an administrative clerk or a ranching hand.[29] After the British Army conquered German East Africa, Kenyatta relocated to Nairobi where he worked in a store selling farming and engineering equipment.[29] In the evenings, he took classes in a Church Mission School.[29] Several months later he returned to Thika to work with another company, and then gained employment constructing houses for the Thogota Mission.[31] 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.[32]

Kenyatta sought to find a wife; his first attempt failed when it was revealed that his proposed bride was related to his clan.[33] 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,[33] although joined Kenyatta in Dagoretti when Ngengi drove her out.[33] On 20 November 1920 their son was born, and named Peter Muigui.[34] 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.[35] The church insisted that a traditional Kikuyu wedding would be inadequate, and that he must undergo a Christian civil marriage;[36] this took place on 8 November 1922.[37] Kenyatta had initially refused to cease drinking,[36] but in July 1923 officially renounced alcohol and was allowed to return to Holy Communion.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40] Kenyatta lived in Kilimani,[41] 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.[42] He had sufficient funds that he could lend money to European clerks in the offices,[43] and could enjoy the lifestyle offered by Nairobi, which included cinemas, football matches, and imported British fashions.[43]

Kikuyu Central Association: 1922–1929Edit

Kenyatta lobbied against many of the actions of Edward Grigg, Governor of Kenya; in turn, Grigg tried to suppress many of Kenyatta's activities

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.[44] 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,[45] perhaps so as not to disrupt his lucrative employment prospects.[41] 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.[46] In either 1925 or early 1926, Beauttah moved to Uganda, although remained in contact with Kenyatta.[44] 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.[47] Kenyatta accepted, probably on the condition that the Association matched his pre-existing wage.[48]

It is likely that the KCA purchased a motorbike for Kenyatta,[48] which he used to travel around both Kikuyuland and neighbouring areas inhabited by the Meru and Embu, helping to establish new KCA branches.[49] 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.[50] 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.[51] Also in February, his daughter, Wambui Margaret, was born.[52] By this point he was increasingly using the name "Kenyatta", which had a more African appearance than "Johnstone".[53]

In May 1928, the KCA launched a Kikuyu-language magazine, Muĩgwithania (roughly translated as "The Reconciler" or "The Unifier"), in which were contained news, articles, and homilies.[54] Its purpose was to help unify the Kikuyu and to raise funds for the KCA.[55] Kenyatta, now described as Secretary of the KCA, was listed as the publication's editor,[53] 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.[55] Kenyatta's approach to campaigning was cautious; he was aware that Thuku had been exiled for his activism.[55] In Muĩgwithania, he expressed support for the churches, district commissioners, and chiefs.[55] 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."[55] This did not prevent Grigg from writing to the authorities in London requesting that he be allowed to shut the magazine down.[52]


London: 1929–1931Edit

After the KCA raised sufficient funds, in February 1929 Kenyatta set sail for Britain from Mombasa aboard a French vessel, the Bernadino de St Pierre.[56] Grigg's administration could not legally prevent Kenyatta's journey but both warned him not to go and instructed the Colonial Office in London not to meet with him.[57] Arriving in London on 8 March 1929, Kenyatta initially stayed at the West African Students' Union premises in West London, where he met Ladipo Solanke.[58] He subsequently began lodging with a prostitute; both this and Kenyatta's lavish spending brought concern from members of the Church Mission Society.[59] His landlord subsequently impounded his belongings due to unpaid debt.[60] 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.[61] Kenyatta became friends with Ross' family, and accompanied them to social events in Hampstead.[62] He also contacted anti-imperialists active in Britain, including the League Against Imperialism, Fenner Brockway, and Kingsley Martin.[63] 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.[64] However, following the meeting Grigg got Special Branch to begin monitoring Kenyatta.[63]

In the summer of 1929, he left London and visited Moscow via Berlin, alleging that the entire trip had been financed by an African-American friend. He returned to London in October.[65] Kenyatta was strongly influenced by his time in the Soviet Union.[66] Back in England, he wrote three articles on the Kenyan situation for the Communist Party of Great Britain's newspaper, the Daily Worker, one published in October and the other two in January 1930. In these articles, his criticism of British imperialism was far stronger than it had been in Muĩgwithania.[67] 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.[68] Shiels' advice was for Kenyatta to return home, where he could promote Kikuyu involvement in the constitutional process and discourage violence and extremism.[69] After eighteen months in Europe, Kenyatta had run out of money. The Anti-Slavery Society advanced him the money needed to pay off his debts and return to Kenya.[70] Kenyatta however enjoyed life in London and feared arrest if he returned to Kenya.[71] He arrived in Mombasa in September 1930.[72] On his return, his prestige among the Kikuyu was high because of his time spent in Europe.[73]

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.[74] Anger between the two sides had heightened, with several churches expelling KCA members from their congregations, and in January 1930 an American nun, Hulda Stumpf, had been killed over the issue.[75] 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.[76] The meeting ended without compromise, and Arthur later complained about what he described as Kenyatta's dishonesty during the debate.[77] In 1931, Kenyatta took his son out of the church school at Thogota and enrolled him in a KCA-approved, independent school.[78]

Return to Europe: 1931–1933Edit

With the support of all revolutionary workers and peasants we must redouble our efforts to break the bonds that bind us. We must refuse to give any support to the British imperialists either by paying taxes or obeying any of their slave laws! We can fight in unity with the workers and toilers of the whole world, and for a Free Africa.

— Kenyatta in the Labour Monthly, November 1933[79]

In May 1931, Kenyatta and Parmenas Mockerie set sail for Europe aboard an Italian liner, the Mazzini, intent on representing the KCA as a joint select committee of parliament on the future of East Africa.[80] Kenyatta would not return to Kenya for fifteen years.[81] There, he spent the summer attending ILP summer schools and gatherings of the Fabian Society.[82] In June, he visited Geneva in Switzerland to attend a conference on African children run by the Save the Children charity.[82] In November, he met the Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi while in London.[83] That month, he enrolled in the Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham, where he remained until the spring of 1932.[84]

Kenyatta had befriended an Afro-Caribbean Marxist, George Padmore, who was working for the Soviet-run Comintern.[85] Over time, he became Padmore's protégé.[86] In late 1932, he joined Padmore in Germany.[87] Before the end of the year, the duo relocated to Moscow, where Kenyatta was instructed in becoming a professional revolutionary at the University of the Toilers of the East.[88] During his time in the Soviet Union, Kenyatta also visited Siberia, probably as part of an official guided tour.[89] The emergence of the Nazi administration in Germany resulted in shifting political allegiances in Europe, as the Soviet Union sought to establish formal alliances with France and Czechoslovakia,[90] reducing its support for the movement against British and French colonial rule in Africa.[91] As a result, Comintern disbanded the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, to which both Padmore and Kenyatta were affiliated. Padmore resigned from his official posts in protest, and was subsequently vilified in the Soviet press.[86] Both Padmore and Kenyatta then left the Soviet Union, with the latter returning to London in August 1933.[92]

Kenyatta had continued writing articles, in which he reflected Padmore's influence.[93] He produced an article for a January 1933 issue of the Negro Worker, and then another for a November 1933 issue of Labour Monthly.[94] He also wrote the entry on Kenya for Negro, an anthology edited by Nancy Cunard and published in 1934.[93] In these, he took a more extreme position than he had in the past, calling for complete self-rule in Kenya.[95] In doing so he was virtually alone among political Kenyans in making this demand, with figures like Thuku and Jesse Kariuki being far less radical in their demands.[96] The pro-independence sentiments that he was able to express in Britain would not have been permitted in Kenya itself.[79]

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.[97] The book was posthumously published under Armstrong's name, although Kenyatta claimed that he should have been recognised as co-author.[97] 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.[98] Enabled by a grant from the International African Institute,[98] he also began taking an 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 very keen to support the participation of indigenous peoples in anthropological research.[99] Over the course of his studies, Kenyatta and Malinowski became close friends.[100] Fellow students on his course included anthropologists Audrey Richards, Lucy Mair, and Elspeth Huxley.[101] 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.[100]

Kenyatta returned to his former dwellings at 95 Cambridge Street,[98] but did not pay his landlady for over a year, owing over £100 in rent.[102] This angered Ross and contributed to the termination of their friendship.[103] He subsequently began renting a flat in Camden Town with his friend Dinah Snock, whom he had met at an anti-imperialist rally in Trafalgar Square.[104] Kenyatta socialised at the Student Movement House in Russell Square, which he had joined in the spring of 1934.[105] He also gained a number of African friends living in the city.[106] To earn additional money, he worked as one of 250 black extras who appeared in the film Sanders of the River, filmed at Shepperton Studios in Autumn 1934.[106] A number of other Africans in London criticised him for doing so, arguing that the film degraded indigenous Africans.[107] Appearing in the film also allowed him to meet and befriend its star, the African-American Paul Robeson.[100]

In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia), incensing Kenyatta and other Africans in London; he became the honourary secretary of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, a group established by Padmore and C. L. R. James.[108] This group developed into a wider pan-Africanist organisation, the International African Service Bureau (IASB), which Kenyatta joined.[109] When Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian monarch, fled Italy and came to London in exile, Kenyatta personally welcomed him.[110] Kenyatta began giving anti-colonial lectures across the country for such groups as the IASB and the Workers' Educational Association.[111] In October 1938, Kenyatta gave a talk to the Manchester Fabian Society in which he referred to "British Fascism in the colonies", comparing the treatment of indigenous Africans in East Africa to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.[111] In response to these activities, the British Colonial Office reopened their file on him, although could not find any evidence of anything seditious enough to warrant prosecution.[112]

Kenyatta assembled the various seminar papers on Kikuyu life and custom that he had written for Malinowski's class, publishing these as Facing Mount Kenya in 1938.[113] Malinowski authored an introduction for the book,[114] while the jacket cover featured an image of Kikiyu in traditional dress, wearing a skin cloak draped over one shoulder and carrying a spear.[115] 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.[116] The book was a commercial failure, selling only 517 copies, but was generally well received.[117] The book reflected Kenyatta's desire to use anthropology as a weapon against colonialism.[101] 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.[118] He promoted the idea that traditional Kikuyu society had a cohesion and integrity that was better than anything offered by European colonialism.[119] 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.[120] It was also here that he 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.[121] Murray-Brown later described it as "a propaganda tour de force. No other African had made such an uncompromising stand for tribal integrity."[122]

World War II: 1939–1945Edit

In the last war 300,000 of my people fought in the British Army to drive the Germans from East Africa and 60,000 of them lost their lives. In this war large numbers of my people have been fighting to smash fascist power in Africa and have borne some of the hardest fights against the Italians. Surely if we are considered fit enough to take our rifles and fight side by side with white men we have a right to a direct say in the running of our country and to education.

— Kenyatta, during World War II[123]

After the United Kingdom entered World War II in September 1939, Kenyatta and Stock left London for the village of Storrington in Sussex.[124] There, Kenyatta remained for the duration of the war, renting a flat and taking on a small plot of land where he grew vegetables and raised chickens.[125] Kenyatta settled into rural Sussex life.[126] In August 1940, he took a job at a local farm as an agricultural worker; this allowed him to evade military conscription.[123] He later worked at the tomato houses at Lindfield.[123] He also attempted to join the local Home Guard, but was turned down.[123] He began a relationship with an English woman, Edna Grace Clarke, and they married at Chanctonbury Registry Office on 11 May 1942.[126] On 11 August 1943, their son, Peter Magana, was born.[126]

As a result of the war, communication between Kenya and Britain was greatly curtailed, and the Kenyan authorities banned the KCA in 1940.[127] Towards the end of the conflict, Kenyatta was becoming restless and frustrated by the distance between him and Kenya.[128] To Edna, he stated that he felt "like a general separated by 5000 miles from his troops".[129] While in Sussex, he wrote an essay, My People of Kikuyu, in which he called for his tribe's political independence,[130] and he also began—although never finished—a novel partly based on his life experiences.[123] He continued to give lectures around the country, including to groups of East African soldiers who were stationed in Britain.[123]

Kenyatta and other senior members of the IASB began planning for the organisation of the fifth Pan-African Congress, held in Manchester.[131] They were assisted in this by Kwame Nkrumah, a West African who arrived in Britain in early 1945.[131] Kenyatta spoke at the conference, although made no particular impact on the proceedings.[132] Much of the debate that took place centred on whether indigenous Africans should continue pursuing a gradual campaign for independence or whether they should rise up and seek the military overthrow of the European imperialists.[132] 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".[133] Kenyatta supported this resolution, although was more cautious than other delegates and made no open commitment to violence.[134] He subsequently authored an IASM 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.[134]

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.[135] That month, he boarded the Alcantra at Southampton and sailed back to Kenya.[136] By this point, Edna was pregnant with a second child, although she expected that she would never see her husband again.[136] On his arrival in Mombasa, Kenyatta was greeted by his first wife and their children.[137] He built a bungalow at Gatundu, near to where he was born, and began farming his 32-acre estate.[138] 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.[139] 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.[140] In May 1947, Koinange moved to England, leaving Kenyatta to take full control of the college.[138] 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.[141] 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.[142] Kenyatta built a friendship with Koinange's father, a Senior Chief, who gave Kenyatta one of his daughters to take as his third wife.[140] She gave him another child, but later died in childbirth.[143] 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.[144]

In October 1951, Kenyatta selected green, black, and red for the KAU flag: green for the land, black for the skin of the people, and red for the blood of liberty[145]

In August 1944, the Kenya African Union (KAU) had been founded as the only political outlet for indigenous Africans in the colony.[146] At its June 1947 annual general meeting, KAU's President James Gichuru stepped down and Kenyatta was elected as his replacement.[147] Kenyatta began to draw large crowds wherever he travelled in Kikuyuland,[147] and Kikuyu press began describing him as the "Saviour", "Great Elder", and "Hero of Our Race".[148] He was nevertheless aware that for independence to be achieved, KAU would need the support of other indigenous tribes and ethnic groups.[149] This was made difficult by he fact that many Masai and Luo—tribes traditionally hostile to the Kikuyu—regarded him as an advocate of Kikuyu dominance.[146] He insisted on inter-tribal representation on the KAU executive and ensured that party business was conducted in Swahili, a language spoken by many groups.[146]

To attract support from Kenya's Indian community, he made contact with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the newly independent India. 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.[136] 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.[150] 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.[151] 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.[152] 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.[153]

As KAU leader, Kenyatta was at pains to oppose all illegal activity, including workers' strikes.[154] He called on his supporters to work hard, and to abandon laziness, theft, and crime.[155] He also insisted that in an independent Kenya, all racial groups would be safeguarded.[155] 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. In April 1952, he began a speaking tour in which he denounced the Mau Mau to assembled crowds, insisting that independence must be achieved through peaceful means.[143] 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."[156] Despite Kenyatta's vocal opposition to the Mau Mau, KAU had moved towards a position of greater militancy.[153] 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.[145] In January 1952, KAU members formed a secret Central Committee devoted to direct action, formulated along a cell structure.[145] Whatever Kenyatta's views on these developments, he had little ability to control them.[143]

Kenyatta at the Eldoret Agricultural Show, 1968

Trial and imprisonment: 1952–Edit

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.[157] From there he was allowed to write to his family to let them know of his situation.[158] The Kenyan authorities believed that detaining Kenyatta would help to quell the civil unrest.[159] 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.[158] 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.[159] Eventually, they charged both him and five senior KAU members with masterminding the Mau Mau guerrillas, which were a proscribed group.[160]

The trial took place in Kapenguria, a remote area that the authorities hoped would not attract crowds or attention.[159] Together, Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Achieng Oneko and Kung'u Karumba—the "Kapenguria Six"—were put on trial.[159] 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.[160] Pritt's involvement brought much media attention,[160] and during the trial he faced government harassment and received various death threats.[161] The judge in the case, R. S. Thacker, had recently retired from the Supreme Court of Kenya.[160] The trial lasted five months: Rawson Macharia, the main prosecution witness, turned out to have perjured himself; the judge—who had only recently been awarded an unusually large pension, and who maintained secret contact with the then colonial Governor of Kenya Evelyn Baring[162] during the trial—was openly hostile to the defendants' cause.[citation needed] The prosecution failed to produce any strong evidence that Kenyatta or the other accused had any involvement in managing the Mau Mau.[163]

In April 1953, the judge found the defendants guilty.[164] They were sentenced to seven years' hard labour, which was to be followed by indefinite restriction.[165] 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.[164] In June 1953, the Kenyan authorities banned KAU.[166] They also closed down most of the independent schools in the country, including Kenyatta's.[166]

Kenyatta remained in prison until 1959, after which he was detained in Lodwar, a remote part of Kenya.[citation needed] The state of emergency was lifted on 12 January 1960.[167]

Tanzanian children with signs demanding Kenyatta's release in March 1961

On 28 February 1960, a public meeting of 25,000 in Nairobi demanded his release. On 15 April 1960, over a million signatures for a plea to release him were presented to the Governor. On 14 May 1960, he was elected KANU President in absentia. On 23 March 1961, Kenyan leaders, including Daniel arap Moi, later his longtime Vice President and successor as president, visited him at Lodwar. On 11 April 1961, he was moved to Maralal with daughter Margaret where he met world press for the first time in eight years. On 14 August 1961, he was released and brought to Gatundu.

While contemporary opinion linked Kenyatta with the Mau Mau, historians have questioned his alleged leadership of the radical movement.[168] Kenyatta was in truth a political moderate. His marriage of Colonial Chief's daughters, his post independence Kikuyu allies mainly being former colonial collaborators (though also from his tribe), and his short shrift treatment of former Mau Mau fighters after he came to power, all suggest a lack of strong ties to the Mau Mau.


Jomo Kenyatta and President of West Germany Heinrich Lübke in 1966


Kenyatta was admitted into the Legislative Council after his release in 1961, after Kariuki Njiiri (son of late Chief Njiiri) gave up his Kigumo seat for him.

In 1961 and 1963, he led the KANU delegation to first and second Lancaster House Conferences in London where Kenya's independence constitution was negotiated.

Elections were then held in May 1963, pitting Kenyatta's KANU (Kenya African National Union- which advocated for Kenya to be a unitary state) against KADU (Kenya African Democratic Union – which advocated for Kenya to be an ethnic-federal state). KANU beat KADU by winning 83 seats out of 124. On 1 June 1963, Kenyatta became prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government. After independence, Queen Elizabeth II remained as Head of State (after Independence, styled as Queen of Kenya), represented by a Governor-General. He consistently asked white settlers not to leave Kenya and supported reconciliation.


Presidential Standard of Jomo Kenyatta

Kenyatta retained the role of prime minister after independence was declared and jubilantly celebrated on 12 December 1963.[169]

On 1 June 1964, he had Parliament amend the Constitution to make Kenya a republic. The office of prime minister was replaced by a president with wide executive and legislative powers. Elected by the National Assembly, he was head of State, head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Under the provisions of the amendment, Kenyatta automatically became president.

His policy was that of continuity and gradual Africanisation of the government, keeping many colonial civil servants in their old jobs as they were gradually replaced by Kenyans. He asked for British troops' help against Somali rebels, Shiftas, in the northeast and in ending an army mutiny in Nairobi in January 1964.

On 10 November 1964, KADU officially dissolved and its representatives joined KANU, forming a single party.

Kenyatta was re-elected un-opposed in 1966, and the next year had the Constitution amended to expand his powers. This term featured border conflicts with Somalia, and more political opposition. He consolidated his power greatly, and placed several of his Kikuyu tribesmen in most of the powerful state and security offices and posts. State security forces harassed dissidents and were suspected of complicity in several murders of prominent personalities deemed threats to his regime, including Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and J.M. Kariuki.[170] MP and Lawyer C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek and former Kadu Leader and minister Ronald Ngala, also died in suspicious car accidents.

In 1968 he published his biography Suffering Without Bitterness.

1973 newsreel about Kenyatta's rule

In the 1969 elections, Kenyatta banned the only other party, the Kenya People's Union (formed and led by his former vice president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had been forced to quit KANU along with his left leaning allies), detained its leaders, and called elections in which only KANU was allowed to participate. For all intents and purposes, Kenya was now a one-party state, though it would not be formally declared the only legally permitted party until 1982.

On 29 January 1970 he was sworn in as President for a further term. For the remainder of his presidency, Kenyatta held complete political control of the country. He made use of detention, appeals to ethnic loyalties, and careful appointment of government jobs to maintain his commanding position in Kenya's political system.[171] However, as the 1970s wore on, advancing age kept him from the day-to-day management of government affairs. He intervened only when necessary to settle disputes. His relative isolation resulted in increasing domination of Kenya's affairs by well-connected Kikuyu who acquired great wealth as a result.[171][172]

Kenyatta was re-elected as President in 1974, again as the only candidate.[171] On 5 November 1974, he was sworn in as President for a third term.[173] His increasingly feeble health meant that his inner circle effectively ruled the country, and greatly enriched themselves, in his name.[172] He remained president until his death four years later in 1978.


Kenyatta in the last year of his life

President Kenyatta suffered a heart attack in 1966. In the mid-1970s, he lapsed into periodic comas lasting from a few hours to a few days from time to time. On 14 August 1978, he hosted his entire family, including his son Peter Magana who flew in from Britain with his family, at a reunion in Mombasa. On 22 August 1978, President Kenyatta died in Mombasa of natural causes attributable to old age; he was about 86 at the time of his death. He was buried on 31 August 1978 in Nairobi in a state funeral at a mausoleum on Parliament grounds.

He was succeeded as President after his death by his vice-president, Daniel arap Moi, who in turn ruled over Kenya until his retirement in 2002.[172]

Personality and personal lifeEdit

Murray-Brown described Kenyatta as having an "extrovert personality",[29] a man who "liked being at the centre of life",[174] and who was always "a rebel at heart" and who enjoyed "earthly pleasures".[73] One of his 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".[101] Kenyatta was a flamboyant character.[139] Throughout most of his adult life, Kenyatta had worn finger rings, but while studying at university in London took to wearing a fez and cloak and carrying a silver-topped black cane.[174] Murray-Brown also noted that Kenyatta could be "quite unscrupulous, even brutal" in using others to get what he wanted,[175] but that he never displayed any physical cruelty or nihilism.[129] He also had a fierce temper and could get into a rage on occasion.[175]

Kenyatta had the ability to "appear all things to all men."[147] Murray-Brown also noted Kenyatta's "consummate ability to keep his true purposes and abilities to himself", for instance through the way in which he concealed his connections with communists and the Soviet Union from both members of the British Labour Party and Kikuyu figures at home.[176] 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".[53] Murray-Brown noted that there was "always something devious about him", something which some viewed as dishonesty.[177]

In England, Kenyatta displayed "pleasant manners and his unassuming attitude" and displayed a flexible attitude in adapting to urban situations dissimilar to the lands he had grown up in.[178] 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."[179]

Murray-Brown characterised Kenyatta as an "affectionate father" to his children, but one who was frequently absent.[52] His daughter, Wambui Margaret, became his closest confidante.[52] 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.[129]

During his trial, Kenyatta described himself as a Christian,[180] and stated that "I do not follow any particular denomination. I believe in Christianity as a whole."[181] In London, he had taken an interest in the atheist speakers at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.[182] Also in the city, an Irish Muslim friend had urged Kenyatta to convert to Islam, with no success.[182] He had no racist impulses regarding white Europeans, as can for instance be seen through his marriage to a white English woman.[129] 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.[136] However, Kenyatta had a general dislike of Indians, believing that they exploited indigenous Africans in Kenya.[183]


A statue of Kenyatta at the KICC in Nairobi

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, as he was popularly known, was an important and influential statesman in Africa. He is credited with leading Kenya to independence and setting up the country as a relatively prosperous capitalist state. He pursued a moderate pro-Western, anti-Communist economic philosophy and foreign policy.[184][185][186] He oversaw a peaceful land reform process, oversaw the setting up of the institutions of independent Kenya, and also oversaw Kenya's admission into the United Nations.

Archer described Kenyatta as "one of the most sophisticated statesmen in Africa".[187]

However, Kenyatta was not without major flaws, and did also bequeath Kenya some major problems which continue to bedevil the country to date, hindering her development, and threatening her existence as a peaceful unitary multi-ethnic state.[188]

He failed to mould Kenya, being her founding father, into a homogeneous multi-ethnic state. Instead, the country remains a de facto confederation of competing tribal interests.

His authoritarian style, characterized by patronage, favouritism, tribalism and/or nepotism drew criticism and dissent, and set an example followed by his successors. He had the Constitution amended to expand his powers, consolidating executive power.[189]

He is also criticised for having ruled through a group consisting largely of his relatives, other Kikuyus, mostly from his native Kiambu district, offspring of former colonial chiefs, and African Kikuyu colonial collaborators and their offspring, while giving scant reward to those whom many consider the real fighters for Kenya's independence.[citation needed] This clique became the wealthiest, most powerful and most influential class in Kenya.[172][190]

Kenyatta has further been criticised for encouraging the culture of wealth accumulation by public officials using the power and influence of their offices, thereby entrenching corruption in Kenya.[191] He is regularly charged with having accumulated huge land holdings in Kenya. "The regime of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was riddled with land grabbing which was perpetrated by him for his benefit and members of his family...between 1964 and 1966, one-sixth of European settlers’ lands that were intended for settlement of landless and land-scarce Africans were cheaply sold to the then President Kenyatta and his wife Ngina as well as his children...throughout the years of President Kenyatta's administration, his relatives friends and officials in his administration also benefited from the vice with wanton impunity." a report by Kenya's Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was recently quoted as saying.[192]

His policies are also criticised for perpetuating a large income and development inequality gap in the country. Development and resource allocation in the country during his reign was seen to have favoured some regions of the country over others.[188] His resettlement of many Kikuyu tribesmen in the country's Rift Valley province is widely considered to have been done unfairly.[188][193]


Kenyatta at an agricultural show in 1968

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.[194]

He had one son, Peter Magana Kenyatta (born 1943) from his short marriage with Edna Clarke.[195]

His third wife, Grace Wanjiku, died when giving birth in 1950. Daughter Jane Wambui survived.[196]

His fourth wife, the best known due to her role as First Lady, was Ngina Kenyatta (née Muhoho), also known as Mama Ngina. She often accompanied him in public and also has some streets in Nairobi and Mombasa named after her. She bore Kenyatta four children: Christine Wambui (born 1952), Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta (born 1961), Anna Nyokabi (also known as Jeni) and Muhoho Kenyatta (born 1964). Mama Ngina lives quietly as a wealthy widow, and now as President's mother, in Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta, Mzee Kenyatta's political heir, unsuccessfully vied for the Kenyan presidency as President Moi's preferred successor in 2002, but was elected Kenya's fourth President in 2013 . Muhoho Kenyatta runs the Kenyatta's vast family business but lives out of the public limelight.

Kenyatta was the uncle of Ngethe Njoroge, Kenya's first representative to the United Nations and the great uncle of Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine. His niece, Beth Mugo, married to a retired ambassador, was an MP, served as Minister for Public Health and is now a nominated Senator.

See alsoEdit



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Archer, Jules (1969). African Firebrand: Kenyatta of Kenya. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0671320621. 
Beck, Ann (1966). "Some Observations on Jomo Kenyatta in Britain: 1929–1930". Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 6 (22): 308–329. JSTOR 4390930. 
Murray-Brown, Jeremy (1974) [1972]. Kenyatta. Fontana. ISBN 0-00-633453-9. 


  • Anderson, David (2005) Histories of the Hanged: Britain's Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London. ISBN 0297847198.
  • Polsgrove, Carol (2009) Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719089018.
  • From Dundee to Kenya. Dir. Russel Barr. Perf. Right Rev Dr Russell Barr. YouTube. Church of Scotland, 21 Mar. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

Further readingEdit

Books by Jomo KenyattaEdit

  • Facing Mount Kenya (1938)
  • My people of Kikuyu and the life of Chief Wangombe (1944)
  • Suffering Without Bitterness (biography 1968)
  • Kenya: The land of conflict (1971)
  • The challenge of Uhuru;: The progress of Kenya, 1968 to 1970 (1971)

Books about Jomo KenyattaEdit

Films about Jomo KenyattaEdit

External linksEdit

Political offices
New title Prime Minister of Kenya
Office abolished
Title next held by
Raila Odinga
From 2008
New title President of Kenya
Succeeded by
Daniel arap Moi