While Jeevanjee Gardens remains one of the most iconic public parks in Nairobi, very few Kenyans know its rich history. The 5 acre garden was built by Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee (AMJ) in 1904 and donated to the colonial administration two years later as a public park to provide a serene place for city dwellers to rest during the day.
Here is his story as told by WoK.
So who is AMJ?
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The serial entrepreneur was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1856. The eldest son of Moosajee Mulla Jevanjee, destiny was not confined to Pakistan. After the death of his father, he packed his bags and left his home country for India, then Australia and eventually found his way to the shores of East Africa in 1890.
He polished his English in Australia where he was a door to door hawker.
His entrepreneurial streak was evident five years after arriving at the port of Mombasa. He quickly made contact with the first wave of British investors who awarded him the contract to supply Imperial British East Africa (IBEACo) with labor for the kenya-Uganda Railway. Within a period of six years he had facilitated the immigration of 31,985 railway workers who took various roles ranging from carpenters, electrical fitters, skilled laborers and metal workers.
A total of 2,473 died while 6,724 returned to their home country while the rest remained in Kenya as first generation Indian immigrants. They went on to set up businesses along the railway line.
End of contract
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Jeevanjee’s business acumen saw him change tack when the contract ended in 1900. His next business was supplying building materials to what came to be known as the lunatic line which earned him a fortune. He is credited with building the earliest post offices, government offices and railway stations in Nairobi. Considered one of the richest men in Kenya, he was said to own 70 percent of Nairobi and a sizeable part of Mombasa.
According to Jeevanjee’s grand daughter Zarina Patel, his grandfather built the first law courts in Nairobi where Imenti House stands and also built Nairobi Club. Jevanjee went on to sell most of the land to other Asians, settlers and the colonial government.
“If you trace the history of the earliest buildings in Nairobi, Jeevanjee is bound to appear somewhere as the contractor, owner, or as an investor,” Zarina shared.
He launched African Standard in Mombasa which went on to be sold to two British investors who renamed it the East African Standard. The oldest daily in Kenya is now trading as the Standard newspaper
AMJ was the first non-white appointed to the legislative council. He established the East African Indian National Congress, a political party championing the rights of the minority in Kenya.
The entrepreneur was married to Jenabai who died in Mombasa in 1903 while giving birth to their fourth child. He went on to marry Dayambai who lived in Pakistan and India for most of their married life before moving to Kenya in 1928. AMJ He died in 1938
Annexing the grounds
Plans to annex the grounds in 1991 were thwarted by the late AMJ’s daughter Shirin Najmudean and her daughter Zarina Patel. With the assistance of wangari Mathai’s Green Belt Movement and the international community, the then President Moi was forced to cancel the plans of converting the park into a mall and a car park.
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