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HomebioJomo Kenyatta's Biography: The Founding Father Of Kenya, His Story

Jomo Kenyatta’s Biography: The Founding Father Of Kenya, His Story

By Ian Musolongwa – August 2 , 2021

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Muiga on October 20, 1891 in Ichaweri, Southwest of Mt. Kenya in the East African Highlands.

Kamau’s parents were Muigai wa Kung’u  and Wambui wa Kung’u. His father was the chief of a small Kikuyu agricultural village in Gatundu Division of the Kiambu District, one of the five  administrative districts in the Central Highlands of British East Africa .

Muigai was sufficiently wealthy that he could afford to keep several wives each living in a separate nyumba(woman’s hut). Kenyatta was raised according to traditional Kikuyu custom and beliefs and was taught skills needed to herd the family flock. When he was 10 years old his earlobes were pierced to mark his transition from childhood to adulthood.

Muigai died when Kamau was very young and in Keeping with the Kikuyu traditional customs, Wambui then got married to her late husband’s brother called Ngengi and also took over the chiefdom from Muigai. Thus Kenyatta then took the name Kamau wa Ngengi ( meaning Kamau son of Ngengi). Wambui died while giving birth to a boy, James Muigai and Kenyatta, who was very fond of young brother Muigai travelled to collect his infant half brother. Kenyatta then moved to live with his grandfather, Kungu wa Magana and assisted his grandfather in his role as a traditional healer ( in his book “Facing Mount Kenya” he refers to him as a seer and a magician in the area).

At around the age of 10, Kamau suffered from a jigger infestation, and was taken to the Church of Scotland Mission at Thogoto. He underwent a successful surgery on both feet and one leg . Kamau was impressed by his first exposure to Europeans and became determined to Join the mission school.

Thus in November 1909, he ran away from home and became a resident pupil at the mission. There, he studied many subjects including the Bible, English, Mathematics, Carpentry and he paid his school fees by working as a house boy and a cook for a European settler.

In 1912, having completed his mission school education, Kamau became an apprentice carpenter. That year he professed his dedication to Christianity and began undergoing catechism.

In 1913, he underwent the Kikuyu circumcision ritual allowing Kenyatta to be recognized as an adult and became a member of the kechiomwere group in Kikuyu tradition.

In August 1914, Kamau was baptized with the name Johnstone as his Christian name and thus became Johnstone Kamau. Having completed his apprenticeship as a carpenter, Kenyatta requested the mission to allow him to be an apprentice stonemason but they refused . Furthermore , he also requested that the mission recommend him for employment, but the head of missionary refused because of an allegation of minor dishonesty.

He moved to Thika under the tutelage of John Cook who had been in charge of the building program at Thogoto as an apprentice carpenter in a sisal farm. As World War 1 progressed , able bodied Kikuyu were forced to work in the army by the

British authorities. To avoid this, Kenyatta moved to Narok in 1917 living amongst the Maasai , where he worked as a clerk for the Asian contractor.

After that he departed to Nairobi where he secured a job as a clerk in the Public Works Department and he also adopted the name Kenyatta, the Kikuyu term for a fancy belt that he wore. After serving briefly as an interpreter in the High Court, Kenyatta transferred to a post with the Nairobi Town Council and began working as a store clerk and a meter reader for Cook who had been appointed as Water Superintendent for Nairobi Municipal Council.

Marriage and Family

In 1919, he met his first wife Grace Wahu , according to Kikuyu Tradition when it became apparent that Grace was pregnant, his church elders ordered him to get married before a European Magistrate and undertake the appropriate church rites. On 20 November 1920, Kamau’s first son Peter Muigai was born. Amongst other jobs which he undertook during this period were: Serving as an Interpreter in the Nairobi High Court.

In 1922, Kamau adopted the name Jomo (A Kikuyu name meaning ‘burning spear’) Kenyatta.

Married his second wife Edna Clarke while he was in London , with whom he had one son born August 11, 1944 from his short marriage with Edna Clarke after returning to Kenya.

Third wife : Married Grace Wanjiku in 1946 after returning to Kenya from London, Britain. His wife died when giving birth to their daughter Jane Makena Wambui in 1951 who survived.

First President Of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta and Mama Ngina Image/Courtesy

Fourth Wife : Married in 1951, best Known for her role as First Lady, was Ngina Kenyatta also known as Mama Ngina whom he had four children with: Christine Wambui (born 1953), Uhuru Kenyatta (born 1961), Ann Nyokabi Muthama (born may 1963), Muhoho Kenyatta (born 1965). His son Uhuru Kenyatta was elected President in 2013 and 2017 as President of the Republic of Kenya.

Political Career

In 1921, Harry Thuku a well educated and respected Kikuyu, had formed the East African Association (EAA) to campaign for the return of Kikuyu lands given over to the white Settlers when the country became a British Colony in 1920. Thus Kenyatta joined the East African Association in 1922.

In 1925, the East African Association disbanded under Governmental pressure but it’s members came together as the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) formed by James Beuttah and Joseph Kangeth . Kenyatta worked as an editor of the Kikuyu Central Association’s Journal between 1924 and 1929. By 1928 he had become the KCA’s general Secretary.

Jomo Kenyatta and his son Uhuru Kenyatta Image/Courtesy

In May 1928, Being Kikuyu Central Association’s Secretary General , he launched a Kikuyu language newspaper called Mwigwithania ( Kikuyu word meaning “he who brings together”) which intended to draw all the sections of Kikuyu Together. The Paper was supported by an Asian owned printing press had a mild and unassuming tone and was tolerated by the British Authorities.


After Kikuyu Central Association raised funds to enhance sailing of Jomo Kenyatta to London Britain. In February 1929, Kenyatta sailed from Mombasa to Britain (London) to represent Kikuyu Central Association with the colonial Office, but unfortunately the secretary of State for the colonies refused to meet him .

Undeterred , Kenyatta wrote to British papers including The Times. Kenyatta’s letter published in the Times in March 1930 set out 5 points:

-The Security of land tenure and the demand for land Taken by European settlers to be returned.

-Improved educational opportunities for Black Africans

-Repeat of hut and poll taxes

-Representation for Black Africans in the Legislative Council

– Freedom to pursue traditional customs such as Female Genital Mutilation

His letter concluded by saying that failure to satisfy these points “must inevitably result in a dangerous explosion. However he returned to Kenya on 24th September 1930 in Mombasa after failing on his quest for all except one point, the right to develop institutions for Black Africans.

In May 1931, Kenyatta sailed again for Britain to represent Kikuyu Central Association before parliamentary commission on the ‘Closer Union of East Africa’ and once again he was ignored this time despite the backing of Liberal’s in the House of Commons. In the end the British Government abandoned it’s plan for such a union and this led to Jomo Kenyatta heading North to Birmingham and enrolled at a college for one year.

In August 1932, Kenyatta who had joined the Communist Party ) travelled to Moscow to study Economics at the Moscow State University , under sponsorship of the Carribean Pan-Africanist George Padmore fell out of favour with the Soviets . Back in London he met up with other Black Nationalists and Pan- Africanists , even protesting against the Italy Invasion Abyssinia in 1936.

In 1934, he enrolled at the University College London and from 1935, studied social anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics . During this time he lobbied on Kikuyu land affairs.

He published his thesis Facing Mount Kenya in 1938, under his new name Jomo Kenyatta . During this period he was also an active member of a group of African Caribbean and American intellectuals that included at various times C.L.R James, Eric Williams , W.A Wallace Johnson and Ralph Bunche . He was an extra in the film ‘Sanders of the River (1934) directed by Alexander Korda and Starring Paul Robeson.

During World War II, he labored at a British farm in Sussex to avoid conscription and also lectured on Africa for the Workman’s Education Association.

Return to Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta returned to Kenya in September 1946 and also took up the post of Principal at the Kenya Teacher’s College in Githunguri. He was also invited to lead the newly formed Kenya African Union(KAU) of which he became its president in 1947 when James Gichuru stepped down for him. He called the supporters to work had and to abandon laziness , theft and Crime . He also insisted that an independent Kenya , all racial groups be safeguarded.

Thus his implication with the British Government was marred by his assumed involvement with the MauMau Rebellion. This led to his arrest in October 1952 and indicated on the changes of the Mau Mau Organization.

The defense argued that the White Settlers were trying to scapegoat Kenyatta and there was no evidence of trying him to the MauMau. Louis Leaky was brought in as a translator and was accused of mistranslating because of prejudice which seemed absurd to Louis .

Thus on the basis of a few prejudicial statements in his Writings , Kenyatta was convicted in 8th April 1953 was sentenced for 7 years hard labour for “managing MauMau terrorist organization”. He spent 6 years at Lokitaung before being moves to a permanent restriction at Lodwar on 14th April 1959. He was then sent into exile on probation in Lodwar, a remote part of Kenya. At this time, the MauMau Rebellion had been crushed by the British Army and the State of Emergency was lifted in November.

During Kenyatta’s incarceration the mantle of Nationalist the mantle of Nationalist leadership had been Taken by Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga. Under their guidance Kenya Africa Union emerged with the Kenya Independent Movement to form a new party like the Kenya African Union Union(KANU) on 11th June 1960. The Kenya Africa Democratic Union(KADU) was formed in opposition (representating Maasai , Samburu, Kalenjin and Turkana ) which demanded

Kenyatta’s release.

On May 14 1960, Tom Mboya am Oginga Odinga arraigned for Kenyatta’s election as President of Kenya African National Union on which he was elected in absentia

as his under house of arrest during that time. Thus on 21st August 1961, Kenyatta was finally released , on the condition that he didn’t run for public office.

Leadership and Presidency

The State of emergency was lifted in December 1960. By 1960 the British Government had conceded the Principles of one man one vote for Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta having been fully released on August 21, 1961 . He was admitted into the legislative council in 1962 when one member handed over his seat and Contributed to the Creation of a new constitution. His initial attempt to reunify Kenya African Union failed. In 1962, Kenyatta was invited to the Lancaster Conference in London to negotiate the constitutional terms for independence.

In May 1963, General election, Kenya African National Union won against Kenya African Democratic Union , the Akamba People’s Party and various independent candidates. KANU was victorious with 83 seats our of 12 in the House of Representatives , a Kenya African National Union majority government replaced the pre-existing coalition.

On June 11 1963 , Kenyatta was sworn in as prime minister of autonomous Kenyan Government and was known as Mzee ( a Swahili word meaning “old man or “elder”). A year later in November 10 1964 , Kenya became a one party republic when Kenya African Democratic Union merged with Kenya African National Union thus making Kenya Effectively a one party state with Kenyatta in charge.

That same year in December 12 1964 , Kenya was officially proclaimed a republic. Thus Jomo Kenyatta became it’s president combining the role of head of state and head of government.

As the first President of the Republic of Kenya. Kenyatta called to forgive and forget the past were a keystone of his government . He preserved some elements of the old colonial order particularly in relation to law and order.

Also Kenyatta urged reconciliation among the various Kenyan Political factions and devised the National slogan , Harambee (literally meaning “pull-together”).

Kenyatta established agencies that offered assistance to indigenous Kenyan’s, granted former settler farms to squatters and ex- MauMau Members , abolished British Colonial laws which allowed racial discrimination and promoted educational reforms.

Kenyatta was re-elected again in 1966 and in 1967 , Several Constitution amendments were enhanced so as to make the President have more power. For instance this amendment gave the President the ability to order the detention of individuals without trial if he thought the security of the nation was threatened. Thus seeking the support of Kenyan’s 2nd largest ethnic group at that time., The Luo, Kenyatta appointed Luo Oginga Odinga as his Vice President.

The Kenyatta’s government believed it necessary to cultivate a United Kenyan National culture . To this end it made efforts to assert the dignity of indigenous African cultures with missionaries and Colonial authorities had be littled as “Primitive”.

Kenyatta’s 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.

In 1974 elections . They were neither free nor fair as Jomo Kenyatta was the only candidate who ran for the election thus he was elected.


Kenyatta’s legacy, corruption not withstanding was a country which had been stable both politically and economically . Kenyatta had also maintained a friendly relationship with the West , despite his treatment by the British as a suspected MauMau leader.

Along with his written testament to the culture and traditions of the Kikuyu , Facing Mount Kenya which was published in 1968 , A memoir of reminiscences and speeches Suffering without Bitterness.


Jomo Kenyatta died while asleep in State House Mombasa on 22nd August 1978. Today Kenyans honour him with a national holiday called Mashujaa Day which is celebrated every year on 20th October. Besides Kenyans honor him with his statue at Kenyatta International Convention center (KICC). Daniel Arap Moi who was his Vice President to take the office as the Second President and Pledged Kenyan’s that he will continue Kenyatta’s good work under a system called Nyayo a Swahili word meaning “footsteps

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