One of the most impressive areas of Nairobi is the Kenyatta Conference Centre [KCC]. The iconic cylindrical building catches your eye wherever you are in the city. Sitting out front is a statue of Kenya’s first prime minister and president, the legendary Jomo Kenyatta.
Jomo Kenyatta (1894 – August 22, 1978) served as the first Prime Minister (1963–1964) and President (1964–1978) of Kenya. An African socialist, he is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.
In Kenya, Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi’s main street and main streets in many Kenyan cities and towns, numerous schools, two Universities (Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology), the country’s main referral hospital, markets, and housing estates are named after him. A statue in downtown Nairobi and monuments all over Kenya stand in his honor. Kenya observed a public holiday every October 20th in his honor until the 2010 constitution abolished Kenyatta Day and replaced it with Mashujaa (Heroes’) day. Kenyatta’s face adorns Kenyan currency notes and coins of all denominations, but this is expected to change as the new constitution bans the use of the portrait of any person on Kenya’s currency.
Jomo Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Ngengi to parents Ngengi wa Muigai and Wambui in the village of Gatundu, in British East Africa (now Kenya), a member of the Kikuyu. His date of birth, sometime in the early-to-mid 1890s, is unclear, and was unclear even to him, as his parents were almost certainly not literate, and no formal birth records of native Africans were kept in Kenya at that time. His father died while Kamau was very young after which, as per custom, he was adopted by his uncle Ngengi, who also inherited his mother, to become Kamau wa Ngengi. When his mother died during childbirth, young Kamau moved from Ng’enda to Muthiga to live with his medicine man grandfather Kũngũ wa Magana, to whom he became very close.
In 1912, having completed his mission school education, he became an apprentice carpenter. The following year he underwent initiation ceremonies, including circumcision, to become a member of the kihiu-mwiri age group. In 1914, he converted to Christianity, assuming the name John Peter, which he then changed to Johnstone Kamau.
Thank goodness he changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta!
Another historical figure in Kenyan history is Tom Mboya. One of his biggest accomplishments — I read the book which goes into much more detail than anywhere else — was establishing what was called the Airlift to America.
The “Airlift” was set up to educate and prepare a generation of Kenyans to run the country as independence was approaching. With the help of dozens of Americans and the tenacity of Mboya, hundreds of Kenyans received an education in America including a man named Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. While in Hawaii, Obama Sr. meets and marries the mother of the 44th president of the United States, but I’m sure you already knew that.
Sadly, though, with all these great individuals in Kenyan history, they didn’t quite get along. Kenyatta was known to not car for or agree with the tactics of Dedan Kimathi. Kimathi and the Mau Mau raged while Kenyatta was locked up, accused of directing the Mau Mau. Shows how much the British knew. When Kenyatta was released, he didn’t quite tip his hat to the Mau Mau.
And as far as Mboya was concerned, a potential presidential candidate, well, they weren’t quite BFFs either.
He retained the portfolio as Minister for Economic Planning and Development until his death at age 38 when he was gunned down on July 5, 1969 on Moi Avenue, Nairobi CBD after visiting a pharmacy. Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge was convicted for the murder and later hanged. After his arrest, Njoroge asked: “Why don’t you go after the big man?. Who he meant by “the big man” was never divulged, but fed conspiracy theories since Mboya was seen as a possible contender for the presidency. The mostly tribal elite around Kenyatta has been blamed for his death, which has never been subject of a judicial inquiry.
During Mboya’s burial, a mass demonstration against the attendance of President Jomo Kenyatta led to a big skirmish, with two people shot dead. The demonstrators believed that Kenyatta was involved in the death of Mboya, thus eliminating him as a threat to his political career although this is still a disputed matter.