HP064: Jomo Kenyatta

HP064: Jomo Kenyatta

This one is a request from the history hotline. Jomo Kenyatta born 1894 in Ichaweri, British East Africa. African statesman and nationalist, the first prime minister and then president of independent Kenya.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica


Jomo Kenyatta born 1894 in Ichaweri, British East Africa. African statesman and nationalist, the first prime minister and then president of independent Kenya.

Kenyatta was born as Kamau, son of Ngengi, southwest of Mount Kenya in the East African highlands. His father was leader of a small agricultural settlement; his grandfather was a murogi, or diviner, known for his knowledge of medicine and magic. Like all Kikuyu boys, Kamau learned hunting skills, close observation, memory discipline, social obligations and responsibilities, and family clan history. From his grandfather he learned herbal remedies and gained a respect for spiritual knowledge and powers of the diviner.

At about the age of 10 Kamau became seriously ill with jigger infections in this feet and one leg, and he underwent successful surgery at a newly established Church of Scotland mission. This was his initial contact with Europeans. Fascinated with what he had seen during his recuperation, Kamau ran away from his home to become a resident pupil at the mission. He studied the bible, English, mathematics, and carpentry and paid for his fees by working as a houseboy and cook for a European settler. In august 1914 he was baptized with the name Johnstone Kamau. He was one of the earliest of the Kikyu to run away from the confines of his own culture. And, like many others, Kamau soon left the mission life for the bright lights of Narobi.

He secured a job as a clerk in the Public Works Department and during WWI. There enjoyed relative affluence. He added 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. About this time he married and began to raise a family. According to his younger brother, he was “not interested in politics.”

The African political protest movement in Kenya against a white-settler-dominated government began in 1921-the East Africa Association (EAA), led by an educated young Kikuyu named Harry Thuku. Kenyatta joined the following year. One of the EAA’s main purposes was to recover Kikuyu lands lost when Kenya became a crown colony in 1920. The African’s were dispossessed, leaseholds of land were restricted to white settlers, and native reservations were established. In March 1922 Thuku was arrested; he was later deported and overt protest was silenced. Kenyatta however, continued to work privately for the EAA as propaganda secretary. As a government employee, he was supposed to avoid politics, but he managed to remain inconspicuous. In 1925 the EAA disbanded as a result of government pressures, and its members reformed as the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). Three years later Kenyatta became its general secretary, though he had to give up his municipal job as a consequence.

In May 1928 Kenyatta launched a monthly Kikuyu-language newsletter Mwigithania (“He Who Brings Together”), aimed at gaining support from all sections of the Kikuyu. The paper was mild in tone, preaching self-improvement, and was tolerated by the government. But soon a new challenged appeared. A British commission recommended a closer union of the three East African territories (Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika). Settler leaders supported the proposal, expecting that internal self-government might follow. To the KCA such a protest looked disastrous for Kikuyu interest; in February 1929 Kenyatta went to London to testify against the scheme.

In London the Secretary of Stat for Colonies refused to meet Kenyatta, but several groups critical of British colonialism aided him; the League Against Imperialism arranged a brief trip to Moscow for him, from August to October 1929. The following July Kenyatta attended the International Negro Workers’ Conference at Hamburg. His hosts urged the unity of the black proletariat as a worldwide exploited class, but Kenyatta’s interests remained rivetted on the sufferings of his own people. On March 26, 1930, he wrote an eloquent letter in The Times of London setting out five issues championed by the KCA: (1) security of the land tenure and the return of lands allotted to European settlers; (2) increased education facilities; (3) repeal of hut taxes on women, which forced some to earn money by prostitution; (4) African representation in the Legislative Council; and (5) noninterference with traditional customs.

He concluded by saying that the lack of these measures “must inevitably result in a dangerous explosion-the one thing all sane men wish to avoid.”

Again in 1931 Kenyatta’s testimony on the issue of closer union of the three colonies was refused despite the help of liberals in the House of Commons. In the end, however, the government temporaily abandoned its plan for union. Kenyatta did manage to testify on behalf of the Charter Land Commission. The commission decided to offer compensation for some appropriated territories but maintained the “white-highlands” policy, which restricted the Kikuyu overcrowded reserves. Kenyatta again visited the Soviet Union (he spent two years at the University of Moscow) and traveled extensively through Europe; on his return to England he supplied information on Phonetics to researchers at University College, London, and studied anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. His thesis was revised and published in 1938 as Facing Mount Kenya, a study of the traditional life of Kikuyu characterized by both insight and tinge of romanticism. The study defended a way of life that was already deeply eroded, and it ignored the extensive adaptations the Kikuyu had made to European culture. The book signaled another name change to Jomo (Burning Spear) Kenyatta.

During the 1930s, Kenyatta briefly joined the Communist Party, met other black nationalist and writers, and actively organized protests against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The onset of WWII temporarily cut him off from the KCA, which was banned by the Kenya authorities as potentially subversive. Kenyatta maintained himself in England by lecturing for the Workers Educational Association and working as a farm laborer. But he continued to produce political pamphlets publicizing the Kikuyu cause.

Kenyatta helped organize the fifth Pan-African Congress, which met in Manchester on Oct. 15-18, 1945, with W.E.B. Du Bois (Da Boyz) of the United States in the chair Kwame Nkrumah, the future leader of Ghana, was also present. Resolutions were passed and plans discussed for mass nationalist movements to demand independence from colonial rule.

Kenyatta returned to Kenya in September 1946 to take up leadership of the newly formed Kenya African Union, of which he was elected president in Jun 1947. From the Kenya African Teachers College, which he directed as an alternative to government educational institutions, Kenyatta organized a mass nationalist party. But he had to produce tangible results in return for the allegiance of his followers, and the colonial government in Kenya was still dominated by unyielding settler interests. The “dangerous explosion” he had predicted in 1930 erupted in Kenya as the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952.

On Oct. 21 1952, Kenyatta was arrested at his home at Gatundu. Police seized documents and arrested 98 other African leaders. Despite government efforts to portray Kenyatta’s trial as a criminal case, it received worldwide publicity as a political proceeding. In April 1953 Kenyatta was sentenced to a seven-year imprisonment for “managing the Mau Mau terrorist organization.” He denied the charge then and afterward, maintaining that the Kenya African Union’s political activities were not directly associated with Mau Mau violence.

The British government responded to African demands by gradually steering the country toward African majority rule. In 1960 the principle of one man-vote was conceded. Kenya nationalist leaders such as Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga organized the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and elected Kenyatta (still in detention despite having completed his sentence) president in absentia; they refused to cooperate with the British while Kenyatta was detained. In a press conference Kenyatta promised that “Europeans would find a place in the future of Kenya provided they took their place as ordinary citizens.”

Kenyatta was released in August 1961, and, at the London Conference early in 1962, he negotiated the constitutional terms leading to Kenya’s independence. KANU won the preindependence election in May 1963, forming a provisional government; Kenya celebrated its independence on Dec. 12, 1963, with Kenyatta as prime minister.

A year later Kenya became a one-party republic with a strong central government under Kenyatta as president. Kenyatta presided over the complex problems of post independence development and instructed his United Nations delegates on the subtleties of a “non-aligned” foreign policy. Always-in spite of his imprisonment by the British authorities-one of the more pro-British of African leaders, Kenyatta made Kenya the stablest black African country and one that attracted foreign investment on a broad scale. Under his leadership the economy prospered; agriculture, industry, and tourism all expanded. He died at Mombasa in 1978.

From Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol.6, p.808

One note before we get to the listener apprecation segment. I will be away for the next two weeks on a extended business trip without access to my podcasting gear. Before I leave I hope to put up another podcast from Tom Barker on the Mongol Invasion. So stay tuned for that and I will put up another podcast just as soon as I get back from my business trip so please stay subscribed.

The winner of last months book contest was Christian from Higley, Arizona. Christian will be receiving a copy of The Brothers Bulger from the gracious people at Warner Books. We will be delaying the book contest next month, since I won’t be available most of the month.

This episodes frapper mappers are:

1.Tony Paull from Ottowa, Ontario
2.Megan from Medford, MA
3.Mark Sawyer from Portland, Oregon
4.Len from Woodstock, Illinois
5.Leslie Lewis from Huntington Beach, CA

Thank you all for listening. You can also email me at historypodcast@gmail.com and visit the website at historypodcast.blogspot.com.

See you in two weeks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *