Jomo Kenyatta

Born in 1894, Jomo Kenyatta was born Kamau Wa Ngengi to parents Muigai and Wambui at Ng’enda, Kiambu district. Kenyatta’s father was the chief of an agricultural village in Gatundu division, which was one of the administrative districts in the Central Highlands of British East Africa. Muigai passed when Kamau was still a young boy and according to customs, Kamau had to be adopted by his uncle Ngengi. He changed his name to Kamau Wa Ngengi while Ngengi took over Wambui.

Date Event
1909 Kenyatta attends Church of Scotland Mission in Thogoto

Kamau moved to live with, Kungu Mangana, his grandfather, when his mother passed on giving birth to James Muigai. In 1909, around the age of ten, Kamau was taken to the Church of Scotland mission in Thogoto, where he obtained his elementary training and education. Here, he also underwent a surgery after a jigger infection. Kamau fell in love with the Europeans and was determined to join mission school. He decided to run away from home to become a residential pupil at the mission studying Mathematics, carpentry, English and the Bible. He was able to finance his school fees from the income he earned working as a houseboy to a white settler.

1912 Kenyatta is baptized and changes his name to Johnson Kamau

After completion of school, Kamau became a carpenter in 1912. He underwent various customary initiations including circumcision and became a member of the ‘Kehiomwere’. In August 1914, Kamau was baptized and changed his name to John Peter Kamau, but later changed to Johnson Kamau. He departed the mission and headed to Nairobi to seek employment.

1917 Kenyatta evades forced recruitment by moving to Narok

At first, Kamau worked as a carpenter in Thika, under John Cook’s tutelage. In 1917, World War I was first approaching and British authorities forced able-bodied Kikuyus to work. Kamau evaded the forced recruitment by moving to Narok and lived amongst Maasais where he found employment as a clerk for one Asian contractor. Though Kenyatta was of the Kikuyu origin, he assimilated very well with his new Maasai community. This was the time when Kamau decided to wear a traditional beaded belt ‘Kenyatta’ a Swahili word that meant ‘light of Kenya’.

1919 Kenyatta marries his first wife, Grace Wahu

In 1919, Kenyatta met his first wife Grace Wahu and they married. Church elders ordered Kenyatta to marry her after learning that Wahu was pregnant. Kenyatta had married Wahu according to Kikuyu traditions, but in 1920, European magistrate ordered him to follow Christian marriage rites. On 20th November, Peter Muigai, Kenyatta’s first son was born, and two years later Kenyatta finally married Grace Wahu in a civil ceremony. Kamau had been undertaking several jobs including being an interpreter for the High Court.

1922 Kenyatta joins EAA and starts his political career

Kamau decided to adopt the name ‘Jomo’ in 1922. Jomo was a kikuyu word, which meant burning spear. Kenyatta began working for the Nairobi Municipal Council as a water-meter reader and store clerk. This marked the start of his political career. Harry Thuku, a respected Kikuyu had formed the East African Association (EAA) the previous year. The organization had an objective of campaigning for the return of Kikuyu lands that had been taken by white settlers when Kenya became a British Crown Colony in 1920. In 1922, Kenyatta joined EAA.

1924 Kenyatta works as editor at KCA and rises in the ladder to become general secretary

Under governmental pressure, EAA was disbanded. However, its members decided to come together and formed the Kikuyu Central Association KCA headed by Joseph Kangethe and James Beauttah. Between 1924 and 1929, Kenyatta worked as the editor of KCA’s journal, and he rose up the ladder to become the association’s general secretary in 1928 helping KCA with drafting and translation of letters. Kenyatta had already quit his job at the municipality.

1928 1928 the birth of ‘Muigwithania’

In May 1928, Kenyatta began editing a Kikuyu weekly newspaper ‘Muigwithania’, which was ‘The Reconciler’ in Kikuyu. Kenyatta was a leader who embraced diversity, and he was willing to work with anyone in the country, thus explaining why an Asian owned press printed the newspaper. The newspaper was intended to bring Kikuyus together. The paper had a mild tone and was embraced by the British colonialists.

1929 Kenyatta is sent to London to represent African grievances

The British government had begun worrying about its East African territories. They went ahead and formed a union of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. This meant disaster for Kikuyu interests because it meant the settlers living in the Central Highlands would have self-governance; therefore, Kikuyu interests would be ignored. In 1929, Kenyatta was sent to London to represent the KCA. On February 17th 1929, Kenyatta left Mombasa for Britain accompanied by Isher Dass, who was representing the Asian community. Isher had helped in financing Kenyatta’s trip. However, the secretary of state for colonies declined to meet the leaders. Kenyatta did not lose hope; he went ahead and wrote several letters to British papers including ‘The Times’. Kenyatta returned to Kenya on 24th September 1930 and though he had failed on his mission, he had made progress in requesting for the development of independent educational institutions for Kenyans.

1931 Kenyatta returns to Britain to air KCA’s grievances

In May 1931, Kenyatta returned to Britain to represent KCA’s grievances. He decided to enroll to Quaker College after his efforts were ignored by the colonial office. He successfully completed his studies in 1932, and in August the same year, he left for Russian to study at Moscow University after receiving an invitation from George Padmore who was a radical West Indian. In 1933, Kenyatta was forced to terminate his studies and return to Britain after Padmore had a disagreement with the Russians. He pursued his studies at the University College in London and in 1936; he managed to break through a police cordon to express his solidarity for Emperor Haile Selassie at the London Railway station.

1946 Kenyatta returns to Kenya and becomes the president of KAU

In 1938, Kenyatta published ‘Facing Mount Kenya’ using the name Jomo Kenyatta and from then henceforth people embraced Jomo Kenyatta as his name. Later in October 1945, Kenyatta joined Kwame Nkurumah to organize the fifth Pan African congress. Kenyatta returned to Kenya in 1946 and became president of KAU in June 1947 after Juntas Gichuru stepped down for him. After gaining this leadership status, Kenyatta embarked on a huge campaign to sensitize Kenyans on the importance of getting back their own land and independence from the British authorities between 1948-1951.

1952 The Mau Mau Rebellion

The British authorities began sensing Kenyatta’s popularity and banned KAU, triggering the Mau Mau rebellion. In October 20th 1952, Kenya declared a state of emergency and Kenyatta together with other 182 African leaders were arrested. High-powered attorneys defended Kenyatta and on April 8th 1953, he was sentenced to 7 years indefinite restriction and hard labor. He was to serve his sentence in North Western Kenya, at Lokitaung. On April 14th 1959, Kenyatta completed his sentence but was restricted at Lodwar.

1960 Kenyatta is elected KANU president in absentia

In 1960, Kenyatta was elected the Kenya African National Union (KANU) president in absentia. Ambu patel had proposed the formation of ‘Release Jomo Committee’ to drum up support for his release. On August 14th 1961, Kenyatta was released and brought to Gatundu in a heroic welcome. That same year, Kenyatta led a KANU delegation to the Lancaster conference.

12,December,1964 Mzee Jomo Kenyatta becomes Kenya’s 1st President

In May 1963, Kenyatta steered KANU to victory and became the Prime Minister in June 1st (Madaraka Day). ‘Madaraka’ was a Swahili standing for self-governance. Kenyatta surprised the white settlers in August the same year by explaining to them that they could live together peacefully, something the white settlers did not expect, especially after the incarceration. In December 12th 1963, Mzee Kenyatta not only became Kenya’s prime minister, but he was also blessed with another son Uhuru Kenyatta. On December 12th 1964, a year after becoming Kenya’s prime minister, Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.

1966 Kenyatta’s health deteriorates

As mzee Kenyatta grew older, his health began deteriorating. In 1966, he suffered a heart attack. He published his biography ‘suffering without Bitterness’ in 1968. On January 1970, he was sworn in for the second term as the president of Kenya. In 1974, he continued for his third term, and in 1977, he suffered another heart attack.

22,August,1978 Mzee Jomo Kenyatta passes on.

On August 22nd 1978, Kenyatta passed away in his sleep. Kenya went silent on that day as Kenyans mourned one of their greatest leaders. He was laid to rest on August 31st at the Mausoleum on parliament buildings.

14,October,2014 Greatest leader of all time

Kenyatta was arguably Kenya’s most beloved son. Even though Kenya misses his presence, his vision for a free and unified Kenya still lives on. Kenyatta’s vision has remained bright years after his departure, and it is what prompted Kenya to fight for its rights. Kenyatta enlightened Kenyans and made them understand that they could determine their own destiny from the colonialists.

14,October,2014 Faces of Africa - Jomo Kenyatta : The Founding Father of Kenya

“When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” ― Jomo Kenyatta