Jomo Kenyatta

"Kenyatta" redirects here. For other uses, see Kenyatta (disambiguation).
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta

President Kenyatta in 1978
1st President of Kenya
In office
12 December 1964  22 August 1978
Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
Joseph Murumbi
Daniel arap Moi
Preceded by Elizabeth II
as Queen of Kenya
Succeeded by Daniel arap Moi
Prime Minister of Kenya
In office
1 June 1963  12 December 1964
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Malcolm MacDonald
Chairman of KANU
In office
Preceded by James Gichuru
Succeeded by Daniel arap Moi
Personal details
Born Kamau
c. 1891
Gatundu, British East Africa
Died 22 August 1978(1978-08-22) (aged 86)
Mombasa, Coast, Kenya
Resting place Nairobi, Kenya
Nationality Kenyan
Political party KANU
Spouse(s) Grace Wahu (m. 1919)
Edna Clarke (1942–1946)
Grace Wanjiku (d.1950)
Mama Ngina (1951–1978)
Alma mater University College London, London School of Economics
Religion Presbyterian
Notable work(s) Facing Mount Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta (English pronunciation: /ˈm kɛnˈjɑːtə/) (c. 1891 22 August 1978) was a Kenyan politician and the first President of Kenya. Kenyatta was the leader of Kenya from independence in 1963 to his death in 1978, serving first as Prime Minister (1963–64) and then as President (1964–78). He is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.[1] Kenyatta was a well-educated intellectual who authored several books, and is remembered as a Pan-Africanist. He is also the father of Kenya's fourth and current President, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Numerous institutions and locations are named after Kenyatta, including 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. A statue in Nairobi's centre and monuments all over Kenya stand in his honour. Kenya observed a public holiday every 20 October in his honour until the 2010 constitution abolished Kenyatta Day and replaced it with Mashujaa (Heroes') day. Before the enactment of the new constitution, Kenyatta's face adorned Kenyan currency notes and coins of all denominations except the 40 shilling coin.

Early life

Jomo Kenyatta was born in Kiambu to parents Muigai wa Kung'u 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, was unclear even to him, as birth records were not traditionally kept.[2][3] However, at least one biography gives his date of birth as 20 October 1891,[4] a date so precise as to likely be apocryphal. His father died while Kamau was very young, after which, as was the 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.

He left home to become a resident pupil at the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) at Thogoto, close to Kikuyu, about 12 miles north-west of Nairobi. He studied amongst other subjects: the Bible, English, mathematics and carpentry. He paid the school fees by working as a houseboy and cook for a white settler living nearby.

In his late teens, 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. He left the mission later that year to seek employment.[3]

He first worked as an apprentice carpenter on a sisal farm in Thika, under the tutelage of John Cook, who had been in charge of the building programme at Thogoto. During the First World War, Kikuyu were forced into work by the British authorities. To avoid this, he lived with Kamba relatives in Narok, where he worked as a clerk for an Asian contractor.[3]

In 1920 he married Grace Wahu, under Kikuyu customs. When Grace got 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. Kamau served as an interpreter in the Nairobi High Court, and ran a store out of his Dagoretti home during this period.[3] He eventually married Grace Wahu in a civil ceremony in 1922. Grace Wahu lived in the Dagoretti home until her death in April 2007 at the age of around 100.

In 1922 Kamau began working, as a store clerk and water-meter reader for the Nairobi Municipal Council Public Works Department, once again under John Cook who was the Water Superintendent.[2] Meter reading helped him meet many Kenyan-Asians at their homes who would become important allies later on.

He entered politics after taking interest in the political activities of James Beauttah and Joseph Kang'ethe the leaders of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). He joined KCA in 1924 and rose up the ranks of the association. Eventually he began to edit the movement's Kikuyu newspaper. By 1928 he had become the KCA's general secretary.

In 1928 he launched a monthly Kikuyu-language newspaper called Muĩgwithania (Reconciler) which aimed to unite all sections of the Kikuyu. The paper, supported by an Asian-owned printing press, had a mild and unassuming tone, and was tolerated by the colonial government.[3] He also made a presentation on Kikuyu land problems before the Hilton Young Commission in Nairobi in the same year.


In 1929 the KCA sent Kenyatta to London to lobby on its behalf with regard to Kikuyu tribal land affairs. Using the name Johnstone Kenyatta, he published articles and letters to the editor in The Times and the Manchester Guardian.[5] He returned to Kenya on 24 September 1930 and was welcomed at Mombasa by his wife Wahu and James Beauttah. He then took part, on the side of traditionalists, in the debate on the issue of female genital mutilation of girls. He later worked for Kikuyu Independent Schools in Githunguri.[6]

He returned to London in 1931 and enrolled in Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham. Discouraged by the lack of official response to the land claims he was putting forward, he began an association with British Communists, who published articles he wrote in their publications. In 1932 to 1933, he briefly studied economics in Moscow at the Comintern School, KUTVU (University of the Toilers of the East) but left after the Soviet Union (worried about Hitler's growing power and seeing Britain and France as potential allies) withdrew its support for the movement against British and French colonial rule in Africa.[5]

In 1934, Kenyatta enrolled at University College London and from 1935 studied social anthropology under Bronisław Malinowski at the London School of Economics (LSE). He was a member of the executive committee of the International African Friends of Abyssinia (formed in 1935),[7] and was an active member of the International African Service Bureau, a pan-Africanist, anti-colonial organisation that had formed around former international communist leader George Padmore, who had also become disillusioned with the Soviet Union and himself moved to London. Kenyatta read the draft of the Kenya section of Padmore's new book, How Britain Rules Africa (1936).[8] With the editorial help of an English editor named Dinah Stock who became a close friend, Kenyatta published his own book, Facing Mount Kenya (his revised LSE thesis), in 1938 under his new name, Jomo Kenyatta.[9] The name "Jomo" is translated in English to "Burning Spear", while the name "Kenyatta" was said to be a reference to the beaded Masai belt he wore, and later to "the Light of Kenya". After the war, he wrote a pamphlet (with some content contributed by Padmore), Kenya: The Land of Conflict, published by the International African Service Bureau under the imprint Panaf Service.[10]

During this period, Kenyatta was an active member of a group of African, Caribbean and American intellectuals who included Dudley Thompson, George Padmore, C. L. R. James, Eric Williams, I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson, Chris Braithwaite, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Paul Robeson and Ralph Bunche. During his presidency, a number of streets in Nairobi were named after some of these early black-emancipation intellectuals.

Kenyatta acted as an extra in the film Sanders of the River (1934), directed by Zoltan Korda and starring Paul Robeson.[11]

During World War II, he worked as a labourer at an English farm in Sussex, and lectured on Africa for the Workers' Educational Association.

In 1942, he married an Englishwoman, Edna Clarke. He also published My People of Kikuyu and the Life of Chief Wang'ombe, a history shading into legend. Edna gave birth to their son, Peter Magana, in 1943.[12]

In 1945, with other prominent African nationalist figures, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenyatta helped organise the fifth Pan-African Congress, held in Britain.[13]

Return to Kenya

Kenyatta at the Eldoret Agricultural Show, 1968

Kenyatta returned to Kenya in 1946, after almost 15 years abroad.

He married for the third time, to Grace Wanjiku, Senior Chief Koinange's daughter, and sister to Mbiyu Koinange (who later became a lifelong confidant and was one of the most powerful politicians during Kenyatta's presidency).

Kenyatta then went into teaching, becoming principal of Kenya Teachers College Githunguri.

In 1947, he was elected president of the Kenya African Union (KAU). He began to receive death threats from white settlers after his election.

From 1948 to 1951 he toured and lectured around the country condemning idleness, robbery, urging hard work while campaigning for the return of land given to white settlers and for independence within three years.

His wife, Grace Wanjiku, died in childbirth in 1950 as she gave birth to daughter Jane Wambui, who survived.

In 1951 Kenyatta married Ngina Muhoho, daughter of Chief Muhoho. She was popularly referred to as Mama Ngina and was independent Kenya's First Lady, when Kenyatta was elected President.

The Mau Mau Rebellion began in 1951 and KAU was banned, and a state of emergency was declared on 20 October 1952.

Trial and imprisonment

Kenyatta was arrested in October 1952 and indicted with five others on the charges of "managing and being a member" of the Mau Mau Society, a radical anti-colonial movement engaged in rebellion against Kenya's British rulers. The accused were known as the "Kapenguria Six".

The trial lasted five months: Rawson Macharia, the main prosecution witness, turned out to have perjured himself; the judge—who had only recently been awarded an unusually large pension, and who maintained secret contact with the then colonial Governor of Kenya Evelyn Baring[14] during the trial—was openly hostile to the defendants' cause.

The defence, led by British barrister D. N. Pritt and legal expert and barrister H. O. Davies , argued that the white settlers were trying to scapegoat Kenyatta and that there was no evidence tying him to the Mau Mau. The court sentenced Kenyatta on 8 April 1953 to seven years' imprisonment with hard labour and indefinite restriction thereafter.[15] The subsequent appeal was refused by the British Privy Council in 1954.

Kenyatta remained in prison until 1959, after which he was detained in Lodwar, a remote part of Kenya.

The state of emergency was lifted on 12 January 1960.[16]

Tanzanian children with signs demanding Kenyatta's release in March 1961

On 28 February 1960, a public meeting of 25,000 in Nairobi demanded his release. On 15 April 1960, over a million signatures for a plea to release him were presented to the Governor. On 14 May 1960, he was elected KANU President in absentia. On 23 March 1961, Kenyan leaders, including Daniel arap Moi, later his longtime Vice President and successor as president, visited him at Lodwar. On 11 April 1961, he was moved to Maralal with daughter Margaret where he met world press for the first time in eight years. On 14 August 1961, he was released and brought to Gatundu.

While contemporary opinion linked Kenyatta with the Mau Mau, historians have questioned his alleged leadership of the radical movement.[17] Kenyatta was in truth a political moderate. His marriage of Colonial Chief's daughters, his post independence Kikuyu allies mainly being former colonial collaborators (though also from his tribe), and his short shrift treatment of former Mau Mau fighters after he came to power, all suggest a lack of strong ties to the Mau Mau.


Jomo Kenyatta and President of West Germany Heinrich Lübke in 1966


Kenyatta was admitted into the Legislative Council after his release in 1961, after Kariuki Njiiri (son of late Chief Njiiri) gave up his Kigumo seat for him.

In 1961 and 1963, he led the KANU delegation to first and second Lancaster Conference in London where Kenya's independence constitution was negotiated.

Elections were then held in May 1963, pitting Kenyatta's KANU (Kenya African National Union- which advocated for Kenya to be a unitary state) against KADU (Kenya African Democratic Union – which advocated for Kenya to be an ethnic-federal state). KANU beat KADU by winning 83 seats out of 124. On 1 June 1963, Kenyatta became prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government. After independence, Queen Elizabeth II remained as Head of State (after Independence, styled as Queen of Kenya), represented by a Governor-General. He consistently asked white settlers not to leave Kenya and supported reconciliation.


Presidential Standard of Jomo Kenyatta

Kenyatta retained the role of prime minister after independence was declared and jubilantly celebrated on 12 December 1963.[18]

On 1 June 1964, he had Parliament amend the Constitution to make Kenya a republic. The office of prime minister was replaced by a president with wide executive and legislative powers. Elected by the National Assembly, he was head of State, head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Under the provisions of the amendment, Kenyatta automatically became president.

His policy was that of continuity and gradual Africanisation of the government, keeping many colonial civil servants in their old jobs as they were gradually replaced by Kenyans. He asked for British troops' help against Somali rebels, Shiftas, in the northeast and in ending an army mutiny in Nairobi in January 1964.

On 10 November 1964, KADU officially dissolved and its representatives joined KANU, forming a single party.

Kenyatta was re-elected un-opposed in 1966, and the next year had the Constitution amended to expand his powers. This term featured border conflicts with Somalia, and more political opposition. He consolidated his power greatly, and placed several of his Kikuyu tribesmen in most of the powerful state and security offices and posts. State security forces harassed dissidents and were suspected of complicity in several murders of prominent personalities deemed threats to his regime, including Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and J.M. Kariuki.[19] MP and Lawyer C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek and former Kadu Leader and minister Ronald Ngala, also died in suspicious car accidents.

In 1968 he published his biography Suffering Without Bitterness.

1973 newsreel about Kenyatta's rule

In the 1969 elections, Kenyatta banned the only other party, the Kenya People's Union (formed and led by his former vice president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had been forced to quit KANU along with his left leaning allies), detained its leaders, and called elections in which only KANU was allowed to participate. For all intents and purposes, Kenya was now a one-party state, though it would not be formally declared the only legally permitted party until 1982.

On 29 January 1970 he was sworn in as President for a further term. For the remainder of his presidency, Kenyatta held complete political control of the country. He made use of detention, appeals to ethnic loyalties, and careful appointment of government jobs to maintain his commanding position in Kenya's political system.[20] However, as the 1970s wore on, advancing age kept him from the day-to-day management of government affairs. He intervened only when necessary to settle disputed issues. His relative isolation resulted in increasing domination of Kenya's affairs by well-connected Kikuyu who acquired great wealth as a result.[20][21]

Kenyatta was re-elected as President in 1974, again as the only candidate.[20] On 5 November 1974, he was sworn in as President for a third term.[2] His increasingly feeble health meant that his inner circle effectively ruled the country, and greatly enriched themselves, in his name.[21] He remained president until his death four years later in 1978.


President Kenyatta suffered a heart attack in 1966. In the mid-1970s, he lapsed into periodic comas lasting from a few hours to a few days from time to time. On 14 August 1978, he hosted his entire family, including his son Peter Magana who flew in from Britain with his family, at a reunion in Mombasa. On 22 August 1978, President Kenyatta died in 22 August 1978.Mombasa of natural causes attributable to old age; he was about 86 at the time of his death. He was buried on 31 August 1978 in Nairobi in a state funeral at a mausoleum on Parliament grounds.

He was succeeded as President after his death by his vice-president, Daniel arap Moi, who in turn ruled over Kenya until his retirement in 2002.[21]


A statue of Kenyatta at the KICC in Nairobi

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, as he was popularly known, was an important and influential statesman in Africa. He is credited with leading Kenya to independence and setting up the country as a relatively prosperous capitalist state. He pursued a moderate pro-Western, anti-Communist economic philosophy and foreign policy.[22][23][24] He oversaw a peaceful land reform process, oversaw the setting up of the institutions of independent Kenya, and also oversaw Kenya's admission into the United Nations.

However, Kenyatta was not without major flaws, and did also bequeath Kenya some major problems which continue to bedevil the country to date, hindering her development, and threatening her existence as a peaceful unitary multi-ethnic state.[25]

He failed to mould Kenya, being its founding father, into a homogeneous multi-ethnic state. Instead, the country remains a de facto confederation of competing tribal interests.

His authoritarian style, characterized by patronage, favouritism, tribalism and/or nepotism drew criticism and dissent, and set an example followed by his successors. He had the Constitution amended to expand his powers, consolidating executive power.[26]

He is also criticised for having ruled through a group consisting largely of his relatives, other Kikuyus, mostly from his native Kiambu district, offspring of former colonial chiefs, and African Kikuyu colonial collaborators and their offspring, while giving scant reward to those whom many consider the real fighters for Kenya's independence. This clique became the wealthiest, most powerful and most influential class in Kenya.[21][27]

Kenyatta has further been criticised for encouraging the culture of wealth accumulation by public officials using the power and influence of their offices, thereby entrenching corruption in Kenya.[28] He is regularly charged with having accumulated huge land holdings in Kenya. "The regime of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was riddled with land grabbing which was perpetrated by him for his benefit and members of his family...between 1964 and 1966, one-sixth of European settlers’ lands that were intended for settlement of landless and land-scarce Africans were cheaply sold to the then President Kenyatta and his wife Ngina as well as his children...throughout the years of President Kenyatta's administration, his relatives friends and officials in his administration also benefited from the vice with wanton impunity." a report by Kenya's Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was recently quoted as saying.[29]

His policies are also criticised for perpetuating a large income and development inequality gap in the country. Development and resource allocation in the country during his reign was seen to have favoured some regions of the country over others.[25] His resettlement of many Kikuyu tribesmen in the country's Rift Valley province is widely considered to have been done unfairly.[25][30]


Main article: Kenyatta family

Kenyatta had two children from his first marriage with Grace Wahu: son Peter Muigai Kenyatta (born 1920), who later became a deputy minister; and daughter Margaret Kenyatta (born 1928). Margaret served as mayor of Nairobi between 1970 and 1976 and then as Kenya's ambassador to the United Nations from 1976 to 1986. Grace Wahu died in April 2007.[31]

He had one son, Peter Magana Kenyatta (born 1943) from his short marriage with Edna Clarke.[32]

His third wife, Grace Wanjiku, died when giving birth in 1950. Daughter Jane Wambui survived.[33]

His fourth wife, the best known due to her role as First Lady, was Ngina Kenyatta (née Muhoho), also known as Mama Ngina. She often accompanied him in public and also has some streets in Nairobi and Mombasa named after her. She bore Kenyatta four children: Christine Wambui (born 1952), Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta (born 1961), Anna Nyokabi (also known as Jeni) and Muhoho Kenyatta (born 1964). Mama Ngina lives quietly as a wealthy widow, and now as President's mother, in Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta, Mzee Kenyatta's political heir, unsuccessfully vied for the Kenyan presidency as President Moi's preferred successor in 2002, but was elected Kenya's fourth President in 2013 . Muhoho Kenyatta runs the Kenyatta's vast family business but lives out of the public limelight.

Kenyatta was the uncle of Ngethe Njoroge, Kenya's first representative to the United Nations and the great uncle of Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine. His niece, Beth Mugo, married to a retired ambassador, was an MP, served as Minister for Public Health and is now a nominated Senator.

See also


  1. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
  2. 1 2 3 Kenya Factbook, 15th edition, 1997–1998.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "Alistair". Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  4. "Jomo Kenyatta Facts", Your Dictionary.
  5. 1 2 Polsgrove, p. 6.
  6. Beck, Ann (1966). "Some observations of Jomo Kenyatta in Britain". Cahiers d'études africaines. VI (22): 308–329. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  7. Hogsbjerg, Christian (2014). C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain. London. p. 91.
  8. Polsgrove, p. 9.
  9. Polsgrove, p. 39.
  10. Polsgrove, p. 66.
  11. "Jomo Kenyatta". IMDb.
  12. "Figures from the African nationalist and independence movements", The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  13. Katzenellenbogen, Simon (2 May 1995). "The 1945 Pan-African Congress and its Aftermath": 1. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  14. Anderson, p. 65
  15. Chatterjee, Ramananda. The Modern Review, 2006, p. 344.
  16. Anderson, p. 393
  17. Lonsdale, J. (2009). "Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya". The Journal of African History. 31 (3): 393. doi:10.1017/S0021853700031157. JSTOR 182877.
  18. "1963 Constitution of Kenya". Retrieved 1 August 2010.
  19. Ngotho, Kamau (11 February 2002) Secrets of a murder witness.
  20. 1 2 3 Microsoft Encarta 2008.
  21. 1 2 3 4 Karimi, Joseph and Ochieng, Philip (1980) The Kenyatta Succession. Transafrica
  22. Lamb, David (1987). The Africans. ISBN 0394753089. p. 61.
  23. Meredith, Martin (2005) The Fate of Africa. Public Affairs. ISBN 1586483986. p. 266.
  24. Miller, Norman and Yeager, Rodger (1993) Kenya: The Quest for Prosperity (second edition). Westview Press. ISBN 0813382025. pp. 172–173.
  25. 1 2 3 Waki Report. Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV)
  26. Ghai, Yash P. and McAuslan, J. P. W. B. (1970) Public law and political change in Kenya; a study of the legal framework of government from colonial times to the present. Oxford University Press
  27. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (1981) Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary. Heinemann Kenya. ISBN 978-9966-46-149-0
  28. Lumumba, Patrick (1 February 2009) Where the rain started beating us. The Standard.
  29. Kenyatta led elite in land grabbing. 21 May 2013
  30. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) – Norwegian Refugee Council. "IDMC : Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre | Countries | Kenya | Prominent party politicians of the former government have fueled incidents along ethnic clashes in Kenya s". Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  31. Wahu Kenyatta mourned, The Standard, 6 April 2007
  32. Police stop VP's bid for Kenyatta papers, Daily Nation, 20 October 2003.
  33. Dear Daddy: Letters straight from the heart, The Standard, 22 August 2004.


Further reading

Books by Jomo Kenyatta

Books about Jomo Kenyatta

Films about Jomo Kenyatta

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jomo Kenyatta.
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Political offices
New title Prime Minister of Kenya
Office abolished
Title next held by
Raila Odinga
From 2008
New title President of Kenya
Succeeded by
Daniel arap Moi
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