Kumekucha Weekend Special
I have been to State House Nairobi. Once.
It is such an anticlimax this revered house on the hill. The sacrifices, the murders, the killings and all the crazy things Kenyans have done in the name of getting to live at this address, you would have thought that it would be a much grander place than what you end up seeing. Alas the red carpet is clean and well maintained but it is rather old. In fact the whole place looks like it needs an interior designer badly.
In the 46 years of independence only three men have called this place their official residence and held the office of President of the republic of Kenya. Johnstone Kamau (aka Jomo Kenyatta) for 15 years, Daniel Torotich arap Moi for 24 years and the rest of the years Emilio Stanley Mwai Kibaki. Interestingly whatever happens Kibaki will be the man who has occupied that office for the shortest time and yet history will record that his presidency has caused the most damage. This weekend we shall try to understand these three men better because in understanding them we will understand our beloved country much better. Trust me on that and hold me to account for it when we finish our journey late Sunday evening. We shall dig into their true characters and reveal many secrets in their lives.
So lets start from the beginning shall we.
Violent struggle has happened in Kenya several times through its short history but it has never worked out too well or even proved to be effective. More recently the saba saba riots that hit the country in the 1990s were quickly crashed by security forces. In the end change came to Kenya mainly as a result of pressure from the International community.
Still many Kenyans cling to the mirage that our independence was won from a violent freedom struggle. Very romantic but NOT true. Yes the gallant Mau Mau warriors spread terror in everybody. Indeed they inspired others in far away lands most notably Nelson Mandela which led to the formation of the armed wing of the ANC in South Africa. You have all heard of the Umkonto We Sizwe (spear of the Nation). Indeed the influence of the Mau mau spread as far away as the streets of New York where at least one notoriously violent street gang called itself the Mau Mau. But back home it was ineffective in winning independence for Kenya. The Mau mau uprising reached its’ height in 1952 and was quickly crashed. Mainly because it was about one tribe’s fight for their land rights. Actually the Kikuyu were joined by other neighboring tribes like the Merus. The leader of the Mau mau, a man called Dedan Kimathi was executed at Kamiti prison on February 18th 1957. By that time the Kikuyu uprising had been well and truly crashed.
The statistics of the Mau mau struggle tell an even more interesting story. The Mau Mau rebels killed over two thousand African Kenyan civilians, but killed only 32 European settlers and fewer than 200 British soldiers during the 8 years of the uprising. The British in turn killed 20,000 Mau Mau rebels in combat, hanged over 1000 suspected Mau Mau supporters, and interned more than 70,000 Kikuyu civilians for years in brutal detention camps on suspicion of providing material support for the uprising. Actually some researchers say that the true number of Kikuyus who were held or detained during that period was closer to one million. Read more details on this HERE. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedan_Kimathi.
The man who was to later become Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta always had a frosty relationship with the Mau mau. They threatened his life several times and then he ended up on trial trying to prove to a compromised court his innocence and the fact that he had no links with Mau mau. The chief witness in that sham of a trial Rawson Macharia admitted only in recent years that he had given false evidence against Kenyatta. In all likelihood Kenyatta was not a violent man at heart and did not believe in violent means and yet when he became president he worked hard to glorify the Mau mau as the chief freedom fighters of Kenya and always emphasized that independence was won with a violent resistance. We shall understand later what his motivation for this may have been.
But for now it is important to appreciate the circumstances under which Jomo Kenyatta ended up as the first president of Kenya. This is important because to date every single man who has ended up as president of Kenya has done so as a compromise candidate. We wait to see what will happen in 2012 but in all likelihood history will duplicate itself once again.
In the run up to independence Jomo Kenyatta was rotting away in detention without a hope of ever getting back to politics. The white settlers government officials swore in public that that would never happen. The two front runners for president were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who firmly believed that he should be president by virtue of his age over the other front runner Tom Mboya who was barely in his twenties. Sensing defeat, Odinga decided to fix his main opponent politically by demanding the release of the forgotten Jomo Kenyatta. That decision set in motion a chain of events that handed over the presidency on a silver platter to Kenyatta. Indeed when he was receiving the instruments of power on June 1963, Kenyatta still looked dazed and unbelieving. Like he wanted to pinch himself to convince himself that all these wonderful things were suddenly happening to him after years of struggle and very hard times which had been set off by false accusations against him in 1952 that put him in jail. Kenyatta’s words on that day perfectly capture the mood and his personal feelings. He did not start by saying that it was a great day for Kenyans. Instead he said; “Today is the happiest day of my life.”
I have closely studied the first years of the Kenyatta administration and read many accounts and watched many clips. All of them paint only one picture. That there was a mood of constant celebration in the corridors of power in those early months. More like the ancient court of Kings where every day was a day of celebration and entertainment, unless of course there was a problem. Kenyatta loved traditional dances and alcoholic drinks flowed freely from the State House bar to the kitchen cabinet and their regular visitors. Kenyatta loved to trade stories with his brother-in-law Mbiyu Koinange (brother to his first wife Grace Wahu) about the good old days when they were younger.
Evidence suggests that Kenyatta entered office with high ideals and a genuine determination to make good. But the honey moon was quickly and rudely brought to an end as crisis after crisis hit the infant administration. There was the scary army mutiny at Lanet in 1964 just a few months into the Kenyatta administration. There were numerous coups in other African countries most notably Nigeria. Closer to home there was the extremely bloody coup and revolution in neighbouring Zanzibar.
It soon became very clear that there were plenty of threats to the presidency which had to be addressed immediately. Kenyatta started by appointing close relatives and village mates to sensitive positions in the security forces. Later after the assassination of Tom Mboya the Kenyatta administration launched secret oath-taking amongst those same senior officials in the security forces.
Then the threat that all three men have faced early in their presidency also quickly emerged for Kenyatta. The dominant economic force at independence was the small group of white settlers who had chosen to stay. The president’s close advisors correctly identified this small group as a potential threat to the presidency. In such a poor country as Kenya, money can do a lot of damage in any political cause. These settlers were the financiers of KADU which was the main political opposition to Jomo Kenyatta’s KANU. These settlers had never really trusted Jomo Kenyatta and it would only be natural for them to jump at the first chance at a change of guard.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Kenyatta’s early years in State house were chiefly occupied with neutralizing these threats. We shall now see exactly how that was done, sometimes pretty ruthlessly.
To be continued: In the next post; Was Kenyatta capable of siring children after detention?
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