10 Achievements of Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta (c. 1897 – 1978) – First President of Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of the Republic of Kenya. Largely considered as the Father of Modern Kenya, Kenyatta was instrumental in securing independence for Kenya (formerly British East Africa) from Great Britain. The biography below profiles his childhood, life and major achievements.

Major Achievements of Jomo Kenyatta

Resolutely fought to protect the interest of the Kikuyu people

Although he spent his formative years and education in a Christian missionary (the Church of Scotland mission), Kenyatta was no doubt a very a devoted traditionalist and nationalist. And not even the over two decade-stay in Europe could turn his attention from holding customs and traditions of Kikuyu dearly.

He was an active participant in the affairs of the Kikuyu tribe, joining the Kikuyu Central Association in the mid-1920s. He fought to safeguard the interest of the Kikuyu people. Along with the likes of Harry Thuku – a vital member of the East Africa Association (EAA) – Kenyatta protested against white-minority rule and the forced seizure of Kikuyu lands. Those lands were taken from the Kikuyu after Kenya was incorporated into the British Empire in 1920.

He was a leading member of Kikuyu Central Association

After the authorities clamped down on the activism of Kenyatta and Thuku, the EAA metamorphosed into the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). Kenyatta and KCA members continued to push for fair land rights for the Kikuyu people and the whole of Kenya.

Fearing that similar events such as the Irish War of Independence and Russia’s October Revolution could take place in Kenya, the British government tightened its grip on the country. They even forced Kenyans and Indians to carry identity cards (kipande) wherever they went. Kenyans were also prevented from growing some crops, especially coffee. To make matters worse, exorbitant taxes were imposed on the people while the colonial government made no attempt of involving the blacks in governance. These oppressive tactics enraged the KCA. And shortly after World War I, tensions broke out in Kikuyuland.

Due to Kenyatta’s fluency in English, Kenyatta was appointed to serve as the general secretary of the KCA. Working full time, Kenyatta crisscrossed Kikuyuland and established a number of KCA branches. The goal of the KCA was to ramp up anti-colonial sentiments amongst the people, not just Kikuyus, but the whole of Kenya.

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Helped set up KCA Magazine – Muĩgwithania

Jomo Kenyatta (1897 – 1978)

In order to propagate its anti-colonial and African nationalism message in Kenya, the KCA established a magazine called Muĩgwithania. The magazine’s name in English translates into “The Reconciler” or “The Unifier”.

Kenyatta was once again at the center of many editorials published by the magazine. He played a crucial role in positioning the magazine as vocal voice for issues concerning the average Kenyan.  Apart from serving as an editor, he was also involved in translating a number of articles into the various local languages. This proved very useful in getting KCA’s message to a wider audience in Kenya.

For example, the newspaper strongly opposed Britain’s proposition to set up a federation of East African territories, which would have included Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. Kenyatta and the Kikuyus considered such move as extremely detrimental to the interest of the Kikuyus and Kenya in general.

Kukuyu representative in London

In 1929, funds were made available for Kenyatta to travel to London, England. He served as the group’s representative. His time in London saw him promote the interests of KCA and the Kikuyu people as a whole. He voiced his disgust against Land Boards set up by Edward Grigg Governor of Kenya.  The boards were used to rip off Kenyans off their lands.

Jomo Kenyatta also focused on tackling other equally important issues such as educational opportunities for Kenyans, reduction of taxes, and the right for Kenyans to be fairly represented in governing of their country. These concerns of his were beautifully explained in a letter he penned to The Times of London in March 1930.

Kenyatta’s time abroad saw him visit a number of European countries in order to pile up pressure on the British government for greater freedoms in Kenya. For example, he visited the Soviet Union and even enrolled at the Moscow State University for two years.

Back in London, Kenyatta signed up for an anthropology program at the London School of Economics. His academic supervisor was the famous academic Bronislaw Malinowski.

Jomo Kenyatta

Kenyatta pictured with Malawian president Hastings  Banda

Co-organized the Fifth Pan-African Congress (1945)

As curtain closed in on World War II, many African colonies and independence fighters realized that the time was ripe to sever the colonial cord with European powers. From Ghana in West Africa to the Sudan in North Africa, anti-colonial sentiments were rife. Therefore, it was not surprising when the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in mid-October, 1945.

The organizers of the event came from different African countries. Joining hands with the likes of Kwame Nkrumah (later Ghana’s first president), Obefemi Awolowo (later Premier of Western Nigeria) and Hastings Banda (Malawi’s first president), Kenyatta saw to it that the congress went as planned.

At the congress, he also had the opportunity to meet with the famed American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. The two men had extensive discussions about the state of affairs on the African continent. The takeaway from the congress was that Africans were ready to govern themselves. Kenyatta supported resolution that called on European powers to immediately hand over the affairs of Africa to Africans.

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President of Kenya African Union (KAU)

Flag of Kenya African Union

A year after the 5th Pan-African Congress, Kenyatta returned to Kenya. Owing to the works that he did abroad, the Kenya African Union (KAU) voted him to serve as the union’s president in 1947. As KAU president, Kenyatta worked very hard to promote inter-tribal dialog among the various tribes. For example, he supported the use of Swahili as the lingua franca of the Union. He believed that Swahili, a widely spoken East African language, could bring tribes such as Massai and Lou together.

The KAU also fought hard against the “Kenya Plan” – a plan which came from white Electors’ Union – that called for greater white settlement in Kenya.

Between 1947 and 1949, he served as a board member on the African Land Settlement Board. He joined the board in a bid to find an amicable solution to the land problem between the Kikuyus and the government.

He was a part of the Kapenguria Six

Tensions between the colonial government and Kenyans reached a boiling point starting from the 1944 land seizure that saw about 11,000 Kenyans expelled from their lands in Olenguruone. In response, many Kenyans started taking the Mau Mau oaths in order to oppose Britain’s unjust land laws.

By the early 1950s, tensions had turned violent with much of the violence instigated and perpetrated by Mau Mau gunmen. For his part, Kenyatta did not support the bloodshed. He even came out publicly and criticized the use of violence. He called on every Kenyan to use peaceful approach to voice their grievances. Regardless of this, Kenyatta and other leading members of Mau Mau and KAU were rounded up. The political activists were put behind bars in October 1952.

Kenyatta showing his disgust of the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s

Kenyatta and five Kenyan anti-colonial activists would go on to become the Kapenguria Six. The names of the Kapenguria Six were Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, Achieng’ Oneko, Kung’u Karumba, and Jomo Kenyata.

They were slapped with what could only be described as trumped up charges. The British government blamed Kenyatta for the Mau Mau uprising. After a farce trial at Kapenguria (a town near the Ugandan border) as well as false evidence from Rawson Macharia, Kenyatta and the five activists were flown to Lokitaung to serve a seven-year prison sentence.

Sentencing was pronounced in April 1953. It was obviously clear that Britain wanted to use the Kapenguria Six as scapegoats. They believed that by sentencing those men, the rebellion would be effectively nipped in the bud.

However, Kenyatta’s imprisonment caused an even greater public outcry. Across Africa, there were calls from various African colonies for the release of Kenyatta. Britain managed to shrug off those calls and kept Kenyatta in prison until 1959.

He was vital in securing Kenya’s independence from Britain

Jomo Kenyatta became the first president of Kenya in 1964

After his release from prison in 1959, Kenyatta was forced to live in Lodwar. Britain tried their hardest to keep him away from the public eye. African statesmen such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana all called on the immediate release of Kenyatta.

Eventually, Britain caved in to international pressure. Kenyatta was given his freedom in April 1961. He would go on to work with then-British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to map out a strategy for Kenya’s independence. Several talks were held between anti-colonialist and the British government before the parties agreed to have a 65-seat Legislative Council.

Head of Kenya African National Union (KANU)

The two political parties that emerged during the election were the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The later party was largely made up of Maasai and Kalenjin tribes. Kenyatta’s KANU largely comprised of Kikuyus.

With Kenyatta as the head, KANU won the elections handsomely. In consultation with various stakeholders, Kenyatta was heavily involved in drafting Kenya’s constitution. The constitution allowed for parliamentary system of governance with six regions plus a regional assembly. Shortly after the drafting process, Kenyatta accepted the position of Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs and Economic Planning. He worked very well with Governor Malcolm MacDonald (last British governor of Kenya) in 1963 and helped put the structures in place for the 1963 general election.

Kenya’s first Prime Minister and later first President

In the 1963 election, KANU once again emerged victorious, winning 83 seats out of 124 seats in parliament. As head of KANU, Kenyatta became the first Prime Minister of Kenya on June 1, 1963. The queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II, remained as the head of state while Kenyatta managed the nation’s affairs. Upon the country becoming a republic on December 12, 1963, Kenyatta automatically became Kenya’s first president.

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Kenyatta’s Presidential Accomplishments

Although his presidency, which was from 1964 to 1978, was marred by the suppression of dissent and gross inequality gap, Kenyatta was still able to achieve stellar economic growth figures. He also fast tracked the healing process of the country, entreating all Kenyans to forgive and forget about the oppressive years under British rule.

Kenyatta’s goal was to quickly bring all races together in the country. He abolished racial segregation in social clubs and schools. He worked hard to create a Kenyan national culture and identity. And although English was the official language in government, Swahili remained as the preferred language among Kenyans.

Jomo Kenyatta Quote

Unlike many of his contemporaries and nationalists in other African countries, Kenyatta chose not to immediately expel foreigners’. As a matter of fact, he even offered them the opportunity to become citizens of Kenya. By so doing, Kenya became one of the most attractive spots in Africa for foreign direct investment. The revenues generated from such schemes were pumped into free basic education and universal health care for children.

Today, educational institutions such as the University of Nairobi (Kenya’s first university), Kenyatta University and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology bear testament to just how important Jomo Kenyatta was to Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta’s Death

Towards the latter part of the 1960s, Kenyatta’s health started to deteriorate. He suffered a mild stroke in May 1968. A few years later, he was plagued by gout and heart problems. On August 22, 1978, the Father of Kenya passed away in Mombasa, Kenya. He died of heart attack.

Quick Facts about Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta facts

Born – c. 1897; Nginda Village, Kenya (formerly British East Africa)

Died – August 22, 1978, Mombasa, Kenya

Cause of death – Heart attack

Name at birth –  Kamau wa Muigai and later Kamau wa Ngengi

Parents – Muigai wa Kung’u and Wambui wa Kung’u (Kikuyu farmers)

Siblings – Kongo and Muigai the younger

Education – Communist University of the Toilers of the East; University College London; and London School of Economics

Known for – First Prime Minister of Kenya; First President of Kenya

Spouses – Grace Wahu (married in 1919); Edna Clarke (1942 – 1946); Grace Wanjiku; and Mama Ngina (1951 – 1978)

Children – 8, including Uhuru Kenyatta (4th President of Kenya) and Margaret Kenyatta (27th Mayor of Nairobi)

Elected offices – Prime Minister of Kenya (1963 – 1964); President of Kenya (1964 – 1978)

Successor – Daniel arap Moi

Political party – Kenya African National Union (KANU)

Ideology – Pan-Africanism and Anti-Colonialism, African Nationalism and Conservatism

Influenced by – George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harry Thuku

Nicknames – Mzee (Father of the Nation), Great Elder, Hero of Our Race

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