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Jomo Kenyatta

[joh' moh kehn yah' tah] first Prime Minister and President of Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta

Kamau wa Ngengi was born about 1890 in the village of Ichaweri, Gatundu, in British East Africa, a member of the Kikuyu tribe. He was educated at the Church of Scotland Mission at Kikuyu, and baptized in 1914 with the name John Peter (which he later changed to Johnstone Kamau). During the First World War he lived with Maasai relatives in Nairobi, where he worked as a government clerk.

Overseas Work and Study

In 1922, while still living in Nairobi, Kamau joined the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), a political protest movement. By 1928, as secretary of the association, he was chief advocate for Kikuyu land rights. In 1929 the KCA sent him to London to lobby for their views; he also wrote articles to British newspapers about the matter. After a brief return to Kenya, he enrolled at Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham, England, in 1931. From 1931 to 1946 he worked and studied in Western Europe and Moscow. By 1938 he had adopted the name Jomo Kenyatta (Burning Spear Beaded Belt), and it was under this name that he published Facing Mount Kenya, his thesis for the London School of Economics. During this period he continued to lobby on behalf of Kikuyu land rights.

During World War II, Kenyatta worked at a British farm in Sussex to avoid conscription into the British Army. He also lectured on Africa for the Workman's Education Association.

Return to Africa

On returning to Africa in 1946, Kenyatta became a principal of Kenya Teachers College. In 1947 he was elected president of the newly-founded Kenya African Union (later Kenya African National Union, or KANU).

In 1952, Kenyatta was charged with leading the Mau Mau Rebellion against the British and, despite his denials, was sentenced to seven years in prison, after which he spent two more years in exile in a remote part of Kenya.

Leadership of Kenya

On May 14, 1960, Kenyatta was elected president of KANU, even though he was still in exile. The state of emergency in Kenya was lifted in December 1960, and Kenyatta was finally fully released on August 21, 1961. In 1962 he was admitted into the Legislative Council, where he played a crucial role in the creation of a new constitution. Kenyatta became Prime Minister of the autonomous Kenyan government on June 1, 1963, and retained the position after independence was declared on December 12, 1963. Kenya became a republic on December 12, 1964, and Kenyatta became its first President. He was re-elected in 1966, 1969, and 1974.

Despite having helped gain Kenya's independence from Great Britain, Kenyatta sought to maintain good relations with that country, even encouraging white residents to remain in Kenya and allowing many colonial-era civil servants to keep their jobs. He asked for, and received, British help against Somali rebels in the northeast, and against an army mutiny in Nairobi. Kenyatta is credited with making Kenya one of the most politically stable nations in Africa. His period in Kenyan history is also known as one of economic progress as well as agricultural, industrial and educational advances.

President Jomo Kenyatta died in Mombasa on August 22, 1978, and was buried in Nairobi on August 31.

Jomo Kenyatta lies in state in Nairobi
Jomo Kenyatta lies in state

Wives and Children

Grace Wahu -- 1920-? -- Peter Muigai (1920), Margaret Wambui

Edna Clarke -- 1942-1946 (his return to Kenya) -- Peter Magana (1943)

Grace Wanjiku -- 1946-1950 (her death) -- Jane Wambui (1950)

Ngina Muhoho -- 1951-his death -- Christine Uhuru, Anna Nyokabi, Muhoho

Jomo Kenyatta and Ngina Muhoho in 1965
Ngina Muhoho Kenyatta

See Also

First World War
World War II
Great Britain

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The Robinson Library >> Kenya

This page was last updated on 09/02/2018.