Sunday, August 24, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
August 23, 2008

Kenya Times and the Standard did justice to Kenyatta’s memorial. They dug into history, went on the streets and interviewed people who might have had more information to shed light on what really happened on that fateful night. Even a young publication; the Nairobi Star that is hardly a year old did a superb job.
While Citizen TV and K24 were taking Kenyans down memory lane with vivid reminders of that mournful week, the Daily Nation had other ideas. Not even President Kibaki’s attendance at the Mausoleum along with the Kenyatta family and the Speaker of the National Assembly going through the annual ritual did not deserve a caption on the front page! What happened? Was it anything to do with a new editorial policy or change of guard at the Nation Centre?

Perusing through the local papers as well as watching episodes in our local TV stations, Jomo Kenyatta’s bright side got more favorable reviews than his dark side. Was it anything to do with our respect for the dead? Was Kenyatta all this good through and through? Are there no people, living or dead that he wronged, mistreated or deprived of their property? Didn’t Kenyatta misuse his position and office to enrich himself and his family in the fourteen years he was our imperial president? Was he all along a benevolent and caring father of the nation?

Reading Wanyiri Kihoro and Paul Muite’s comments on the Kenyatta legacy in the Sunday Standard two days after the memorial, one got the feeling that the excesses Kenyatta and his close friends engaged in did not go unnoticed even in Central Province.

As we close the chapter on Kenyatta’s thirty years since his death, it may be helpful to remind ourselves and the current leadership not only of Kenyatta’s successes and strong points but also his failures and weaknesses so that we can draw lessons from them.

The reason Kenyatta fell out with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Bildad Kaggia so soon after independence was because they saw that Kenyatta was reneging on the promises he made to the landless Kenyans whose ancestral lands had been grabbed by white farmers in the early part of the 20th Century. When Kikuyu militants rose up in arms to fight white injustices, their primary motivation was land. However, soon after independence, the landless peasants were forgotten and instead Kikuyu home guards that now surrounded Kenyatta grabbed all the land in Central Province, Rift Valley and Coast provinces. Thirty years since Kenyatta died, the land issue has not been solved.

During Kenyatta’s reign, Kenya’s Harambee spirit was at its peak. Every community raised money to build their schools, hospitals and cattle dips. As President, Kenyatta had to show the way by starting the Gatundu Self Help Hospital project in his village in Kiambu. Kenyans remember millions and millions of shillings were donated by all manner of people, corporate and non-governmental organizations. What was unique about the Gatundu Hospital was that every donation found prime time slot on Kenya’s then only broadcast station, Voice of Kenya. This made every Kenyan monitor contributions going to Gatundu Hospital. All these donations were handed over to Jomo Kenyatta personally.

At one point Kenyans were made to believe that Gatundu Hospital would be the largest and best equipped medical institution in the whole country and would be open to all people from all parts of Kenya. After Kenyatta died, the hospital disappeared from the radar! What happened to the millions that were donated and handed over to Jomo Kenyatta?

Despite the fact that Kenyatta was the victim of British brutality and political intolerance, when he took the reins of power, it hardly took him three years to start applying the same colonial laws to suppress all forms of freedom in Kenya. In just under one year, Kenya Broadcasting Service was nationalized and renamed Voice of Kenya which in reality was Voice of Kenyatta. With a tight grip on political power, it was unthinkable for Kenyatta to liberalize the airwaves to allow alternative voices to be heard. Political opponents were barred from coverage on national broadcast network. Even private newspapers were made to know their limits. Yet these are the fundamental freedoms Kenyatta and Oneko had fought for, for many decades.

Under Kenyatta, multiparty democracy was killed and buried. With it went political tolerance. He was so sensitive to political challenge that he had to detain his former Kapenguria cell mate, Achieng Oneko along with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga; the man who fought for his release from detention under colonial government. Other notable detainees during Kenyatta’s time were Ngugi wa Thiongo’, Jean Marie Seroney, Martin Shikuku and several other Kenya Peoples Union MPs who sympathized with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga after the 1969 Kisumu massacres.

Under his watch, Kenyatta’s rule is credited with the murder of Pio Gama Pinto, Kungu Karumba, Tom Mboya, Ronald Ngala and JM Kariuki. Whereas decoys were arrested and tried for the murders of Pinto and Mboya, the killers of Kungu Karumba, Ronald Ngala and JM Kariuki were never arrested and tried yet credible suspects were well known to the public.

During Kenyatta’s time and especially after neutralizing KADU, getting rid of Jaramogi Odinga and after the murder of Mboya, he surrounded himself with his tribesmen and ruled Kenya as if it was a Kikuyu country. As he entrenched himself, more and more strategic positions went into the hands of his people. The following positions were held by Kikuyus as a matter of course: Head of the Civil Service, Provincial and District Commissioners, The Police Commissioner, GSU Commandant, Head of Special Branch, Director of CID, Air Force Commandant, Army Commandants, Governor of the Central Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank CEO, National Bank CEO, Minister for Defense, Minister for Finance, Attorney General and Minister of State in the President’s Office. Other Ministries that were considered not strategic were given out to less vocal tribes but Kenyatta made sure all their Permanent Secretaries were from his tribe. This was the position as at 1978 when Kenyatta passed on.

Under his rule, Kenyatta ostracized the Luos in Nyanza and created a wedge between them and their Kikuyu brothers. He stigmatized the Luos so much that he made every tribe believe that Luos were bad people not to be trusted with power. His last trip to Kisumu in October 1969 that ended in the massacre of so many innocent people only helped him to entrench his theory that Luos were no good.

Because of his lack of vision for the big picture, he differed with Julius Nyerere and helped kill the East African dream. He lost interest in Pan Africanism and therefore allowed Kenya to degenerate into a visionless and radarless nation. For this reason, he opted to use brute force against Kenyan Somalis instead of opening dialogue and developing the region.

Yes, Kenyatta’s other legacy is as rich as the one the media in this country would like us to have.