Sunday, December 14, 2008



By Edward Kisiang’ani
DECEMBER 14, 2008

Jamhuri Day celebrations have just been concluded with pomp and pageantry. What, however, is critical to me is not the annual celebrations we have witnessed. Not even the honours some people might have received.

My concern is about the blatant lies associated with the occasion that we have been living with for a long time. Old wisdom informs us that when a lie is told several times, it actually turns into truth. At the risk of displeasing some people, let me highlight some political lies about Kenya and the late President Kenyatta.

We have been told several times that Kenya gained independence in 1963. We have also been informed that Kenyatta was not only the country’s founding father but also a quintessential freedom fighter. I have spent a lot of time perusing relevant documents to establish the veracity of these claims but I have not been able to find any truth in them.

Divide and rule
Colonial rule had certain fundamental pillars. Through a carefully conceived ‘divide and rule policy’, colonialism was implanted to secure the exploitation of Kenya’s human and material resources. In addition to promoting ethnic hostilities among the African communities, colonial rule was both dictatorial and intolerant.

Those who challenged colonial authorities were killed by the police, jailed or summarily detained without trial. Under the system, the imperial Governor presided over a prefectural network that ensured that British government policies were fully implemented.

On their part, the Africans paid taxes without representation and provided the cheap labour, which facilitated production of wealth. Influential public service jobs went to whites and very few African collaborators. Furthermore, most of Kenya’s productive land was alienated and given to Europeans. Education opportunities for the African people were scarce. Kenya belonged to the white people.

Kenya’s First President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta
In the past 45 years of African leadership, Kenya has been unable to deal with the problems the country experienced under formal colonialism. That is why I am proposing that since colonialism did not end in 1963, our celebration of the occasion is rather misguided. Biting poverty, police brutality, political intolerance, unfair distribution of resources and jobs, unemployment and ethnic parochialism continue to haunt every aspect of life in Kenya. Our past history shows that, in fact, 1963 was not the year of independence. Rather, it was the time when European colonialism was Africanised, making Kenyatta the first black governor.

Our struggle for the second liberation was hijacked in 1992 when Moi — the second black governor — took charge of the proceedings by pretending to be a democrat. He rigged the first serious multi-party polls since 1963 and retained the status quo.

In 2002, the peoples’ second attempt to overthrow Kenya’s black colonial rule seemed to succeed when Narc swept its way to power and promised real change. What followed, however, was an anticlimax of our dreams. In a recent interview with media officials, former Lurambi Member of Parliament Masinde Werangai captured the hopelessness of our political situation when he conceded that the promises of uhuru had not been fulfilled by successive Kenyan governments.

Genuine heroes
The lie that Jomo Kenyatta was the founding father of the country should not be allowed to continue. As truly conceived by genuine founding mothers and fathers, the Kenyan nation is yet to be born. What helped Kenyatta to rise to the top was his mastery of pretense and deceit. Kenyatta knew how to mimic what he was not. This is demonstrated by the way he easily changed names to hide his true self. Although he was born Kamau wa Ngengi, he changed to John Peter and by 1922, he had become Johnstone Kamau. While in Europe in the 1930s, he became Jomo Kenyatta. In 1963, Kamau wa Ngegi was simply known as Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. So what is the difference-in character and deed between President Kenyatta, Mzee, John Peter, Johnstone or Kamau? Was it safe for Kenyans to have entrusted the institution of the presidency in a person whose names kept changing?

After spending along time in Europe, Kenyatta returned home in 1946 and shortly seized the leadership the Kenya African Union party. Although he was mistakenly arrested and jailed for being a member of the Mau Mau, Kenyatta denounced the nationalist movement several times and eventually set the record straight during the Kapenguria trial of 1953.

His nationalist credentials were further undermined by the fact that during his presidency, he became the biggest land owner in Kenya when he acquired over 500,000 acres of land. Besides, he made it his top priority to punish and neutralize freedom fighters who questioned his political practices.

Crushed dissent
Throughout his rule, Kenyatta did not hold any presidential elections to test his popularity. It is tragic that such a person has been branded founding father and freedom fighter.

Like the colonial governor before him, Kenyatta crushed dissent without mercy, terrorised political opponents using the police and detained without trial those with divergent opinions.

Contrary to the dreams and aspirations of the freedom fighters, Kenyatta failed to unite Kenya when he embarked on the programme of Kikuyunizing the public service, by replacing the outgoing Europeans with his own kinsmen. At the height of his presidency, he failed to appreciate Kenya’s diversity when he receded to his own ethnic cocoon.

This was not surprising because, from the very beginning, Kenyatta’s political operations revolved around Kikuyu nationalism. It is noted that as early as 1929, he had been sent to London by the Kikuyu Central Association to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land rights. He even edited a tribal newspaper, Muigwithania.

We have to recognise that the struggle for independence which began in the early 1890s when British rule was imposed on our people was never concluded in 1963, 1992, 2002 or 2007. It continues to date. In addition, the true heroes of Kenya’s liberation combat include the brave fighters of the Chetambe War of 1890s, the champions of the Mau Mau era as well as the stalwarts of the Giriama and the Nandi resistance. These people deserve respect and recognition.

Individuals who should make the list of founding fathers and mothers of Kenya should not be Jomo Kenyatta and his fellow traitors of the freedom struggle. Genuine freedom fighters include, Mekatili wa Menza, Koitalel arap Samoei, Harry Thuku, Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia, Masinde Muliro, Elijah Masinde, and Jaramogi Odinga Oginga, among others. Contemporary scholars have an obligation to the people of Kenya to rewrite our history by correcting the lies we have lived with for a long time.

Dr Kisiang’ani teaches History and Political Studies at Kenyatta University.