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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

32 Years On, Jomo Kenyatta’s Legacy Still Lives On

Kenya will observe a public holiday this Wednesday 20 October, the last one of its kind to remember the great man whose face still adorns Kenyan currency notes and coins of all denomination.

On Wednesday October 20, Kenyans will reminisce past Kenyatta Days as the public holiday takes on a new tag ‘Mashujaa’ (Kiswahili for Heroes) Day as enshrined in the new constitution. Named after the late Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of independent Kenya, this day was put aside as a national holiday to honour him and the martyrs who lost their lives for during the struggle for Kenyan independence from the British colonial rule.

However, over the years the day has morphed into an almost exclusive celebration of Kenyatta’s life and legacy. Critics have argued that the holiday should instead be celebrated as a tribute to the Kenyan freedom movement and not merely dedicate to the larger-than-life image of Kenyatta.

Kenyans voted unanimously for the new constitution in a referendum held on August 4 2010 and later promulgated in front of thousands gathered at the Uhuru Park grounds on August 27. The new constitution ushered in a superfluity of changes among them, the renaming of Kenyatta Day to Mashujaa Day, and the scrapping of Moi Day, a bold stab at the big man posturing of past political regimes.

From now on, the day will be marked in honour of leading Kenyan nationalists who were arrested and detained by the British colonial government. Among the notable heroes who will be in the spotlight are Dedan Kimathi and other Mau Mau freedom fighters and the Kapenguria Six: Achieng' Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Kung'u Karumba, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei, and Jomo Kenyatta.

The celebration of a Heroes Day signals the end of a long struggle to include the contribution of many other Kenyans in the liberation struggle.

For youthful Kenyans born after the death in August 22nd  1978, Kenyatta is revered as the triumphant hero who brought an end to the often barbaric British rule. Immediately after Kenya gained her independence on December 12 1963, Jomo Kenyatta ascended to the throne, becoming the first Prime Minister and a year later the first President of the republic Kenya. Under his leadership, Kenya witnessed rapid economic growth driven by booming agricultural production and increased industrial investment. Kenyatta shrewdly aligned Kenya’s economic policy towards the Western interest during Cold War and the country prospered. With that prosperity came excesses of grandeur and the beginning of an economic disparity that pushed many freedom fighters to the wrong side of prosperity divide.
Even so, special mention will always be reserved for Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Despite the low points of his tenure the worst episodes being the murder of prominent political figures, economic crimes and nepotism in his inner circle, the old man still left a legacy revered by many.


Kamau Wa Ngengi was born at Ng'enda village, Gatundu Division, Kiambu in 1889 to Muigai and Wambui. His date of birth was unclear even to him, as his parents were illiterate, and no formal birth records of native Africans were kept in pre-independent Kenya. In 1914 he converted to Christianity assuming the name John Peter which he then changed to Johnstone Kamau and eventually Jomo Kenyatta in 1938. 

He studied anthropology in Britain in 1931 and wrote a detailed study of the Kikuyu, Facing Mount Kenya. In 1945, with other visionary African leaders Hastings Banda, Obafemi Awolowo, Kwame Nkrumah, he attended the Manchester Pan-African Congress.  The conference would herald the birth of a new Africa a decade later. From 1952 to 1961 he was held in detention charged as a member of the Mau Mau society.

After his release he was part of the KANU ( Kenya African National Union) delegation in the first and second Lancaster Conference in London where Kenya's independence constitution was negotiated.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died peacefully in his sleep on 22nd August 1978 in Mombasa after a lifetime of steadfast service to his people. Besides leading Kenya to independence, Kenyatta will be remembered for creating the economic foundations for the nation. His legacy is etched quite literally in stone in form of the Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Kenyatta National Hospital, national schools, numerous main streets, two Universities and several other institutions. A statue in downtown Nairobi and several monuments all over Kenya stands tall in his honour.

"Our children may learn about the heroes of the past. Our task is to make ourselves the architects of the future."
Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya, from an address given on Kenyatta Day, as quoted in Anita King's Quotations in Black, Greenwood Press 1981.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!