MZEE JOMO KENYATTA
was the first president
, and is widely regarded as one of the Founding Fathers
. He was born with a Kikuyu
name, Kamau wa Ngengi, in 1893
, but became a Christian
after attending a Church of Scotland
school in Thogoto
, and changed his name to Johnstone Kamau.
Originally a carpenter, Kenyatta left the Kikuyu's homeland (the central highlands of Kenya) in 1917, and moved to the Maasai city of Narok to flee a British draft. One year later, he moved to Nairobi, and then got married and had his first son. Nairobi was where Kenyatta first became interested in politics: he joined the Kikuyu Central Association in 1924, and began publishing a Kikuyu weekly news magazine in 1928. His good relations with the Kikuyu, Maasai, and Asian populations of Kenya helped his rise to power.
The KCA sent Kenyatta to London in 1929, along with an Indian politico named Isher Dass. After a year-long stay there, during which he wrote a wide array of essays and articles for the British press, Kenyatta returned to Kenya. He went back to Britain in 1931 and entered Quaker College, only to break off his studies a year later and move to Moscow. After a year at Moscow University, he again returned to England to study at University College London.
His final name, Jomo Kenyatta, first appeared as a pen name, when he wrote Facing Mount Kenya in 1938. "Kenyatta" is Swahili for "light of Kenya." Anyway, he spent all of World War II in Britain. He didn't return to Kenya until 1946, by which time he had made friends with Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, and other big names in African politics.
The following year, Kenyatta became president of the Kenya African Union, and began a massive nationwide campaign for Kenyan independence. In 1951, the British authorities outlawed the KAU, sparking the Mau Mau rebellion. Kenyatta and nearly two hundred other leaders were put before the Kapenguria Trial, and despite being defended by stellar attorneys from India and Nigeria, Kenyatta was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.
From 1953 to 1959, Kenyatta was imprisoned in Lokitaung. During that time, the Kenyan independence movement soared under the leadership of Daniel arap Moi and others. After Kenyatta was freed, he was placed on probation and confined to the city of Lodwar: his followers, in a massive affront to the British, elected him president of the Kenya African National Union party anyway, and in 1961 his probation ended.
He travelled to the Lancaster Conference that year to negotiate Kenya's independence from the British, and in 1963 led KANU to an overwhelming victory in Kenya's first elections. His wife bore their second son on his inauguration day.
As president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta was primarily concerned with building the country's economy, and keeping it out of the manipulations of the Cold War. He is also remembered for giving Kenya its first compulsory education system, and providing free schooling up to the fourth grade. However, Kenyatta was not fond of dissent: his KANU made Kenya into a single-party state, beginning in 1968 and building up to the outlawing of all other parties in 1974. Despite Kenyatta's politics, Kenya continued to attract foreign investment well past its founding father's death.
Jomo Kenyatta died in office in 1978. Daniel arap Moi succeeded him.