History: How Jaramogi and Tom Mboya ambitions made Jomo Kenyatta president

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66 years ago Governor Baring signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency in Kenya . The announcement of the proclamation was delayed for almost 24 hours to allow the police to make surprise arrests of top KAU leaders before they fled.

At Ichaweri, police broke into Kenyatta’s house in the predawn hours hoping to arrest him while he was asleep.

To their surprise they found him fully dressed in his leather jacket and waiting derisively for their handcuffs. According to the policemen who arrested him, he held his hands out and asked:”What took you so long gentlemen?”



What Kenyatta didn’t realise was that his arrest was a blessing in disguise since the Forty Group had hatched a plan to assassinate him for his wavering stand on mau mau and his denunciation of the group.

After his arrest he was blindfolded and bundled off swiftly by truck to the airstrip where a police aircraft was waiting.

To assure the people of Ichaweri that he’ll never come back, the government demolished his house, arrested his wife and confisicated his land.

However, the emergence of a leaked letter from Lokitaung in 1958, gave Kenyatta a political lifeline after 6 years in political oblivion.

In the letter which was signed by Kubai, Ngei, Kaggia, Karumba and Kariuki Chotara , the prisoners complained about beatings, inadequate food rations, lack of medical attention and clean water. Ironically Kenyatta who became the biggest beneficiary of the furore caused by the letter didn’t sign it.



In the LegCo a debate on Mboya’s motion calling for an independent inquiry into the conditions at Lokitaung was adjourned on a dramatic note when Odinga called Kenyatta and his fellow inmates as African leaders. He repeated the statement the following day, this time adding Kenyatta should be given preferential treatment and constant updates on his health be given to the press. The speaker was forced to call him to order three times before he could stop speaking.

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With the support of Mboya Members of the LegCo from Mt Kenya region among them Mate Kiano and Nyagah who were not happy with Odinga’s remarks asked him to retract his statement or resign as the chairman of African Elected Member Organisation. But Odinga remained defiant instead asking them to share a public platform with him on the question of Kenyatta.

When Ngei, Chotara, Kubai, Karumba heard that Odinga was championing Kenyatta, they wrote him a letter praising him for his fight for freedom but warned him to stop potraying Kenyatta as the African leader. Their reason was that Kenyatta was no longer a trustworthy person and was busy holding meetings with Europeans in prison.

Of course Odinga in championing Kenyatta was demanding justice.Nevertheless, it also presented him with a weapon to tame Mboya whose ambitions had become a threat to everyone and to build his own support.

Mboya on the other hand, although opposed to Kenyatta being potrayed as the leader of Africans in Kenya, knew very well how maintaining the support of the politically conscious Kikuyus ,who still revered Kenyatta, was important to his ambitions.

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He therefore put himself in the forefront of “free Kenyatta” campaign; apart, of course, from the tactical necessity to do so to remove suspicion that he was seeking to take Kenyatta’s place.

Nobody could beat Mboya when it came to championing Kenyatta at political rallies. He would shout “Uhuru” at the top of his voice and people would answer “Uhuru na Kenyatta” then “Uhuru na Mboya.”



In essence, the leadership of Kenyatta in the post Emergency period was a creation of Odinga, promoted by Mboya and underlaid by the conflict of their own ambitions.

Odinga believed that Kenyatta would come from prison physically feeble, alcoholic, out of touch and a figurehead whom he could easily dominate, but he was wrong.

Mboya saw Kenyatta as an idol whose feet were embedded in the clay of outdated tribal agitation who upon being released would not stand comparison with the younger more modern African politicians who were emerging on the continent, but he was also wrong.

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Kenyatta used their ambitions to set them up against each other while he ruled comfortably until his death.

My question has alway been why was Walter Bell the head of British M15 in East Africa living next door to Magrate Kenyatta at a time when Kenyatta was in detention. It wasn’t by chance; they knew each other. In fact when Kenyatta visited London after his release he spent almost 4 hours at the M15 headquarters in the company of Njonjo. During the meeting he informed Sir Roger Hollis the Director General of M15 that he had already held a series of interesting talks with Bell who lived next to his daughter.

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