Perhaps no other learning institution in the country basked in late President Jomo Kenyatta’s larger-than-life presence than Bomani Primary School in Msambweni District, Kwale County.
His regular trips to the Coast province in the month of August were often punctuated with repeated visits to the school, located about 70 kilometres South of Mombasa to relish traditional songs from children and adults alike.
The institution, since renamed Jomo Kenyatta Primary School had a ‘Kenyatta square’ where traditional songs and dances were performed by groups from all over South Coast.
On August 21, 1978, Mzee and his entourage that included then Coast Provincial Commissioner, Eliud Mahihu and other dignitaries crossed the Likoni channel on a ferry for what was to turn out to be Mzee’s last trip to his favourite school.
As usual, he was treated to a menu of entertainment that included Digo and Duruma traditional dances.
Contrary to the norm, activities that day ended rather prematurely because the president was not in his usual spirits, recalls 85-year, old Mwashamba Charo.
“He did not seem to enjoy our dances and songs. He was not in his element that had seen him relish such occasions. On that day he was restive and kept rising from his seat to visit the toilet improvised for his use on such visits,” the old man recalls.
Then suddenly, the Provincial Commissioner, Mr Mahihu announced that Mzee had to return to Mombasa for important engagements and that those who had not performed would do so another day.
Disappointment set in as the presidential motorcade revved off to Mombasa that Monday afternoon.
“It never occurred to those present that the routine singing and dancing for Mzee at the school had come to an abrupt end, never to happen again,” says Mr Charo.
“August 22 was an ordinary day at Msambweni, with people going about their normal chores. Children and teachers at the school where the president had been entertained the previous day were in class.
“In the early afternoon, things suddenly changed after a Voice of Kenya (VoK) radio announcement that president Kenyatta had died in his sleep early that morning,” he racalls.
Everything came to a standstill. Learning at Bomani Primary School came to an abrupt end.
“Little did we know the tragic event was a turning point for our school that was subsequently renamed Jomo Kenyatta, in honour of the founding president,” the old man goes on.
Pomp and colour
It was not long before a decision was made by top Government bureaucrats to overhaul infrastructure in the school to reflect the famous name.
Miffed residents watched as rehabilitation and reconstruction of all the buildings started in earnest. President Moi officially opened the new look school amid pomp and colour.
Kassim Mwamzandi, who at the time was the local Member of Parliament and Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, says he was in Switzerland on official duty when Mzee passed on.
“The school is built on land donated by my late father. I was very close to Mzee, hence his choice of the school as his entertainment ground whenever he was in Mombasa every August,” he says.
He says though he was away, he was aware the President was to visit his house situated next to the school the following day, August 22.
“Peter Muigai, Mzee’s eldest son, had organised the visit. The old man was to be received by my late wife, Amina. He had told the crowd, ‘tukutane kesho’, (let’s meet tomorrow) as he left,” Mr Mwamzandi says.
Unfortunately, the school that currently has a population of 1,050 pupils, 500 of them girls, has not matched its academic performance with its fine infrastructure and rich history that puts it in a class of its own.
Out of 118 KCPE candidates last year, only three were admitted to provincial secondary schools. The top candidate scored 330 marks out of the possible 500.
Deputy Headmaster, Sebe Shee attributes the lacklustre performance to a culture where excellence in the academic arena is not given the attention it deserves.
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