Kenya’s official history keeps citizens ignorant of the real Jomo Kenyatta by masking nuances of his life that would enable citizens to critically appreciate the founding father of the nation. Below 20, or so things you didn’t know about Kenyatta.
Missionary teachers at Thogoto Church of Scotland Mission Station thought Kamau wa Ngengi who was born in Ng’enda, Gatundu, in the early 1890s, was only good enough to be a mason on an account of his poor grades. He defied them and pursued a career in politics
In 1914 missionaries wanted him to baptised John Peter Kamau but he defied them and added “stone” to the John hence Johnstone Kamau, Kenyatta’s early name
Kenyatta escaped to Narok to avoid conscription into the Kings African Rifles (colonial army) to fight in World War 1 working as a clerk in a ranch.
He would be nicknamed Kinyatta, after kinyatta — the beaded Maasai belt you see him in his early photographs. And the name stuck. Kinyatta would later become Kenyatta.
By 1921, Kenyatta was a stylish water meter reader swooshing about Nairobi in a motorbike. He would get himself a wife, Grace Wahu, then a student at the Church Missionary Society girls' school in Kabete whom he wished to wed in "privacy" to avoid paying dowry.
Not amused, the church accused him of "committing sin with a girl whom he is buying as a wife, and as a result of which she is with child," writes Kenyatta’s biographer Murray-Brown, quoting church documents
The church was also concerned with Kenyatta’s drinking. But what did it expect of a man who ran Kinyatta Stores at Dangoretti where he sold the stuff? For that he was suspended from receiving the Holy Communion, ex-communicated and strongly advised to live with Wahu only after getting legally married. Brown writes Kenyatta agreed to a customary wedding but refused to stop drinking. The missionaries even refused to recommend him for a job.
Later as a wage collection clerk, Kenyatta earned Sh250 taking home more than European clerks, he would built a hut for Wahu and their first born son, Peter Muigai, a former MP for Juja who died in 1979.
Brown writes, “The hut doubled as a shop, which he called Kinyatta Stores, a "rickety place of fun never before seen in Kikuyuland". It was the port of call for Goans and broke Europeans who patronised it for shots of Nubian gin, music and women.
Until 1926, Kenyatta showed no political inclinations until Joseph Kang'ethe, the then secretary-general of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) urged him join KCA because of his command of English. He obliged.
John Cook, the Thika colonial water engineer would now fire the radicalised wage collection clerk water meter reader after Kenyatta became the editor of Muiguithania, (The Reconciler), the association's mouthpiece.
When Harry Thuku, the chairman of Kikuyu Central Association which was agitating for political rights, was arrested and detained in Kismayu, Kenyatta found him in Mombasa boarding the Bernadio de St Pierre, a French liner to London where he took up residence at 57 Castletown Road in 1929. The aim was to present Kikuyu land grievances to the British secretary of state.
In London, Kenyatta wrote several letters and articles on colonial injustice, one of them read: "The natives of the colony are showing their determination not to submit to the outrageous tyranny which has been their lot since the British robbers stole their land and discontent will remain until they govern themselves”.
In London, Kenyatta could not afford rent. Handley Hooper, a missionary in England wrote of him, "...It’s tragic. He started fairly well, but his recent behaviour, if known, would discredit him with any British government and damn the association...I advise the association (KCA) to drop him and cut their losses."
McGregor Ross, the director of public works in Kenya in 1905, wrote: "He is ruining his pathetic landlady. When she gives him notice, he bursts into a flood of tears and sits tight as before. He must surely owe her £150 or £180 by now. Too bad." Ross later offered him accommodation.
In 1930 Kenyatta was back to Kenya where he disagreed with the church when he refused to support a ban on female circumcision, reasoning that it could only disappear with universal education
In 1931 he left for London with teacher Parmenas Mackerie Githendu to present KCA’s views to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on closer union of the East African Federation. London denied him audience but listened to settlers and Senior Chief Koinange.
The British government ordered him back to Kenya, but Kenyatta found his way to Germany in the company of his girlfriend, Connie McGregor, and the Marxist George Padmore after whom a road is named in Nairobi.
He would end up in Moscow where he enrolled at the Revolutionary Institute and Moscow University coming back to Kenya after 15 years in 1946. But, he never professed to be a communist unlike his first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila’s father.
In Europe, a broke Kenyatta sold stamps and even acted in the movie Sanders of the River as a minor character.
He read Anthropology in 1934 at the University College, London, and wrote Facing Mount Kenya, moved to Storrington, West Sussex and married Edna Grace Clark in 1942. Their son Peter Magana, born in 1943, would become a BBC director of programs. Edna died in 1995.