The House ‘mzungus’ stole from Kenyatta

Business

By Amos Kareithi

Piles of wood chippings litter the desolate compound. The doors are ajar but there is no one to welcome a visitor. A black water pipe attached to a tap in what appears to have been a magnificent kitchen leads to a lush garden where onions and sukumawiki thrive.

A peek into the first room is an eye opener — the dirty white walls are testimony to decades of negligence.

The house is lucky to remain standing in Gatundu District Hospital compound.

The Standard on Saturday learnt this is not an ordinary house. It is a repository of Kenya’s brutal colonial past.

The Kenyatta residence in Ichaweri, Gatundu South District.

"The stones which were used to construct this house have a long history. The house itself is a historical monument but I had no idea it has sunk to this state," says Benard Kiarie Njinu, a former police commissioner.

Njinu’s career is somehow linked to this house.

"When I was young, I used to reside in this house. By then it was stately; it had running water and electricity. The bath tub was working and the kitchen radiated warmth during the cold July season," he narrates.

The house was built by colonialists in 1950s, immediately after the government declared a state of emergency. It was situated in then district officer’s residence.

"On October 20, 1952, after the colonial government arrested Jomo Kenyatta and five other politicians agitating for independence, they decided to teach the ‘ringleader’ a lesson," Njinu explains.

Determined to stifle dissent, the government descended on a house Kenyatta had constructed in Ichaweri, next to Mutomo in Gatundu South District. To erase any evidence the founding President had carried out any development in his shamba, they demolished his house and carted away all the building materials.

Interestingly, they used the building blocks to construct the house at Gatundu to be occupied by a senior white officer.

New claimant

"The land was not spared either. After Kenyatta was found guilty of being a member of Mau Mau, it was appropriated and given to a family member. Ownership documents were given to the new claimant," says Njinu.

Shortly before Kenyatta was released, he was hurriedly moved from Isiolo to Gatundu with only one mission.

"When I arrived from Isiolo, I joined politicians Masinde Muliro, John Keen and Wafula Wabuge in Gatundu in search of Kenyatta’s ‘lost’ land. The trio’s brief was to ensure a new house was constructed before Kenyatta is released," he narrates.

Njinu, who at the time was an intelligence officer in Isiolo, says the government was caught in a spin as Kenyatta flatly refused to be relocated to any other place, insisting he had to go to his original home in Ichaweri.

"In response, I was temporarily shifted from Isiolo to Gatundu with instructions to find the person who had been allocated Kenyatta’s land. I traced him to Ngong and the government transferred the land ownership to Kenyatta."

Former Police Commissioner Bernard Njinu. Photos: Amos Kareithi/Standard

After the land was traced, Njinu offered security to the politicians as they supervised the construction of a house to replace the demolished one.

He remembers how Kenyatta was flown from Maralal to Kahawa in a police aircraft, and later driven to Ichaweri accompanied by his wife, Mama Ngina, who was expecting Uhuru, now Gatundu South MP.

"When they arrived, there was a lot of anxiety. Some whites were not happy with him. They feared he would mobilise his supporters to oust them. The home guards, too, were angry with Kenyatta whom they had been misled to believe would never be freed. I was instructed to secure his home," he narrates.

Pay homage

The barbed wire fence erected to keep off busloads of supporters, who kept streaming into Gatundu to pay homage to their leader, was not effective enough.

"Not knowing who may harm him, I was not supposed to let in visitors.

"But Kenyatta, waving his trademark flywhisk, insisted on addressing the crowds," Njinu says.

Later in 1964, Njinu recalls being recruited into the President’s security detail. He ended up residing in the house constructed with stones from Kenyatta’s vandalised house since he was supposed to report to the President’s home every morning. "When the hospital was constructed, Kenyatta directed me to move into the house constructed with his stones," he recalls.

But did Kenyatta know the history of the house?

Duly compensated

He did but chose not to pursue the matter for he had been compensated, says Njinu.

And it was from that house that he operated for most of the 14 years he worked as member of the presidential escort.

He later rose to become commander of the unit until Kenyatta died on August 22,1978.

The house, he hopes, will be renovated and gazetted as a repository of national history.

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