How Kenyatta friends' betrayal almost cost him presidency


By Gakuu Mathenge

As Kenyans remember the founding President Jomo Kenyatta today, details have emerged on how his trusted allies wanted him banished from his homeland.

Declassified documents made available to The Standard On Sunday show the leaders — some who were Kenyatta’s closest associates — endorsed the colonial government’s plan against a man who would later become their president.

Also targeted were leaders of the Mau Mau movement and scores of residents who were rendered landless and destitute through the infamous Native Land Rights Confiscation Orders.

President Kenyatta at a function in 1971. Partly hidden is James Gichuru who with Harry Thuku are said to have signed an agreement with the colonial government to banish Kenyatta. Photo: File/Standard

According to the documents, Kenyatta’s first Finance Minister, James Gichuru, pioneer freedom fighter, Harry Thuku and powerful colonial chief Josiah Njonjo — the father to once influential Attorney General under the Kenyatta administration, Charles Njonjo — did not want the founding father and other leaders released from detention.

The aim of the secret document dated January 27, 1954 was to render credence to terror unleashed on Africans and their leaders by the colonial regime. It bears signatures and recognisable mug shots of prominent church leaders, chiefs and nationalists-turned-traitors, some of whom would also become senior members in Kenyatta’s Government.

Kenyatta and many other nationalists had been arrested and detained when the colonial government imposed a state of emergency on October 20, 1952, as part of measures to crack down on Mau Mau and political agitation for independence.

The ordinance

But his close aide, Gichuru, led others in signing a document that would endorse and legitimise colonial crackdown on fellow political leaders.

Prominent Presbyterian and Anglican clergymen in Central Kenya and senior chiefs from Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Embu and Rift Valley joined the bandwagon.

"Due to your evil actions, the government has justifiably decided that no Mau Mau leader should ever return to Kikuyu country. We have endorsed and recommended the decision," said the statement.

Others who endorsed the statement were Central Kenya politicians and Legislative Council members Eliud Mathu and Muchohi Gikonyo.

The ordinance set in motion massive confiscation of land and loss of all properties by people identified as, and thought to be Mau Mau sympathisers. Apart from Kenyatta, other prominent victims of the orders included Kenya African Union (KAU) co-founders Mr Kirori Motoku and Mr Willy Jimmy Wambugu, who alongside Kenyatta and Jesse Kariuki had founded KAU in Motoku’s house at Ruring’u, Nyeri.

Kenyatta had been arrested on suspicion of being a Mau Mau leader, after addressing a rally in Nyeri, at which he unfurled the KAU flag with red, black and green stripes for the first time in July 1952.

A declassified intelligence briefing on Mr Motoku dated June 26,1957 who was in Manyani detention camp at the time says in part:

"Following a large meeting of KAU adherents at the showground, Nyeri, in September, 1947, a meeting was held in Kirori’s house at which, amongst others, the following persons were present: Jomo Kenyatta (KAU President), Jesse Kariuki (Vice President), and Anderson Wamuthenya (Chairman, Nyeri Branch). An oath was administered by Jomo Kenyatta and Jesse Kariuki, which took the form of the traditional Mau Mau oath, but at the time included the allegiance to KCA, and the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA). Kirori was present and consenting…"

To make the crackdown look like it enjoyed wide support, the colonial government sought endorsement for its actions from all areas Mau Mau was active.

Those who signed from Nyeri are listed as Reverend Charles Muhoro from the Tumu Tumu PCEA Mission, Senior Chief Muhoya, and chief Eliud Mugo.

Those who signed on behalf of Kiambu District are listed as Mr Hurry Thuku, chief Magugu Waweru, Reverend Wanyoike Kamwe, councillor Mbira, chief Kibathi Gitangu, Reverend William Njoroge, Canon Samuel Nguru, division chief Josiah Njonjo and Mr James Gichuru.

Harry Thuku

From Murang’a, those who signed include: senior chief Njiri Karanja, chief Ignatio Murai, the Reverend Elijah Gachanja, chief Samuel Githu.

From Embu were chief Stephen Ngigi and Richard Githae, while those from Rift Valley were Mr Parmenas Kiritu, chief Chrysostom Kihagi, Mr JFG Kanyua and chief Zedekiah Wambugu.

The leaders gave various reasons among them violence, alienation by other communities and declining productivity blamed on Mau Mau for backing the move by the colonial government. Surprisingly Thuku who was among those who endorsed the allegations and had been detained in Kismayu and Marsabit in 1922 and 1930 over political activities.

It was a shocking betrayal for Thuku, whose arrest on March 14, 1922 had provoked the first bloody confrontation in the streets of Nairobi between native protesters demanding the release of their leader and the colonial forces.

On March 16, 1922, police opened fire on a crowd estimated at 2,000 people, killing about 56 people who had camped outside the Central Police Station since March 14, demanding Thuku’s release.

Thuku was exiled to Kismayu, but the seed of confrontation between police and civilians over civil and political freedoms in the streets of Nairobi had been planted.

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