Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s mausoleum is among the few architectural masterpieces that are rarely open to the public. The facility, right in the heart of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, is heavily guarded and prior arrangements must be made before paying it a visit.
If you are lucky enough, you can catch a glimpse of the mausoleum during the annual commemoration of Mzee Kenyatta’s death every August 22.
The facility, a stone’s throw away from the Inter-Continental Hotel, boasts well-paved paths with decorated statues of lions, ostensibly a demonstration of the courageous life of Kenya’s founding president.
From the pavements to the 22 evenly-spaced flags - 11 on each side - the compound looks neat and well-maintained. Through the black gate made of metal grills, one walks past the flowerless bougainvillea hedge, the five little palm trees to the left, and two others on the right.
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The facility is managed and maintained by Parliament. Since Mzee Kenyatta’s death, it is always been guarded by the Kenya Defence Forces soldiers. “The mausoleum is secured to prevent desecration,” said Jeremiah Nyegenye, the Senate’s clerk.
The mausoleum, built in 1978 when Mzee Kenyatta passed on, consists of solid granite sidewalls assembled on the foundation. The interior floor of the mausoleum is constructed with premium and coloured granite. The place is red-carpeted from the entrance to the main structure that spots polished royal sable granite.
How about the common rumour that Mzee Kenyatta’s body was embalmed and can be cranked through mechanical means for closer viewing?
“There is nothing like the body of Mzee being cranked through any means for closer viewing,” said one of the guards at the facility, laughing off my question. Mausoleums all over the world generate millions of dollars since tourists visit them while on vacation. Mzee Kenyatta’s mausoleum usually attract visiting heads of state and top dignitaries who go to pay homage to the former president.
Currently, there are discussions about the possibility of opening it to the public. Chuka MP Muthomi Njuki has sponsored a bill that seeks to help the government earn revenue by opening the mausoleum to the public. It provides the legal framework for public access to the grounds where the founding father Mzee Kenyatta’s remains were interred. It also provides for the management of the mausoleum as a tourist attraction site.
If the bill is signed into law, the facility will be managed by the Kenya National Museums. Foreign tourists and Kenyans who visit it will be charged a fee. According to Njuki, converting the mausoleum into a tourist attraction site will help preserve Kenya’s heritage and generate the country revenue.
“If opened to the public, the mausoleum has the potential of being a major tourist attraction and a source of income,” said the legislator.
In Africa, mausoleums are said to be constructed by experienced professional craftsmen with great architectural skills.
Here in Kenya, for example, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Mausoleum at Kang’o Ka-Jaramogi in Bondo, Siaya County, is a regular thrill for visitors and history lovers.
“I think opening the facility for citizens to visit is a good idea. I would like to learn one or two things from the mausoleum and maybe take photos,” said Nyongesa a Nairobi-based photographer.
The popular Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park in downtown Accra, Ghana, is a tourist attraction due to its significance as a dedication to Ghanaian leader and former president Kwame Nkrumah.
In Malawi, a mausoleum was built for the country’s first president Kamuzu Banda, 10 years after his death. It has been built on the spot where Malawi’s new parliament building is being constructed. The road leading there has been named Presidential Way.
In Egypt, a mausoleum was built in capital Cairo, in honour of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser.
And as can be seen, mausoleums do only have historical significance; they are also a display of architectural prowess.