Mzee Jomo Kenyatta: The patriarch’s ideology and legacy

By Oscar Obonyo

KENYA: Four years before he died, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was confronted with a “small” political problem in the present day Busia County.

The husband of his granddaughter and a lecturer at University of Nairobi, where he was Chancellor, separately wanted his endorsement to vie for a parliamentary seat.

Confidants of Kenya’s first President confess this was one of the few cases in which Mzee, as he was fondly referred to, had no quick answer to. As UoN chancellor, he personally knew Prof Julia Ojiambo, a pioneer female African lecturer at the institution, while Arthur Ochwada was Lucy Nyokabi’s husband, daughter of Mzee’s first-born son, Peter Muigai Kenyatta. Known for his decisiveness, the Ojiambo-Ochwada case of 1974 for once posed a major challenge to Mzee. He was in a dilemma as to whom to support between his lecturer and in-law, for the Busia Central (present day Funyula Constituency) seat.

 Ojiambo recalls the tense meeting with Mzee at his Harambee House Office on May 30, 1974, upon securing appointment, courtesy of Mbiyu Koinange, then Minister of State in the President’s Office.

 “I told him I had come to tender my resignation to join politics. Mzee said it was all right but warned he would not accept me back at the university if I failed,” she recalls.

 But first, Kenyatta enquired as to whom who her challenger was. She informed him it was his in-law, the Environment and Natural Resources assistant minister, Ochwada. She further pleaded with the President to allow them to have a fair contest.  “Mzee  called Koinange and jokingly told him that this girl here wants to fight with muthoniwa (son-in-law). She has asked that we do not interfere in the campaigns and I want you to ensure this girl is left alone,” the President ordered.  The people of Funyula vividly remember the presence of Mzee’s son, Peter Muigai, in their midst campaigning for son-in-law, Ochwada. But soon Muigai, who was MP for Juja and an assistant minister in his father’s government, suddenly withdrew from the campaign forefront. 

 Ochwada told The Standard On Sunday that he was later informed by his in-laws that the President had opted to keep his family out of the Funyula politics, with a view to giving locals a fair chance to elect their desired leader.   “Mzee was always fast at making decisions and executed the same with similar speed. I may not have been happy with this particular one, but having nurtured me politically and considering the reasons he gave, I respected his word,” says Ochwada. A respected African statesman of his time, Mzee is credited for leading Kenya to independence.

He set up Kenya as a relatively prosperous capitalistic state and during his reign, the economy developed and grew rapidly. However, he had his flaws. Many will remember his adage to the effect that he had succeeded in killing a giant animal and it was up to Kenyans to sharpen their knives to get a slice of the share of meat. The import of this is that Mzee was encouraging the culture of wealth accumulation by public officials using the power and influence of their offices, thereby deeply entrenching corruption in Kenya. His policies are also said to have led to an inequality gap in incomes.

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