The well paved drive leading to the arched high metal gates create a sense of calmness in the Pan African Christian University.
However, long before the university, which is off the Thika Super Highway, rose to be a citadel of higher learning, it was a mere institute, which turned into a theatre of high drama that has changed Kenya’s political landscape.
The drama had been orchestrated behind the scenes for some months and was timed to coincide with December 12, 1964, shortly after Jomo Kenyatta was sworn in as president.
As invited guests emptied out of Uhuru Gardens, Kenyatta’s motorcade and that of his Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, snaked to Thika Road and drove into the new Lumumba Institute.
Earlier in the year, a Russian delegation had presented a sugar coated proposal, which at face value looked irresistible.
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They were willing to fund the establishment of an educational institute and staff it with experts whom they would pay until Kenya had the capacity to take over. But there was a catch. They wanted the government to provide a facility that could accommodate 1,000 students.
Since there was no such facility, or so the Ministry of Education thought, they offered two colleges which could accommodate 500 students each. Nyet! The Russians shook their heads in disapproval, insisting that the capacity had to be 1,000 students or nothing.
Although the newly created government was in dire need of foreign technical assistance, they had to begrudgingly let go the Russian offer. As then Education PS Kenneth Matiba later learnt, the Russians were eyeing a military barracks, which had been vacated by British soldiers at Kahawa.
But after the botched takeover, Matiba flew to London where he arm-twisted Sir Andrew Cohen, who was the PS in the Ministry of Overseas Development, into funding a teachers training college at Kahawa, which grew into Kenyatta University.
The Russians had not given up. They too initiated an ingenious takeover of the country in a covert method.
The world then was locked in an ideological battle between those who favoured the West and its capitalistic economic tendencies and communists, variously known as socialists whose god fathers resided in Moscow and China.
In Kenya, the contest and machinations of the two worldviews reached ridiculous levels. At one point, the Bulgarian government offered scholarships for 96 students.
A senior Education ministry official, Davidson Ngini, had prepared the students whom he escorted to Embakasi Airport at 5.30am, ready to depart at 7.30am on the appointed day.
However, the students watched in dismay from the departure lounge as a fresh batch was brought in three buses, loaded on to the plane provided by Bulgaria and took off thereafter.
The first batch of students had to return to the Kenya Institute of Administration until India later came to the rescue by offering them scholarships in technical fields.
In the meantime, Russia was determined to establish its own institute in Kenya even after losing the bid to take over Kahawa Barracks. In the new scheme, Jaramogi bought a 23-acre coffee plantation and transformed it into Lumumba Institute.
It was named after Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba who had been assassinated by the America’s Criminal Investigation Agency, his remains put in acid, dismembered and then scattered in different parts of his country.
Jaramogi had invited Kenyatta as a co-trustee to the institute and incorporated seasoned politicians Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubai and Paul Ngei as board members. And so when a clueless Kenyatta officially opened the institute after he was sworn in, he described it as “Kenya’s best kept secret” but he had no idea that it was designed to topple him.
What happened at the newly opened Lumumba Institute is stuff for movie block busters some of which is captured in Kenya: History since Independence by Charles Hornsby.
A group of 100 Kanu officials from all parts of the country were admitted into the college where they were trained in the underpinning theories of communism and the mechanics of mass action.
Before the commissioning of the institute, a group of 21 Kenyans who had undergone military training in Czechoslovakia jetted back and were taken to Jaramogi’s office.
According to The Sunday Telegraph of London, the returnees refused to have their cargo inspected by airport employees and it was later confirmed that their plane was carrying cases of heavy machine guns. American intelligence fed to Kenyatta also indicated that there was paramilitary training in parts of Western Kenya, disguised as forest clearance.
At this time there was a raging debate whether Kenya ought to adopt communism or capitalism even as Russia and London tried to manipulate Jaramogi and Kenyatta.
At the height of the debate, Kenyatta instructed Economic Planning Minister Tom Mboya and his assistant Mwai Kibaki to prepare a policy paper on African Socialism.
Jaramogi too rallied his troops for a meeting at Lumumba Institute to prepare their own sessional paper. The meeting was attended by Oneko, Kaggia, JD Kali, Odoyo Oprong, Ochola Maconyango, Henry Wariithi and Tom Okelo Odongo. It was resolved that Pio Gama Pinto prepare a parallel sessional paper, which would be in favour of communism. It was to be tabled on the same day in April when Mboya tabled his. Wariithi was further tasked to lobby backbench MPs to reject the Mboya paper. The MPs would thereafter pass a vote of no confidence against the government.
Pinto never prepared his sessional paper because he was assassinated on February 24, 1965. Earlier he had been warned by Kenyatta’s bodyguard, Wanyoike Thungu, that he would be eliminated unless he fled the country.
It was around this time that a Russian ship, Fizik Lebedev, brought some arms to Kenya. Amidst reports of a coup, Britain and US dispatched their warships, HMS Albion and USS Greenwich, which docked in Mombasa on April 14, 1965, ready to defend Kenyatta.
Hornsby writes that a delegation of 17 Russian military officers touched down in Nairobi on April 15, under the command of a KGB general to await the ship.
When the Russian ship finally docked on April 28, Kenyatta, on the advise of the Americans and Britons, ordered the Russians to hand over the arms to British soldiers. The Russians had planned to give the arms to Kenyans who were later to be trained. A bunch had already been trained.
As the standoff raged, Cabinet ministers Njoroge Mungai, Bruce Mackenzie and Joseph Murumbi inspected and rejected the arms as outdated as they had been used in the second World War. The Russian military delegation was ordered out of the country.
Apparently, the ship, which had detoured to Tanzania before coming to Mombasa, was late. A day earlier on April 27, 1965, Mboya’s Sessional Paper number 10 was presented in Parliament and defended robustly by Kenyatta, Mboya, Kibaki and Oneko.
After the sessional paper was adopted as government policy, those opposed to the idea of Kenya’s leaning to the West retreated to Lumumba Institute. Two days after Mboya’s paper, 50 students of Lumumba Institute attacked it and the government, accusing it of behaving like lackeys of colonial imperialism.
The students unwittingly gave Mboya, who was Kanu Secretary General, a golden opportunity to demolish their institute and its founder, Jaramogi. First, he tabled a motion in Parliament for government takeover of the institute and later reorganised Kanu elections to kick out Jaramogi and his allies from the party and government.
In yet another act of defiance, Jaramogi’s allies held a meeting on July 4, 1965 at Lumumba Institute where 27 former students announced they had taken over Kanu and sacked all the officials except Jaramogi and Kenyatta. They marched to Kanu headquarters on Mfangano Street and convened a press conference announcing the changes.
The government’s response was swift and shocking. The 27 were arrested and charged with illegally taking over Kanu offices and were jailed for 18 months, while a Chinese diplomat accused of aiding them was deported and the institute closed. PAC University occupies the buildings built by Russia but according to Vice Chancellor, Prof JM Muthwi, it is a centre of knowledge since it was granted a charter in 2008. Currently it has a population of 4,000 students from 18 nationalities.