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Metamorphosis of the historic school that mentored Kenyatta


By Maore Ithula

About 110 years ago, there was a street preacher called Musa Gitau. Bare feet, Gitau would walk from Kikuyu Town to Meru, about 300Km away, spreading the word of God.

One day, while on such a mission, he passed through Gatundu, Kiambu County and among his street congregation that never amounted to more than 10 people at a time, there was an orphaned lad.

After Gitau’s sermon the boy boldly stepped forward and introduced himself. "I am Kamau Ngengi."

To which the preacher responded: "Yes. How can I help you?"

"I would like to learn to read and write. Can you help me?" Kamau replied.

Yes, of course," replied Gitua.

Gitau postponed his mission to Meru on that day and took the young boy to Thogoto, Kikuyu, where Scottish missionaries pitched tent and had established an informal learning centre, Mambere School.

The boy was registered as Johnston Kamau. Overtime his name metamorphosed to Jomo Kenyatta and he later became Kenya’s founding father.

But what happened to Gitau and Mambere School thereafter?

While Gitau proceeded to be the first ordained black Kenyan Presbyterian Church minister, Mambere School has changed its name many times over, since.

In the Kikuyu language ‘mambere’ literally means, ‘the first ones.’ Therefore Kenyatta was among the first students to receive formal education at the institution.

Mambere School was founded in 1901 and Kenyatta is believed to have joined around 1907 when he was age 13.

After learning to read and write, he took up a job with Nairobi City Council as a water meter reader.

Meanwhile, in 1950 Mambere School changed its name to Kikuyu Intermediate School and Thogoto Junior School in 1960, and finally to Musa Gitau Primary School in 1975 — in honour of the preacher who died in 1971.

Whatever the case, the school has a more interesting history than just having been the late Kenyatta’s school.

Last week this writer set out to dig into the school’s past and he discovered that the two Alliance high schools were actually established to tap pupils graduating from this institution.

He further established that many politicians and business moguls especially from Central Province attended the school.


It is like a spirit of leadership or general success moves around in the school.

Mr Geoffrey Mungai, the principal, thinks students who attend the school prosper later in life because of the strong Christian values instilled in them.

Says he: "Besides instilling discipline in our pupils, we are also keen in nurturing them spiritually."

Some current and past leading politicians who have passed through the school include, MP Dagoretti and Minister for Public Health Beth Mugo, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyaras, former Westlands MP Njoroge Mungai, former Foreign Affairs Minister the late Dr Munyua Waiyaki and former MP Nakuru North the late Dickson Kihika Kimani. Others include Kenya’s first black member of the legislative council late Eliud Mathu, trade unionist and former Nyandarua South MP Kimani Wanyoike, former Limuru MP he late Godfrey Muhuri Muchiri, former MP Embakasi Jonathan Njenga, former MP Embakasi Henry Ruhiu, and former nominated MPs Jackson Kamau Chege and Jemima Thioya Gecaga.

One of the most prominent businessmen to pass through the school is Jeremiah Kiereini. Charles Nyachae, the chairman of Commission of the Implementation of the Constitution is also an oldboy.

The glamour of the school that was a reserve for the high and mighty has also propelled many of its former head teachers to high political profiles.

They include the late James Gichuru who headed the school for 30 years from 1920.

Mr Amos Ng’ang’a also headed the school before joining politics to become the MP for Kikuyu ahead of former attorney General Charles Njonjo. Ng’ang’a is the father of Lewis Nguyai the current MP for Limuru.

And it is clear that there was some gender bias in the prosperity of Mambera alumini, Mungai points out.

The educationist explains this thus: "Like all communities in Kenya, Kikuyus of the yore did not think education was for the girl. Therefore many of the old girls of Mambere were not accorded an opportunity to further their studies even if they passed the requisite examinations."

Instead, they were married off after various grades. But even after marriage, Mungai says, female alumini of Mambere School brought up very prominent children who also almost passed through the same school.

Some notable old girls of Mambere include Mariam Nyaguthie the mother of James Gichuru, Elizabeth Muhito, mother to Dr Munyua Waiyaki and Wambui Otieno-Mbugua, a freedom fighter. Others are, Rahab Njeri Hinga, the mother of Bernand Hinga, a former Police Commissioner, Leah Wangui the grandmother of Ian Mbugua a renowned thespian and Zibia Wangari wife to the late Mbiu Koinange.

Humble beginnings

At inception the school had no classrooms and teaching was exclusively conducted orally.

Gradually literacy, mainly to enable gospel reading, was taught to both boys and girls.

Temporary ‘schools’ were opened in the ‘bushes’ surrounding Mambere with the school serving as the central point where pupils would later write their notes in sand boxes with their fingers acting as pencils.

They learnt to write vowel sounds before embarking on the alphabet.

Pupils then graduated to the central school (Mambere) just across the road where they joined Kia Igiri (Kikuyu for level 2) or simply the second class, which is today’s equivalent of middle class/lower nursery.

They then proceeded to B, which is today’s equivalent of upper nursery.

Those who progressed from B, joined Standard One-Four before sitting the Common Entrance Examination.

At this point many pupils were learned enough for employment while the more ambitious lot would join one of the two Alliance high schools.

The school was known as Kikuyu Intermediate School and it was exclusively a boarding institution.

But the most unique aspect of the school at this stage was that it offered separate education for boys and girls. Classes were conducted in the old classrooms block at the parade ground, where on the left were classes for girls and for boys on the right. Teachers were different-those who taught boys did not tutor girls and vice versa," says the teacher.

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