By Ferdinand Mwongela
"All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages," so wrote William Shakespeare in the comedy As you like it.
However, a house on the slopes of Mt Kilimambogo, a quiet character in the world stage for almost a century, has refused to make an exit.
To many, the white highlands would probably be further towards the central parts of the country, concentrated around the Aberdares and Mt Kenya. However, towards the beginning of the sunny stretch just past Thika on the road to Garissa, Lord William Northrup Macmillan built a house that is imposing even by today’s standards.
The Macmillan House now being rehabilitated as a tourist attraction can be said to be a monument of world politics for the last 100 years. It was a mansion at one stage, a military hospital during the First World War and a prison in the Second World War.
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In 1918, Macmillan built the house, more like a mini fortress that has come to be known as the Macmillan House or Ol Donyo Sabuk mansion. A glance at its walls tells of painstaking adherence to detail. It is built wide enough to be a protection and is a testament to the architecture of the time. Later, its hefty build facilitated its services in the first and second world wars.
Macmillan owned this house and its surrounding lands at the foot of Oldonyo Sabuk Mountain, stretching towards 14 Falls. An ambitious man, it is said he wanted to own the mountain.
Despite its distance from Naivasha, the mansion retained the happy valley atmosphere with lavish parties. Colonel Ewart Groan is said to have organised wild parties here. These parties made the locals nickname the house kilav (the club).
The house was built with 32 bedrooms and it is said Sir Macmillan and his wife stayed in each wing for six months before moving to the other.
Leading down into the foundation of the house is an underground bunker with a tunnel that led to out of the house. It is in this meeting room and the one above it that the colonialists held planning meetings during the Mau Mau struggle.
Apart from its links with the settler side of the bloody struggle, the house has hosted several big shots. They include Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the US, Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and British Colonial Governor Sir Evelyn Baring. Later when the house served as a prison, Duke Amadeo of Aosta, the Governor of Italian East African Forces and Commander in Chief of the Italian Forces was imprisoned and died here in 1942.
The Duke led Italy’s invasion of British Somaliland in 1940, but was driven back and later captured in Ethiopia.
One of Kenya’s celebrated politicians, Tom Mboya, was born on this farm in 1930 where his father worked as a labourer.
Macmillan died in 1925 and was buried on Mt Kilimambogo. Beside him is his faithful servant Louise Decker. The grave of his dog is also on the mountain.
After his death, his wife Lady Lucie built the Macmillan Library in Nairobi Central Business District in his honour.
For a long time, the house was in the hands of Muka Mukuu Co-operative, but in 1999 the Tourist Trust Fund embarked on a rehabilitation exercise in a quest to have the house marked as a heritage site.