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How Joseph Murumbi saved Kanu from an early death

Jaramogi Oginga, Joseph Murumbi, Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya at JKIA in October 1965 [File]

Kenya African National Union (Kanu), the party that strode the country like a colossus, almost collapsed barely three years into existence. Formed on May 14, 1960, Kanu was one of the two major political parties birthed in preparation for Independence. The other party was Kenya African Democratic Union, which was eventually swallowed by Kanu after Kenya attained self-rule.

But five months into the first elections in 1963, Kanu was in a serious cash crisis. The situation forced the party’s leader, President Jomo Kenyatta, to look for Joseph Murumbi who had just returned from England.

Murumbi’s brief was to rescue the fledgling party from falling apart. His first assignment was to re-organise the headquarters, which was staring at closure due to financial constraints.

The headquarter was in disarray due to non-payment of rent, utility bills and workers’ wages. Staff accused the former treasurer of paying them half salary and pocketing the rest of the money.

Murumbi, who would later become vice-president, albeit for a short stint, spent three days assessing the situation. He prepared a report and requested for £9,000 to pay outstanding debts.

After reading the report, Kenyatta instructed Murumbi to reach out to Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga for financial help. Mboya was the party’s secretary-general while Odinga was vice-president. But the two men had no money, according to Murumbi in his memoirs A Path Not Taken. When he informed Kenyatta, the president told Murumbi to go back and talk to them again.

“I think Mboya had the money but didn’t want to help the party. Then I wrote a letter to the old man and said ‘thank you very much for having confidence in me, for appointing me treasurer and organiser of the party. I can’t organise the party without any money because we have debts’,” said Murumbi in his resignation letter.

In the letter, he went on to say the party was in a shambles and that is why he needed the cash. And since it was not forthcoming, he was quitting as party treasurer. Within an hour of receiving the resignation letter, Kenyatta was at Murumbi’s house in Nairobi South. The first question the president asked Murumbi was whether he had broken the news to the press.

After some haggling, Murumbi rescinded his resignation on condition that at least £7,000 be made available.  The money was released after one week. That is how Murumbi saved Kanu from extinction.