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Strike for release of Jomo Kenyatta on Good Friday? No way

Madatally Manji (left) with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. [Courtesy]

On April 12, 1960, a heated debate ensued in Kenya’s Legislative Assembly. It started when local government minister Sir Wilfrid Havelock urged the House leadership to adjourn proceedings and discuss the strike proposed by the Nairobi People’s Convention Party (NPCP) for the release of Jomo Kenyatta. 

The NPCP had proposed to lead the national strike on April 15, a Good Friday.

The debate got a life of its own when the member for Nairobi West, R S Alexander, tore not only into the political party for the mere thought of the strike on a sacred day, but saw no reason why Mr Kenyatta’s release was an urgent matter.

Mr Kenyatta, in his opinion, was better off in prison than mingling with the masses.

“Kenya is a Christian country and it’s a shame to desecrate Good Friday by blasphemously associating it with the worst political motives,” Mr Alexander said.

“They should be advised to choose another day that does not offend Christians.”

But it was WF Coutts, the chief secretary who still believed Mr Kenyatta was a “leader onto darkness and death” and who deserved no sympathy.

In his choice of epithets, Mr Coutts said releasing Mr Kenyatta and fellow detainees would put the country in more danger. “It is not the government’s intention to release Jomo Kenyatta, restrictees, or detainees as long as this government believes that these people are a danger to security or to their fellow people.

“As long as these conditions remain, the government has no intention of releasing these people,” Mr Coutts said.

Mr Bernard Mate, the member for Central Province North (now Meru), came to the defence of the detainees and the clamour for their release though he was opposed to the day chosen for the strike.

Mr Mate was furious about the inhuman labels pinned on the freedom agitators, telling Mr Alexander if he had political reasons for not wanting to see the people released, then he was out of touch with reality since “political advance in Kenya today has gone beyond the mere question of not liking a face,” he said.

The government’s side of the debate was final: Mr Kenyatta belonged in jail.

In August 1961, a year and four months later, Mr Kenyatta was released from prison.

In 1962, he was in London to negotiate for the country’s independence. On December 12, 1963, Kenya celebrated her independence with Mr Kenyatta as Prime Minister. Kenya became a republic a year later with Mr Kenyatta as the first President.