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Why Jomo Kenyatta let spies open his letters from Moscow

When Daniel Moi visited the Kapenguria six at a detention camp. [File, Standard]

When it comes to spying, British intelligence has no equal. Their agents are notorious for deploying a thousand ways, at times discreetly shadowing their subjects to the ends of the earth, just to satisfy the curiosity of His Majesty's Government.

Kenyatta's first travel to London in 1929 to present a petition by the Kikuyu Central Association, was a subject of great interest to the colonial authorities. He was discretely followed by spies who monitored all his moves and contacts.

Their reports were hilarious. One expressed surprise that Kenyatta could converse in flawless English and had miraculously overcome the great temptations of London's nightlife even though he was surviving on £3 (Sh420) a week.

The nosy agents were however alarmed that Kenyatta had made contacts with an "American negro" who had funded his trip half around Europe. The trip took Kenyatta to Leningrad, Moscow, Odessa, Sebastopol, Yalta and Berlin.

According to Ann Beck, in an article titled Some Observations on Jomo Kenyatta in Britain, 1929-1930, the subject intimated to an agent that the Russian trip was irresistible because it was paid for but was apprehensive that the Communists would be sending him literature.

Kenyatta was trailed by agent, A R Barrow posing as a traveller from Kikuyu who had gone to London in 1930 and interviewed him.

Another of Kenyatta’s friend, McGregor Ross, was a former director of roads. He counselled him to have his (Kenyatta's) mail from Russia opened by the government to avoid further complications.

Ross advised Kenyatta to “write direct to Sir E Grigg (colonial governor)," stating frankly the reasons for his Moscow trip and ask for fair treatment. He also put the matter before Lord Passfield and received a letter from the colonial office giving him instructions that he was not to be penalised so long as he conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen.

Apparently, the British government had more intelligence about Kenyatta’s trip to Moscow which they believed had been sponsored not by an American but communists in August of 1929 only to return to London in October.

In London, the government sabotaged Kenyatta’s plan to present a petition to the Church of Scotland about its ban on female circumcision by inviting him for a meeting on the day he was to meet the moderator of the church.

Ultimately, Kenyatta had to cancel his visit to Edinburgh, frustrating the mission that had took him to the United Kingdom but the colonial government still kept tabs on him.