Colonial governor who couldn't stand Jomo's handshake

From left: Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba, Henry Cheboiwo, Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Paul Ngei, and Fred Kubai. [File, Standard]

Hardliners and handshakes in political Kenya's political circles are a common currency. There has been instances when occupants of State House could not bring themselves to share a table with their rivals for a symbolic handshake.

One of the most memorable stalemate in Kenya’s history took place in 1961. Unwilling to accept the inevitability of Jomo Kenyatta's release from prison, Governor Patrick Renison refused to meet the man his government had confined to Lodwar.

Rather than directly speak to Kenyatta in a face to face meeting, the governor instead sent 60 journalists to Mararal to interview the prisoner.

Renison then waited to read the stories written so that he could determine what action to take even as elected leaders both in Nairobi and London piled pressure for Kenyatta's release.

On April14, 1961, the colonial government released a statement declaring, "The governor has studied carefully the reports of the press conference held by Jomo Kenyatta at Maralal on April 11. The views expressed by Kenyatta will be of assistance to the governor in considering when it will be possible to release Kenyatta...”

The Economist blasted the governor in its April 22 issue of for injecting farce and drama in Kenyatta’s release, citing Renison's promise to construct a house in Gatundu a tactic to delay the process.

Even after Kenyatta’s release four months later, the governor was still not ready to meet Kenyatta.

Instead Renison tipped some journalists and then sneaked into Kiambu District Commissioner's office where the clandestine meeting took place on August 22, 1961.

Kenyatta would later write about the meeting in his book, Suffering Without Bitterness: “Renison stood tight-lipped and seemed under strain. With a curt nod, Renison caused his press officer to read the bleak communique. They had discussed, it said, a variety of subjects affecting the future of Kenya including constitutional advances, security, restoration of confidence and the release of the few remaining restrictees...”

During the press conference attended by about 20 top journalists, no questions were allowed. Interestingly, the previous day, Kenyatta had been freed from all forms of restrictions and could freely walk in his own garden.

Finally freedom had come to the man who had spent 3,218 days in Kapenguria, Lodwar and Maralal. And with this final handshake, freedom could finally come to Kenya for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had warned that there would be no independence without Kenyatta.