Remove Kenyatta mischief from flag

Listening to governors’ demands to fly the national flag, and the warning by Attorney General Githu Muigai that they risk prosecution if they do, one concludes that we are still prisoners of past political mischief.

I wish to help. The story of the national flag is a story of mischief. And nobody knew how to do it better than Tom Mboya, Kenyatta’s Justice and Constitutional minister in the run to independence.

While some people in Kenyatta’s court wanted the Kanu flag adopted as the national flag, it was Mboya who told Kenyatta in a Cabinet document that it would be risky to do that.

Kenyatta agreed and they picked a moderate politician, Dawson Mwanyumba, who was Kanu chairman for Taita and Kenyatta’s Minister for Works, Communication and Power, to head a small committee that would come up with national colours.

The good thing then was that Kanu and Kadu flags were similar in design. Both had three horizontal bands and two similar colours, black and green. The difference was only in the third colour, red for Kanu and white for Kadu.


Even before the Mwanyumba group met, Mboya had already submitted to the Cabinet that “it would be a wise and unifying act of grace to have all the colours in the national flag. It would also save the country any unpleasant incidents, bitterness, and resentment”.

The Mwanyumba committee decided to merge both the Kanu and Kadu flag colours and separate them with a white stripe between the main colours.

As he told the Cabinet, the inclusion of Kadu colours was a “magnanimous gesture towards our political opponents and would be an act tending to unity rather than dissension’’.

The Cabinet was informed that the gold strips as earlier suggested did not go far enough in pacifying the opposition, a “shortcoming which may well arouse bitter and resentful feelings”.

While white in the Kadu flag stood for multi-racial society, the Cabinet re-adjusted the meaning to “unity and peace’’, black was to denote “people of Kenya”, and Kanu’s red to stand for “struggle for freedom”. The green was to denote “agriculture and natural resource”.

But there was deep resentment since smaller political parties had not been briefed. To protect the flag, Mboya moved the National Flag, Emblems and Names Bill while Mbiyu Koinange, Minister for Pan African Affairs, moved the part prohibiting display of the national flag.

But in July 1963, Prime Minister Kenyatta realised that the flag was even being displayed in toilets!

He told the House: “The government recognises that a national flag must not only be a symbol of unity but one that commands respect of all our people… of late we have seen party flags flown by every Tom Dick and Harry.

“Apart from this being illegal, it means that flags have appeared in practically any place, even in lavatories. The national flag must not and will not be flown by any person other than Cabinet ministers and any specifically authorised persons… the reproduction of the flag will not be allowed… no person will be authorised to fly a flag with a Coat-of-Arms, except the head of government.”

That was the genesis. Mboya and Attorney General Charles Njonjo crafted the rest. The words Harambee, Jamhuri and Madaraka became protected too.

The AG can undo this mischief in Cap 99 without breaking a sweat and let the governors have their way. After all, it is an ego trip both ways.

Kamau is Associate Editor, Business Daily. Email: [email protected]