Lenana School’s deep fall from the pinnacle of white settler education

The  Lenana School administration block. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG
The Lenana School administration block. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG  

Emboldened by the Ally victory in World War 11 over the Axis powers, a favourable investment environment and climatic conditions, the British were convinced there was no better time to settle in Kenya for the long-term.

African nationalist activity had suffered a lull during the war years. A large influx of settlers, civil servants, retiring military personnel and entrepreneurs made their way to Kenya for permanent settlement after 1945.

Sir Philip Euan Mitchell (1890-1964), a long serving colonial administrator, was Governor of Kenya from 1944 to 1952. Mitchell was well known for his conservative views and paternalistic attitude towards Africans.

He wrote that “Africans were, in 1890, in a more primitive condition than anything of which there is any record in pre-Roman Britain”. In his presentation “The Agrarian Problem in Kenya” he stated “They are a people who, however much natural ability and however admirable the attributes they may possess, are without a history, culture or religion of their own and in that they are, as far as I know, unique in the modern world”.

Mitchell believed it was the duty of the white man to carry on his civilizing mission of the Africans and introduce them to modernity and bring them into contact with human civilization.


Duke of York School was the brainchild of Governor Mitchell and he personally supervised the acquisition of 250 acres of land on the edge of Ngong Forest Karen in response to the settlers calls for increased post-primary institutions for their children in Kenya. Mitchell was intent on delivering the pinnacle of educational experience for European children.

According to Peerage of the United Kingdom the title Duke of York is reserved for the second sons of the British monarch. The title of Prince of Wales (reserved for the heir apparent) having already been taken by the eponymous school in Kabete, Mitchell settled for the next in-line.

The design of the school included a nine-hole golf course, rifle range, horse stables, cricket oval and pavilion, two football pitches, two hockey pitches, three rugby pitches, an Olympic size swimming pool, two tennis courts and a fully equipped squash court.

The school smacked of royalty beating the Prince of Wales School in the extent of its facilities. This is where the future leaders of Kenya were to be trained and they had to reflect the very best of British pedigree.

So committed was Governor Mitchell to the school that when the first lot of 76 students were admitted he allowed them to be housed, briefly, in Government House (current State House), where they indulged in a lot of mischief, pending completion of construction by the Public Works Department.

The school was finally completed in 1949 when the Beecher Report on African education was also published recommending, among other things, that higher education was not necessary for Africans and education as a whole should continue to be segregated along racial lines.

This dichotomy in government policy towards education created deep seated resentment amongst Africans and fomented nationalist agitation against the colonial establishment leading up to the Mau Mau insurrection in 1952. What justification was there for such extravagant spending on a school for the exclusive use of one people while denying another their rights?

Duke of York School was almost exclusively a boarding school catering mainly for children of settlers who were based outside of Nairobi. This was all part of the grand plan and janitorial, laundry, dining, grounds upkeep and all forms of manual labour were catered for to enable the students concentrate on their studies, sports and personal development.

The main railway line to western Kenya ran past the front border of the school and, as if to remind them of their privileged status, the train would drop off and pick up students at the school during the colonial times.

After Kenya gained independence in 1963, a few Asian and African students were admitted to the school, but were subjected to severe bullying and racial discrimination. In 1969, the school name was changed to Lenana after the famous Maasai Paramount Chief.

The first African Principal was James Kamunge, appointed in 1969, heading an all-white staff, who also suffered challenges of racial discrimination, but nonetheless did a sterling job of maintaining high standards during his tenure.

While admitting that it was difficult for the government to maintain such a high cost school without taking the fees out of reach of most Kenyans, today Lenana School is a pale shadow of its past and its prowess in academia and sports (rugby in particular) is no more.

The school has a student population of over 1,200, which has overstretched the meagre resources available from government. Needless to say, long periods of mismanagement have not helped the situation. Many of the buildings are in a sorry state and the golf course is now a grazing field for cattle.

During the colonial period, the school was affectionately known as “Duko” but the name “Changes” was adopted in the late 1960’s. The Old Boys called themselves “Yorkists” in the colonial era, but are now known as “Laibons”.

Notable alumni include: Jonny Havelock, Dr Richard Leakey, Dr Robin Mogere, John Sibi-Okumu, Peter Gachuhi, Henry Odein Ajumogobia amongst others.