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Aug 1961: Welcoming freed Jomo to Gatundu

A signage to the Kenyatta House in Maralal Samburu County
A signage to the Kenyatta House in Maralal Samburu County. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

On August 14, 1961 Jomo Kenyatta had been transferred from detention in Maralal to his Gatundu home where he was to remain restricted for weeks. On August 21, I was in one of many truckloads of well-wishers from all over Central Province that visited Gatundu to welcome him after nearly nine years of restriction in the upper Rift Valley.

In my early teens, this was one of many Kanu trips I made between 1960-63 on my father’s seven-tonne open lorry. Mine was to collect cash from the passengers to offset diesel costs. And for Gatundu it was Sh1 per passenger. We left Kiamariga village in Mathira, Nyeri, at 5am and arrived by 9am.

Kenyatta’s homestead was a new bungalow, hurriedly constructed by the colonial government. The compound was fenced with barbed wire, with a gate manned by a mzungu police inspector, for indeed access and contact were still restricted and controlled. Jomo could not leave the compound or talk to outsiders without clearance....

Well-wishers lined up the outside of the barbed fence, waiting for Mzee to make his periodic rounds along the inside of the fence. On the day we visited, he was in a smart suit, with his famous walking stick and fly whisk which he waved. Nyakinyua women returned the salute with “five” traditional ululations.

I could feel a shiver as I experienced the enormity of Jomo’s commanding presence only a few feet away. I knew I had a big story and experience to narrate to other youngsters back home.

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On that day, he had a visit from Kadu top leadership (Ronald Ngala and Masinde Muliro) and they accompanied him in this round waving Kanu traditional salute (open right hand). However, none was allowed to speak to the public. Kanu and Kadu leaders visited on alternative days, all trying to sell their ideas to a newly arrived Jomo. Kenyatta had not openly chosen a party.

Outside the bungalow, we saw a much younger lady in an advanced stage of pregnancy; she waved. I could hear the Nyakinyua women murmur words I was not supposed to hear — that Jomo was still “strong” to lead us well. Mama Ngina must have been six to seven months pregnant considering that Uhuru was born in October that year.

Kenyatta’s release was a milestone, for indeed his continued incarceration was frustrating implementation of the constitutional programme negotiated in the first 1960 Lancaster conference.

Earlier in 1961 common roll elections with 33 African constituencies had been held and contested by Kanu and Kadu, with the former taking more seats.

The next constitutional milestone was a shared government under the Governor with Kanu, Kadu, and whites sharing Cabinet posts.

But Kanu, inspired by Jaramogi Odinga, boycotted until Kenyatta was released and included in the government. However, Kadu joined. It is this constitutional predicament that prompted Governor Renson to release Jomo.

At Gatundu, Jomo tried to unite Kanu and Kadu, and when this failed he joined Kanu. The next hurdle was how to make Jomo a Member of Legislative Council (MLC). This turned out embarrassing as the MLCs from Central Province were unwilling to give up their seats. However, Kariuki Njiiri, one of the two MLCs from Fort Hall (today Murang’a) volunteered to step down for Jomo to represent the lower parts of Murang’a.

Kanu was now ready to join the shared government. However, the wazungus could not accept Jaramogi in the government, citing alleged communist leanings. It was a very embarrassing predicament for Jomo when he agreed that Kanu can join the government without Odinga. Jomo became minister for Economic Planning.

The next constitutional milestone was the 1962 second Lancaster Conference, which set the stage for a regional constitution, and regional and constituency boundaries setting in readiness for May 1963 elections and thereafter Madaraka government on June 1, 1963 which included Jaramogi as Minister for Home Affairs.

I was on the same seven-tonne lorry heading to the old Embakasi Airport in 1962 to welcome back the Kanu delegation led by Jomo, from the second Lancaster House Conference. Kanu and Kadu teams were in separate aircraft arriving on separate days to avoid chaos.

The last time I did my duty on the lorry was when we went to Ruringu Stadium in Nyeri to witness Kenyatta receiving Mau Mau soldiers returning from Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests as the Independence Day approached. Unfortunately, one Mau Mau contingent from Meru led by General Baimunge returned to the forest in protest, and was attacked by independent Kenya forces with serious casualties, including the General who died.

Mr Wachira, director, Petroleum Focus Consultants, [email protected]

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