Jomo Kenyatta

(1889–1978) Kenyan president

Jomo Kenyatta was born in Kenya and as a infant was named Kamau wa Ngengi; he took the name Jomo in 1938. Kenyatta was keenly interested in local traditions and social customs, particularly those of the Kikuyu. His study, Facing Mount Kenya (1938), remains one of the definitive works on the Kikuyu. As a youngster Kenyatta helped his grandfather, a traditional healer, but after being educated at a mission school he converted to Christianity. As a young man, Kenyatta worked for an Indian Asian merchant and in a European business firm.

In the 1920s Kenyatta became the leader of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), which represented the Kikuyu in their land cases against the British, who had confiscated large tracts of Kikuyu farmland that was then taken by white, usually British, settlers. Kenyatta represented the Kikuyu on negotiating missions to England and visited the Soviet Union in 1930. Upon his return to England as a teacher, Kenyatta was falsely accused of communist ties.

Kenyatta participated in the fifth Pan Africa Congress, which met in Manchester, England, in 1945. Upon returning to Kenya after World War II, he assumed leadership of the Kenyan nationalist movement. In 1952 he was arrested and accused of managing the Kenya nationalist armed movement, known in the West as the Mau Mau; he served nine years in prison or under virtual house arrest. The Mau Mau was accused of terrorist acts against the white, mostly British settlers. Although the Mau Mau revolt was responsible for violence and the murder of some settlers, the Western media exaggerated the levels of violence.

Kenyatta became president of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in 1961 and led a delegation to London to negotiate full independence, or Uhuru. In 1964, Kenyatta became the president of the independent Kenyan, republic. Known as Baba wa Taifa, father of the nation, Kenyatta maintained economic stability in Kenya, but his opponents also charged him with cronyism and corruption. He died while still in power in 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, who faced increased opposition to his mounting dictatorial powers.

See also Kenya.


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