Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s legacy of Pan-Africanism

August 21, 2016 2:03 pm
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, whose 38th commemoration falls on August 22, embodied Pan-Africanism from his early years to the final days/FILE
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, whose 38th commemoration falls on August 22, embodied Pan-Africanism from his early years to the final days/FILE

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 21 – The story of Africa’s independence struggle is never complete without mentioning the role played by the Pan-Africanism movement.

Likewise, the story of Pan-Africanism, which was decisive in breaking the yoke of colonial domination, would never be complete without mentioning the contribution of the movement’s notables who included Kenya’s founding President.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, whose 38th commemoration falls on August 22, embodied Pan-Africanism from his early years to the final days.

Mzee Kenyatta took up the struggle against colonial rule in Kenya in the early 1920s, becoming the most prominent of the anti-colonial leaders from Africa.

But even as he spearheaded Kenya’s struggle against the colonialists, Mzee Kenyatta embodied a bigger vision — that of freedom for all Africans.

It was a trait that he maintained even after Kenya attained independence in 1963.

Standing up for Ethiopia in the 1930s

Mzee Kenyatta’s footprints as a leader committed to a wider Pan-African cause stretches back to as early as the 1930’s when he was the honorary chairman of the International Friends of Abyssinia.

He organised protests against the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy. In September of 1935 he wrote the article ‘Hands off Ethiopia’ in the UK Magazine, Labour Monthly.

Ethiopia was the only country that did not come under the control of European powers and its fate was crucial for the black consciousness.

Representing Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe at the Fifth Pan-African Congress of 1945

Mzee Kenyatta’s commitment to the interest of other Africans was also evident when he spoke at the Fifth Pan-African Congress of 1945 in Manchester, UK.

At the conference, where leading Africans of the time unified their positions to demand an end to colonialism, Mzee Kenyatta remarkably spoke on behalf of five other territories besides Kenya where people were suffering under colonial subjugation.

It was on October 17, 1945, during the first session where Mzee Kenyatta himself was the rapporteur, when Kenya’s founding father stood up to speak at the 5th PAC for the six territories – Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Tanganyika, Nyasaland (Malawi), and the Rhodesias (today’s Zimbabwe and Zambia).

Records of the proceedings reflect Kenyatta championing

His presentation were captured in the proceedings of the conference titled ‘History of the Pan-African Congress: colonial and coloured unity’ edited by the Pan-Africanist George Padmore.

“Mr. Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) said that his task that morning was a hard one, for he had to report on six territories. Somaliland, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Nyasaland, and the Rhodesias,” recorded the proceedings.

Putting the case of other East Africans before tackling Kenya’s

Interestingly, Mzee Kenyatta did not start with Kenya’s case as many would expect but he first spoke for Uganda, then Tanzania before speaking on Kenya’s problems and thereafter proceeded to speak for the other regions.

“He spoke on behalf of nearly 14 million people in East Africa. It is their call that he brought to the Congress. If conditions were possible for them to come, he thought many of them would be there with him,” the proceedings say.

He concluded by speaking on Somalia and the proceedings record him as saying, “Just a word about Somaliland, a great section of which has been fighting the British Government for over 25 years. One thing we must do, and that is to get political independence. If we achieve that we shall he free to achieve other things we want. We feel that racial discrimination must go, and then people, can perhaps enjoy the right of citizenship, which is the desire of every East African. Self independence must be our aim.”

Mzee Kenyatta organised the crucial Congress

The written history of the Pan-African movement reveals that it was the attendance of Kenyatta and his contemporaries including Ghana’s founding father Kwame Nkrumah that made the 5th congress the catalyst for independence.

Kenyatta and Nkrumah were part of the organisers of the crucial congress and even shared the post of Secretary to the Fifth Pan-African Congress.

In Makers of World History Volume 2, historian Kelley Sowards introduces Mzee Kenyatta thus: “Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya was the most widely known and charismatic of the leaders of the several African people who were clamouring for independence from colonial rule in 1950s. He was a large, powerfully built man, with a commanding presence, a penetrating, transfixing gaze, and a deep, kettle-drum voice. He was a spell-binding orator, well educated, and an experienced political leader and a consensus builder among the many factions of his people. He was clearly a danger to continued white supremacy in Kenya. He knew it and the white settlers knew it.”

Reputable journalist, author, politician and intellectual before 1945

Dr Sowards’ description of Mzee Kenyatta as the most widely known of Africans who were in the struggle for independence from colonialism is supported by the fact that by 1945 he was a reputed intellectual, journalist, author and politician who embodied the Pan-African struggle for the emancipation of all Africans.

Took action against South Africa 19 days after becoming Prime Minister

Fast forward to 1963 when Kenya attained independence and Mzee Kenyatta continued exhibiting the same zeal he had in the 1930s and 1950s in standing up for other Africans.

On June 20, 1963, 19 days after becoming Prime Minister of Kenya, Mzee Kenyatta banned all trade with the apartheid regime that was ruling South Africa.

Mzee Kenyatta also organised a demonstration of 20,000 people including Cabinet Ministers in his government to protest against the jailing of Nelson Mandela.

The Founding President, together with the ministers carried a shrouded coffin, symbolizing the apartheid regime of South Africa, to a freshly dug grave in Shauri Moyo, Nairobi.

Addressing the 20,000 protestors, he said: “I want you to help the people in South Africa get independence too. Our independence will be meaningless if our brothers are still in chains”.

The founding President also called on Boers living in Kenya to condemn apartheid. “Those who call themselves Kenyans should work with us. If they don’t want to, we’ll tell them to pack up and go.”

Rejected Ian Smith’s declaration of a white republic in Zimbabwe

When Ian Smith declared Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) ‘an independent republic’ under white rule, Kenyatta made it clear that Kenya would never recognize it and led other East African countries to impose sanctions on the “illegal, racist regime in Southern Rhodesia”.

”The Kenya government wholeheartedly supports our African brothers in Southern Rhodesia and calls upon them to unite against the common enemy,” Kenyatta said in a statement.

Kenyatta started diplomatic efforts to isolate Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, announcing in January 1966 that no airline going to and from country would be allowed to enter Kenya.

Mzee Kenyatta also started helping Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) with oil supplies by road and air.

Forcing Portugal to give independence to Angola

On the same day he imposed sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa, Kenyatta also imposed a similar ban on all trade with Portugal for refusing to give independence to Angola.

Mzee Kenyatta kicked off diplomatic efforts to coerce Portugal and finally paved the way for Angola’s independence from domination when he brought together the three rival freedom leaders, Agostino Neto, Holden Rorberto and Jonas Savimbi.

He managed to get them to sign a peace treaty in Mombasa in January 1975 and this was soon followed by Portugal agreeing to give up the colony.

Supporting Botswana after independence

When Botswana gained independence in 1966, the country’s founding President Sir Seretse Khama called on African countries to support his young nation.

Mzee Kenyatta was the first to respond and Kenya trained the first generation of Botswana’s public administrators, health care workers, railway workers, teachers, journalists, metrological specialists and agricultural experts.

To date, Kenya continues to provide training to Botswana citizens in areas such as agriculture, medicine, economics, meteorology, defence, aviation and community development.

Botswana’s current President Ian Khama hosted President Uhuru Kenyatta in Gaborone in July this year and he spoke about Kenya’s support.

“For us, the story of Botswana’s socio-economic transformation would not be complete without specific mention of Kenya’s contribution to our development efforts,” said President Khama.

Incidentally, both the current President’s of Kenya and Botswana are the sons of the two founding Presidents of the two nations. Both of them are also the fourth Presidents of their countries.

First East African Community

He was also key in the formation of the first East African Community that brought together Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and he set the trend for the other two countries on many fronts.

Kenyatta was the first to call for harmonisation of the education system of the EAC countries, an economic bloc that was a shining example of integration.

He scrapped the colonial system of education and introduced A level system with the other countries following suit later.

Kenyatta was also more pragmatic than his counterparts who had initially suggested political integration at first chance. The Kenyan icon insisted that political integration is easier said than done and the first thing they have to accomplish should be economic integration.




Kenyatta’s Caribbean connection

Kenya has always maintained cordial relations with the Caribbean countries but few Kenyans may know that it was Mzee Kenyatta’s Pan-African connections that laid the foundation for the close friendship between Kenya and Caribbean nations.

Kenyatta associated closely with many Pan-Africanists from the Caribbean countries during the years he lived in the UK.

When he was jailed in the 1950s, it was the Jamaican Lawyer and Pan-Africanist Dudley Joseph Thompson who assembled an international team of advocates to represent Mzee Kenyatta. Thompson, who became a Cabinet Minister in Jamaica, was in later years referred to as ‘Burning Spear’ for defending the original ‘Burning Spear’.

Kenyatta’s close links with Caribbean Pan-Africanists were so strong that after Kenya’s independence several streets were named after leaders coming from that region.

Among them was leading Pan-Africanist George Padmore from Trinidad after whom George Padmore Road in Upper Hill, Nairobi is named after.

It came as no surprise when Kenyatta picked Cecil H.E Miller as independent Kenya’s first black High Court Justice. Miller later became Kenya’s first black Chief Justice.

Makes Kiswahili a national language in Kenya

Back at home, Mzee Kenyatta exerted his Pan-Africanism which was exhibited by his ideological stand on issues ranging from language and names inherited from the colonists.

Kenyatta made Kiswahili the national language in 1974, famously saying, ”The basis of any independent government is a national language, and we can no longer continue aping our former colonisers … those who feel they cannot do without English can as well pack up and go”.

Servitude by any other name… Which Luhya man was called Broderick?’

Kenyatta also showed his disdain for place names inherited from the white colonialists when he toured western province in 1969.

He felt that names are important for identity and retaining foreign names for important places in Kenya was a form of foreign domination.

One of the places the Founding President toured was a tourist attraction site called Broderick Falls and this did not amuse Kenyatta.

“I want to tell people of Western Province that I felt ashamed trying to pronounce….Broderick Falls. These are names reflecting servitude…Why can’t you look for better local names with local content, names we know of their origin?”

He issued a directive on the spot for local leaders to come up with another name for the waterfall.

Kenyatta drove the point home when he asked, “Which Luhya man was called Broderick? Broderick was whose relative? A name is very important for identity. Which foreigner adopts your African names? If you want to domineer someone, conquer his intellect first and you will suppress him wholly.”


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