What you need to know:
A more modern Kenyan nationalist was Harry Thuku. The road named after him is the one that runs past the University of Nairobi and the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel.
One of the best accounts of his role in early political movements is in The Myth of Mau Mau: Nationalism in Kenya by Carl Rosberg and John Nottingham.
‘Do you know who Waiyaki was?” I asked a Kenyan friend.
“I think he was a Kikuyu chief,” she said. “But that’s all I know – or think I know!”
My question and her answer prompted this piece. My research tools were many walks and drives around the city over the years, the “A to Z of Nairobi”, snippets from books I have read about Kenya’s history and, of course, the Internet.
So let’s start with Waiyaki Way. Yes, Waiyaki wa Hinga was a Kikuyu chief. He was the chief or muthamaki of Kiawariua, later called Dagoretti. In 1890 he entered into a treaty (in a blood mixing ceremony of a kind well described in Charles Miller’s Lunatic Express) with Captain Frederick Lugard of the Imperial British East Africa Company. It was agreed that Lugard could build a garrison there; it was also agreed that any provisions provided by the local Kikuyu would be paid for.
Lugard – soldier, explorer, colonial administrator and initiator of the “indirect rule” concept of British colonisation – was soon on his way to Uganda. Those left behind in charge of the fort didn’t keep to Lugard’s word; they began to demand food, livestock, water, and even women.
In protest, the people attacked and burnt the fort to the ground. A year later, Waiyaki was in trouble again when he forced his way into the rebuilt fort to make complaints. He was arrested, beaten up, tried in a makeshift courthouse, and condemned to deportation to Mombasa. On the way there he died at Kibwezi and was buried in the mission cemetery.
About the manner of his death there are different stories. Wikipedia (not the most reliable of sources) claims he was buried alive. More likely, he died of head wounds inflicted when he was arrested.
A more modern Kenyan nationalist was Harry Thuku. The road named after him is the one that runs past the University of Nairobi and the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel. One of the best accounts of his role in early political movements is in The Myth of Mau Mau: Nationalism in Kenya by Carl Rosberg and John Nottingham.
Harry Thuku put his mission education to work as, first, a typesetter and then a telegraph clerk. More importantly, in 1920 he became the secretary of the non-militant Kikuyu Association. He was then one of the founders of the more militant East African Association – Nairobi’s first modern political organisation.
It was strongly opposed by the European settlers and, in 1922, Thuku was arrested. It was this arrest that led to a demonstration and 21 deaths near the Nairobi Police Station and the Norfolk Hotel – in the place now called Harry Thuku Road.
Like Waiyaki, Thuku was deported – to Kismayu in Somalia, where he stayed until his release in 1931.
Understandably, streets named after the colonial pioneers were changed after independence; most notably, Delamere Avenue became Kenyatta Avenue, and Grogan Road became River Road. I guess there is no need to explain why our streets celebrated such
freedom fighters and nationalists as Dedan Kimathi, Mbiyu Koinange, Tom Mboya, or Argwings Kodhek ... But, maybe, names such as General Mathenge, the Kikuyu freedom fighter; Makhan Singh, the Asian trade unionist; and Ronald Ngala, leader of KADU, are less well-known.
Alongside names of presidents from the first wave of African independent countries — such as Nyerere of Tanzania, Kaunda of Zambia, Nkrumah of Ghana, Banda of Malawi, and Moktar Daddah of Mauritania — there are a good number of street names in
the city that recognise the contribution of black pan-Africanists and international diplomats such as George Padmore, the journalist and author from Trinidad, Marcus Garvey, the political leader and black nationalist from Jamaica; and Ralph Bunche, the political mediator and Nobel Prize winner from the United States.
But a few European names remain. As I started writing this, I asked a number of young Kenyans whether they knew who Dennis Pritt was. None of them knew. Well, he was a British Labour Party politician and lawyer.
He is remembered here because he defended the Kapenguria Six, accused in 1952 of Mau Mau links: Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Kung’u Karumba, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei and Achieng’ Oneko.
Eventually, Dennis Pritt became Professor of Law at the University of Ghana.
Along the Dagoretti Road, the second turning on the left from the Karen roundabout, there is the intriguingly named Charley’s Gap. Who was Charley? And off Rhapta Road there is Fox Close. Not me! So if any of you know who the Charley or the Fox was, or is, please let me know.
And, for me, there are many more Nairobi street names I would still like to explore. Muindi Mbingu, for instance, Mwangi Riika, Ole Odume, Ramesh Gautama, Nahar Singh ...
John Fox is Managing Director of iDC