Jomo’s near-deity status is under assault from DP Ruto

President Jomo Kenyatta

President Jomo Kenyatta on February 15, 1967 during the state opening of Parliament. He is escorted by the speaker Humphrey Slade into the National Assembly to perform the state opening.

Photo credit: File

What you need to know:

  • Mama Ngina Kenyatta has over the years acquired the status of the perfect public figure widow.
  • She has jealously guarded the Jomo Kenyatta name to the point that the man achieved near-deity status.

When Daniel arap Moi became President in 1978, he sought to cement his political base by reaching out to politicians who had been exiled to political Siberia by Jomo Kenyatta and his cabal known as the Kiambu Mafia. 

One of these was Kenya’s first vice-president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Jaramogi was set to be rehabilitated and recapture the Bondo parliamentary seat. Everything was going according to plan, until Jaramogi, on a tour of Mombasa, revisited his oft-repeated line – that Kenyatta was a land grabber.

Those in the know say that a quiet protest from Mama Ngina Kenyatta saw a furious Moi sack Jaramogi from the chairmanship of the Cotton and Lint Marketing Board and his path to Parliament was blocked.

Fast-forward to the 1990s and one day Mark Too, a fixer par excellence in the Moi administration, also made a slur against Jomo. Again, those familiar with the story say that this time Mama Ngina was livid because unlike Jaramogi, Mark was a member of Moi's kitchen Cabinet. 

In this instance, a Kenya Air Force chopper delivered Mama Ngina to Kabarak, where she registered her protest, it is claimed. Too was reprimanded and the matter rested.

To her credit, Mama Ngina has over the years acquired the status of the perfect public figure widow – keeping mostly to herself far and away from the rough and tumble of politics. 

In most cases, all that Kenyans saw of the former First Family was on August 22 of every year as Mama Ngina led his well-groomed Kenyatta clan for a wreath-laying ceremony at his mausoleum followed by a memorial service at the nearby Holy Family Basilica.

Meanwhile, she has jealously guarded the Jomo Kenyatta name to the point that the man achieved near-deity status. Over the years, Kenyatta acquired a larger-than-life stature in Kenyan politics.

Those of us who grew up in Nairobi and parts of Central Kenya remember the fanatical support many of his admirers accorded Kenyatta even in death. 

One was never quite qualified to vie for any political seat unless they had the ubiquitous black leather jacket (long before Kalenjins came to town with their brown version of 'cheget') that was associated with Jomo. Shopkeepers kept his portrait side by side with that of Moi. This was accessorised with a fly whisk and the title ‘Mutongoria’.

However, either inadvertently or by design, the hallowed status Kenyatta has enjoyed over the years seems to be coming to a screeching halt. Deliberately or inadvertently, Deputy President William Ruto and his Hustler vs Dynasty narrative in our national political discourse has caught on like a house on fire and the major casualty has been the Kenyatta name.

The Hustler campaign that is touted to be the be-all and cure-all of our political, social and economic maladies over the past 50 years has ended up upending the perfectly cultivated Kenyatta name and history.

What was unimaginable just a decade ago – questioning Kenyatta’s freedom fighter credentials and the fabulous wealth the family wields – is now common in social places and in homes across the Mt Kenya area, the place where the Kenyatta myth was held with utmost regard.

Perhaps the height of this revisiting of history was when Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria took to the agora at a rally called by DP Ruto to throw broadsides at Jomo’s son, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and in not any other place but Ichaweri village, where Jomo hailed from.

Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta bumps fist with President William Ruto during the 57th Jamhuri Day celebrations at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi.

Photo credit: DPPS

Political commentator George Kimando believes that this new rebellion was a long time coming. He says that politics in Kenya has always been choreographed and that power levers have been held by a few who have played the tribal card, playing one tribe against another and/or others.

These players have created tribal kingpins who have abrogated themselves the role of tribal spokesmen and gatekeepers and 'saviours' (never women, by the way) through whom others have to speak to get to the particular region’s vote baskets.

“For the first time, this model is being threatened by the William Ruto-spearheaded hustler narrative. The revolt of the Agikuyu against the President, one of their own, stems from this awakening. Whether Ruto wins or not, this awakening will not go back to sleep,” he says. 

“The remodelling and retelling of the true history is being spoken of out loud, and it's sinking in. The formerly hushed tones of Jomo being an implant of the colonial masters, and never as a freedom fighter, is now being told from public podiums. The 'muthamaki' (king) culture is being questioned, something that has never happened before.”

To Peter Kojo David, a communication practitioner with a Nairobi-based civil society organisation, the Kikuyus’ awakening, especially on the Jomo Kenyatta wealth and independence struggle, is in line with ongoing conversations about the revisionism that Kenya’s history has suffered in order to promote narratives that favour a few oligarchs and appease tribes. 

“We have come to know about people like Baimungi Marete. A true Mau Mau who was not killed by the British government but our own government led by Jomo,” David says. 

“We have learned about land and why many Kikuyus ended up living among other communities. Today, we are able to freely discuss the 1969 oathings because of more freedoms of expression and easier access to information on the internet and elsewhere.”

Still, there are those who believe that the hard stance taken by a section of the Kikuyu community against President Kenyatta in particular and the Kenyatta clan in general has nothing to do with the outgoing head of state, but a continuation of the mistrust of the Luo community that was perpetrated by the power brokers around Kenyatta that led to the 1969 oathings.

University don Vincent Okoth Ongore belongs in this group. To him, the oaths were premised on this mistrust and that it will not go away any time soon, hence Moses Kuria’s outbursts when he railed against a Raila Odinga presidency being fronted by Uhuru.

“Successive Kikuyu generations have been indoctrinated for so long that to reverse the anti-Luo mentality engrained in their DNA will take decades. People need to listen to Moses Kuria very keenly. He communicates the position of the average Kikuyu voter,” Ongore says. 

“They will not vote for Raila, the Luo man. President Uhuru Kenyatta has genuinely tried to convince his Mt Kenya backyard to go with him to Azimio, but the reality is that they haven't heeded his calls.”

Political commentator Manasseh Nyainda concurs. “In the world that Moses Kuria resides in, there has to be an enemy to project his hate on: real and imaginary. A bogeyman of sorts. His political socialisation from childhood has been driven by potent ethnic bigotry and disdain for Raila Odinga.” 

And since Odinga is the automatic ethnic kingpin of the Luo community, the latter have become, by association, the subjects of his vile verbal attacks and ridicule. Essentially, for him to survive, he has to flash the hate card as his only viable currency in politics.”

To Kimani Muigai, a distant relative and a close neighbour of the Kenyattas in Gatundu, the bile against the former First Family is misplaced. “Kenyatta was a nationalist who worked with people from all over the country. Just check his fist Cabinet to confirm this.

It is even perplexing that some people would want to drag Mama Ngina’s name into this kind of politics. The lady is a nationalist too and she has gone through so much in her life. We need to respect and leave her alone,” he says.