Out with the old: The history Kenya rejected


What you need to know:

  • In Kenya, despite many colonial names, monuments and statues being removed since independence in 1963, some remain.
  • Some of those removed had been located in prominent places.
  • The current Tom Mboya Street would also be Victoria Street had it not been renamed in the 1960s.

The recent wave of anti-racism protests in the US has turned the spotlight on symbols of a dark past across the world.

In Kenya, despite many colonial names, monuments and statues being removed since independence in 1963, some remain.

Some of those removed had been located in prominent places.

In Nairobi, for instance, a statue of the controversial Lord Delamere would still be staring down at you every time you walk past The Sarova Stanley, where Kimathi Street (previously known as Hardinge Street) intersects with Kenyatta Avenue (Delamere Avenue). The statue was, however, pulled down in 1963 and now stands on his family’s property in Nakuru County.

That would not be all about Delamere, an unofficial leader of colonial settlers whose principles did not always augur well with locals.

Today’s State House Girls would be called Delamere Girls High School while Upper Hill School would be Delamere Boys High School.

Queen Victoria

Still on statues, a statue of Queen Victoria, unveiled in 1906, would be standing at one corner of Jeevanjee Gardens. But the statue, which was funded by Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee after whom the park is named, was pulled down years ago.

The current Tom Mboya Street would also be Victoria Street had it not been renamed in the 1960s. Her name, however, still hovers over the expansive Lake Victoria.

Outside Kenyatta International Convention Centre would be a statue of King George V, erected in 1945. It was, however, pulled down in 1964. At the exact spot where it stood, one of the two Jomo Kenyatta statues in Nairobi was unveiled in 1973.

Jamhuri High School

King George V’s son, Prince Henry, would also be featuring in the Nairobi landscape through the Duke of Gloucester School, which is today Jamhuri High School.

Metres away, a statue of King George VI would also be standing where it was first revealed in 1957. But this one was also torn down after seven years, leaving behind the disused fountain at the intersection of Parliament Road and City Hall Way.

King George VI would also have been the name of the country’s biggest healthcare facility, which is today Kenyatta National Hospital.

King George VI’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, had the current Uhuru Highway named after her. She became queen in 1952 and the current Waiyaki Way was named Queen Elizabeth Way in her honour.

British Empire

Had the monarchy-based names stood, Nairobi would be bearing a heavy reflection of the British Empire’s past leaders, as do a number of Commonwealth territories.

There has been renewed focus on names and monuments over the past few months as people across the world re-examine the monuments in their midst, as a ripple effect of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

More recently, two lawyers petitioned the National Assembly to rename landmarks, geographical features, streets, monuments and buildings that were named after Europeans.

Mr Wambugu Wanjohi and Mr Kariuki Karanja petitioned MPs to abolish names like Lake Victoria, Thompson Falls, and Aberdare Ranges.

There are also features on Mt Kenya including lakes (Alice, Ellis, Michealson, Hohnel, Carr) and tarns (Lewin, Hausberg) that the lawyers want renamed as well.

Kenyan names

A look at historical records indicates that numerous features were given Kenyan-oriented names a year into Mzee Kenyatta’s reign.

A 1964 map of Nairobi, which we accessed at the Kenya National Archives, shows that by then, some roads in Nairobi had Kenyan-leaning nomenclature.

Kenyatta Avenue and not Delamere Avenue had already been entered into the map, same as Harambee Avenue (Coronation Second Avenue), and Wabera Street (St Eliott Street), among others.

A paper uploaded on the University College London website, edited by Anne-Marie Deisser and Mugwima Njuguna, indicates that, with the inclusion of the carrier corps monument along Kenyatta Avenue that was erected in 1928, there was a total of four statues in Nairobi when Kenya attained independence.

Today, the paper says, there are five of them in Nairobi as the carrier corps one is still intact: two for Jomo Kenyatta and one each for Dedan Kimathi and Tom Mboya.

The other monuments in Nairobi include the Uhuru monument at Uhuru Gardens, while at Uhuru Park there is the Nyayo monument and the Mau Mau memorial.

Transformation of Nairobi

“Post-colonial monuments differ greatly in form from those erected during the colonial period and represent a transformation of Nairobi’s symbolic space,” wrote Kenyan scholars Samuel Owuor and Teresa Mbatia in a 2012 article on Africa’s capital cities.

And according to Dr Besi Muhonja, an associate professor of African studies at the James Madison University in the US, there was some thrill that came with the renaming.

“The new political leaders rode the wave of nationalistic excitement post-independence to rename streets with the support of the people,” she says.

Historian Macharia Munene told the Nation that the renaming of phenomena was justified.

“Generally for symbolism and feeling good, it was the right thing to do at independence,” he said.

Looking at the map of Nairobi in 1960, one wonders what would have happened had some names of places remained the same.

Names maintained

Of course there are names that existed then that have been maintained; for instance, Bernard and Barton estates and Brookside Gardens.

Prof Munene said not all features could be renamed because “there is a limit to as to where you can go”.

But most names in the maps of the 1960s have since been changed.

There is no Henderson Avenue, Bernard Road, Northcote Road, Donald Road, Belfield Road, Crauford Road, or Pytchley Road.

Kenya will soon have a register of heroes and heroines who will then be eligible for being honoured through statues and naming of public features, among other ways. The body that coordinates that process is the National Heroes Council and its acting CEO Yvonne Khamati told the Nation that African heroes will be the priority.

Focus on Africa

“We intend to first start and focus on the African region, about who we are as a people, as a nation, as a continent, with all the values that come with being African, including liberation and emancipation from any chains that we may feel are there, both real and perceived,” she said.

Without answering the question on whether the likes of King George V, Lord Delamere and others whose monuments once stood in Kenya can be accorded the same status they had in pre-independent Kenya, Ms Khamati said the discussion on Europeans and others who may deserve hero status will come “once we have given unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, to mean that such figures will be considered later in the day.

“I think we are at a place where we are saying we matter, our heroes matter, and we’ll start with that journey. We may get to a point where we have to discuss what happened in the past and if what remains is useful to our history or not,” she said.