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1978: 'The light of Kenya'

Jomo Kenyatta spent most of his life campaigning for Kenya's independence.

His efforts cost him seven years in prison when he was convicted - in a trial now generally regarded as rigged - of being a member of the rebel Mau Mau group by the British colonists in Kenya.

But the African Union leader kept up his fight on his release in 1960 and finally led his country to independence in 1963. He was made president and remained in office until his death on 22 August 1978.

Kenyatta - the name he adopted in the 1920s - is Swahili for "the light of Kenya" and he is widely seen as the founding father of the nation.

Your memories of Jomo Kenyatta:

I remember vividly the morning when I heard the news that Mzee Kenyatta had died in sleep.

I was teaching in a school in the Diocese of Eldoret at the time.

There was an eerie silence everywhere I went.

One common question lingering in everyone's mind was: What next for Kenya?

Kenyatta was a towering personality and his portraits seen in all public places demanded respect.

He was not just a President, but a statesman. His role in the struggle for Kenyan independence was awe-inspiring.

Kenya had enjoyed considerable prosperity and peace during his regime and his death could deal a blow to stability of the nation.

Everyone wondered: Who could replace him and carry on the the great tradition of Harambee and pull the nation together and move forward in unity.

Life moved on but he would always be missed and his legacy never forgotten.
Mariadhason Vareedayah, USA

My first memories of Kenyatta was my father telling me of his close relationship with Kenyatta, years before Kenyatta was jailed.

Like most Kikuyu men and women, my father was suspected of complicity with the Mau Mau and detained two years after Kenyatta was jailed.

Indeed he was Mau Mau and he was proud of that.

I was born in 1960, a year after my father was released, and my father used to adore the large portrait of Kenyatta that was hung in our living room.
Thomas Ngobe, Canada

I was in one of those study holidays my father used to impose on us at a nearby high school where he was the headmaster.

So on this day, we were taking a late morning break from the day's study programme when the news of Mzee's passing came on radio.


" He was this charismatic figure, capable of mobilizing the country like I have never seen any African leader do other than perhaps Mandela "

Jeff, USA

As a young teenager, it was unimaginable. Mzee (meaning Old Man, as he was popularly known) was a larger than life figure. Over the years, I had known Mzee as President of my beloved country - he had come to symbolize what a leader ought be in my own little sheltered world.

He was this charismatic figure, capable of mobilizing the country like I have never seen any African leader do other than perhaps Mandela.

When he addressed the nation, it was with absolute authority and no one dared question Mzee¿s direction.

There¿s no doubt that he led Kenya through the most prosperous years in history. It¿s sad though that despite all this, his sunset years became tainted with what some saw as human rights abuses, corruption and favoritism on tribal lines.

Like most incumbents in any government, he had been in power too long.

What Kenya really needed at that time was a leadership change but in Kenya, the concept was ahead of its times.

Despite all this, Mzee though is undoubtedly the founding father of Kenya. Most of the development visible today came under the leadership of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
Jeff O, USA

I was seven years old and still remember some of the events of that memorable day when Kenya's founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died.

Though it was on a weekday, all kids were home for the August school holidays.

That morning, my siblings and I were at our upcountry home in Murang¿a District during the one-month break from our school in Nairobi.

We were playing one of those games that require kids to jump systematically through shapes etched in the dust on the ground.

At around lunch time, my mother who was in the kitchen suddenly called us indoors in a rather unusual voice.

The voice must have conveyed some urgency since we abandoned our game and all trooped into the kitchen.

That is when she told us to listen to the radio since she was not sure that she was hearing the news correctly.

The radio would play our national anthem and a then a man would eerily announce that our president had died in Mombasa.

All the flags were to immediately fly at half mast.


" On this day each year, many of us in Kenya fondly look forward to hearing Kenyatta's booming voice on radio and seeing his cunning old wizard images on television "

Ken Njuguna, Kenya

Heretofore unprecedented in Kenya, the announcement-national anthem sequence continued playing for most of the day, mercilessly scraping on everyone's raw nerves.

I remember the profound sadness that enveloped us on that day. I also might have sensed some panic since I remember enquiring from a grown up if there was going to be war in the country.

The other thing I can remember was that the national mourning period gave us extra days on top of the one-month school holiday.

On this day each year, many of us in Kenya fondly look forward to hearing Kenyatta's booming voice on radio and seeing his cunning old wizard images on television as we remember the greatest president Kenya has ever had.
Ken Njuguna, Kenya

On some Fridays, as Kenyatta¿s motorcade made it¿s way through the Buru Buru section of Nairobi, on his way to Gatundu, other primary school children and I would wait for it, I would always wave my right index finger up in the air each time the motorcade approached.

I did not know what it meant then. He always waved and smiled back at us.

He made my day.

Later on in life did I learn that the one finger sign symbolized one party-KANU.
Makau, USA

I remember where I was when I heard the news of Kenyatta's death. As a young barefooted boy we trekked to the nearest police station to really see that the flag was indeed flying at half mast.

Nobody thought that there will be no more Kenyatta - he was larger than life in Kenya.

Growing up in the foothills of Mt Kenya and going to school in Nairobi made me very aware of the changes that the government put in place.

In the years that my father would take us to Uhuru Park on national days to listen to the grand old man address the nation, one thing that stood out was his booming voice and the ability to rally to the country together with his speeches and his clarion call - Harambee ["pull together" in Swahili] - and of course in those days we did not return the call with Nyayo ["let us follow in his footsteps" coined by Kenyatta's successor Daniel Arap Moi] but Hooy!

One thing Kenyatta left was a nation that is the envy of its neighbours, a bastion of hope is amongst failed states all around it.

Kenyatta did the best he could and Kenya will forever be grateful - otherwise the country could have gone the Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia way and the list is endless.
Macharia Githaiga, USA

I was in the UK when His Excellency died. I was visiting family who asked me not to travel back as they all expected riots to break out.

President Kenyatta had the chance of a lifetime - to create a strong, peaceful Kenya, not divided along tribal lines. With deep regret, I have to say that he used his position to enrich himself and to better the prospects of the Kikuyu people (his tribe) to the detriment of the general populous.

Had he done what Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (his peer Tanzanian president) did and aimed to destroy tribal lines, Kenya would be a much more cohesive country.

He also gave himself sweeping powers that President Moi made even stronger and hence our predicament today. He made a strong contribution in the struggle for our independence, but what happened to him after we got that independence?

Very few have the capability not to get drunk with power and sadly President Jomo Kenyatta was not one of them.
J. Kaguru, Kenya

I remember the day Kenyatta died because I was in Nairobi and it was 1pm and news time when his death was announced.

All stores in down town Nairobi were closed and most workplaces were closed and workers sent home.

You could hear people whispering how life would be like in Kenya without Kenyatta and if there would be chaos in the country. But most of all, the whole country was engulfed in mourning the death of their beloved leader and father of the nation.
Thomas Ngobe, Canada

I was born and lived in Mombasa, Kenya. I remember one evening when we were youngsters, kicking a ball around a dusty field.

The president's motorcade passed, heading to the port area, and he stopped it, and talked to us. I will always remember the large red ruby ring he had on his finger and the fly whisk very clearly - he asked if we needed or wanted anything.

Naively, we all said we wanted a new ball as the one we had was in tatters, and sweets and ice cream from the corner shop. He then directed one of his bodyguards to get us whatever we wanted in the shop!

The shopkeeper must have been smiling for days as he was handed some cash to give us whatever we wanted - we might have finished off the stock in that shop!

It has been 27 years since he died but I can remember how sad the day was when he passed away, it seemed like the whole country came to a standstill in his respect.

Thank you for the great memory (and new ball and sweets etc.) Rest in Peace, Mzee - you will always be in my heart and mind forever more.
Ibrahim Mirza, UK

I remember the excitement that rippled through Mombasa whenever Kenyatta came to town. It was no different in 1978 when we as children had lined the streets to welcome him with cries of "Harambee".

I still remember the sadness that every Kenyan felt on his death. If Kenya's subsequent leaders had had Kenyatta's foresight, the country would have made progress in leaps and bounds... and I would never have left home.
Lazef M, UK

This is my late father-in-law's story. Colin Trapnell lived and worked in Kenya at an agricultural research station in Kikuyu from 1953 through the years of the Mau Mau.

He was on leave in Storrington in Sussex staying at his ancestral home. Walking in the grounds, he heard chanting and was amazed to see an African man dancing around a fire in true Kenyan style. He spoke to the man and discovered that he was one Jomo Kenyatta.
Hazel Trapnell, UK

I was born in Nyeri - a little town about 100 miles from Nairobi - in 1974.

When I was only four years old I remember seeing the president in his motorcade whilst he was waving to all the school children who were lined up on the side of the road.

I was standing there with my parents, sisters and brothers and fellow pupils from my school (Temple Road Primary School). I said to my father, a teacher in one of the other local schools: "Papa, he waved to me, he looks SO BIG in that car."

Any my father said to me: "He is isn't he? He is the president of Kenya, the best thing that happened to this country."

I never ever forgotten those words my father said to me and that image.
Sangita Patel, UK

I remember this day very well - I was twelve and we have got up in the morning without any inkling of what had happened until we put the radio on and we received the shocking news.

We had been in Kenya for three years at this time and Jomo Kenyatta, the fight for independence, Mau Mau and the good that Kenyatta had done for Kenya was very important in both my schooling and generally in living in the country.

I had the added bonus of having met President Kenyatta personally and having members of his family at my school so there really was a personal aspect of grief to the day's news that we were receiving.

All day the radio, and television played very sombre news, telling everyone to stay calm and to stay in their homes. Not everyone did this and I know that a lot of public grief was shown that day, and for the days to come until the day that the great man was buried.

Africa truly lost a great man who had the foresight to accept what was best for his country, regardless of past bigotry and personal experience. Not everyone agreed with his stance but once you met him, he had the ability to make you understand him.

Kenya wouldn't have been the country that it was if another person had taken over the government when independence was achieved. We only hope that Kenya can now recover from the past 28 years of Moi and come back to the country that it should be.

It is beautiful, the people are a delight and once it is safe, there isn't anywhere else in the world that can offer all that Kenya holds. That's a very biased view but I hold that it is the truth.

Jomo Kenyatta was a gift to Africa, much the same as Nelson Mandela, and maybe someone else will come along who will offer the same qualities. May God hear this wish.
Beverley Taylor, England, UK

I was in Kenya when Jomo Kenyatta died and was actually in Mombassa with the family as my father was married to a member of the Kenyatta family.

I met the president the day before he died and he seemed a very wise and gentle man and although i was only 12 at the time he made a lasting impression on me.

I remember being woken very early the next morning and having to fly by light aircraft back to Nairobi to make preparations for the funeral.
Alison West, Ireland

Kenyatta was a very well educated man and used his education wisely and for the greater good of the people of Kenya. What a great tragedy that few African leaders followed his example.
Mangra G, Guyana


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