First family treasures and historical value of Jomo’s Ichaweri home - Beaking Kenya News

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Sunday, 1 December 2019

First family treasures and historical value of Jomo’s Ichaweri home

Jomo Kenyatta.
There was no press statement to accompany Kenya Gazette notice no 11053 and 11054 of 2019. As such, an important historical feat almost went unnoticed.
Last week, all the records touching on founding President Jomo Kenyatta – and which are preserved at his Gatundu home – were declared historical records while the home was also declared a  “permanent place of deposit”.
That is interesting, if we are to borrow from the US history, where presidential libraries are established in each president’s home state and where artefacts, gifts and documents are preserved together with other mementos that are turned into museum exhibits.
The only question that needs to be asked is whether time has come for Kenyatta’s body to be buried at this new library.
I have, in these pages, argued that the Kenyatta mausoleum on the grounds of Parliament should be opened to the public – simply because it is the only such mausoleum in Africa that is still closed to the public.
But with the gazetting of Ichaweri home as a “permanent place of deposit” – the Kenya National Archives has made a step which helps preserve and open the Kenyatta records to the public, hitherto held by the family.
The next step is now for the National Museums to declare the Ichaweri home a national monument – even before the records are made public.
It is sad that Kenya does not have something akin to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg – which is run by Nelson Mandela Foundation – and which continues to focus on the life and times of Mandela, with a permanent exhibition. Many of Mandela’s personal artefacts such as his letters from prison, personal photographs and his Nobel Peace Prize are on display here and it is opened to the public and researchers.
Jomo Kenyatta is one of the least studied pan-Africanists of his time and this is because there has been no attempt to collect all the documents about his presidency – most of which are strewn in different files at the National Archives and others possibly held by private entities in Kenya and abroad.
The Americans have perfected the presidential library system and since Herbert Hoover, who died in 1933, all the 13 presidential libraries have over 400 million pages of textual materials and an estimated 10 million photographs.
Apart from John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, all the other presidents are buried at their presidential libraries – and which should give the Kenyatta family, if they want, a reason to bury the late Mzee Kenyatta’s body in Ichaweri – a place he called home.
It is now 41 years since the death of the late Kenyatta and a lot has been written about him – by using the few records in the public and through fading memory.
By opening his archives – and his home – to the public, the Jomo Kenyatta family have done what most presidents’ families do.
A year and a half ago, President Kenyatta announced the formation of a presidential library, museum and exhibition centre, which was to be based at State House, Nairobi.
It was supposed to develop storylines and themes for both permanent and temporary exhibitions, collect totems and mementoes from the families of President Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.
That would have allowed Kenyans to appreciate the workings of a president – at best the people who have been the face of the Kenyan nation.
This is what I said then: “If the Presidential Library gets mandate to oversee the opening of the mausoleum to the public, it should think about how to turn Jomo’s grave into a pan-African tourist attraction.”
On August 22, during the 41st memorial of Jomo Kenyatta, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a surprise announcement that that would be the last time the family would hold such a public memorial.
He said without going into details: “The family of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta has agreed that this is going to be the last celebration of Mzee in this manner…”
Such a memorial should be left to the presidential library and archives with hitherto unseen records put on display.
While records are important, the Jomo Kenyatta home is perhaps significant in this country – and emphasis has been placed on the Maralal Kenyatta house and the neglected Lodwar house.
The British built Ichaweri house for him after realising that Jomo was the uniting factor in the future of Kenya. They had initially destroyed Kenyatta’s house and confiscated his land after he was jailed.
Initially, during his March 1, 1961 broadcast, Governor Sir Patrick Renison had moved Kenyatta from Lodwar to Maralal, saying that he would only be set free once a post-election government was working properly – thus echoing the feelings of Tory right-wingers who were opposed to his release.
Jomo had spent eight years in prison and restriction – and during his first press conference on April 11, 1961, which was broadcast worldwide, Jomo described his eight years as hell on earth and criticised the western media for misrepresenting him. He told the 50 journalists who had travelled to test his agility and sharpness of mind: “I shall always remain a true nationalist…I have never been a violent man, and my whole life has been non-violent, If I come out, I would remain so…”
Flanked by his daughter, Margaret and lawyer Dingle Foot, Mr Kenyatta thought Maralal was much better than Lodwar: “In Lodwar, you sweat from morning to night and when you are not sweating you are covered in dust.”
Actually, one journalist wrote: In his leather jacket, corduroys and open sandals, he looked like an exile from Bloomsbury, with a tough of grandeur added by his stick and flywhisk.
In order to delay his release, the government, at the same time under pressure to set Jomo free, started arguing that they had to build a house for him and the family, according to Governor Renison.
Kanu had refused to form a government until Kenyatta was released and that left Ronald Ngala to form a government.
Tom Mboya even met the Secretary of Colonial Affairs, Ian Macleod, and told him that unless Kenyatta was released unconditionally, Kanu would not form a government.
Actually, the building of the Ichaweri house was coordinated by Kadu as part of the “bargain” by the party to form the government and bypass Kanu.
It is now known that Kadu had hoped that this way they would have an upper hand in the release of Jomo Kenyatta – and perhaps get his support.
In mid-June 1961, Kadu asked all the parties to focus on this house.
“In order to complete the building within a week, all party politics, all legislative council business, and all personal animosities should be put aside so that the emphasis could be put on the erection of the house.”
The governor also released a statement on August 1961: “I have now decided that, if there is no deterioration in the security position, Kenyatta will be moved to the new house, which is being built for him in Kiambu as soon as it is ready; that he will be under minor restrictions there for a short period only.”
On August 21, Jomo was set free and was issued with a derestriction order by Kiambu District Commissioner W. Raynor, who also returned Kenyatta’s carved walking stick topped by a black elephant and a large finger ring, which he continued to wear in public.
That is how this house was significant in the release of Jomo Kenyatta and why it has a huge place in the political history of Kenya. Of course, this house was expanded later after Kenyatta became president.
Jomo is known to have held press conferences and Cabinet meetings here – the best remembered being after the 1969 assassination of Tom Mboya, his minister for Economic Planning.
Jomo was also known to spend his evenings at this home, when in Nairobi, and did not sleep at State House – unlike Moi, and Kibaki after him. And as noted above, he should not be separated from this home.
Finally, by classifying these as historical items, the Kenya National Archives should also look out for other political families who have letters relating to the history of this country and perhaps secure them. That is how to preserve the memory of a nation

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