How Jomo Kenyatta settled in Ichaweri

The declaration of a state of emergency gave the Government the perfect excuse it had been seeking to not only round up all “the political undesirables”, but  also start executing a system of disinheriting the seized leaders of their land.

When the issue of political repression arose in Britain days before declaration of the State of Emergency in Kenya, the then Secretary of State for Colonies, Oliver Lyttelton, told Parliament on October 16,1952 that some laws were needed to intimidate  the Mau Mau.

According to Lyttelton, as quoted in the Hansard, Mau Mau was a secret society confined to the Kikuyu and was an offshoot of the Kikuyu Central Association, which had been proscribed in the 1940s.

In a crafty move to discourage other Kenyans from agitating for freedom, the Government passed the Forfeiture of Lands Ordinance in 1953, which empowered the Governor to deal a crippling blow on Kenyatta and his colleagues.

Paragraph (ii) of sub-section 3 of the ordinance empowered the Governor to seize land owned by a person who had been convicted of some crimes.

It is in exercise of these powers that Baring issued government notice number 1444, seizing 31.24 acres in Kiambu belonging to Kenyatta.

The setting apart order read: “Whereas Jomo Kenyatta (otherwise known as Kamau s/o Muigai, was on the 8th day of April 1953 convicted by acting resident magistrate at Kapenguria in Criminal case no.1 of 1953 of the offences of:

  1. Managing the unlawful society known as Mau Mau, contrary to section 70 of the penal code;
  2. Being a member of the said unlawful society contrary to section 71(a) of the penal code, and was sentenced to seven years and with hard labour.

And whereas the offences of which the said Jomo Kenyatta was convicted as aforesaid are offences to which Forfeiture of Lands Ordinance 1953 applies;

Now therefore in exercise of the powers conferred by paragraph ii of the sub-section 3 of the Forfeiture of Lands Ordinance of 1953, I hereby make the following order:

That the land specified in the schedule to this order being land forming part of the Native Lands in which the said Jomo Kenyatta has an interest shall be deemed to be set apart as in the said ordinance provided

The order signed by Baring on October 2, 1954, touched on four parcels of land measuring 2.9 acres, 1.52 acres, 11.06 acres and 15.76 acres. A schedule prepared by the Kiambu DC gave the survey coordinates of all the pieces of land.

After the land was alienated, the Government descended on the parcel in Ichaweri where Kenyatta had constructed his home and dismantled it block by block.

The blocks were then ferried to Gatundu town where they were used to construct a government residential house, which was allocated to civil servants in the compound, which was at the time acting as the divisional administration headquarters.

The demolition would later haunt the Government as the pressure to release the jailed politicians intensified, recalls former Commissioner of Police Bernard Njinu.

In 1961, Njinu was working in Isiolo as an intelligence officer when the Government failed to persuade Kenyatta — who had already been elected KAU leader in absentia and was about to be released — to move to another home.

Since Kenyatta was technically landless and homeless, the Government was willing to construct a new house for him but he insisted that he would only settle in his original home and land in Ichaweri.

His demand to return to Ichaweri, in Kimunyu sub-location, was not practical then as his land had since been allocated to some other people, who could not be traced.

Njinu recounts how he was temporarily shifted from Isiolo to assist in the search mission.

I was flown from Isiolo to Gatundu with instructions to locate the person who had been allocated Kenyatta’s land – recalls Njinu.

“I traced him to Ngong and the Government transferred the land back to Jomo.

“When I arrived from Isiolo, I found politicians Masinde Muliro, John Keen and Wafula Wabuge in Gatundu desperately trying to locate Kenyatta’s land. The trios’ brief was to ensure that a new house was constructed before Kenyatta was released.”

Njinu, who was born in 1932, explains how he traced the elusive beneficiary, whose name he cannot remember.

With Kenyatta’s land question now solved, Njinu found himself performing a more daunting task of offering security to the politicians as they supervised the reconstruction of the house in Ichaweri.

When all the arrangements were completed, Njinu vividly remembers the day Kenyatta was released on August 14, 1961, flown from Malaral to Kahawa in a police aircraft, and later driven home accompanied by his wife, Mama Ngina, who was expectant. The baby was later named Uhuru, Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Government formed after the disputed 2007 General Elections and Gatundu South MP since 2002.

“When Kenyatta arrived in Gatundu, there was a lot of anxiety. Some whites were not happy with him. They feared he would mobilise his supporters to oust them. The homeguards, too, feared Kenyatta would punish them for collaborating with his jailers,” says Njinu.

A story is told of one such collaborator, Ndung’u Kagoi from Gatanga, who on hearing the news of Kenyatta’s release shouted to the inanimate radio, as he whacked it with his walking stick.

“Gatutu gaka githi towe wanjirire ndakarekio na riu wandira magego wanjiira niarekio? Ndigithiria  muchene!(This thing (radio), are you not the one who told me that Kenyatta had been jailed for life and now you are claiming he is a free man? Stop rumourmongering!)”

To keep Kenyatta out of harm’s way, a barbed wire was erected to keep off busloads of jubilant Kenyans who ceaselessly streamed into Gatundu to pay tribute to him.

“At that time, I did not know who could harm him. I was not supposed to let in visitors,” says Njinu. “Kenyatta, wearing his trademark leather jacket, would address the mammoth crowd from his side of the fence, waving his flywhisk.”

Njinu did not know that his job of minding Kenya’s most charismatic politician was just beginning. He also had no way of knowing that he would one day stay at the very house the colonialist had constructed using Kenyatta’s stones .

When he was later posted to be part of the Presidential Escort in 1964, he discovered that he was supposed to report to Kenyatta’s home every morning.

This made it impossible to operate from his home in Karatu, about 10km from Gatundu town. He was allocated a house in Gatundu’s administration headquarters.

Njinu was, however, forced to shift to the house constructed with Kenyatta’s stones, after Kenyatta ordered him to vacate the bigger house for a doctor.

“Kenyatta directed me to move into the house constructed with his stones. Of course he knew its history but in his characteristic philosophy of forgive but never forget, he never made it an issue,” Njinu recalls.

It was from that house that Njinu commuted for most of the 14 years he worked, first as a member of the Presidential Escort and later as its commander until Kenyatta died on August 22, 1978.

The Presidential Escort Commander became the Commissioner of Police four years after Kenyatta’s death, following the 1982 abortive coup.

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