This week in History

Kenyatta collapsed in a toilet, called male Ministers ‘father and mother’

President once executed an upper cut on a State House waiter who spilled soup on his suit

The Successor: President Jomo Kenyatta with his brood. From left Kristina, Muhoho, Mama Ngina and Uhuru Kenyatta at home in Ichaweri, Gatundu, Kiambu County. He had for ages nursed a weak heart, gout and eczema. His last days were peppered with memory loss and incoherence. He suffered poor eyesight but would only wear eye glasses over his dead body. His speeches were typed in extra large fonts with the word ‘Commission’ omitted in all speeches as kept pronouncing it as ‘Kamishen.’

By GW Ngari



The President introduced two male Cabinet colleagues as “my father and mother” to visiting diplomats at State House Nakuru. That was one of many red flags President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was losing his marbles.

 I mean, why would Kenyatta refer to Minister of State, Mbiyu Koinange, his brother in-law as his father? Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Kassim Mwamzandi was also shocked he was Kenyatta’s mother!

Bread of Sorrow: Jomo Kenyatta’s State Funeral on August 31, 1978 had been planned 10 years earlier including use of the carriage that ferried British Premier, Sir Winston Churchill’s body, (above).
Aware of the ensuing Kenyatta Succession, PCEA Moderator Rev Charles Kareri pegged his sermon from the words of St Paul: ‘I know after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock. And from your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore be alert.’
Mzee Kenyatat died in the cursed month August, the jinxed month when the prominent and famous die: Vice President Kijana Wamalwa, Cabinet Minister Karisa Maitha, Fr Anthony John Kaiser, politician Martin Shikuku, Bishop Alexander Muge, Masinde Muliro and former Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Munyua Waiyaki. Even Princess Diana died in August 1997.
  August is also notorious for bombings like the 1998 Terrorist Bombing in Nairobi, political mayhem; like the abortive coup of August 1, 1982 in Kenya and the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

Kenyatta, who once executed an upper cut on a waiter who spilled soup on his suit during a State banquet for American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, was increasingly running out of breath.

 So bad were the memory losses, he lost track of directions and once found himself in the dingy quarters of domestic staffers at State House Mombasa! He also often forgot his trademark flywhisk and had to be shown his signature to remember it.

Return of Shaka: Dr Christiaan Barnard, was a South Africa heart transplant pioneer, but also an incorrigible playboy who had a one-night fling with an Italian film star while visiting the Pope at the Vatican. In 1976, he was invited to check on Kenyatta’s heart by Attorney General Charles Njonjo in whose Muthaiga home he stayed in the two weeks he was in Kenya-which had no diplomatic ties with the then Apartheid South Africa.
What Dr Barnard diagnosed on the President left him sobbing while addressing the Rotary Club of Nairobi. This prompted Spy Chief James Kanyotu to accelerate the Kenyatta Succession which irrevocably altered Kenya’s political landscape. [Photo: Mario Torrisi/AP/REX/Shutterstock]

Lee Njiru, long term presidential communication officer, termed the signature as having moved from elegance to appear like “a ruffled fly-whisk or a traditional broom.”

Before his death this week on August 22, 1978, Jomo Kenyatta had collapsed several times and had to be lifted by aides at the end of official functions. During the opening of the Mombasa Agricultural Show in Mswambweni, a day before his death, Burning Spear collapsed in a toilet from where he was retrieved by Coast PC Eliud Mahihu and Mbiyu Koinange. It was the final sign a State Funeral was in the offing.

The cockroach dance: Udi Gecaga (left) with the late, unlamented President Daniel arap Moi. Udi was Jomo Kenyatta’s son in-law as hubby to Jeni Kenyatta, the mother of Jomo Gecaga- Uhuru Kenyatta’s PA. Udi, a Princeton educated banker was appointed chair of Lonrho East Africa by Tiny Rowland aged only 26.
 Udi was handpicked to oil easy access to the President, while sidestepping rapacious Cabinet Ministers like Bruce MacKenzie then demanding unrealistic stakes in Lonhro.
Udi was Lonrho’s only black African director whom Rowland often whispered “will be my successor”. But when Jomo died on August 22, 1978, Udi was dismissed by lunchtime! and was shortly replaced by the late Mark Too- to oil easy access to incoming President Moi!
But Udi, refused to resign, taking refuge in America for two years as Rowland pursued him to revert his three joint Kenyan ventures with Lonrho.  

Kenyatta’s 88 year old heart had been frail and failing for a decade and those close to Kenyatta knew his heart was in a threadbare condition. So apparent was the fear, Dr Christiaan Barnard, the world’s most famous surgeon of his day, was invited by Attorney General Charles Njonjo to check on Kenyatta’s heart. Dr Barnard gave the President six months to live.

Carcase for Hounds: First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta receiving the Presidential Standard during Jomo Kenyatta’s State Funeral on August 31, 1978. She was with Kenyatta when he died in Mombasa. Had she not noticed that the President had been losing his memory, running short of breath and collapsing often?
President Kenyatta had been accompanied in Mombasa by Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange, State House Comptroller Alexander Gitau and Coast Provincial Commissioner Eliud Mahihu. Mbiyu had even helped Kenyatta during one of his several incidents of collapsing. But why did Mbiyu leave for Nairobi that night despite knowing Kenyatta, his brother in-law was in dire straits?
Lee Njiru, then an information officer assigned presidential functions, had a ringside seat during the Presidency of Jomo Kenyatta and once accused his confidants and top advisers of neglect borne of unbridled greed for power, property and other vested interests.

And death, as it does to all men, finally came to President Jomo Kenyatta two years later this week. Instead of his signature rallying call, Harambee! incoherence saw him end his last public speech in Mombasa with ‘Amen’

Never mind he always had an ambulance and a battalion of nurses carrying camouflaged medical oxygen cylinders, but for strange reasons were hardly engaged to check on him, according to Njiru.

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