This week in History

Who changes Jomo Kenyatta’s underwear at the Mausoleum?

Founding President has to look good when his family checks on him inside Parliament grounds

In Memoriam: First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta receives the Presidential Standard and national flag during Jomo’s state funeral on August 31, 1978. His annual memorial is marked this week, but was turned into a family only affair last year.

By Mbatia wa Njambi

Visiting Thinker


Someone changes the suit worn by founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in readiness for his annual memorials marked this week. Iron his shirt, adjust tie, tighten belt, shampoo the fly-whisk, comb his hair, brush the beards, apply some lotion, polish his open shoes, check watch is still working.

Could this be the same person who changes his boxers? I mean, Jomo can’t spot a laundered suit inside the same Y-fronts year in, year out? Then there is new socks, the fresh rose on his lapel…

Jomo has often been taken ‘for cleaning up’ to look good when his family checks on him at the Mausoleum inside Parliament grounds, Nairobi-where he’s under Kenya Defense Forces guard, 24/7.  

See, when Jomo died in his sleep while on a working holiday in Mombasa on August 22, 1978, he was the Commander-in-Chief. It appears in death, he still is.

Mzee Kenyatta was often ‘cleaned up’ on a Sunday with midnight as perfect hour. No idlers, no prying eyes

Facing Mt Kenya: Solders help President Uhuru lay the annual wreath at his Old Guy’s mausoleum. Mzee Kenyatta was often exhumed in days leading to the event for ‘cleaning up’

Time flies. That was  42 years ago. His son, President Uhuru was 15, a student at St Mary’s School. For years, the memorial was a public event until Uhuru confined it to a family only affair last year.

Confirming Jomo’s embalming is still top notch calls for removal of his body, a military operation: the Chief of Defense Forces, officer in charge of ceremonial duties, officer commanding company guard at the mausoleum, Director of Medical Services, government pathologists and military escorts are all secretly roped in. Sundays are good. Low traffic with midnight as perfect hour. No idlers, no prying eyes.

An Officer and a Gentleman: Lt-Gen Daniel Opande was in charge of ceremonial duties when the military ambulance ferried Jomo Kenyatta’s body for ‘cleaning up’ at the City Mortuary.

Lt-Gen Daniel Opande, then officer in charge of ceremonial duties at the army headquarters,  recalls in his memoirs, In Pursuit of Peace in Africa, ferrying Jomo’s body to the City Mortuary ‘for cleaning up.’ There were no funeral parlours then in 1978.

His body would be taxied back to the mausoleum, a closed shop only opened during the memorials featuring laying of wreaths, a church service at the Holy Family Basilica. Never mind Jomo was an agnostic, a kafiri!

But any Kenyan who wants to go say hello to good old Jomo needs to write a letter to the Secretary of the Parliamentary Service Commission expressing intentions.

The 34 square feet mausoleum was designed by famous Israeli architect, painter and multi linguist, George Vamos

Silent night: Before the English funeral director and embalmer were flown in, Jomo Kenyatta’s body was wrapped in foil and preserved in a locally made casket packed with dry ice.

There was the Kenyatta Mausoleum Bill proposed by the now Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki in 2016. If passed, it would allow local and foreign tourists to pay an entry fee, generating revenues, but the mausoleum now remains among the few in the world not accessible to civilians. Yet, it’s part of our cultural heritage enshrined in the constitution alongside national parks.

The 34 square feet mausoleum was designed by famous Israeli architect, painter and multi linguist, George Vamos. It was constructed within 10 days of Jomo’s death by Italian firm G Campagnola Ltd which hired over 100 Africans, mzungus and muhindis as watu wa mjengo. About 15 years earlier, G Campagnola built the Kenyatta family home in Gatundu, Kiambu County. Alas! it was never paid. G Campagnola was left being chased by sub-contractors after being told the home was its “contribution to independence celebrations!”
Vamos died in Vancouver, Canada  in 1999 aged 89.

Shell supplied the two LPG gas cylinders fueling the flames at the mausoleum day and night. They were later extinguished.

The dead are dumb: Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo planned Jomo’s burial 10 years earlier. Jomo was often taken to the City Mortuary which Njonjo so hated, he mooted the idea of Lee Funeral Home ‘for people of his class’ as chair of the Nairobi Hospital in 1987.

Design for the mausoleum included two large flames burning perpetually after Kenyatta’s burial on August 31, 1978. Shell, the oil multinational, supplied the two LPG gas cylinders fueling the flames-which had been burning day and night by 1980. Shell CEO, the late Nick Mugwandia Muriuki (retired President Mwai Kibaki’s business partner), was unhappy at the cost of using dwindling foreign reserves to keep them burning. They were later extinguished.

Charles Njonjo, then the Attorney General, had planned Kenyatta’s burial in 1968 when heart problems began plaguing the aging president- who would not allow of heart transplants. Also flown in was a burial vault similar to the one American President John F Kennedy was interred in. The vault was stored at Kahawa Barracks under ‘MT Spares.’

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta never attended any church services in his 15 year presidency

Some like it hot: Controversial Editor-in-Chief, George Githii, was sacked for preparing Jomo Kenyatta’s obituary before his death way back in 1968. He is now a preacher in Canada.

When Nation Newspapers Editor-in-Chief, George Githii, Kenyatta’s former Press Secretary got wind of burial plans, he commissioned journalist Philip Ochieng’ to pen Kenyatta’s obituary in advance. Githii was shortly sacked over it!

Though the Kenyatta’s are staunch Roman Catholics, Jomo never attended church in his 15 year presidency. But his Requiem Mass was inter-denominational with the late PCEA moderator Charles M Kareri presiding over alongside Banana Hill healer Margaret Wangari. 
 Dirges were composed by Darius Mbela, later a PS, Minister and Wundanyi MP, who took four days to record Tribute to Mzee Kenyatta at VoK studios with Nairobi’s St Stephen’s Choir.

One Reply to “Who changes Jomo Kenyatta’s underwear at the Mausoleum?

  1. Though it’s said Jomo never attended church services , he was a baptised Presbyterian christian. His funeral was not interdenominational because he didn’t belong to any church but because he was a national figure a thing presbyterians (who baptized him) recognized.
    It’s John Gatu who led the service
    Charles Muhoro Kareri preached and Jeremiah Kiongo Gitau presided at the grave site…the 3 were PCEA heads.
    Anglican Methodist and Catholic bishops were delegated tasks also including the independent church patriarch Benjamin Kahihia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *