Move Jomo Kenyatta’s statue from KICC to a museum

The statue constantly reminds us of the suffering of the people during his regime

In Summary

• Whenever I see the monumental statue of Jomo Kenyatta at the KICC or on our currency notes, I reflect whether we should not destroy it or at least transfer it to the Nairobi National Museum.

• Of course, Kenyatta was a Kenyan, not a foreigner imposing colonialism. But the gross discrimination against particular communities and the extreme favour of others is in one sense worse.

Image: FILE
Image: FILE

All over the world, it seems there is the movement to either destroy, or move to less prominent sites, statues of persons who, while they may have been heroes at home, did damage to others through, especially, colonialism or the slave trade, or whose attitudes on race were suspect.

Distinguished scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos says the statues are under attack because “they represent unaddressed depredations and injustices”.

Several years ago, university students in South Africa agitated for the statue of Cecil Rhodes, prominent colonialist, who played a key role in bringing British rule to southern Africa, to be pulled down – which it eventually was.

At Oxford, there is now a strong move to remove the statue of Rhodes. The statue of a slave trader, who was also a prominent and charitable citizen of Bristol, was toppled into the harbour. Statues of King Leopold II of Belgium, Christopher Columbus and a leading Minister of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, as well as of Winston Churchill in London have had graffiti scrawled on them or have been the subject of removal campaigns. Gandhi’s statue was pulled down in Accra where Gandhi has little to do, but on behave of some students from South Africa.


Whenever I see the monumental statue of Jomo Kenyatta at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (or even on our currency notes since the statue figures on all our new notes as the result of an unsatisfactory court decision), I reflect whether we should not destroy it or at least transfer it to the Nairobi National Museum.

Of course Kenyatta was a Kenyan, not a foreigner imposing colonialism. But the gross discrimination against particular communities and the extreme favour of others, not uncommon in Africa during his regime, is in one sense worse.

It can create tensions between communities which is not what is needed when the emphasis should be on the creation of a nation — for the good of all.  

Many Kenyans feel that they have over the years been marginalised by the Kenyatta leadership, and now it is his son who is using his power of the state and other sources to promote the Kikuyu and related tribes (more accurately, self-appointed leaders), and dominate others, which leads to acute discrimination.

The appropriation of the resources of the state as well as huge properties that he somehow obtained from numerous citizens and indeed the state, started the growth of onerous wealth and businesses that the Kenyatta family now own and continues to increase, while millions of Kenyans are starving. This continuity is the reason why we want to forget his policies and practices.

Kenyans might well recognise the amount of land and other resources that Jomo collected — they wondered how. Is it not shocking that the statue of someone who obtained hugely from individuals and communities should be honoured in this way, in the middle of Nairobi?"

The statue is not merely reminding us of the first president of Kenya (which we preserve for history), but constantly reminds us of the suffering of the people during his regime — and now. Kenyans may well not want to be reminded of that period by this huge and unavoidable image. What is even more damaging for most Kenyans is the perpetuation of the Kikuyu as the masters of all Kenyans. 

The statute would be justified if he had really secured freedom for Kenyans from British colonialism.


In his speech on the last Madaraka Day, Uhuru Kenyatta presented the mythical version of his father’s contribution to independence and the freedom of Kenyans—and the enormous sacrifices that he made for it. There are a number of scholarly studies, the best being by Charles Hornsby’s book of 963 pages, significantly devoted to Jomo’s activities and non-role in securing independence. .

Jomo played no role in achieving independence.

In his long stay in London, he made no progress towards independence, but did significantly improve his knowledge of social sciences. It is also true that he was imprisoned for several years, allegedly for fighting for independence, after a retired (British) judge was brought in to decide that he and a number of Kenyans had been involved in undermining British policies.

The fact is that he was arrested on the basis of wrong assumptions about his fight for independence. No doubt this was a great colonial injustice, and caused him considerable suffering — but it helped him get, wrongly, his reputation as a freedom fighter and in due course ensured him the rank of the most important fighter for freedom. He did little for his fellow prisoners, who had indeed fought for freedom. He was particularly nasty to Bildad Kaggia, a Kikuyu who was a socialist, and supported the real fights for freedom—and drove him to poverty.

Nor did Jomo have any real role in securing freedom— which was mainly secured by pressure of the international community for independence of all colonies after the Second World War. Britain had little option but to start the independence process. Jomo was still in detention when Britain and representatives of all ethnic and racial communities agreed the independence constitution, except for some formalities — at which stage he attended at the last moment, having been released, and, on the strength of that reputation his trial had secured him, chaired the Kenya team. Until then Oginga Odinga had been the effective leader—but deferred to Jomo when the latter was freed.

On the false basis that he had fought for independence, he became the prime minister but rapidly changed the constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government, knowing that as president he would be much more powerful than prime minister, and less accountable.

Soon after he and Oginga Odinga (who had been helping him when he was in difficulty and ensured that he occupied a key position when he was freed) fell out— because Oginga was a socialist who cared for the ordinary — poor — Kenyans and Jomo did not. Jomo instead wanted to make himself and his family rich. This is clear from Oginga Odinga’s, Not Yet Uhuru –completely misquoted now by Uhuru!


The changes to the constitution — which had been carefully devised to ensure fairness to all Kenyan tribes — also meant he acquired most of state power for himself. Not only did it become a presidential system but he destroyed the regional government system.

He achieved at least two purposes: The establishment of Kikuyu hegemony through dominance of the state, and enormous looting of state and citizens, by force, whether from the state or the public (Europeans, Indians and Africans). He had an extraordinarily period as president, indeed tied in office.

Hornsby provides an excellent account of this force and theft. Very soon it made the Kenyattas by far the richest family in Kenya —as it has remained to this day. The appetite for money continues to this day —much easier as the family is essentially in control of the state. The eminent role for Kikuyus in the state —pervasive to this day — is the basis for the wealth of both family and tribe. This is not to say that all Kikuyus have shared in this wealth. Many of them are poor and without a job — their lands having been taken over by the Kikuyu elite.

In his speech on Madaraka Day, Uhuru had, at length, a fantastic story of his father’s contribution to independence and freedom of Kenyans — and the enormous sacrifices that he made. But many Africans, rather than Kikuyus alone, made huge sacrifices to fight off the British, over a long period (and suffered imprisonment and banishment as well) —and got little recognition for their struggle.

And he portrayed Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965 (ironically called 'African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya' when it had nothing socialist about it), as “the vision document for our young nation and was full of dreams for the future to come. It envisioned a Kenya with an Africanized economy.” It is remembered by other communities as the charter for Kikuyu prosperity, and others’ marginalisation, as the Chief Justice implicitly reminded us recently.

The political and administrative dominance of the Kikuyu achieved so determinedly set a trend. His successor, Daniel Moi, clearly decided that treading in Jomo’s footsteps meant having his own people around him and in prominent positions. Later Kikuyu presidents, Kibaki and especially Kenyatta II, have reverted to the Kikuyu hegemony model. As for the family, its access to state wealth is obvious (including Uhuru’s negotiations with the Chinese President in expensive arrangements which seem to have benefited his family—eg trains from Mombasa to Naivasha!).

Is it, as Boaventura says, time to “leave the statue to the pigeons”?


It makes very sad to present this account of his role as president. He and my father were close friends. My father had a grocery shop in Ruiru and Jomo’s house was in Gatundu, 25 miles away. Jomo came to shop — but he and my father became good friends. He would bring some fruit for me (from his garden).

While our fathers chatted, his daughter, Margaret, and I would sit in his car with a chocolate bar for her from the father. When Jomo was in prison, I was at Oxford to study law. When I returned, it was soon after he was released from prison. Huge crowds queued to welcome him — and my father thought we should wait until when the queue would lessen. But soon Jomo rang my father that he had heard I was back — and asked why we didn't go see him. 

My father explained the delay but Jomo said we had to go following day. We went and some of his staff immediately took us straight to him! It was wonderful. We were photographed with him — I still have the photo!

So it made me sad when I noticed that when he became president he quickly adopted the policies he adopted—not the kind and caring person that I knew.