Jomo Kenyatta

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Jomo Kenyatta (1894 — August 22, 1978) was the first prime minister (1963–64) and then president (1964–78) of Kenya. Kenyatta left the East African highlands in 1920 to become a civil servant and political activist in Nairobi. He opposed a union of the British colonial territories of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. In 1945 he helped organize the sixth Pan-African Congress, attended by such figures as W.E.B. Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah.
In 1953 he was sentenced to a seven-year prison term for directing the Mau Mau rebellion, though he denied the charges. In 1962 he negotiated the constitutional terms leading to Kenya’s independence. As its leader he headed a strong central government, rejected calls to nationalize property, and made Kenya one of the most stable and economically dynamic African states. Critics complained of the dominance of his Kenya African National Union (KANU) party and the creation of a political and economic elite.

Throughout the 1920s Jomo Kenyatta immersed himself in the movement against a white-settler-dominated Kenyan government. As a member of the Kikuyu people, he traveled to London in 1929 to protest the British government’s recommendation that its East African territories be more closely united at the expense of Kikuyu interests. He successfully stalled plans for the union.

Although he initially appealed to all sectors of Kenya’s population, appointing members of government form various ethnic groups – he did this more to avoid the development of an ethnically based opposition. But the central core of his government was strongly Kikuyu in makeup. KADU merged with KANU on 10 November 1964, Kenya was now effectively a one-party state with Kenyatta in charge. Kenyatta also sought to gain the trust of the white settlers of the Central Highlands. He outlined a programme of conciliation, asking them not to flee form the country but to stay and help make it an economic and social success. His slogan for these early years of his presidency was Harambee! – a Swahili word which means ‘let’s all pull together’. Kenyatta’s legacy, corruption notwithstanding, was a country which had been stable both politically and economically. Kenyatta had also maintained a friendly relationship with the West, despite his treatment by the British as a suspected Mau Mau leader.