Jomo Kenyatta

London School of Economics and Political Science

Social Anthropology

Country of Origin:

Study Destination:
United Kingdom

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Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta was the leader of Kenya from independence in 1963 to his death in 1978, serving first as Prime Minister (1963–64) and then as President (1964–78). He is considered to be the founding father of the Kenyan nation.

Kenyatta was a well-educated intellectual who authored several books, and is remembered as a Pan-Africanist. He is also the father of Kenya's fourth and current President, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenyatta holds a PhD in social anthrpology from the London School of Economics and Political Science where he studied under the famous anthrpologist Bronislaw Malinowski.  

During his time in London, Kenyatta was an active member of the International African Service Bureau, a pan-Africanist, anti-colonial organisation that had formed around former international communist leader George Padmore, who had also become disillusioned with the Soviet Union and himself moved to London. Kenyatta read the draft of the Kenya section of Padmore's new book, 'How Britain Rules Africa' (1936). With the editorial help of an English editor named Dinah Stock who became a close friend, Kenyatta published his own book, 'Facing Mount Kenya' (his revised LSE thesis) in 1938 under his new name, Jomo Kenyatta (his original name was Kamau wa Ngengi). This work, which has been labeled as "a text in cultural nationalism" since it was one of the earliest publications by an African discussing his own culture without apology, made considerable impact. 

Kenyatta asserted the right of Africans to speak for themselves, and not only to be discussed by foreign anthropologists or missionaries and, more important, he declared that Africans should be proud of their own cultural heritage. He especially developed his case around the then important issue of female circumcision, currently under attack by Christian missionaries, demonstrating the relevance of the ceremony to the total Kikuyu culture and indicating how Europeans had ignored this ritual aspect of the study of any African cultural facet. Facing Mount Kenya remains a classic among studies relating to the Kikuyu way of life.

In 1945, with other prominent African nationalist figures, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenyatta helped organise the fifth Pan-African Congress held in Britain.

Numerous institutions and locations are named after Kenyatta, including Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi's main street and main streets in many Kenyan cities and towns, numerous schools, two universities (Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology), the country's main referral hospital, markets and housing estates. A statue in Nairobi city centre and monuments all over Kenya stand in his honour. Kenya observed a public holiday every 20 October in his honour until the 2010 constitution abolished Kenyatta Day and replaced it with Mashujaa (Heroes) day. Before the enactment of the new constitution, Kenyatta's face adorned Kenyan currency notes and coins of all denominations (except the 40 shilling coin).

The name "Jomo" is translated in English to "Burning Spear", while the name "Kenyatta" was said to be a reference to the beaded Masai belt he wore, and later to "the Light of Kenya".