The statue of Jomo Kenyatta in the forecourt of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre still stands — weathered, and yet as imposing as ever.
What is true of his monument is true also of his legacy. In this, the fortieth anniversary of his leaving the country which he led to freedom, his legacy is as vital as ever.
Though born in an age of colonial domination, he dedicated his career to the defence of African dignity and freedom. That persistence was rewarded with independence. In between, he endured exile, imprisonment, separation from family, and loss. None of these embittered or discouraged him; all were gloriously rewarded in 1963. So the first lesson to learn from his life is quite simple: there is great power in persistence.
The second follows from the first. Throughout his long career, African freedom and dignity remained his basic goals, while he was willing to try different means to those ends. Again, there so much to learn from his intelligent pursuit of principles goals — he was neither inflexible in his choice of means, nor willing to compromise his cause. A new generation of leaders and Kenyans can learn much from that example.
Third, inspired by his example, we might do well to rededicate ourselves to the cause of unity. Kenyatta was no stranger to division, or it’s consequences — poverty, and domination among them; his devotion to unity was the fruit of bitter experience.
We ought to learn from his hard-earned wisdom; we ought to renew our devotion to the unity for which he long fought.
Fourth, development. Now, as at independence, Kenya has yet to achieve the prosperity that Kenyans deserve. Even before independence, in speech after speech, Mzee insisted that our freedom would mean little if we did not make it productive. It remains for us to live up to that challenge, and to make certain that Uhuru means prosperity for each and every one of us.
Interest in Mzee’s life is as strong as ever — there have been two recent political biographies, and another, long in the works, is expected shortly. Yet for all that he has been written about him, we ought not lose sight of his basic convictions — that persistence in struggle would win our freedom; that once freedom was won, it would be kept only by unity; and that Uhuru required broadly-shared prosperity — and we ought to let these convictions inspire us still.
\\\\\\\\\\\“On that fateful day, he seemed okay and very active but when we left for Msambweni he became frail and only managed to greet locals before we decided to go back to State House. In the evening he said he needed to rest and never made it to entertainment,” says Wangui
After checking on the president, who was at the time resting, Wangui recorded improvement. She decided to retire to her room for some sleep.
Hours later, Wangui says the first lady, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, called for her. The president, she was told, was having diffiuculty breathing.
“Only a few hours ago, the president had been on his bed resting and he had improved significantly. Within no time I was woken up by Mama Ngina who said that the president was having problems breathing.”
Together with a group of nurses and doctors, they flocked the president’s room where he lay on his bed fighting for his life. Jomo was pale and breathless. All interventions, including use of an oxygen mask, failed.
At 3am on August 22,1978, Jomo Kenyatta breathed his last.
“The medical team and I tried all we could but minutes later he stopped breathing. I was scared out of my skin. I was terrified and could not move. I knew death had robbed us. At 3am Dr David Mngola declared him dead,” she recalls.
“A dark cloud enveloped the house as the family mourned.”
Top security officials immediately converged at statehouse after reports of the death reached them, says Wangui. They held lengthy deliberations before making calls to the then vice president Daniel Moi.
The officials, including the provincial commissioner, decided that the family and personnel must travel back to Nairobi. Much like the African saying, when a great tree falls, rocks on distant hills shudder, everyone was scared wondering what would follow next.
“There were murmurs everywhere. People had all sorts of theories about what would happen next.”
Wangui travelled to Nairobi and mourned with the family she had spent the better part of the last four years with.
“I stayed with them for an year before leaving for Nakuru,” she says.
Wangui has nothing but kind words for the fallen statesman. She describes him as a legend who lived a life of dedication and re-dedication to the service of mankind in general and his country in particular. She says Jomo was a hardworking man devoted to serving the nation even when his health failed him.
According to her, Kenyatta was a loving father and husband who, despite his busy schedule had time for his family. He made sure he spent time with his children every morning before they set out and every evening when they came back.
“Kenyatta was a legend, he lived a life of dedication. He was a hero to his family; a loving father and husband who despite his busy schedule made time for them,” she says.
Looking nolstagic, Wambui recalls the beautiful moments she spent with the first family.
“I spent a lot of time with the children before I left statehouse in 1979. I was young then making it easy to interact with them, I was like their big sister. But I lost contact with them when I left. My greatest wish would be to be reunited with them including President Uhuru Kenyatta whom I met only once.”