Mashujaa Wetu: Heroes of the Kenyan Nation

Kenya National Archives

These are the people who laid the foundation for the birth of the Kenyan nation in various ways. We celebrate these heroes every year on Mashujaa Day- the national holiday marked on October 20th. 

The independent Republic of Kenya was established in 1964.  This exhibition introduces many of the people who helped lay the foundation for the birth of the Kenyan nation from early freedom fighters to Jomo Kenyatta, the nation's first president. Each year Kenya's citizens celebrate and commemorate these founders on Mashujaa Day - the annual national holiday on October 20th.  
Freedom Fighters
For more than a half-century, many Kenyans stood against British colonization and rule (1895-1963). The Kenyans in the stories that follow were courageous individuals who fought, bled, and died as free men and women, so that today all Kenyans could live as free citizens of a self-ruled nation. In the mid 1940s a group of Kenyan freedom fighters - originally a group of landless farmers - transformed into a rebel movement led by Kikukyu tribesmen.  Mau Mau (pronounced like "cow") became a major resistance movement, an anti-European movement. They fought against British rule for freedom, land rights, and other resources. 

Dedan Kimathi after his arrest.

Dedan Kimathi was one of the most famous freedom fighters. He was wounded, imprisoned and hanged in 1957 by the British government for his involvement in the Mau Mau resistance.

The Mau Mau fighters had little funding. Out of necessity they made their own weapons, such as this home-made rifle. This and the others like it seen on the wall behind the British officer were produced in Kenya during the Mau Mau 'Emergency'.

The Mau Mau waged a violent campaign of terrorism against both white European settlers and fellow Kenyan's who refused to support them.

Mau Mau Cleansing Oath at Nyeri, 1952

There are many images of the gruesome ceremony during which a witch-doctor slays a sheep, and uses its intestines as a means of convincing natives that they are cleansed, when it is poured on their head.

The Kikuyu tribe was originally founded by a man named Gikuyu. According to Kikuyu history, the Kikuyu God, Ngai, took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga and told him to stay and build his home there.

British officers shown screening Kikuyu men who were suspected of being Mau Mau rebels during the state of emergency in 1953. The uprising, also referred to the Kenya Emergency lasted from 1952 and 1960.

Portrait Gallery of Kenya's Early Political Figures
Meet the early Kenyan politicians of pre- and post-independence. Some of them contributed to building momentum for self-rule, while others served in various government positions in the early regimes.

Harry Thuku (1895–1970)

Harry Thuku was a Kenyan politician who was involved in politics from an early age. He founded the Young Kikuyu Association in 1921. The Association was one of the first political parties to usher in modern African nationalism in Kenya.

Thuku became increasingly conservative as the anti-colonial struggle advanced in Kenya.

He became a wealthy coffee farmer and eventually became the first African member of the Kenyan Coffee Farmers' Union. In 1952 and again in 1954 Thuku denounced the Mau Mau Uprising.

He afterwards removed himself from Kenyan politics.

Jaramogi Ajuma Odinga Odinga (1911-1994)

Odinga Odinga was chieftain of Kenya’s second largest ethnic group, the Luo people. He later led the African Nationalists and became the Vice President of the country.

In this photograph taken in 1961, Odinga Odinga addresses his supporters during the campaign.

Oginga Odinga dressed as a Luo Elder.

Luo, also called Kavirondo , are people living among several Bantu-speaking peoples in the flat country near Lake Victoria in western Kenya and northern Tanzania.

More than three million strong, the Luo constitute the third largest ethnic group in Kenya (about one-tenth of the population) after the Kikuyu (with whom they shared political power in the first years after Kenya achieved independence) and the Luhya.

Oginga Odinga, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya

- Vice President of Kenya
- Kenyan politician, and the first President of Kenya
- Trade unionist and statesman - one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya

Mr. C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek (1923-1969)

Argwings-Kodhek was Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1963. He received degrees in law and the social science, and became the first African barrister in Kenya.

According to the journalist William Oloo-Janak: Argwings-Kodhek "like many other educated Luos, used his education to push for independence, providing the intellectual expertise and articulation of issues against the colonial authorities. For instance, Kodhek used his legal expertise to defend Mau Mau suspects in court. Although he was reported to have been killed in a road accident, history has now indicated that the death of C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek in 1969, once a close confidant of Kenyatta’s, may have been the result of a gun shot fired from a police-issued rifle."
[Source: Migori News]

Dr. Njoroge Mungai - Minister for Health and Housing, 1963.

After independence, Dr. Mungai was a key figure in the implementation of Kenya’s first constitution.

Mr. J.J.M. Nyagah - Minister for Education, 1963.

In addition to Minister for Education, Nyagah served in several capacities. He was elected to the Legco in a by-election, caused by the creation of a new constituency, following negotiations with the British colonial government to increase African representation.

Mr. J.D. Otiende - Minister for Health and Housing, 1963.

Mr. Jackson Angaine - Minister for Lands and Settlement in 1964.

Mr. Timothy Chokwe - Minister for Works and Communication in 1964.

He was the first Speaker of the Senate.

Dr. J.G Kiano - Minister for Labour in 1964.

Honorable Ronald Ngala (1923–1972), President, Kenya African Democratic Union (KANU)

Mr. Ngala was a Kenyan politician and statesman who was a leader of the Kenya African Democratic Union political party from its creation in 1960 until its dissolution in 1964.

KADU was founded in 1960 by several leading politicians who refused to join Jomo Kenyatta's Kenya African National Union (KANU). [Source: Wikipedia]

Stanley Oleitiptip (d.1985) - when he was a Member of Parliament, 1964.

Oloitipitip rose to become a Minister in the Kenyan government, but was later sentenced to a year in prison for tax evasion. For decades he was unaware of Kenyan prison conditions, until his incarceration.

Mr. Lawrence Sagini - Minister for Local Government in 1966.

Sagini belonged to the Mwabogonko clan, which traces its roots to Nyakundi, a fearless warrior who confronted the British expeditionary forces.
[source: Kenya Yearbook]

The Honorable Musa Amelemba

Mr. Amelemba was a Kenyan Member of Parliament. He became the first African to be appointed as a Cabinet Minister.

Mr. James Gichuru - Minister of Finance in 1967.

The Honorable William Odongo Omamo - Member of Parliament in 1967.

Bruce Mackenzie (1919-1978)

Mackenzie was the only White member of Kenya's Cabinet after independence. He served as Minister of Agriculture in President Jomo Kenyatta's administration. He died in 1978 in a plane crash allegedly ordered by Idi Amin for his role in freeing the Israeli hostages in Entebbe.

Dr. Josphat Karanja was the Vice President of Kenya from 1988 to 1989.

Charles Njonjo as Registrar General in 1956.

Sir Charles Mugane Njonjo was a lawyer who later became Kenya's first Attorney General (1963-1979), and later was appointed Minister of Constitutional Affairs (1980-1983). In 1998 he was appointed Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Mr. Daniel Moi as a member of the Legislative Council in 1962.

Moi was the longest serving President of Kenya, serving for 24 years (1978-2002).

Moi with American Counsel, Mr. R. Frend, and the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Mr. W.D. Gregg in 1961.

Jomo Kenyatta: Founding Father of Kenya
The first Prime Minister of a self ruling Kenya, the first president of the Republic of Kenya and considered the founding father of the nation. Jomo Kenyatta was considered a Pan-Africanist, and one of the most pro-British of the African leaders despite the fact that he was imprisoned from 1952-1959 by the British court for his anti-colonialist activities. Throughout his years in leadership roles, first as the Prime Minister (1963-64) and then President until his death in 1978, he followed a policy of political consolidation. He engaged with European governments and the U.S., and saw Kenya's entrance to the United Nations. Kenyatta during his long tenure is credited with implementing post-colonial land reform, governmental institutions, and driving the development of capitalist infrastructure, and creating economic stability. 

June 1, 1963. Internal self government is attained, and Kenya's first Prime Minister, Jomo Kenyatta, tours Nairobi streets to the acclaim of the people.

Kenyatta, Governor Malcolm MacDonald and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia inspecting a guard of honour.

Jomo Kenyatta with President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

President Kenyatta with Siad Barre, the President of Somalia.

Canadian High Commissioner McGill in State House with President Kenyatta.

Jomo with Macdonald and T.R.D.C. Director.

President Kenyatta (centre) with senior army officers at the Armed Forces Training College, Lanet.

Leaders from Kenya African National Union [KANU] at a national executive meeting at Nakuru held on July 27, 1968. The meeting was presided by President Kenyatta in his capacity as President of the party.

President Kenyatta announces his new Cabinet and Assistant Ministers at State House, Nairobi on October 31, 1974.

President swearing in Mr. Justice William Wambuzi as a judge of the Court of Appeal at State House, Nairobi on October 26, 1977.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta laying the foundation stone of the Senior Chief Koinange Memorial Girls High School on < March 30, 1974.

President Kenyatta during the opening of Kenya Commercial Bank, Moi Avenue on December 8, 1970.

Looking on is Mr John Michuki, the bank's chairman and CEO. He later became a powerful Minister.

President Kenyatta receives a cheque of Kshs 645.50 from the minister of Education, Mr. Mbiyu Koinange. Cheque presented on behalf of Aga Khan Nursery School.

President Kenyatta thanks members of the partners group of dancers from Greece which entertained him at his Gatundu home on October 22, 1977.

President Kenyatta addressing a huge crowd which welcomed him on arrival from the Coast Province.

President Kenyatta is pictured addressing wananchi in Kwale District when he visited on August 25, 1977.

President Kenyatta wearing traditional dress.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta at the University of Nairobi graduation ceremony.

President Kenyatta in his office.

Mzee Kenyatta whispers to President Moi, the then Vice-President.

The First Family in Mombasa on a holiday in 1978, where Mzee Kenyatta passed on peacefully in his sleep on August 22nd.

Mzee Kenyatta, pictured with his wife Mama Ngina and their five-year-old son, Uhuru.

Kenya National Archives
Credits: Story

Research and curation:
1. Martin K. Maitha
2. Magunga Williams Oduor, who runs Kenya's digital creative writing space Magunga .
3. Belva Digital team.

Texts and Images:
Kenya National Archives.

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