Jomo Kenyatta would have been sent to exile in Ghana three years before Kenya’s independence if efforts by pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah had succeeded, documents from the British Prime Minister’s office show.
Concerned by the inhumane conditions in which Mr Kenyatta was being held in Lodwar by the colonial government, Dr Nkrumah, then the President of Ghana, privately asked British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan to transfer the Kenyan independence hero to Ghana.
Dr Nkrumah was in London to attend the Commonwealth prime ministers’ conference on May 2, 1960.
Mr McMillan, however, gave the offer a guarded welcome and instead advised Dr Nkrumah to discuss the matter with the British Colonial secretary Iain Mcleod — a task the Ghanaian leader delegated to his Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Ebenezer Ako Adjei.
According to the declassified documents, the two government officials held a meeting on May 23, 1960 during which Mr Mcleod asked Dr Adjei to thank Dr Nkrumah for his offer and also promised him that he would consult the Governor of Kenya, Sir Patrick Renison.
This offer was eventually rejected by the Governor of Kenya who stated that “there could be no question of allowing Kenyatta to go into exile in Ghana or anywhere else at present”.
According to the documents the colonial authorities feared that “Kenyatta’s establishment in Ghana would tend very strongly towards the presentation of both Kenyatta and Mau Mau as legitimate form of African nationalism”, something the colonialists wanted to prevent at all costs.
Mr Macleod, therefore, directed that this decision should be communicated orally to the Ghanaian Government through Sir Arthur Snelling, the British High Commissioner to Accra, as follows: “As he undertook to Mr Ako Adjei, he (Mr Macleod) has consulted the Governor of Kenya who is most grateful for the offer of the Ghana Government to receive and look after Jomo Kenyatta but regrets that he cannot take advantage of it because of the serious security repercussions which any change in Kenyatta’s present status would bring.”
Mr Macleod also gave instructions that a copy of the statement by the colonial Governor of Kenya on May 10, 1960 — in which the he reaffirmed his decision to continue holding Mr Kenyatta by outlining the dangers he posed to Kenya — be given to Ghanaian Government.
The Governor’s statement was in response to a petition calling for Mr Kenyatta’s release presented to him at Government House in April 1960.
Three weeks after receiving the petition Governor Renison stated that: “The case of each person under restriction is regularly reviewed. Government policy remains as previously stated that no person will be released while he is a danger to security. The Governor remains of the view that in prevailing circumstances, the release of Jomo Kenyatta would be a danger security.”
He reiterated that Jomo Kenyatta was the recognised leader of the non-cooperation movement which organised the Mau Mau, perhaps in reference to the Kenya African Union.
He concluded the statement by asking leaders who were campaigning for the release for Mr Kenyatta to ponder deeply about what he had earlier said about light and darkness and what the colonial Government was trying to do for Africans and other people living in Kenya, adding that his concern was “security and a full stop to the use of violence, witchcraft and intimidation for political or any other ends. From the security viewpoint, I think that Jomo Kenyatta’s return to political life in Kenya at the moment time would be a disaster.”
A copy of the above statement and the oral message from the colonial secretary were delivered by British officials to junior officials at the Ghanaian ministry of foreign Affairs in July 1960 after Minister for Foreign Affairs refused to meet them claiming he was on sick leave while his assistant minister claimed he was outside Ghana.
Although Dr Nkrumah’s offer was rejected, sustained pressure from different world leaders, the United Nations and civil right movements forced the colonial government to soften its stance on Mr Kenyatta’s release.
On February 21, 1961 the colonial secretary informed the cabinet chaired by the British Prime Minister that although Mr Kenyatta had completed his sentence, the Governor of Kenya saw it necessary to keep him under restriction for his release could prejudice political developments and security especially with the upcoming elections.
He, however, told the cabinet that Governor Renison did not think that Kenyatta should be kept under restriction for long and for that reason he had already arranged for him to be moved to a healthier but remote location in to erode “the exaggerated public conception of his significance”.
The cabinet unanimously supported this proposal by the colonial governor although there were fears that the transfer of Mr Kenyatta to a remote place was likely to be criticised internationally and also boost his influence.
In April 1961, Mr Kenyatta was transferred from Lodwar to Maralal where a two-bedroom permanent house had been built for him.
In readiness for his arrival, the colonial Government had posted Dr De Carvallo at Maralal Hospital and gave him a house nearby.
Before moving to Maralal Hospital, Dr Carvallo who was the Medical officer at Eldoret Hospital had complained to his senior asking why he was being sent to such a remote place.
Little did he know that apart from his new role as the medical officer Maralal Hospital he had also been appointed as a doctor to Mr Kenyatta and his family.
Mr Kenyatta had more freedom at Maralal than Lodwar. He had a Somali bodyguard and his home was guarded round the clock by two policemen.
On July 25, 1961 the colonial secretary presented a memorandum proposing his release before the cabinet.
He informed the Cabinet that colonial policy committee had already approved a proposal made by the Governor of Kenya that Mr Kenyatta be transferred on August 1961 to Kiambu where a house was already being built for him and that all restrictions imposed on him should be lifted shortly after his arrival.
The decision to build Mr Kenyatta a house angered some members of the central province advisory council, who maintained that neither the house nor the land should be handed over to Mr Kenyatta as a gift .
They argued that “a dangerous precedent would be set and other ex-detainees would claim similar privileges from the Government.” They were of the opinion that if the house had to be given to Mr Kenyatta as a gift then it should be handed through Ronald Ngala by pretending it was a gift from the Kenya African Democratic Union. But the group was assured that both the land and the house would remain government property.
Mr Kenyatta was transferred to Kiambu in August 1961 and set free shortly after the restriction order imposed on him was revoked by the colonial government.
The next hurdle on his path to leadership was a prohibition in the colonial constitution which disqualified anybody who had served a prison sentence of more than two years from contesting in an election.
The colonialists were so keen on using it to avoid Mr Kenyatta’s leadership at all cost by delaying any amendment or revocation which would allow him to join the Legislative Council. According to “Minute 6” of the British cabinet meeting held on July 27, 1961 they feared that “if the prohibitions were revoked Kenyatta would shortly be elected to the legislature and it might then be difficult to resist pressure for his appointment as Chief Minister.”
Mr Kenyatta would, however, eventually join the LegCo in 1962 after Kariuki Njiiri stepped down for him.
The writer is a researcher and journalist based in London