I recently sent a letter of enquiry to the West Sussex Gazette, which appeared in the edition of June 6 1996. It reads as follows:
“Dear Sir: On behalf of somebody who is researching the life of Jomo Kenyatta, I have been asked to find out what I can about the wartime years he spent in West Sussex before he returned to Kenya in 1946. The knowledge I have is fairly limited, and I am hoping to appeal to readers who may have known him during his time in this county.
The sum of my knowledge is this: Kenyatta came to England in 1929 as official spokesman for his people, the Kikuyu, to try and redress their grievances against the colonial government. He stayed in England for the next 17 years, during which time he studied anthropology at the University of London and wrote his acclaimed book ‘Facing Mount Kenya’, which was published in 1938.
The outbreak of war prevented Kenyatta returning home. In 1940, he came down to Sussex where he found work at AG Linfield and Sons, market gardeners, at Thakeham. He was initially put to work in the tomato hot-houses.
During this time he lived in the neighbouring village of Storrington, where I believe he married a local girl. They had a son, Peter, who eventually went to live in Kenya. He was something of a novelty to the local people, who affectionately called him ‘Jumbo’. I also believe he travelled up to London one day a week to continue his studies.
I remember my grandfather telling me years ago that he had Kenyatta over to lunch on a number of occasions, when they discussed politics among other things. I don’t expect they always agreed on everything! My grandfather gave me a book which Kenyatta had written and given him – it is called ‘My People of Kikuyu’ and is inscribed inside the front cover: “To AG Linfield. With best wishes, Jomo Kenyatta. 17-4-42.
If any of your readers have any interesting recollections of Kenyatta, then I shall be delighted to hear from them.”
Although the number of letters I received was small, they were all of interest, so my appeal to the WSG had not been in vain. They certainly added to my knowledge of this fairly controversial figure. His connection with my family has always fascinated me, and since he is therefore a part of my family history, I have decided to write this article about him.
Perhaps the most interesting letter came from the daughter of Roy Armstrong, with whom Kenyatta lived as a paying tenant during the war years. I went to see her and she showed me where Jomo had his vegetable plot in their large garden. I had always thought that Jomo actually lived in the village of Storrington, whereas, in fact, he lived in the Sandgate area, some 2 miles to the east of the village – heathland and beautiful wooded countryside, with spectacular views of the South Downs. Apparently, Jomo felt quite at home here, since the similarities with his homeland were quite striking. During his visit to England in 1963 when he attended the Lancaster House Conference in London, now as prime minister of Kenya, Jomo made a special trip with his cabinet to visit the Armstrongs.
Apparently I made a couple of mistakes in my letter to the WSG. Kenyatta’s English wife came from Ashington and was called Edna Clarke. She was a fellow lecturer in the WEA, which is how she came to meet Jomo. They had a son, Peter, born in 1943, but he never settled in Kenya, as I incorrectly stated, and works as a researcher/journalist for the BBC. Jomo had another son in Kenya, whom he also called Peter, which is what led to my confusion!
As general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), Kenyatta was sent to London as their official representative on 17 February 1929. Despite the reports of a number of Royal Commissions sent to Kenya in the 1920s, the KCA still felt strongly that their grievances had not being properly addressed. By sending their official spokesman to the very heart of the British Empire, they now felt that they possibly stood a better chance of obtaining concessions. Incidentally, Jomo may well have been introduced to my grandfather’s uncle, Frederick Caesar Linfield (1861-1939) who, as a Liberal Member of Parliament, was a member of the Parliamentary Commission sent to East Africa in 1924.
Since colonisation in the 1890s, the deprivation of their land in ever increasing amounts was to become the major grievance of the Kikuyu. By 1904, large numbers of white settlers had been allocated farm areas in central Kikuyuland, and by 1905 some 11,000 Kiambu Kikuyu alone had lost 60,000 acres. Many were forced to work as cheap labour on the European farms, which was particularly degrading for a traditionally independent people. White settlement in Kiambu effectively blocked the possible expansion of the Kikuyu and closed the southern frontier. The closing of the frontier was of great importance in the 1930s, when population pressures, limited resources and opportunities led to a growing sense of despair among the people. Their inability to redress their economic, social and political grievances through their political organisations (the Kikuyu Association was formed in 1920) only added to the intensity of their frustrations.
Evicted Kikuyu were forced to migrate to the towns, where growing unemployment aggravated their problems and sense of despair. Barriers were also erected to stifle all African aspirations to advancement and to positions of prestige and status in the white market economy. Thus the African was forbidden to cultivate cash crops like coffee, tea, sisal and pyrethrum. The role of the African was essentially limited to that of a low wage earner.
Throughout the colonial period in Kenya, the cultural traditions of the Kikuyu were also challenged by the whites. The Kikuyu had their own religion, superstitions and ceremonial circumcision or initiation rites; they also believed in the spiritual presence of ancestors. But the Europeans made little effort to understand Kikuyu customs and condemned them out of hand. The missions were a major source of Kikuyu resentment because they demanded a total transformation without compromise. But from about 1923, the aims and motives of the missionary churches were increasingly questioned by the Kikuyu people – their authority was no longer regarded as sacrosanct.
This was the background to Kenyatta’s visit to England in 1929, his objective being to take his people’s complaints to the very top. His trip was financed by a group of Indian merchants, who saw the potential of sending the articulate and persuasive Kenyatta to the centre of British politics. Unfortunately, perhaps not surprisingly at the time, Kenyatta found himself facing something of a brick wall; while there were plenty of people who were sympathetic and interested, the colonial office refused to even see him. Nevertheless, a meeting with Drummond Shiels (British colonial under-secretary) in 1930 proved particularly prophetic; he argued that to “refuse to see or hear emissaries of the discontented” would only drive them towards “violent methods” (Ref. 1) Kenyatta returned briefly to Kenya in October 1930, since the Indians were no longer willing to support him. Since he could do more in London than back home, the KCA raised the necessary money to send him back and he left towards the end of 1931, but this time he was to stay away for the next 15 years.
Kenyatta found odd jobs to finance his mission and lived as cheaply as he could. He continued to bombard the Colonial Office with petitions, all of which were ignored. He must have lived a thoroughly frustrating existence, with little to show for his efforts. He achieved some success in 1932 when he managed to persuade the Carter Land Commission to offer compensation to those evicted from their lands by the settlers, although Africans were still to be barred from the choice highlands area. In 1936, he embarked on a course of anthropology at the University of London under Bronislaw Malinowski, at that time arguably the leading expert in his field in England. Malinowski was struck by Kenyatta’s intelligence and true understanding of his people’s culture, and helped prepare his book, mentioned earlier, “Facing Mount Kenya” which came out in 1938. The book was a bestseller, and helped to establish Kenyatta as something of a celebrity who people wanted to meet and talk to. But the book was more than a history of his people’s culture- it was also full of propaganda and attacked the whole colonial system in Kenya.
Kenyatta was now ready to return to Kenya, having at least done much to publicise the grievances of his people to the outside world. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Second World War put paid to his plans, and the world lost interest in African politics as the activities of Hitler and the Nazis dominated the world stage. Unable to return home, he was persuaded by his friend Dinah Stock that they should leave London and stay with friends in the relative safety of the country. They set out to stay with friends near the village of Storrington in West Sussex, and so they arrived at the home of Roy Armstrong, a Southampton University lecturer. The peaceful countryside was, in many ways, a home from home to Kenyatta, with its view of the rolling South Downs, its bracken and silver birches, its woods and farmland. He certainly felt comfortable here, and stayed throughout the duration of the war.
Roy Armstrong rented out the flat in his house to Dinah Stock and Kenyatta in 1939. He was given his own area of scrub to clear where he successfully cultivated his own supply of vegetables and kept some chickens. Armstrong’s daughter, who was a small girl at the time, clearly remembers her fascination for the sweet corn he was growing – it was the first time she had ever seen it! When I went to see her recently, she showed me the site of Kenyatta’s vegetable plot, as well as the silver birch which was his “sacred tree”, through which he communicated with the spirits of his people during his more reflective moments. Mysteriously, perhaps, this tree survived the batterings of the 1987 Hurricane whereas all the trees surrounding it were brought crashing to the ground.
Soon after moving to Sussex, Kenyatta found a job as a farm worker in the locality. In 1940 or 1941, he took a job as a nursery worker at AG Linfield’s Chesswood nurseries in the neighbouring village of Thakeham. He was initially put to work in the tomato glasshouses, although he also worked in many other areas. The shortage of manpower throughout the war years meant he would have done many different jobs during the four or five years he was employed at the family business. Although AG Linfield, under the Chesswood label, has become synonymous with the production of mushrooms, the war years saw a complete cessation of mushroom growing since they were regarded by the Government as a “non-essential luxury devoid of food value”. (Ref. 2). So the cultivation of mushrooms was an area Kenyatta would not have experienced. The strive to produce as much home grown food as possible meant that companies like Linfields had to devote all their energies to the production of vegetables; indoor and outdoor tomatoes were one of their most important crops during this period.
Kenyatta apparently got on well with everybody, and proved to be a helpful and kind worker, willing to come to the aid of anyone who needed a helping hand. He even cooked the beetroot before it was sold. During his time in Sussex, he became friendly with a family in Ashington and it was through them that he met Edna Clarke, a teacher. When her parents were killed in an air raid in May 1941, Kenyatta instinctively offered his help and sympathy and within a year they were married. On 11 August 1943, their son Peter Magana was born in Worthing Hospital. He was named after Kenyatta’s grandfather.
Kenyatta was something of a novelty in the Storrington area. Affectionately known as ‘Jumbo’, he soon settled into Sussex life and was well known in the village. But he was definitely an extraordinary character – flamboyant and gregarious, a showman who delighted in mimicry and whose powers of imagination would hold an audience spellbound as he pretended to stalk and kill a lion. No doubt these exceptional talents helped him to persevere through the long years of frustration and disappointment which he must have endured in England, trying to put the case of his people to a largely unreceptive governing class. He never gave up, and despite numerous setbacks, somehow or other he always managed to keep his dream alive. No doubt, the peaceful Sussex countryside and its close resemblance to his homeland must have been a comfort as well as a reminder of his single-minded purpose. He managed to keep cheerful throughout his wartime exile, a man convinced of his destiny and confident that one day the aspirations of his people would be realised. It was only a matter of time.
To supplement his farmworker’s wage of 4 per week, he was in much demand as a lecturer. Not only did he lecture to British troops under the Forces Educational Scheme, but he also lectured for the Workers Educational Association (WEA), usually about colonial issues. Two of my correspondents had attended some of these lectures: one remembers a meeting which took place at the White Hart, Queen Street, Arundel when Kenyatta was introduced by Arthur Johnson of Coldwaltham, a local NUPE organiser. On this occasion, his lecture was about India and its struggle for independence. On another occasion, on June 24 1942, his theme was “What does Europe want of Africa?” His line, as usual, related to land, oppression and the hardship and misery of the native peoples.
1946-50 Nationalist leader
In September 1946, Kenyatta sailed from Southampton, leaving behind Edna and their child at Thakeham. Once home, as the unquestioned leader of the new nationalism, he soon became fully immersed in Kenyan politics. He had spent sixteen years abroad, mostly in England, campaigning for his people, during which time he wrote a powerful critique of the whole British occupation in Kenya. When he returned home, it was only natural that he was given the leadership of the new Kenya African Union (KAU), a nationalist association which sought to incorporate all the tribes in Kenya. Therefore, he was not solely concerned with the grievances of the Kikuyu. His immediate concern was to build up mass support for the aims of the new party: freedom of speech; universal franchise; equal rights with Europeans; to “defend” all Kenya Africans; and to “fight” for African education, labour, housing and freedom of the press. Obviously, after repeated failure to gain concessions before the war, he now realised that show of strength was the most likely way of achieving reform. So he embarked upon the most intensive political effort of his life: building up the strength of the KAU. In these early post war years, he secured his Kikuyu base first and then worked from it. An early attempt was made to extend his political message to the independent schools. Kenyatta spent much of his time touring the country, addressing meetings, and attracting audiences of some twenty to thirty thousands. These enormous meetings exemplified his personal magnetism and charisma as a leader; he stirred the very emotions of his audience often to a fever-pitch which threatened to explode into action. Yet he always had full control over the situation; essentially, he was an orthodox nationalist leader who wanted to avoid violence as far as possible. Kenyatta’s primary objective was to show the colonial authorities the dangerous consequences of ignoring the new nationalist movement. However, this is not to deny that he was probably prepared to tolerate a certain amount of violence should the government not come to its senses and fail to grant concessions to the nationalists.
1950-61 Kenyatta and the “Mau Mau” rebellion
Kenyatta’s alleged involvement with the “Mau Mau” rebellion during the 1950s has effectively tainted his reputation ever since. Although the meaning of the term remains obscure, we identify “Mau Mau” with “the militant nationalism and the violen
e that characterised the politics of central Kenya before and during the early years of the Emergency” (Ref. 3), which was declared by a frightened government in October 1952. It first made its appearance in 1948, and it was officially proscribed in 1950.
It is important to realise from the start that the phenomenon of “Mau Mau” was restricted to one tribe, the Kikuyu, not surprisingly because they were the most seriously affected by colonisation among the various tribes in Kenya. They had most to complain about; but their many attempts to redress their grievances through the machinery of the colonial state had always failed. The failure of Jomo Kenyatta to gain any concessions after World War II enabled the militants to come to power, and the result was the tragedy of the “Mau Mau” rebellion: with the enormous loss of 13,547 lives (of whom 13,423 were Kikuyu alone).
A typically European interpretation of “Mau Mau” – especially among the colonial government, the missionary leaders and the white settlers – was that it was a fanatical collective madness. Such people were convinced that Kenyatta was the mastermind of a secret tribal cult, led by unscrupulous extremists who stirred up the primitive masses to further their own ambitions. For LSB Leakey, “Mau Mau” had the evil power of “turning thousands of peacekeeping Kikuyu into murderous fanatics.” (Ref. 4). The widespread use of oathing and oathing ceremonies were taken by Kenya’s Europeans to signify an irrational rejection of modernity; due to their primitive intellect, the Kikuyu were considered unable to adapt to rapid change. In reality, “Mau Mau” was the logical outcome of years of mounting frustration and deterioration of life conditions. Allowed no outlet, these frustrations boiled over into the violence that was “Mau Mau” – all European values were turned upside down, and the tribe found “its mystical unity in the re-formed figures of the past.” (Ref. 5)
In effect, “Mau Mau” can be regarded as a post-political type of social movement because it grew out of the repeated failure of the Kikuyu political organizations to gain any reform through the constitutional channels of the colonial government. The younger Kikuyu became increasingly impatient with the lack of progress, especially after World War II. These were the men who formed the backbone of “Mau Mau.” The resort to a post-political solution to their problems seemed the only hope for salvation; and it was reinforced when Kenyatta and the other main Kikuyu political leaders were arrested in October 1952.
Kenyatta’s responsibility for “Mau Mau” has been the subject of a great deal of debate. Was he a moderate forced to take a militant line by the extremists, or was he committed to violence or the threat of violence to gain reform? Certainly, there needs to be a firm distinction drawn between his responsibility for “Mau Mau” and the position bestowed upon him during the rebellion. But far from being responsible for “Mau Mau”, Kenyatta could hardly have supported it even. Its inherently tribal orientation not only threatened to destroy the solidarity he had helped to build up among the Kikuyu but also the years of hard work he had put into building an all-tribe nationalist movement. For fear of domination by a single tribe threatened to break apart the all-tribal unity which Kenyatta sought to pitch against the colonial government.
It is this consideration, I think, which explains Kenyatta’s open condemnation of “Mau Mau” on a number of occasions in 1951 and 1952; many of his opponents said he had his tongue-in-cheek. But he feared that a violent tribal confrontation would destroy what he had already achieved, and his condemnation of “Mau Mau” was probably a warning to the militants to step into line. In all probability, he was not fool enough to believe that an individual tribal revolt could achieve anything like as much as a rationally conceived confrontation which included all the tribes of Kenya. Events proved him wrong; but he was not to know that they would. Kenyatta wanted to coerce the colonial authorities into granting concessions; solidarity among the Kenya Africans was a crucial weapon in his armoury. But a rebellion among the Kikuyu would be easily suppressed, and would lead the government to take immediate action against the nationalist movement as a whole; in effect, extinguishing what he had achieved, and setting back the nationalist movement by years. These were probably his fears.
Unfortunately, Kenyatta lost the initiative to the militants. The evidence tends to suggest that “Mau Mau” evolved from the militant infiltration of Kenyatta’s all-tribe KAU by the old members of the KCA and the young militants of the “Forty group”, who were simultaneously leaders of the new underground movement. In the early post-war years, it was a highly select secret organisation with limited membership. But with the failure of KAU to gain any reform, it underwent a dramatic transformation beginning in 1950 into an underground mass movement. By 1950, the young extremists had given up all hope of finding compromise with the Europeans, and despite his hold over the masses, Kenyatta lost his initiative to the less patient militants. He was powerless to prevent the tragedy of “Mau Mau.” In effect, the government was a major precipitant of “Mau Mau” by failing to grant concessions when it was absolutely necessary.
Kenyatta’s position in the movement is a very interesting one, because whether he liked it or not, he was the acclaimed leader of “Mau Mau.” Oaths were administered in his name and he was claimed to possess divine powers. But he was elevated to this position by the militants who administered the oaths. In effect, he was the figurehead and not the real driving force behind the movement. Kenyatta was a name to be used because he was the most widely known and revered of the Kikuyu nationalists – he had shown his magnetism as a leader at the vast meetings he addressed, and he was surrounded by a mystical aura. So, with or without his approval, he was the “leader” of “Mau Mau” even after his detention.
Even though Kenyatta must have condemned the violence of “Mau Mau” because it essentially involved the horrors of a Kikuyu civil war, he was still regarded as the spiritual leader of the movement. But there was no central direction of operations; “Mau Mau” became the rebellion of semi-educated or illiterate peasants who expressed their frustrations in almost indiscriminate violence. It was not so much directed against the European settlers than against Africans considered to be loyalist to the government. While only about 95 Europeans were killed by “Mau Mau” terrorists, nearly 2000 “loyalist” Kikuyu lost their lives. It would seem that the embittered Kikuyu were more incensed towards the loyalists among their tribe than the people who were directly responsible for their adverse conditions. The tragedy of “Mau Mau” is that it need never have happened – an enlightened government would have seen the folly of continuing to suppress all African aspirations, which made some sort of revolt inevitable.
Of course, in a state of confusion and with no central leadership, it was only a matter of time before the might of the British Army defeated “Mau Mau.” By 1956 the rebellion was over; more than 11,000 Kikuyu had been killed by the security forces. But all had not been in vain; the revolt ensured that change was inevitable in Kenya. The complacency of the colonial government was shattered beyond repair. In 1961, Kenyatta and the other detainees were released; three years later he was President of an independent African state: the Republic of Kenya.
1961-78 Kenyatta the Statesman
Soon after his release, Kenyatta once again set about building the bridges of national unity. As a tribally diverse country, his first imperative was to unify all the tribes of Kenya to fight against the colonial government’s desire to put off the inevitable. Soon he would be back in London again, attending the Kenya Constitutional Conference. It was during these negotiations, that he took time off in October 1963 to revisit old friends in West Sussex. He visited Roy Armstrong at his wartime home at Highover, Bracken Lane, Heath Common, Storrington, complete with limousine, his cabinet and bodyguards! Politics was apparently not one of the subjects they covered. Arthur Johnson of West Chiltington, who knew Kenyatta well during the war years and who lectured with him on anthropology and colonial administration, stated that he “could never believe that he was responsible for those atrocities in Kenya.” His wife said: “We remember him as he was here. We thought he was a very friendly and very nice charming man who was very fond of children and of animals.” (Ref. 6) Mrs FW Eddolls, in charge of the Linfields’ canteen during the war, also said how she found him to be “a very nice and likeable chap” and how she would be very pleased to see him again.
In 1964 Kenya became a republic within the British Commonwealth with Kenyatta its first president. He had come a long way from his days as the friendly, helpful nursery worker at Linfields’ nursery! His first act was to welcome the frightened whites to stay in the country. Despite the nine years he had been kept in detention by the colonial government, he was able to forget his own suffering and offer the hand of reconciliation. He also knew the importance of maintaining stability in Kenya if foreign capital was still to be invested in the new state. Despite the years of violence of “Mau Mau”, Kenya soon became a model of harmony and stability. Foreign investment boomed and the economy flourished.
During 1965, my uncle, Jim Linfield and his family went on holiday to Kenya to stay with his brother-in-law, who had a farm there. During their visit, they were all “summoned” to Nairobi to meet the President and I have a signed photograph of them with Kenyatta. It is dated November 11 1965. Kenyatta had also invited them to his home, but at the last moment it was cancelled by a political crisis when UDI was declared by Ian Smith in Rhodesia.
Kenyatta guided his nation for fourteen years. Although there were several scandals, and he was supposed to have amassed a large fortune, the people of Kenya remained loyal to him and grateful for the lifetime of devotion he had given to the cause of their freedom. His legacy was enormous: when he died on August 22 1978, he left behind a prosperous and peaceful nation, and certainly one of the most stable of the newly independent African states.
The overall picture I have gained about Kenyatta during his wartime years in Sussex is something like this: he was respected as a popular and good lecturer and I have found little evidence of any racism against him. My cousin remembers him as a very cultured and intelligent man who loved children and animals. It would seem that he was generally accepted by his fellow employees and the local people; of course, there was a war on at the time, and people were very much pre-occupied with the national effort to defeat the Nazis. Jomo was undoubtedly a charismatic figure who earned the respect and even affection of the many local people with whom he came into contact.
As for his personal involvement with the “Mau Mau” rebellion, I feel that the evidence speaks for itself. He was essentially a nationalist leader who had spent decades pursuing a peaceful and patient policy to obtain concessions for the people of his homeland. But his apparent lack of success in the face of protracted opposition meant that he lost the initiative to a younger generation of militants unimpressed with his gradual approach and also more determined to achieve change as quickly as possible. As the unquestioned leader of the new national movement and with a charismatic presence, he was effectively elevated to the position of leader of “Mau Mau” whether he liked it or not. The tragedy of “Mau Mau” is that he had long predicted the dire consequences of ignoring the aspirations of the African, but the authorities chose to ignore him. They really should have listened.
1. Jomo Kenyatta by Dennis Wepman (1985), p. 61.
2. History of the MGA (1945-1980) by FC Atkins OBE in The Mushroom Journal, May 1983, p. 164.
3. The Myth of Mau Mau: Nationalism in Kenya by Carl G. Rosberg and John Nottingham p. xvi Introduction.
4. Defeating Mau Mau by LSB Leakey, p. 43.
5. Comment on Corfield Makerere College, Kampala November 1960, p. 37.
6. “Kenyatta invited to West Sussex” in Worthing Herald, 1963.
1. Kenyatta by Jeremy Murray-Brown, 2nd edition 1979.
2. The Myth of Mau Mau: Nationalism in Kenya by Carl G. Rosberg and John Nottingham
3. Jomo Kenyatta by Dennis Wepman, 1985
4. Defeating Mau Mau by LSB Leakey, 1954
5. The Mushroom Journal, May 1983.
6. Comment on Corfield Makerere College, Kampala November 1960.
7. Kenyatta and the Politics of Kenya by Guy Arnold, 1973
8. Worthing Herald, October 1963
9. West Sussex County Times, March 5 1976
10.Kenyatta’s Country by Richard Cox, 1965