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Saturday, August 22, 2015

President Uhuru marks 37th anniversary amid fresh clamour for Jomo Kenyatta's mausoleum to be open to the public

President Uhuru Kenyatta will today walk to Kenya's most secure grave to honour the life and times of the man who sired him and gave him a big name which together with political serendipity have opened many political doors for him.
The President who was born to power and who now rules Kenya plans to carry flowers for his father's grave, pay his respects and then attend mass at the nearby Holy Family Minor Basilica, according to State House.



The pavement to the mausoleum is made of concrete slabs. On each side of the pavement just inside the gate there are 22 evenly spaced flagpoles, 11 on each side about two metres apart. The poles always fly flags of Kenya. The flags in nearly every other place can afford to fade or even tear as they submit to the weather elements, but these ones always look new.
As you enter through the black gate made of metal grills, just past the flowerless bougainvillea hedge, you will count five little palm trees to your left, and two to your right. If you look at the top of the entrance to the mausoleum, you will not fail to notice the two black sculptures of lions spaced on each side of the entrance.

Today, Kenyatta, his family, invited guests including some members of his Cabinet will walk on a red carpet, get the flowers from military officers in ceremonial wear, and lay those on base of the mausoleum made of glass, glittering marble and stone.





It will not be the first time that the Head of State and his family will be walking to the military-protected mausoleum of Kenya's founding President Jomo Kenyatta. It is a journey he has made with near-religious regularity for nearly four decades, but this will be the first time that he will be going there when there's a live clamour to open the mausoleum to the public.

In Kenya's National Assembly, the MP for Malava, Mr Moses Malulu Injendi has filed a motion seeking the resolution of the House to open the mausoleum to the public. The bid has been in the waiting list for the past six months. In it, the MP wants a memorial building to be erected to teach the country about its first post-independence Prime Minister and the President.


The MPs point is that for now, 33 million Kenyans are below 35 years, meaning that they never saw Kenyatta who died 37 years ago, and if there's anything they know about the big man, then it was gleaned from books, newspapers, and documentaries. The MP wants these Kenyans, tourists and academics to have free access to the Masouleum. He wants it to be a repository of research for Kenyans; an archive with everything about Kenyatta.

"...concerned that despite the clamour over the years for the mausoleum to be opened to the public and possibly be a tourist attraction, no steps have been taken in this regard; further concerned that 70 per cent of Kenya's population is below the age of 40 years, to whom Jomo Kenyatta remains a distant historical figure with whom they have little or no connection despite his importance in Kenya's history; this House resolves that the Government creates the Jomo Kenyatta National Memorial at the current mausoleum similar to the one of the founding President of the United States of America (USA), George Washington, where archival information of his life and his remains will be open to public viewing," reads the motion that the MP tabled in the House mid-February this year.


Statistics from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that 33.1 million Kenyan are aged 35 years and below.


If you ask the Clerk of the Senate, Jeremiah Nyegenye, what plans the Parliamentary Service Commission has for the mausoleum, he will tell you that for now, it is "secured to prevent desecration". 


Nyegenye, who is also the Secretary and Chief Executive of the Parliamentary Service Commission, has developed a constant answer to media enquiries about off-limits grave.


"No concrete proposals have been made for the mausoleum to be made more accessible to the public, perhaps making it a museum. This is something that may be considered for the future," said Nyegenye in an email conversation yesterday with The Standard on Saturday (actually me).

In Kenya's capital Nairobi, the shadow of Jomo Kenyatta, the founding President of the country looms large 37 years after his death on August 22, 1978. The towering Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), a landmark of Nairobi faces the gate to the mausoleum. With a decent pair of binoculars, you can stand on the helipad of the KICC and get a clear view of the gravesite. 

On the grounds of KICC, there's a huge sculpture of Kenyatta, in a robe and his flywhisk. It is the enduring image, apart from that face on banknotes and coins.


The name Jomo Kenyatta is big in Pan-African and revolutionary circles. Celebrity reggae musician Winston Rodney, whose stagename is Burning Spear, is said to have picked that stagename from a moniker that some historians gave to Kenyatta senior.

 The late Joseph Hill of the group Mighty Culture sang about Kenyatta senior and even named his son, Kenyatta Hill, after Kenya's founding father.


NB: A severely edited version of this story appeared here.

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