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Family that helped Kenyatta ascend to Presidency complains of neglect

The family of a former colonial chief whose kin vacated his parliamentary seat for former President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to ascend to the presidency has complained of being neglected by the state despite the sacrifice.

Senior Chief Njiiri wa Karanja family from Kinyona in Murang’a County says they have never benefited from the sacrifice despite playing a key role in giving birth to the Kenyatta regime and the Kikuyu community to ascend to power.

Chief Njiiri, very powerful during the colonial era and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta were longtime friends and had a very strong bond, believed to be from their fathers Ngengi wa Mungai and Karanja wa Njiiri, who hailed from Ngenda village in Murang’a County before settling in Gatundu South, Kiambu County and Kigumo in Murang’a respectively.

He is said to have convinced his son, Kariuki Njiiri, a first time member of Parliament of Kigumo constituency to relinquish his seat for Mzee Kenyatta to allow him join the Legislative Assembly (Legco) in 1961.

According to Charles Karanja, 85, a son to Chief Njiiri, Mzee Kenyatta was a close friend to the family and visited them often.

He in fact, helped to educate Kariuki, when he was the Principal, Kenya Teachers College in Githunguri, before helping him further his studies in India, Cairo in Egypt and the Lincoln University in the United States.

After studies, Kariuki returned to Kenya in the mid-1950s and in 1958, took an interest in the Kigumo parliamentary seat, which he won.

Former President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (front) with friends including Kariuki Njiiri (next to him holding a shield) during an event. Kariuki relinquished his Kigumo parliamentary seat for Kenyatta in 1961, allowing him to become a Legco member before rising to Prime Minister and eventually President in 1963.

“As a family, we were very happy when he won. We now had double power. We knew the area would be developed and that we would get big government jobs,” said Karanja.

However, the celebration would be short-lived, as the country’s politics was changing after the announcement that Mzee Kenyatta would be released from detention.

Kenyatta and five others had been held captive in Kapenguria after being charged with managing Mau Mau, a radical movement that tried to push the British administration out of Kenya.

“The British administration made sure Kenyatta missed the 1961 elections, before they released him. However, since everybody knew that he would be released that year, the ground had been prepared.

All parliamentary aspirants campaigned with the promise that they will relinquish their seat for Mzee Kenyatta once he is released,” he adds.

However, Karanja says after he was released in August that year, none of those who had promised to vacate their seat for Mzee did so.

He says constitutionally, only MPs from areas where Mzee had interests or a cosmopolitan constituency like Nairobi were obliged to vacate their seat.

“Among those that were targeted were Tom Mboya of Nairobi and James Gichuru and Mbiyu Koinange of Kiambu. None was keen to leave their seats. In fact, some felt challenged if Kenyatta went to Legco,” he adds.

“Time was running out for Mzee to join Legco and the situation looked doomed for him, forcing Chief Njiiri to convince his son Kariuki to vacate his seat for Kenyatta,” he says.

“The negotiations were done first in our house in the presence of me, Kariuki the MP, my father and Mzee Kenyatta and a few of his handlers. That is how we handed power. Mzee Kenyatta said he would come officially for a ceremony after the dust settled, but that was that,” he adds.

Njiiri had to convince the colonial government that Kenyatta hailed from Murang’a, before Kariuki would be allowed to relinquish his seat for him.

Kenyatta then became the Kigumo MP and from June 1963 to December 1963, he was the first Prime Minister and then became the first President of independent Kenya.

He claimed had Kariuki not vacated his seat for Kenyatta, the meteoric rise of Kenyatta to the presidency would have been doomed.

Kariuki got back the seat in 1963 and served as an assistant minister in Kenyatta’s government until 1969 elections when he lost the seat.

He died in 1975 following a road accident at Juja, a year after his father’s death. Three years later Kenyatta followed him to the grave.

His relatives feel the friendship and the strong bond that existed between the families was lost after the death of the three.

Nahason Karanja, another son of Chief Njiiri, says the Kenyatta family and the Kikuyu community owes them a lot for helping bring the presidency to Central Kenya.

He says despite the bold move by one of their own, the family has at no time been recognized during national events. “Whatever my brother did has never happened in this country at all. No one can vacate an MPs position for another person given the favours therein. But where are the fruits,” he posed.

He called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to rekindle the friendship the two families had, saying it would have been their wish if they were alive that they are close.

Kariuki’s son Njiiri wishes to meet the President to rekindle the friendship.

By Charles Muoki

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