Help me figure out how one can go straight to university without ever passing through Secondary school. Much as that may sound impossible, it was the reality for Mzee Jomo Kenyatta the “founding father of Kenya”.
Unlike other previous presidents who went through secondary schools and later joined higher education institutions, the Late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s story is an exception.
Here is a short story of how our first president ended up joining university without going through secondary school.
In his Autobiography about Kenyatta, Jeremy Murray-Brown notes that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta completed basic mission schooling from Thogoto in Kikuyu where he studied the Bible (but was later an agnostic despite his family being front-pew Catholics), mathematics and carpentry.
Masonry was reserved for brighter students, but Jomo was condemned to the less mentally-exerting woodwork that enabled him to become an apprentice carpenter in a Thika sisal farm under John Cook in 1912.
Kenyatta received no secondary education. But good old Jomo had academic forays from University College of London and the London School of Economics (LSE) after leaving Kenya in 1929.
How Did He manage to do This?
20 years after leaving Thogoto, the future president enrolled at the Fircroft Working Men’s College for a year’s bridging course and to “improve his English.”
William McGregor Ross, former Director of Publics in the Kenya Colony, later assisted his admission and fee payment at Woodbooke Quaker College in Birmingham, England in 1931.
University of the Toiler’s of the East came next before studies were terminated after only a year in the Soviet Union where his mind got impervious to communist ideologies in 1933.
Bruce J Berman informs us in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that Kenyatta returned to England and became a linguistic informant at University College in London. Here, he worked on Arthur Ruffell Barlow’s, English-Kikuyu Dictionary, and Lilias.
Armstrong’s, The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Kikuyu, for which the publishers wrote that Kenyatta was an “interested, patient and critical native assistant.”
In 1935, Prof Bronislaw Malinowski, the world eminent anthropologist, wrote a recommendation letter to the London School of Economics, where Kenyatta was transferred as his personal student!
Kenyatta studied social anthropology, fervently arguing in favor of FGM with Louis Leakey, who rebuffed his position in flawless Kikuyu to the amusement of students, including the visiting Elspeth Huxley, author of Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of African Childhood.
After four years at LSE, Kenyatta published Facing Mt Kenya as a revised version of his post-graduate diploma thesis in 1938.
Facing Mt Kenya, where the name Jomo Kenyatta first appeared, was edited by his roommate, Dinah Stock, the Secretary of the British Centre Against Imperialism. The future teacher in India paid rent since Kenyatta the student was often rock bottom broke!
Dinah, who sent Kenyatta books while he was cooling colonial porridge in Kapenguria, was a State guest during Uhuru celebrations in 1963.
Prof Malinowski wrote in the foreword of Kenyatta’s magnum opus: “It is one of the first really competent and instructive contributions to African ethnography by a scholar of pure African parentage.”
I still cannot get over the fact that mzee could not qualify for masonry classes!!