During the colonial days and the struggle for independence or democratic rule, two court trials of leaders hit world headlines. First was the trial of Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, second was that of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Let us recollect the trial of Kenyatta to begin with.
In 1952, I was working for a shipping company in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Weekly, I followed through reading the Tanganyika Standard dramatic events taking place in neighbouring Kenya. About the middle of 1952, newspapers started publishing regularly of Africans belonging to the Kikuyu tribe being arrested for taking part in the oaths of a secret movement called Mau Mau. The oaths were wooded thus:
If you are sent to go and kill a white man and you refuse, may this oath kill you. If you are sent to go and steal the whiteman’s property and you refuse may this oath kill you.
Jomo Kenyatta, president of the Kenya African Union (Kanu) himself a Kikuyu was reported as having several times denounced the Mau Mau oaths. The Government of Kenya and white farmers of the so-called white highlands did not trust Kenyatta’s sincerity.
About September that year, the Tanganyika Broadcasting Station and the Tanganyika Standard, published sensational news that hundreds of Kikuyu had invited white-owned farms and killed countless stock as well as a few farmers who had been caught napping. In October 1952 the government of Kenya declared a state of emergency and arrested Jomo Kenyatta and five or six members of the executive committee of Kanu.
Kenyatta was well-known worldwide. In 1920 bearing the name Johnstone Kamau, he had gone to the United Kingdom as leader of thr Kikuyu Central Association to plead for the restoration of land to the Kikuyu which had been alienated to white people. The colonial office received him, but took no action because the white settlers were too influential.
Kenyatta remained there and attended the Londo School of Economics (LSE) studying political science and anthropology. While there, he wrote a seminar book, Facing Mount Kenya, which described Kikuyu culture and the problems the Kikuyu were facing. Before the Second World War broke out, he travelled to almost every country in Europe, including Russia.
In 1945, he co-chaired the second meeting of the Pan-African Congress held in Europe. This organisation was founded by West Indians of African descent but was mostly led by Dr Du Bois, an African American who co-chaired the meeting in Manchester. The secretary of the meeting was Kwame Nkrumah and one of the influential delegates was Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Nyasaland (now Malawi).
Due to his high reputation, many people rallied behind Kenyatta. From Britain came one of the most brilliant lawyers of the time called D. N. Pritt to lead the defence; from Nigeria came Kenyatta’s former associate in Britain, Hezekiah Oladipo Davies; from India came a lawyer by the name Kapila who reportedly briefed Prime Minister Nehru; Kwame Nkrumah, now Prime Minister of the Gold Coast (not yet Ghana) sent two lawyers whom were sent away.
The trial took place in a remote part of Kenya called Kapenguria. To the brilliant defence presented by Pritt, Kenyatta added his own. The deputy public prosecutor wanted to prove that Kenyatta, despite having denounced the Mau Mau, was actually its manager and having visited Russia, he had returned with revolutionary ideas. When the prosecutor said in telling the Mau Mau men to kill the organisation and bury it, Kenyatta actually meant the movement should be strictly underground. To other insinuations, Kenyatta retorted: “You are after my blood my friend.”
When challenged why he had not rejoiced when a Mau Mau member was arrested, Kenyatta replied: “If whenever a member of the Kenyan African Union died, I wept, I would soon be dead myself.”
In his well-stocked personal library, the detective found a book called The Black Man’s Burden which the prosecutor said was subversive, Kenyatta admitted he stocked such a book. It is a good book written by Edward D. Morel and I recommend it to you if you want to know the plight of the African.
Though no irrefutable evidence was arraigned against Kenyatta, he and his associates were sentenced to seven years in prison. Kenyatta was about 63 years old. In prison, he served as a cook for his fellow prisoners while the rest broke stones.
About two years after receiving the sentence, a Kikuyu man called Macharia, who had given evidence against Kenyatta approached all leading newspapers in the United Kingdom with the story that the government of Kenya had given him money and promised him a well-paid job in TGanganyika to give false evidence. He asked each newspaper for money for this disclosure, he got nothing. He was arrested, charged with perjury and was imprisoned for 18 months.
In 1962, Kenyatta was released. In 1963, he became Kenya’s first president still dissociating himself from the Mau Mau movement which had brought more bloodshed among the Kikuyu themselves than the white whom it had targeted.
But was he really innocent of the arrest and imprisonment? Either at the beginning of this century or the end of the last magazines in Britain and the United States published reviews of two books, one by a Briton and the other by an American which revealed that the judge who presided at Kenyatta’s trial had received a two thousand pounds sterling bribe from settlers to convict Kenyatta whatever the evidence.
Since those books were written by a Briton and an American, rather than Kenyans, there is no reason we should not take them as gospel truth. After all, in their publications settlers used to depict Kenyatta as a devil incarnate.
On his part, Kenyatta emerged from his prison life without bitterness. He took no reprisal against anyone, not even against fellow Kikuyu who had been bribed to bear false evidence against him.