In Summary
  • Mzee Kenyatta had died in his sleep while on a working holiday in Mombasa.
  • For the next one week, the country was in mourning.
  • It was on August 31, 1978 that world leaders and delegations converged on Nairobi for the final farewell to one of Africa’s revered statesmen.

It was the darkest hour in Kenya’s history. The country was engulfed in grief following the death of founding President Jomo Kenyatta.

It was the end of an era and the beginning of another that came to be known as Nyayo era.

At exactly 3 pm, the following day Voice of Kenya veteran broadcasters Nobert Okare and Hassan Mazoa went on air to announce the death in English and Kiswahili respectively.

Mzee Kenyatta, they said, had died in his sleep while on a working holiday in Mombasa.

The government’s top machinery led by Head of Public Service Geoffrey Kariithi had been working for a smooth transition of power to Vice-President Daniel arap Moi.

The announcement came as Mr Moi was being sworn in by Chief Justice James Wicks at State House, Nairobi.

For the next one week, the country was in mourning.

The world media and statesmen eulogized Kenyatta as a colossus.

Remembered

The Paris-based International Herald recalled Kenyatta had lived to prove that he was not “a leader to darkness and death” as the colonial government described him.

To the contrary, he was “a statesman of one of Africa’s stable and strongest economies, who Kenyans likened to (founding US President) George Washington.”

The Guardian was more poetic in its editorial pages.

“The death of Jomo Kenyatta leaves the ranks of African politicians a gap the size of a colossus. He gave Kenya tranquility in a turbulent continent.

‘‘His name will be remembered along with that of Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Patrice Lumumba (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Abdel Nasser (Egypt).”

As some Kenyans filed past his coffin made of Africa oak with silver lining inside in State House, Nairobi, they fainted and wept.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, his first Vice-President, with whom they had fallen out politically wept too after saying a prayer in Dholuo.

He put behind memories of his detention to tell the media he did not have differences with the fallen statesman.

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