In Summary
  • In 1950, Richard Macharia offered a room in the building to the Kenya African Union, which became its Nairobi branch office.
  • The Mau Mau did not take kindly to the call for its demise. Kenyatta was summoned to Kiburi House and warned against criticising the militant group.

Kirinyaga Road is the path of transit for many Nairobians as they enter or leave the Central Business District, packed in matatus.

It is also the automobile spare part hub of the city, with many cars whizzing by day in day out.

Little do they know that the most important building in the country’s fight for independence is nestled along this road, a one-storey tale of the first building owned by an indigenous Kenyan man in the history of Nairobi that inspired the emancipation of a nation from colonial rule.

Kiburi House, described by trade unionist Bildad Kaggia in a 1971 issue of DRUM magazine, spelled ‘dread and fear for the colonial authorities’, it was a physical statement of defiance and a reminder that Kenyans would eventually reclaim their property.

In 1948, the Kenya Fuel and Bark Supplying Company did exactly that. Founded on May 2, 1946, the company, then chaired by Kiburi wa Thumbi, is one of the first limited liability companies owned by indigenous Kenyans as well.

Prominent shareholders of the company include the late Jomo Kenyatta, Wahu Kenyatta, Peter Muigai Kenyatta and Uhuru Kenyatta, listed as a transferee in his youth.

The company acquired the building for Sh8,000 and named it after the founding chairman.

Kaggia writes that in 1950/51, their managing director, Richard Macharia, offered a room to the Kenyan African Union (KAU) that became their branch office.

The Transport and Allied Workers Union soon moved into the building as well. This transformed it into a hub of trade union and political activity.

MEETING PLACE

Interestingly, the house became a meeting place for Africans visiting Nairobi.

A female trade unionist saw the opportunity and opened an eating kiosk, where people could get “tea, gruel and roast meat” (nyama choma).

Politicians and trade unionists alike from all over the country communed at this establishment, as news of KAU’s achievements spread.

The building also became the centre of the Mau Mau movement. As Bildad Kaggia documented, KAU meetings would take place in the evening and thereafter, the most prominent initiated leaders of KAU would begin their meetings to discuss the growth of the movement and the administering of oaths.

Meetings of the Mau Mau War Council also took place here.

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