In Summary
  • Kenyatta had known Murumbi’s organisational skills since the Second Lancaster talks in London, when he managed all the delegates’ appointments and did all the typing required.
  • Murumbi was at a loss as to why Kenyatta had allowed the two to lay siege to the Kanu party and wondered why Kenyatta was failing to intervene.

Despite all the historical bravado that Jomo Kenyatta had inherited a strong and well-organised party, Kanu, some new archival evidence indicates that there was general panic within the party, with insiders worried that Kanu could lose the May 1963 elections.

Political parties have a way of displaying their pseudo unity in public, but at the headquarters they are usually small Towers of Babel.

Let me illustrate with three letters found in Jomo Kenyatta’s personal file.

In January 1963, Mr Kenyatta appointed Joseph Murumbi as Kanu national treasurer and asked him to reorganise the headquarters, which was torn between the Tom Mboya and the Oginga Odinga camps.

Of all things said about Murumbi, nobody could doubt his integrity.

One of the few politicians who could tell Kenyatta off, he took this assignment with a lot of gusto and wrote a report that suggested the lines along which he wished the headquarters could be organised.

He included the estimated cost and handed the report to Kenyatta, who was then eyeing the position of prime minister.

EARNING JOMO'S TRUST

Kenyatta had known Murumbi’s organisational skills since the Second Lancaster talks in London, when he managed all the delegates’ appointments and did all the typing required. He also replied to letters on Kenyatta’s behalf.

It was one incident, now recounted in Karen Rothmyer’s book on Murumbi, that earned him Kenyatta’s trust.

“One day, Mzee had his drawer full of letters which hadn’t been answered. He asked me to take them all out and see what answers I could give. I took all the papers out and I found two bundles of notes, one of them £5 notes. I didn’t know what the amount was but I said, ‘Mzee this money was left in the drawer.’ ‘Oh yes,’ said, ‘I’ve been looking for this money, I didn’t know where it was’.”

Although Murumbi was more of a socialist, this was the beginning of a journey of trust that later culminated in his appointment as vice-president.

Back at the Kanu headquarters, if Murumbi had expected Mboya and Odinga, the two men running the show, to approve the money required to reinvigorate the party, he was shocked.

It now appears that the two did not want Murumbi to politically upstage them and that is when they began to sabotage the party from within.

MURUMBI FRUSTRATED

Murumbi, who easily got fed up, decided to report them to Kenyatta.

“To date,” he wrote to Kenyatta in a secret note dated February 13, 1963, “I have not received a penny for reorganisation… I sincerely appreciate the confidence you have in me and it was my intention to do all in my power to see that the headquarters functioned efficiently.”

But it appears that Murumbi had underestimated the row between Mboya and Odinga and he was caught in between.

He was also at a loss as to why Kenyatta had allowed the two to lay siege to the Kanu party and wondered why Kenyatta was failing to intervene.

In his letter, he told Jomo: “I am really disappointed with you personally and with the (Kanu) Vice-President (Mr Odinga) and Mr Mboya as you all exhibit no desire, particularly when we are faced with an election, to see that the headquarters functioned efficiently.”

He went on: “Yesterday, I met Mr Odinga and asked him whether any funds had been allocated to the headquarters. He told me he had written a note to Mr Mboya and I should find out from Mr Mwangi as to the former’s reply.”

NO ROOM FOR DEBTS

It is not clear which Mwangi Murumbi was referring to, but one of the Kanu insiders then was Mwangi wa Thayu, a youth winger who later became the Kangema MP.

When Mboya was asked about the money, he told Murumbi that he had settled the telephone bill “and I should see to it that the telephones (are) installed”.

But Murumbi was not asking for petty cash, rather he wanted money to help invigorate the party headquarters and scatter the Mboya and Odinga camps.

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