Jomo Kenyatta hated lifts and ‘banned’ Mama Ngina from wearing trousers

Jomo Kenyatta with Mama Ngina their in Gatundu home. 1975

Harambee House is where the Office of the President is situated. But it was meant to house the Ministry of Works after its completion in 1961. That was before President Kenyatta  saw and fell in love with its design and demanded that his office be holed up there. That has been the case ever since.

In fact, when Harambee Avenue was Coronation Second Avenue, the imperialists handed over the government to Kenyatta outside Harambee House in the presence of some 20,000 Kenyans on June 1, 1963 - today celebrated as Madaraka Day, which ushered in self-rule. Kenyatta was then Prime Minister and independence was six months away.

Kenyatta rarely left Harambee House for lunch, preferring instead to nimble on samosas and mandazis bought from an eatery around the corner, as Duncan Ndegwa informs us in his 2009 memoirs, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles: My Story.

But did you know that Kenyatta hated, not only flying on planes, but also the sound of croaking frogs and crickets, as well as using lifts? Uhuru’s old guy demanded that his office be on second floor of Harambee House - against advice from security experts - so that he could take the stairs and avoid the VIP lift!

While he had lived abroad for 15 years and was quite Westernised in his outlook and speech, Kenyatta liked women remaining traditional. But there was a problem. Kenyatta held tea parties at State House Nairobi and Cabinet ministers tagged along with their wives, most of them countrified folk in manner and dress.

Nyiva Mwendwa, the wife of Chief Justice Kitili Mwendwa, was tasked with speeding up their ascent into civilisation, fashion speaking, to avoid their taking ushamba to State House, Ndegwa notes further.

Mama Ngina was one of Nyiva’s ‘students.’ She was the First Lady and being 40 years younger than the president saw her taking to fashion with such gusto, she once turned up for a state function in a trouser suit. Mzee Kenyatta saw to it that she went back and dressed up properly!


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