Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta. Artwork/Courtesy
Mystery has always been associated with founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s ancestry.
But in rare revelations retired High Court judge, Justice Benna Lutta gives a new insight into the life of a man who was fondly referred to as the ‘Burning Spear.
When Justice Benna Lutta returned to Kenya in 1959 as a barrister from London’s Middle Temple, he found himself unemployable. There were no African law firms and none of the Whites and Asians were keen on his services. He headed west to Uganda which had a substantial number of people from his ancestors’ Wanga kingdom.
There, with two former fellow students from the UK, Abu Mayanja and Anil Clerk, he set up a law firm. Those were the heady days preceding independence.
Milton Obote, a legco member — the country’s colonial Parliament — and head of the Uganda People’s Congress, spent long hours at the firm’s chambers strategising for independence.
In time, Lutta’s firm drafted the UPC constitution and the party proceeded to lead Uganda into independence. Obote became very fond of Lutta and the sentiment was mutual.
But Sir Patrick Renison, the then governor of Kenya, while attending a routine East African Governor’s meeting at Government House at Entebbe, to which Lutta had been invited, asked the young lawyer where in Uganda he came from.
Lutta told him he was a Kenyan. What was he doing in Uganda, then, Renison asked. You people won’t have us, Lutta told him, meaning the White establishment had no time for Africans.
To which Renison asked him to apply for a job at the Attorney General’s Chambers in Nairobi and Lutta obliged.
According to the Daily Monitor, he returned home to become a Crown Counsel at what is today’s Sheria House. Obote released him with monumental reluctance. If he had way, he wouldn’t have let his Kenyan friend go. But Lutta was adamant about returning home.
Come Uganda’s independence and Obote asked Lutta to do whatever it took to return to Kampala for the celebrations. Lutta did, as part of a large Kenyan delegation that was headed by Jomo Kenyatta. Luminaries like Jaramogi Odinga, Achieng Oneko, Joe Murumbi, JD Kali and others were in it.
After the celebrations, Obote arranged for his Kenyan visitors to visit Hoima, capital of the Bunyoro Kingdom, for a courtesy call on the king. The Kenyans were happy to accept. Here, Lutta takes up the story:
“When Obote asked us Kenyans to visit Hoima, we all assumed it was just another event of the festivities. We got there at about one o’clock and had lunch and we enjoyed various entertainment activities. At about 6pm, Sir Tito Owiny, the Bunyoro King, invited us all to enter the palace. I don’t think anybody else has said this. And the people who were there are all dead.
“When we got inside the palace, Sir Tito faced president Kenyatta and told him: ‘Go straight there. That is your father’s chair. Go and sit on your father’s chair.’ And it was not an ordinary chair. It was a throne, very ornate. Kenyatta did not ask any question or hesitate in any manner. He strode majestically there and sat on the throne. It is as if he knew everything.”
“But first, a man called John Kakonge was the one interpreting the proceedings. They were crowning Kenyatta as the King of Bunyoro. The Kenyan delegation sat bemused, not understanding what was going on. But Kakonge was translating, saying Kenyatta is being crowned King of the Bunyoro. It went on and on and on. Women were dancing. Drums were beaten. After all this, Sir Tito said to Kenyatta ‘you are not going back to Kenya because you are now the King of Bunyoro.’
“Kenyatta replied, ‘but I am also going to be King in Kenya.’ I remember those words very clearly. The Kenyan delegation seemed stunned. Anyway, it went on and on, until it was finally over. Kakonge was my friend. He had studied in India and on his return, he stayed with me in Kampala. However, all people who could corroborate this story, regrettably, are gone.”
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