Sep 21, 2021

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

The shameful neglect of Kiburi House, and yet we preserve Karen Blixen’s

If we received Karen Blixen’s house as a national monument, why didn’t we do the same to the Kiburi house? Where is our story, where is our past?

Last week I visited Kiburi House – a name that many Kenyans born after independence don’t ring. Now I get angry – and to my readers, this is a sequel to Joseph Murumbi’s story from last week about the neglect of our heritage.

Hidden on Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi or what the old resident Grogan Road is this nondescript one-story building that was at the center of Kenya’s liberation struggle. In the same spirit in which freedom fighters were forgotten, the same fate befell the Kiburi House and its history.

To enter the Kiburi House you must use the back door, the same door as Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, Makhan Singh, Fred Kubai and many other freedom fighters and trade unionists entered their offices here.

The alley, narrow and dirty and with the sidewalks occupied by parked vehicles, is undoubtedly overcrowded. Apart from the name Kiburi House, there is nothing that identifies this building as an important part of Kenya’s history.

We know from records that the Kenya African Union (KAU) – the first nationalist political party in the country – Couldn’t pay rent in the city center, she was given an office in Kiburi House, the only building in the city until then owned by African business people.

African petty bourgeoisie

This is where I met him current director of the Kenya Fuel and Bark Supply Company, Kamau Mamicha, who took me to the sacred grounds of Kiburi. There are many lessons to be learned from this company, and I’ll share some of them because I found it unique.

When this company was registered in 1946, it united the African petty bourgeoisie as Nicola Swainson writes in her book The Development of Corporate Capitalism in Kenya.

1946 was a pivotal year: it was the year Kenyatta returned from Europe and revitalized the KAU by opening offices in different parts of the country.

Today the unmarked KAU office, in which Jomo Kenyatta was housed and in which a large part of the liberation struggles took place, is now a hardware store on the first floor. You look inside and feel: What a historical waste.

In his book Never be Silent , Shiraz Durani describes the Kiburi House as “the center of progressive political and trade union activities in the country . ”

He recalled that“ Plans for anti-colonial activities such as meetings and strikes in the Kiburi house were quickly spread across the country. Mau Mau cadres were also organized and recruitment campaigns started from Kiburi House. If there is one Kenyan institution that symbolizes the strength of Mau Mau, it is Kiburi House. It represents the strength of the working class who are organizing their anti-imperialist strategies in complete secrecy (in the heart of the city) ”.

This is where most of the pioneering unions found comfort and space and where labor strikes could be planned. Those who found space in Kiburi House were Bildad Kaggias Clerks and Commercial Workers ‘Union, Makhan Singhs Labor Trade Union Congress of East Africa and Fred Kubais Transport and Allied Workers’ Union.

Hailed from Kiburi House The cooperation between these unions and the FE was strengthened as they were all housed together. It is now known that the Kiburi House unions were the most militant in Kenya in 1951 – and this small building became the base of union and political propaganda in the country.

Ghostly Colonialists

According to Kaggia in his book Roots of Freedom , the Kiburi House haunted the colonial rulers and offered African politicians a refuge and a relaxed atmosphere.

Before the land came. lost With the Kiburi House, Parliament was informed about this important building as early as 1965. This was during the opening of the extension to the Parliament building – and its new bell tower – on November 2, 1965, when the Senate Speaker, the late Muinga Chokwe, paid tribute to Kiburi House for its contribution to the struggle for freedom. It might be the last time a senior government official publicly recognized the importance of this nondescript building.

In his short speech, Mr. Chokwe said, “It won’t be out of place if I remember that Days when our nationalists, presided over by His Excellency Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, huddled together in a small room in a small building called Kiburi House on Grogan Road. This little place happened to be owned by Africans and is perhaps the only building that belonged to our people at the time; the only place we could find shelter to plan our future. Those were really dark days because we lived in constant fear. ”

Named after its founder Kiburi Thumbi, whose portrait hangs in the office of Kenya Fuel and Bark Supply Company Ltd, this company was first named Kiambu. founded Fuel Supply in 1943 before changing its name to being registered under the Companies Ordinance of 1933. It was this enlarged corporation that moved its members from the central provincial counties of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, and Embu, the 1946 Kiburi. bought house for 70,000 Sh.

Of the 6,000 members who had bought shares in this company – for 50 Sh. per share – only 2,000 families can now be traced.

“We have appealed to individuals whose parents or grandfathers were members of Kiburi to come forward so we can keep a proper register and share the dividends together “Says Mamicha.

Unlike most historical companies that have a complicated stake, the Kenya Fuel and Bark Supply Company Ltd has kept its original register since 1946 and survived the colonial raid after it was proclaimed the state of emergency.


“We were very lucky that these documents survived. They are not only part of the company’s history, but also the history of nationalism in this country, ”says Mamicha.

The records include names like Jomo Kenyatta, his wife Wahu Kenyatta and son Peter Muigai Kenyatta. But at a time when most people didn’t have physical addresses, some entries like P.O. Fort Hall means it will be difficult to track down the families of the original shareholders.

In addition to Kiburi House, the company also owns Yangu House and a separate building at Mbotela Estate in Nairobi’s Eastlands. These are now worth hundreds of millions. “We are a unique company and therefore always looking for shareholders. Our founders fought hard for freedom and it is an insult to them if someone tries to fumble with the register, “says Mamicha.

An important aspect of this register is that it also includes the Membership could have been hidden – or members of the Mau Mau Central Committee.

After the crackdown on the state of emergency and the arrest of the KAU leaders, the Kiburi house was left in the hands of the remaining KAU officials who used the offices here. The rent was collected by a law firm based in Nairobi, Bhandari and Bhandari Advocates.

“The surviving party leaders – Walter Odede, Tom Mboya, acting treasurer WW Awori and acting vice president Joseph Murumbi and several others – could do little except meet in the office in Kiburi House on Grogan Street and talk gloomily about the course of events, ”writes Mboya’s biographer David Goldsworthy in the book Tom Mboya: The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget.

Was this company used to raise funds for Mau Mau or for KAU? Mamicha tells me this was a possibility, but it will require a thorough examination of the books. Interestingly, there was very little interest in the records of Kiburi House and as Mamicha tells me the company wants to preserve the building as a memorial to posterity.

“We always wonder why the government can’t help us to preserve this building as a monument, ”he says.

The Kenyatta office is adjacent to what is now used as a restaurant. There is a large safe in the kitchen, where the workers were busy taking orders. I was told that this may have belonged to the Mau Mau Central Committee. The still locked safe is embedded in the wall.

A few years ago a Mau Mau veteran told me that attempts by the colonial government to break into the safe of the Kiburi house had failed. We are then shown into an adjoining room that used to be the company’s original offices. Here is another safe, also set into the wall. A hole has been drilled in it – and it looks like another attempt to open it.

When the state of emergency was declared, the company bosses are said to have hidden their documents in the two safes. The company’s first directors included James Muigai (Kenyatta’s brother), Stephen Mbuthi Kimachia, Muchohi Gikonyo, and J.K. Kamakiru.

This is also where most of the African newsletters such as Wiyathi and Afrika Mpya that challenged the colonial regime were published. In fact, Kaggia writes that Kiburi House represents the audacity and intelligence of an organization planning the struggle for independence.

A few years ago, the seat used in Jomo Kenyatta’s office was still here. It then disappeared.

As the government continues to dawdle preserving this story, some irreplaceable artifacts continue to disappear. The Kiburi House shows how this country lost its connection to the struggle for freedom. They have to be credited for trying the owners of Kiburi House to maintain the building with the low income they generate.

But it’s a shame no one from the Department of Heritage is ever here Payed a visit – or thought how to make this building a citadel of history. Yet we keep Karen Blixen as part of our national museums. What a scandal!

[emailprotected] @ johnkamau1