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Professor who made Jomo Kenyatta face Mt Kenya East


He was a 27-year-old junior lecturer at the University of Nairobi when he was frogmarched to the presence of President Jomo Kenyatta blindfolded. This was 1971.

His crime? He had begun documenting the histories of Mt Kenya East communities. This angered the cabal around the president, who were enforcing a single cultural identity for the region.

Prof Mwaniki Kabeca says President Kenyatta was not amused and rebuked the politicians. He has since written at least 10 books, documenting the histories of Kirinyaga, Embu, Mbeere and Chuka communities. He is arguably the region’s most eminent historian alive.

Fifty years since the encounter with the President, Prof Kabeca says he is not amused by the ruckus after the May 22 coronation of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi. He also explores the legitimacy of councils of elders in Kenya’s political scene.

Prof Kabeca, now 77 years old, is the former academic registrar of the Kenya Methodist University, and has taught at the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Egerton and the South Eastern Kenya University, since 1970.

He spoke to Star reporter Benjamin Nyagah.

The Star: You have written more than 10 books on the history of Mt Kenya communities. What motivated you to do that?

Prof Kabeca: First it is the very fact that I love history because to me history is like the foundation of a building. If you don’t have a firm foundation of any building, you cannot place three or four stones on top of the other without it collapsing.

All the knowledge we have has come either from history or has history in itself and everything will stand firm for as long as you give it a good foundation. Also, some of the best scientists we know were characters in history and they left us with whatever they taught. A good example is Isaac Newton, a well-known scientist from the 17th century who discovered the laws of gravity and motion and invented calculus.

What challenges did you face documenting the histories of the communities?

One of them is that at that time you could not find anything written about them. The little you found was very discriminative because the writers were the white men who believed we had no history because to them history must be written. They were wrong because history existed, whether you wrote it down or you didn’t.

There are rumours Jomo Kenyatta himself punished you when you published the book “The living history of Embu and Mbeere to 1906” in 1973. Please comment on that.

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