Mzee Kenyatta’s visit to Russia and the British spies
Updated Saturday, August 17th 2013 at 20:41 GMT +3
Kenya’s founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was radicalized in Russia for almost three years before he stepped up his agitation for independence.
Although he had made his travel from the Britain to Moscow discreet, the British spies soon had him on their radar and watched his every move.
They did not want him out of their sights because the London believed that he was slated to succeed George Padmore, the father of black liberation from Trinidad who mentored many African leaders that went on to lead the final push for independence from colonialists in their respective countries.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Moscow this week comes 85 years after his father stepped on Russian soil as a young political-cum-trade union activist. Kenya has increasingly been looking East, rather than West, to forge economic ties.
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta made efforts to hide whatever he was engaged in during his sojourn in Russia, which lasted for about three years.
The only official account that he was in Russia is captured in the State House website thus: “After touring some parts of Europe, including Russia in 1930, he returned to Kenya to fight cases of female circumcision together with the Scottish Mission.”
History books and various articles that have highlighted this part of the founding father’s story point out that Kenyatta was not just “touring some parts of Europe, including Russia.”
Secret files released in 2005 in the UK, specifically Secret File KV 2/1787-1789, points out that Kenyatta was suspected of having links to the International Committee of Negro Workers. Another file, KV 2/1787(1930-1940) states that Kenyatta was believed to be the man to succeed Padmore as principal Soviet propaganda agent for the British colonies.
However, in a complete turn of events, after Kenya’s independence in 1963, the founding father of the nation embraced capitalism while his vice-president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was an avowed communist.
Bitter falling out
This strained their relations at a time when the world was split between the two ideologies, leading to a bitter falling out that saw Odinga kicked out of government and put under house arrest in 1966.
But how did the young Jomo’s journey to Russia begin? Kenyatta’s journey to Russia started in 1928, when the Communist International created the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) aimed at unifying Negro workers on the basis of the class struggle.
The meeting tasked Padmore to recruit African leaders to the communist agenda. Colonial governments had barred a number of delegates from attending the First International Conference of Negro Workers. “He succeeded in recruiting a bumper crop of potential radicals. He personally smuggled sixty out of Africa.
They were shipped to Moscow where they formed the first Negro cadre. They were trained in the hard methods of protest and agitation, and returned to Africa eventually to become headaches to the British,” African-America journalist Roi Ottley, who knew Padmore while in London, writes.
According to the Negro Worker publication, there were 17 delegations representing six African-American organisations, British Guiana, Trinidad, Jamaica, several West African countries, and South Africa at the First International Conference of Negro Workers.
A number of the delegates registered for the conference using pseudo names while in some cases their details were missing.
Kenyatta represented Kenya, Albert Nzula South Africa, E.F. Small, editor of The Gambia Outlook and organiser of one of West Africa’s first unions, the Bathurst Trade Union representative was listed as George Small, and there was also Frank Macaulay, who had cooperated with Wallace-Johnson in the Nigerian Workers’ Union.
During the meeting, according to the book From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International Since the Age of Revolution, Kenyatta emphasised the importance of Ethiopia’s struggle against fascist aggression through a resolution he proposed.
“Millions of colonial and semi-colonial people in Africa and throughout the East are gaining strength from the magnificent fight which is being put up by the Abyssinians to maintain their independence,” the resolution read.
Padmore, a man who came to personify the hopes and aspirations for Black freedom throughout Africa and his native Caribbean, was born Malcolm Ivan Meredith in 1902 to an emerging middle-class family in Trinidad.
The black activist who dreamed of an independent black and who was the mentor to an entire generation of black leadership who included Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah, joined the Communist Party in the 1920s as a university activist student.
Padmore recruited leaders for African liberation movements and despite not being a leader of any nationalistic movement, he had an office in the Kremlin.
He is said to have noted Kenyatta’s spirit for liberation while the young man was in London and convinced him to travel to Russia to join a growing list of radicals.
Network of activists
According to the files, Padmore presented the nation’s founding father to Moscow where he allegedly joined the Communist Party. Kenyatta visited the Lenin School and schooled together with other “radicals and liberators” until February 21, 1933, when police deported Padmore after he fell out with the Russians.
Kenyatta studied at the “The Communist University of the Toilers of the East or KUTV “also known as the Far East University or Stalin School, an institution that was opened on October 21, 1921, to be a training college for communist cadres in the colonial world. Its curriculum included Marxist theory, party organisation and propaganda, proletarian revolution tactics, trade union organisation and law and administration.
Some of Kenyatta’s prominent alumni included Deng Xiaoping, paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China, the Chechen insurrectionist Hasan Israilov, former Chinese presidents Liu Shaoqi and Chiang Ching-kuo, and former Vietnam President Ho Chi Minh. By 1933, their success in establishing an extensive network of activists pushing for the end of colonial rule in Africa was worrying the Kremlin and the Whitehall.
Immediately after the Nazi seizure of power, Padmore was detained and deported after clashing bitterly with the communists over their colonial policies. After being deported from Russia, Padmore establish colonisation.
Padmore described the occupation of British in Kenya as “land robbery.” He criticised Sir Percy Girouard, a former Governor of Kenya, who stated, “taxation is the only method of compelling the natives to leave their reserves for the purpose of seeking work.”
He was even more offended by the remarks of Sir Charles Eliot, the first Governor of Kenya, who said: “The interior of the Protectorate of Kenya is a white man’s country and it was hypocrisy to deny that white interests must be paramount and that the main object of our policy and legislation is to build a white colony.”
Padmore rose to international prominence, building lasting relationships with Kouyaté, Kenyatta, Nzula, and a host of other African, Caribbean, and Indian radicals.
When Padmore died in 1959, Nkrumah wept publicly at his funeral and at his request the Black West Indian’s ashes were flown from London to Ghana and buried in Christianborg Castle, located in Osu, Accra, where the Ghanaian national parliament sits.
Kenyatta named a road off Ngong Road in Nairobi after Padmore.