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Kenyatta, Margaret (1928—)

Kenyatta, Margaret (1928—)

Kenyan activist and politician . Born Margaret Wambui Kenyatta in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1928; only daughter and one of two children of Jomo Kenyatta (1891–1978, nationalist, politician, and first president of Kenya) and his first wife,Nyokabi ; attended Ruthimitu Primary School; attended Church of Scotland Mission School, Kikuyu; attended the Alliance High School; never married; no children.

The daughter of Jomo Kenyatta, the controversial nationalist who was the driving force in the liberation of Kenya from British rule and the country's first president, Margaret Kenyatta inherited her father's toughness and charisma and followed him into politics. She was born in 1928 and raised in the Dagoretti area of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and has vivid memories of her famous father: "I can remember the crowds of people who used to visit him at home, and I often used to make him play with me and he held me up in front of the people and they all laughed." After high school, Margaret took a teaching post at Githunguri College, where her father was principal. In 1952, when he was arrested for his involvement with the Mau Mau and others protesting white suppression, the college was closed by government order. At the time, Margaret was also arrested and detained for a week.

While her father served a seven-year prison term, Margaret held various odd jobs and became active in the Peoples Congress Party, which worked for African rights and the release of political

prisoners. She also joined a number of social welfare organizations, including Maendeleo ya Wanawake, one of Kenya's most important women's organizations. In 1959, when Jomo Kenyatta was released from prison and became head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), a political party formed to work for African liberation, Margaret also joined the party, serving as assistant secretary and later as secretary of the KANU branch at Kiambu.

The KANU was finally victorious in the general election of May 1963, and Kenya won independence that same year, after which Jomo Kenyatta became prime minister and then president. Margaret joined her father's efforts to build a unified nation, working particularly to interest women in political activism. Although Jomo had promised to give the women of Kenya "every encouragement to involve themselves in the exciting task of Nation building," it proved difficult to break old patterns. Not a single woman was elected to the house of representatives, and women achieved only small victories at other levels. In 1963, Grace Onyango was elected chair of the education committee of Kisumu. Onyango would later become Kenya's first African woman mayor and a member of Parliament. That same year, Margaret was elected a councilor for Dagoretti in the city council of Nairobi. Reelected for four subsequent terms, she continued her efforts to unify women in a quest for equality, utilizing her contacts with international movements like Countrywomen of the World, International Council of Women, Women Presbyterians of Canada, and the YWCA. In 1964, she became president of the National Council of Women of Kenya and began to travel widely, addressing conferences and seminars throughout the world on women's roles in nation-building. Speaking to groups in Europe, Asia, America, the U.S.S.R., the People's Republic of China, and India, her message always emphasized the importance of the home and children, and the place of education in building a solid future. In 1964, in recognition of her efforts, she was awarded the Order of the Queen of Sheba by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Surprisingly, Kenyatta passed up a run for Parliament in May 1966, when some seats were vacated and prospects for her election seemed ideal. She offered no explanation at the time, but did reiterate her belief that woman should be given every opportunity to advance in politics. In 1969, however, Kenyatta was elected deputy

mayor of Nairobi, and in 1971 was elected mayor, thus becoming the first African woman to become mayor of Kenya's capital city and the second African woman mayor in the country. Her tenure in office was marked by many developmental programs, including expansion of the subways, the building of low-cost housing and sewerage, and the expansion of public health facilities. Kenyatta's first priorities, however, remained women, children, and education, which she viewed as the hope for Kenya's future.

Margaret Kenyatta, who never married, was once described by a long-time friend as "a mature woman with large sad eyes and a rare but infectious laugh." Although she defied tradition in a country where women were expected to marry, raise children, and tend to domestic matters, she remained modest about her personal victories, preferring to focus on the future of her country.


Crane, Louise. Ms. Africa. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1973.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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