Do you know the shujaa on your local road?
Not so many people know after whom Ole Odume Road in Nairobi’s Kilimani area was named. History records, including the Hansard in 1935, indicates that Ole Odume was a Samburu elder (Laibon) suspected of organising the killing of rancher Theodore Powys in 1931.
Ole Odume, also known as Bari Kaldojan Ole-aduma, was a feared leader of the Samburu, and the colonialists accused him of many crimes including instigating murder such as that of Powys. Despite revelation that Powys died as a result of an accident, an inquiry was opened in 1934 that saw the laibon linked to the death.
The inquiry also came after concerns were raised that the failure by the government to prosecute Powys’ case had elevated Ole Odume in the eyes of the Samburu and neighbouring communities. At the time of the inquiry, Ole Odume had already been deported to the Coast and all the Samburu morans disarmed. The British government also imposed and collected a collective fine today worth Sh121,261. Kwale was selected for being the furthest point from Samburu.
Until today, it is not known whether the laibon was imprisoned for life or executed.
Heroes are not feted at home. There is no one for whom this is truer than Professor Wangari Muta Maathai. In the 1980s, the professor protested the building of Kanu headquarters at Uhuru Park amidst criticism from fellow parliamentarians. She led activists as they staged protests at the park. She was teargassed, tortured and arrested. She won. The park still stands today and is a haven for many Kenyans who flock here in thousands on weekends, public holidays and the festive season. Her activism for the environment and conservation earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, making her the first black woman to receive one. Prof Wangari died in 2011.
Forest Road would be named after the late Wangari Maathai in 2016, by the orders of the then Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero.
The ‘lost’ General
In 2003, a man deemed to be General Stanley Mathenge was invited to the country from Addis Ababa and feted as a freedom fighter. He was not. This might be what many young Kenyans would remember of General Mathenge.
The real General Mathenge was indeed a hero. He fought in the Mau Mau rebellion and later became the leader of the Forty Group, an organisation supporting the Kenya African Union (Kau). He also founded the Kenya Riigi, a group of illiterate fighters. In May 1953 he became the leader of the newly formed Mau Mau military unit Nyeri District Council and Army. He disappeared in 1955 and was later reported to be living in Ethiopia where he is said to have died in 2016. His wife Muthoni is still alive and resides in Mweiga, Nyeri. General Mathenge Drive is named after this hero.
Kimathi Street was named after the legendary freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi. It was previously known as Hardinge Street, but was later changed and renamed after the icon leader to honour his sacrifices and true Kenyan nationalism.
A sculpture of Dedan Kimathi stands on a pedestal placed in the middle of the junction of Kimathi Street isolating it in the middle of city traffic.
Previously, along the street near the Hilton Hotel was a bus station, and a cinema hall, which occupied space where IPS building currently stands. The Sarova Stanley hotel was and still is operational to date. Shops such as the Elite Digital Camera Shop, Maru Italian Shoe Shop, Corner House and Beauty Options Cosmetics and Old mutual building are still operating since 1980s.
It is one of the busiest streets, thanks to the numerous food joints, fashion stalls, nightclubs, banks and a well-known five star hotel. In fact, it tends to be the party hub at night where patrons start filling pubs along this street as early as 6pm and by 12am, certain clubs along this street arrange seats outside just to accommodate more people.
From Police officer to freedom fighter
Muindi Mbingu Street in the heart of Nairobi City has rich history behind it.
The person after whom it was named was a revered anti-colonial crusader and former colonial police who became the face of the Akamba freedom struggle after they were evicted from their lands and condemned to the Native Reserves in 1937 when he was just 40.
The Akamba fought with the colonialists over grazing, especially around Mua Hills. The colonial officers forcibly confiscated Kamba cattle to avert overgrazing. The disturbing situation prompted a saddened and emboldened Mbingu to quit the police service in a huff and mobilise followers to fight the growing oppression.
Mbingu led a massive demonstration with protestors from Ngelani and Komarock areas, trekking 60km to Nairobi. However, one of the biggest mistakes he made was to speak to the Governor in Kamba and refer to the mau mau. He was promptly arrested then detained in Lamu Island for seven years. Upon release, the colonial government made him an informer. It was this collaboration that led to his brutal murder at the height of the State of Emergency in 1953.
Kenya’s first black lawyer
A human rights lawyer who ventured into politics shortly after returning from London where he had graduated with a law degree, Kodhek was the first black person in Kenya to qualify as a lawyer, be admitted to the bar in UK and open a law firm.
His relentless activism and clamour for human rights saw him branded “ hot head“ by colonial authorities. Kodhek married an Irish nurse, which made the British loathe him all the more.
Kodhek campaigned for protection of the rights of freedom fighters such as the late former Nyeri town MP Waruru Kanja who was to be hanged for smuggling arms to the Mau Mau. His tough defence spared Kanja from the hangman’s noose.
The accomplished lawyer was a Kanu representative at the Lancaster Conference. Fondly referred to as CMG, initials derived from his name Clement Michael George, which he fabricated to ‘Chiedo Moa Gem’ - a Luo term that literally means fried or cooked up in Gem, Kodhek died in a mysterious accident at Kilimani in 1969. He had served as foreign minister for two years.The road was later named after him.
Pio Gama Pinto Road is located near Sarit Centre, Westlands, Nairobi, where Pinto was assassinated. Pinto is famous for being one of the few activists from the Indian minority to fight against the British rule for Kenya’s independence. Born in Kenya in 1927, Pinto, in his brief life, became a symbol of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles in Kenya and India. He was remarkably Kenya’s first political martyr. He was actively involved in Goa’s struggle against Portuguese colonialism and in Mau Mau during Kenya’s war of independence.
In 1954, the British authorities arrested and deported him to Manda Island, Lamu where he was the only Indian. In 1958 he was moved to the then Rift Valley Province. Upon his release in 1959, Pinto threw himself into political activism. His contribution to the struggle for liberation for working people and trade unions spanned two continents – Africa and Asia. Which covered two phases of imperialism — colonialism in Kenya and Goa and neo-colonialism in Kenya after independence. Pinto was a member of the ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu), headed by Jomo Kenyatta. Although the best way to stop Pinto’s activism was through a bullet, his contribution is upheld even today by people active in liberation struggles.
First Mayor of Nairobi
Located near Nyamakima area in the CBD, this road was renamed Charles Rubia by former Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero on Mashujaa Day in 2016.
Charles Wanyoike Rubia, now aged 96, was born in Murang’a county and educated at Alliance High School. His heroism is tied with advocating for multi-party democracy during the dictatorial Moi regime in 1990. This courageous undertaking saw Rubia detained by the government without trial at Kamiti Maximum Prison. Rubia has since gone to court to demand Sh40 billion compensation for illegal detention and torture. He was released after one year, and since then his health has deteriorated.
Rubia, the MP for Starehe Constituency in Nairobi from 1969 to 1988, is also remembered for being the first mayor of Nairobi in independent Kenya. He would later join active politics, where he rose to the cabinet. In 1992, during the early days of the return of Multiparty Democracy as a result of a split in FORD-Asili, Rubia, with two others, co-founded the Kenya National Congress.
Kenyatta’s close ally
In Kisumu city, the narrative is unique. Unlike other major cities, its aesthetics is centred around Africanism, hence roads and streets are strictly named after African heroes.
Also featuring in Kisumu is a road named after Ramogi Achieng Oneko, one of Kapenguria Six arrested during the State of Emergency in 1952 in the quest for Kenya’s independence from the British. He was also a civil servant in Kenya’s government. Oneko, a close ally of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and the MP for Nakuru, was appointed the first minister for Information and Broadcasting in Kenya’s first government.
He is remembered for introducing Jaramogi to politics and quiting government alongside him in 1966 after a fallout between the latter and Kenyatta and formation of Kenya People’s Union.
He was arrested by Kenyatta in 1969 and released in 1975. He came back to politics in 1992 as an MP, but lost his seat in 1997. He was a journalist, and owned a publication called Ramogi, based in Nakuru.
To many Kenyans, Wabera is just the name of a Nairobi Street, stretching from City Hall Way to Kenyatta Avenue.
But to the people of North Eastern region, his reign will never be matched. He was the linchpin that not only brought the region together, but also stopped a secession attempt.
In 1962, residents in Northern Kenya— including North Rift Valley, had tried to break away from Kenya, convinced they would be better off if they merged with Somalia. Kenya’s political leadership would hear none of that and were determined not to yield even an inch of Kenyan soil to their neighbour.
Then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta, on January 15, 1963 authorised the posting of Wabera as the district commissioner of Isiolo to convince residents that all will be well in the new regime.
However, before he could even finish his work, he was assassinated. Reports claim the assassination came in the wake of pronouncements by Kenyatta of claims of assassination of African leaders by colonial government.
First finance minister
James Samuel Gichuru, after whom the road that connects Waiyaki Way to Argwing Kodhek road, is best remembered as the first Finance minister of independent Kenya. Born in 1914, Gichuru oversaw the death of the East African Currency Board and the rise of a Central Bank to not only provide banking services for the commercial banks, but become an instrument of official monetary policy.
Gichuru co-founded the Kenya African Union (Kau) in 1960. When former president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was in Europe, Gichuru assumed Kau leadership, but relinquished the position in 1949 to allow Kenyatta take over.
Again, when the state of emergency was declared in 1952, Gichuru kept the banner of nationalism flying until 1957 when constitutional politics resumed. Gichuru was also famous for drinking. His favourite joint was the Karai Bar located in downtown Nairobi, and for years before its demolishment, a portrait of Gichuru graced the wall alongside that of Kenyatta.
For some, when Tom Mboya’s name is mentioned, it is associated with the statue near National Archives, a popular meeting spot for most newbies in the city. To others, the name is synonymous to the avid politician, educationist and trade unionist, attributes that saw what was Queen Victoria renamed Tom Mboya Street.
Mboya was keen on ensuring labour rights were upheld, thus his active participation in trade unions. His stint in politics and governance earned him the title Pan Africanist, and it is not hard to see why. He championed for the rights of Africans studying abroad and was close friends with Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. He is remembered for various things including setting up National Social Security Fund and an industrial court to hear labour-related issues. He was shot on July 5, 1969 on Moi Avenue. His killing sparked riots in Kenyan cities.
Coast’s Point Man
Ronald Ngala, born in 1922 in Gotani, Kilifi county, first served as a teacher after graduating from Makerere University in Uganda in 1945. But in the 1950s, he turned to politics and was elected to the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 1957. Three years later, he founded the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) to rival Kenya African National Union (Kanu).
Despite being a very strong opposition leader, he was ready to put aside the political rivalries and differences and join hands with Kenyatta to liberate the nation. Together with Kanu leaders, his party refused to cooperate with the colonial government until Kenyatta was released from detention.
His rivalry with Kenyatta did not stop him from dissolving Kadu and joining Kanu in 1964, effectively making Kenya a one party state. Ngala, who set pace for other coastal heroes, died on Christmas Day in 1972. The road from Moi Avenue to Racecourse Road is named after him.
Harry Thuku Road branches off University Way and goes past the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation to shake hands with Wangari Maathai Road (formerly Forest Road). Thuku’s efforts in encouraging women to boycott anything British saw him nicknamed Mûnene wa Nyacing’a (chief of the women). Due to his popularity, he was imprisoned twice by the British. On second arrest, his 8,000 supporters clashed with the police at Nairobi Police Station (present-day Central Police Station). Many of them were women led by Mary Nyanjiru. Upon seeing men delaying to storm the station, she lifted her dress and demanded to be given a pair of trousers to do what they should have been doing. Upon release, Thuku was exiled to Northern Kenya from 1922 to 1930. He was the founder of the Young Kikuyu Association, later renamed East African Association (EAA) to broaden its appeal. He is credited for being the first ever member of the Kenyan Coffee Farmers’ Union. He passed on in Nairobi in 1970. Peter Ngila