If things went according to plan, a boy born in Mombasa in 1961 to an English policeman and a Kenyan housewife could have been a British citizen by now.
But sometimes things do not always follow the expected path and that is why a haggard, teary and bitter Jimmy Whitehouse recently spoke to Lifestyle about his decades of frustrations.
He has shared his story many times before, and a significant portion of the public knows him as the man whose mzungu father left him at a children’s home in Nairobi as he left Kenya.
This time, Jimmy told his story with a troubled mind, breaking down at least three times in a span of one hour. There were times a question from us sent his mind on a spiral, and all he could do was pensively bury his face in his weather-beaten palms, words failing him.
Jimmy, who sells herbal medicines for a living, hopes to raise at least Sh1 million from well-wishers.
That money will enable him to pay a law firm to file a court case on his behalf in the United Kingdom.
QUEST FOR BRITISH CITIZENSHIP
He hopes that through the lawsuit, he can finally get orders to have DNA tests done to provide a scientific answer to those who have been slamming doors on his quest to get UK citizenship.
“This is one of my last attempts to try to get justice done,” said Jimmy, who turned 58 in July. “By coming to Nation, I am almost giving up the fight. I have fought for over 30 years.”
He wants his DNA matched with Sid Shorthouse, the man he says is his father (he died in 1998) by use of his sisters. He also wants the DNA of his mother Josephine Murunga, who died in 1988, matched with his and his sisters’ so that he can put together pieces of a jigsaw that has had missing pieces for decades.
SINS OF A FATHER
Jimmy’s is a story that reopens a rarely-visited chapter of the relations British officials had with local women during the colonial period, and the children that were born as a result.
His futile quest for British citizenship tests a provision in the UK laws that grants almost automatic citizenship to people born of its citizens outside the country.
Information on gov.uk, a portal that provides information on various administrative aspects of government, says: “You may automatically be a British citizen if you were born before January 1, 1983 and: (i) you were born outside the UK; (ii) your father is British.”
The rider to that is that the father must have been married to the overseas mother at the time the child was born.
Jimmy believes that he meets all these criteria, but still his path to citizenship has been blocked.
As Jimmy explained why British citizenship has been elusive, and the bits of his family story that he has pieced together from various sources, he showed Lifestyle a number of photos taken at different times as proof.
One of the photos was of Sid in police uniform, including a peaked cap with a Kenya Police coat-of-arms. Sid was a police officer until the early 1960s. He served in Kapsabet, Nairobi, Mombasa, Hola among other stations.
A union that Sid had with Josephine led to three children. Jimmy was the second born and the only son.
However, Sid and Josephine did not live as a couple for long. Jimmy believes it was due to his mother’s Ugandan friend — Maria Nakato — who visited the home regularly.
“When my mum noticed this friend of hers was after our dad, there was a big scuffle, and she seriously hurt her. And my mum got jailed for many years. From what I know, that is how the Ugandan woman took over our dad,” Jimmy says.
The jail term was the end of Jimmy’s promising life as the family disintegrated immediately. Not long afterwards, he was taken to Kabete Children’s Home along Musa Gitau Road in Nairobi.
At the home, rather than be entered as “Jimmy Shorthouse” as his name should have been, he was booked as “Jimmy Josephine”— in what he believes was an effort to disown him. How he came to later register his official name as “Jimmy Whitehouse” is a matter to be disclosed later in the story.
His father could visit him at the centre once in a while but he later stopped.
“From what I’ve been hearing from very close friends of my late mum, earlier on my father used to visit me at the home. Later, he completely stopped seeing me,” says Jimmy.
“To add insult to injury, and I believe it was in order to please his new wife, they forged my documents then called me a name (Jimmy Josephine) that had no relation to him.”
He grew up at the children’s facility, attending Bernard Estate (now Muthangari) Primary School until 1975 then Dagoretti High School between 1976 and 1979.
Meanwhile, his mother’s life took a turn for the worse after she was jailed for assaulting Maria and dumped by Sid.
“Mum became a repeat offender and we hardly had time to be together,” he says.
The last time he saw his mother, was in 1978. Two years later, Jimmy flew out of Kenya and lived in Europe and the Middle East for more than a decade. While abroad, he received information that his mother had died in 1988.
“She is from Malakisi in Western Kenya. I don’t want to specify the details, but I even know the village where she is buried,” says Jimmy.
As such, Jimmy entered adulthood with a hazy idea of who his father was. But he had managed to pick clues about him by asking around.
He got a clue as to his name from an administrator at Kabete Children’s Home, who had had a chat with Jimmy’s mother.
He, however, thought the name should be “Whitehouse” and not “Shorthouse”. And so as he went to register for his national identity card in 1978, with the help of a woman who had connections in the registration offices. He presented the name “Jimmy Whitehouse”, which is his official name to date.
Days later, he would connect with a Briton, who was also a policeman during the colonial period.
“I went and told him that my dad used to be called Sid Whitehouse and that I was searching for him. So, he told me, ‘You must have been mistaken. There was never a Sid Whitehouse. There was a Shorthouse.’ It was too late; I had already done my ID registration in the name of Whitehouse,” said Jimmy.
Nonetheless, the man helped him get his father’s address. He had since relocated to Saudi Arabia with his Ugandan wife.
“I wrote to him and told him who I am. He replied and denied ever knowing me or knowing my mum,” Jimmy narrated.
“I tried a second time and told him, ‘What you are doing, denying, and yet I have heard so much about you, is very painful.’ This is the time he started opening up towards me,” he added.
Sid informed Jimmy of the names of his siblings and step-siblings via correspondence. He came to know that one of his sisters was taken to Uganda after the end of Sid’s first marriage. Later, she relocated to the UK.
In 1983, Jimmy finally met Sid in Denmark. Sid was accompanied by Maria, his Ugandan wife, and they were on their way back to England from holiday.
“They came and we met, just for one night,” he said.
DECLINED DNA TEST
That night, Jimmy says the issue of DNA testing was ruled out by Sid and Maria.
“He told me he was not interested to take DNA; that it was out of question,” says Jimmy.
The stepmother, he claims, then dropped a bombshell.
“She said, ‘Sid doesn’t want DNA testing. I believe he is your dad and you should stop contacting us and let that be the end of the matter,’” Jimmy said.
He would later establish contact with his supposed sisters and step-siblings, who were in different parts of the world.
One such contact was made through a penfriend organisation, where he got to connect with a girl born to his father and the Ugandan wife.
He also re-established contact with one of his two sisters, who was then living in Mombasa. In fact, after he returned to Kenya in 1993, he spent three months at her house before she turned hostile. He believes this was due to the influence of his father’s second wife — who died about 10 years ago.
He would later connect with the other supposed sister, who is currently living in the UK, through Facebook. It is through her “throwback” posts that he got images of his family from the days he was a toddler. After corresponding for some time, the other supposed sister also gave him a cold shoulder.
“She doesn’t write to me, and she doesn’t want to hear about me. And just as my late dad abandoned me, my sisters don’t want to hear about me,” says Jimmy.
These are the very people he wants compelled to take a DNA test by a court order.
PROOF OF IDENTITY
“Once it has been established that my DNA and my siblings’ matches, then it will prove I am from that family, which of course I know I am,” he said.
Lifestyle asked him if he believes his life will change should he be granted British citizenship.
“My life will not be rosier. They will not be able to pay me for the suffering and damage I’ve gone through,” he replied.
“My purpose for doing this is to claim what is legally mine and be a custodian of my late mum,” he added.
A number of times he has tried to explain his story of being disinherited and why he deserves UK citizenship but it has never convinced any official.
He moans that it could be due to a bias against mixed-race children.
“The UK government is not interested in matters like mine, which involves cases of randy ex-British officers. They are not interested in hearing about the children they left here in Kenya. They are more interested in political expediency; to be seen taking in a lot of political asylum seekers and refugees in their millions just for political expediency,” he fumed.
“In the past, around 1997 or 1998, I tried to tell them about my dad; that he was here in Nairobi. And they told me. ‘Go and settle the matter with your family.’ How can you do that with a dad who doesn’t want to see you? When I tried to apply for a British passport, eventually they told me I wasn’t entitled,” says Jimmy.
He goes on: “Since I’m not a blonde, a Caucasian with blue eyes dumped somewhere in Africa, they were not interested. Maybe they would have acted long ago.”
Recently, Jimmy was arrested in Taita Taveta County on suspicion of being an Al-Shabaab sympathiser. While in detention at Voi Police Station, he had a rough time explaining to detectives about his roots. It did not help matters that his ID was defaced.
But he was let go after a search on his house, where a driving license and a certificate of good conduct were found. Furthermore, Jimmy says, he explained to a senior officer at the station about the man he says is his father and they did a search in the system.
“He told me, ‘We have found your dad’s details at Vigilance House,’” Jimmy says.
He has also dug up more details about Sid through various sources — that he was born in 1932 in Burton upon Trent in the English midlands; that Sid’s father was an ironmonger; that he was from a family of nine; and that he died in August 1998.
“This is why you should write this: Time is running out, I’m old. I am in my 50s heading to 60s. Time is running out,” says Jimmy.