Turkana County boasts a vital link to the country’s liberation from British rule, but it goes largely unnoticed. Yet it was in Turkana that founding President Jomo Kenyatta was locked up and kept under house arrest.
One of the important buildings still standing is the house where Mzee Kenyatta was kept under house arrest in Lodwar. Kenyatta House, which is within the town, remains a stark reminder of Mzee Kenyatta’s suffering before the country attained independence and he became the first Head of State.
Following his arrest during the crackdown on the Mau Mau in the 1950s and subsequent prosecution, he became a key member of the famous Kapenguria Six, who were accused of being behind the uprising.
After their trial, they were imprisoned in Lokitaung in the northern part of Turkana for seven years.
They were later moved to Lodwar, where they were kept isolated in identical structures, although they would occasionally interact within the highly guarded compound, which had a common ablution block.
Besides Jomo Kenyatta, others taken to Lodwar were Fred Kubai, Kung’u Karumba, Paul Ngei and Bildad Kaggia.
The original Kapenguria Six had been reduced to five after’ Oneko was released from prison in Lokitaung following a successful appeal against his conviction. They had been arrested in 1952.
Jomo Kenyatta lived in the house from August 1959 to August 1961, when he was moved to Maralal, before he was finally taken back to Gatundu, where he was released.
Sadly, this place seems to be gradually losing its significance. Despite its historical significance, the structures have been neglected and are slowly decaying in the scorching heat.
Although the place has already been marked as a national museum managed by the National Museums of Kenya, little has been done to rehabilitate it.
Only the house Mzee occupied has been fenced. The rest are unsecured.
A visitor is unlikely to recognise the importance of the place since there are no sign boards.
In the houses are mostly pictures of the former occupants affixed to the doors. Inside Kenyatta House is a fairly well done portrait of him, with his trademark fly whisk. But it needs greater maintenance. Mr Justus Kikuvi, the curator, hopes they will be allocated funds to refurbish the house.
“We don’t have a facility for exhibiting items at the museum, so if I don’t talk to, or refer visitors to Internet sources, they never get information on the people who fought for our independence. That explains why we receive slightly more than 100 visitors per month,” Mr Kikuvi says.
He adds that the fact that only Kenyatta House is fenced sends a wrong signal to keen visitors. “Most people who come here want to visit the house where freedom fighters from their tribe stayed, but they all visit Kenyatta House,” he says.
Most visitors, he says, want to know how the detainees survived in the hostile environment. Without proper displays and other informative materials, it is difficult for young visitors to relate with the place, he says.
Mr Kikuvi says he has converted one of the rooms into his office for lack of an alternative.
Lodwar residents have appealed to the county’s Tourism ministry to also set aside funds for renovating the site.
“A tourist site in town just metres from the busy Lodwar Airport should be in good shape to attract visitors. Neglecting such a monument can easily create a negative perception of the locals among keen visitors,” area resident Jane Emekwi says.
The land on which the museum stands is being eyed by land grabbers. A recent report by the Auditor-General indicated that some parts had been taken by the Turkana County government, which is building a modern library nearby.
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