So what is the truth of the matter? And, does it actually matter? Was Jomo Kenyatta sired by Omukama Kabalega, or is that just an urban myth?
In the weeks since Jomo’s son Uhuru won the Kenyan presidency, tongues have been wagging in Uganda over the old tale that Kenya’s founding father is the unacknowledged child of one of Uganda’s greatest kings (stoked by Omukama Iguru’s congratulatory message to Uhuru). Was Kabalega a Ugandan in any case? We’ll return to this.
The story goes that when Bunyoro’s Kabalega and his Buganda counterpart, Kabaka Danieri Mwanga, were being marched into exile (transport was by foot or donkey) by the British whose imperialist ambitions they had been resisting, they sojourned in the Mount Kenya area for some time in the year 1899-1900.
There Kabalega got a consort, or was it a nurse (he had been shot and wounded during capture in Lango), a woman from the local Kikuyu tribe, who got pregnant by him. He was shortly to continue his journey, onward to Kismayu, Somalia before ending up in the Seychelles islands, in the Indian Ocean for an odd 20 years.
Photographs have been flashed about, purporting to show resemblance between members of the Royal household of Bunyoro and the Kenyan political dynasty (see Kabalega, Jomo, right).
And so, if at all the Kenyatta household is descended from the Bunyoro royal lineage, would they be the first such leading family to be genetically linked to another foreign household?
To the first question, the answer is “well?” To the second it is “most certainly not.” Most prominent is US President Barack Obama, born to a Kenyan father. Of leading families, a most conspicuous are the British royals. Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, descends from the royal families of Greece and Denmark.
To marry the young Princess Elizabeth, he had to first renounce his Greek and Danish royal titles, and to convert from Greek Orthodoxy to the Anglican Christianity. None of this makes him any less a Briton.
Closer to home, Zambia founding President Kenneth Kaunda’s father was a missionary from Nyasaland (Malawi). This Malawi connection was used as a stick to beat Kaunda after he lost elections in 1991, to the extent that he was once declared a stateless person.
His own tormentor, Frederick Chiluba, was to suffer similarly, with unsubstantiated allegations that he was of Congolese descent.
Meanwhile Rupiah Banda, Zambia’s fourth President, was born in Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia. His parents had left Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) to ‘beat kyeyo’ (do odd jobs) in Zimbabwe where he was born. That, too, has occasionally been used against him in the shallow superficiality of politics.
Back to Kabalega: was he Ugandan? You could argue no, on two fronts. First he was totally opposed to the entire Uganda Enterprise, pushed by the British and assisted by their Baganda allies (some say collaborators). It was in opposition to the Uganda Enterprise that he was persecuted and exiled.
So in spirit he was not Ugandan. Secondly, the place where he was born, Bulega, from which his name is derived akaana ka Bulega (child of Bulega) is situated in present-day Congo. He was born in the 1850s when, of course, the Uganda/Congo border had not yet been established, and when the frontiers of the kingdom he was to inherit stretched far and wide to obviously include Bulega.
And, if at all it bears any weight, here is a little reminder: Raila Odinga and Daniel arap Moi, too, could have been Ugandans had the inconvenience of administering the Uganda Railway in two territories not been so acute.
For by the time Kabalega was marching to the coast between 1899 and 1901, the Nyanza and the Baringo areas, Raila and Moi’s respective ethnic homelands, were in Uganda’s Eastern Province, with Uganda running up to Kiambu, Nyeri and Laikipia, pretty close to Nairobi.
This vast territory was only transferred to British East Africa (Kenya) in 1902, for ease of administering the Uganda Railway, which at the time terminated at Port Florence (Kisumu).
That is why we need the East African Federation. Otherwise what we deserve is good, effective leaders, irrespective of ethnicity.
What does it matter, this ancestry stuff? Little, I would say, except if this Kenyatta-Kabalega thing can help Kenya get over its tribalised politics. If that indeed can happen, it would then be the silver lining from a story that is of limited significance in a fast-evolving stage of our political history, where the competence and positive legacy of leaders matters much more than ancestry.