Joseph Murumbi was Kenya’s second Vice-President (May 1966-December 1966)
Having been born the child of a Goan trader, and a Maasai woman, Joseph Murumbi spent his youth in India. He would return to Kenya, and join the then Kenya African Union, the first multiracial political party in the country’s history. He became leader of the party when KAU officials has to flee from the colonial authorities. Then he, himself, had to flee the colonials and go into exile, first in India, then in England. That is where he met Sheila, a librarian by profession.
His tenancy as Vice-President was brief, going on to became an advisor, and acting chairman of the Kenya National Archives, the only government job he held after resigning as Vice-President. Joseph was also the first Foreign Minister of Kenya setting up various missions for Kenya around the world, and took a very active role in crafting the first constitution of Kenya.
Now, more than twenty years after the passage of Joseph Murumbi, his gravesite, and that of his wife, have at last been restored, and turned into the Murumbi Peace Memorial.
The Murumbi Peace Memorial was opened on 29 March 2009 with Francis Nnaggenda and the other “giants of African Heritage” – Elkana Ongesa, John Odochameny, and Expedito Mwembe attending as special guests in honour to their old friend.
When you visit the Memorial you will find that Joseph Murumbi, and his wife Sheila Murumbi both lie outside the old cemetery at City Park. How did this shocking matter come about? It was Murumbi’s last wish to be buried as near as possible to his old friend, Pio Gama Pinto, who was the victim of the country’s first political assassination in 1965. Pinto, who is remembered on his gravestone as a “socialist and freedom fighter” was Murumbi’s mentor, and got him involved in politics.
The cemetery where Pinto is buried was full. President Moi (who had taken over from Murumbi, as the third Vice-President in 1966 granted Murumbi’s wishes, and in the year 1990, his body was interred at City Park, near to Pinto, but on an outer edge of the cemetery perimeter. The money set aside to fence the grave then disappeared, and his widow placed boulders on the grave for protection.
Then Sheila Murumbi died in 2000, and her body was buried next to her husband’s in a plain unmarked grave.
The graves were in a totally unprotected area, and were desecrated many times – the brass plaques and cords stolen, and the burial place dug into. The Murumbi Trust then applied for permission to renovate the grave as a proper hero’s plot. The Trust received permission from the then Nairobi City Council to go ahead with these plans in 2005, only to find that the plot was given away to a developer! After tremendous public outcry the Murumbi Trust was finally allowed to proceed with its plans.
The National Museums of Kenya now provides 24-hour security to the Murumbi Peace Memorial, and the Friends of City Park remain viligent against further grabs of City Park land.
The Murumbi ‘Peace’ Memorial was so named because its completion was held up by the tragic violence that wracked the country in 2008. It is now a place of secluded solitude, and serene beauty–a place of Peace.
By Alan Donovan
Joseph’s Murumbi’s Collection can be seen at:
• The Murumbi Gallery, which covers the entire ground floor of the Kenya National Archives
• The Murumbi African Heritage Collections in the Old PCs Office