October 20

When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.

Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta was a controversial figure, difficult to categorize, impossible to stop. He straddled the world of traditional Kenyan tribalism and European imperialism during the country’s most revolutionary years, and is considered Kenya’s founding father.

Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Negengi, a member of the Kikuyu people, on this day in 1894. His first contact with the West was at age 10, when a leg infection caused his family to seek help at the Church of Scotland mission. Kamau studied English and the Bible at the mission school and was baptized “John Peter.”

He found work at the Nairobi Public Works Department, and earned the nickname “Kenytta”, Kikuyu for the type of fancy belt he always wore. Kenyatta took an interest in local politics, joined the Kikuyu Central Association and edited a small newspaper.

In 1929, Kenyatta traveled to London to argue for Kenyan land interests.  He met with little success, but published an editorial in The Times.

Kenyatta studied at the London School and Economics and the Soviet Union’s Moscow State University, briefly joining the Communist Party. Despite his involvement in the Communist Party, later as leader of Kenya, he fought against nationalization of industry and agriculture, encouraging instead European investment in Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta
Jomo Kenyatta

In 1952, the violent Mau Mau rebellion broke out against British rule. Kenyatta denied involvement in the Mau Mau attacks, but he was arrested and convicted by a British court in a highly publicized trial and sentenced to 7 years hard labor.

When Kenyans won the right to vote in 1960, Kenyatta was elected President while still in detention. He negotiated Kenya’s terms for independence from Britain, and became the independent nation’s first Prime Minister and President in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He died in 1978.

Kenyatta is controversial in Kenya even today. He pioneered a one-party political system, and though he greatly increased Kenya’s wealth during his presidential years, much of that wealth went directly to his family and cronies.

According to one blogger:

“If parliament sees it necessary that Kenyatta Day be retained because of historical significance, then I can only suggest that it be renamed Heroes Day or Wazalendo Day or whatever, but just not to name it to one individual who caused Kenya more harm than good in their life time.”

Balboa Day

September 25

There are two separate holidays on September 25, celebrated in 4 hemispheres, that collectively mark the beginning and the end of colonialism.

Balboa Day

Balboa plays wave-jumping in the Pacific
Balboa plays "wave-jump" in the Pacific

Vasco Nunez de Balboa was 26 in 1500. It was only 8 years after Columbus’s first voyage, and the young Spaniard sought adventure in the New World. Balboa joined the crew of an expedition headed west to Hispaniola (Cuba) and on to Colombia with the purpose of establishing a settlement.

Due to lack of men, the Spanish were unable to maintain a colony in Colombia. Balboa returned to Hispaniola and pursued Plan B: pig farming. Evidently, Balboa was not a very good pig farmer. He went broke, and was even unable to join the next mission to Colombia because he owed so much money.

The following year he didn’t ask. He snuck aboard a ship carrying supplies to the new settlement.

When the ship arrived in South America the newbies found the Spanish colony deserted. Unable to defend the colony or to sustain their food supply, the Spanish settlers had hightailed it back home. Balboa, who had some familiarity with the land, recommended the group move west, where the indigenous tribes were more peaceful. Thus, the stowaway became the group’s unofficial leader.

Balboa and his crew had many riotous adventures, making slaves of the native populations, stealing gold, and setting wild dogs upon 40 natives exercising the “foulest vice” of male-love. (Right)

In 1513, Balboa heard rumors of a sea to the south, across what is now Panama. Balboa led a group of 90 men southwest across the isthmus. On September 25, 1513, Balboa scaled the highest summit and became the first European to set eyes upon the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean.

Unable to fathom its vastness, he called it the “South Sea” because it appeared to follow Panama’s southern shore.

It was downhill from there for Balboa, literally and figuratively.

A few years later a new governor arrived in town, appointed by the King of Spain. To ensure Balboa would not usurp him, the governor accused Balboa of treason. Balboa and 4 of his men were tried and beheaded in 1519.

Armed Forces Day – Mozambique

From the Northern and Western Hemispheres we move half a world and four and a half centuries later to the coast of Africa.

In the 1500s, Portugal owned half the world (’cause the Pope said so). By the 1960s, the former Iberian powerhouse was tightly clenching its few remaining colonies.

Spurred on by success in Tanzania, FRELIMO, Mozambique’s anti-colonialist liberation party, formed (illegally) in 1962, and received support from China and the Soviet Union. On September 25, 1964, FRELIMO went militant, attacking a Portuguese base in Cabo Delgado.

The fight for independence would be bloody and costly, lasting over a decade. Ultimately, Mozambique won independence, like other Portuguese colonies, because of a government coup in Portugal in 1974. Thus ending almost 500 years of Iberian colonialism in Africa and the Americas.

In memory of that bloody first day, September 25 is Armed Forces Day in Mozambique.