The Kenya National Archives starring Joseph Murumbi

Joseph Murumbi
Joseph Murumbi

Mashujaa Day is tomorrow and that means that we have to get all patriotic and everything right? Alrighty then. Let’s visit the Kenya National Archives which is having an open day today and tomorrow.

The Kenya National Archives on Moi Avenue in Nairobi is an impressive sight. I pass this building every morning on my way to work and I have been saying for months that I should, if you don’t mind the American teenagerism, totally check it out. So this morning as I passed the building I noticed that the building was offering an open day in honour of Mashujaa Day. Two days of free visiting on the 19th and 20th the sign says. Free things? I’m a Nairobian. There is no way I could pass on this opportunity so I walked in to check this place I haven’t been to since I was a lad.

The ground floor of the place offers a few things. There is a section with many artefacts from around the continent with masks and little weird and lovely things. If you are an art enthusiast you will have a feast for your senses. It was paintings and sculptures hewn made from various mediums. There was also a “contemporary art section” which sadly was populated with the country as a rural idyllic setting. I wish there were more contemporary scenes there that portrayed what some of us go through every day but that is just me.

There was also a section set aside for some Kenyans who were world famous including Wangari Maathai of Nobel Prize for peace winning fame. There was also a section for slain politico and trade union boss Tom Mboya famous for his role in championing the airlifts that got Barack Obama into the US as a student. Yes, that President Obama’s father.

The first floor has images that, walking clockwise, show traditions of various Kenyan communities with people doing their hair, drinking traditional brews, and more. It then goes on to show the traditional chiefs and transitioning to the colonial bigwigs and then government officials from independence including police chiefs, ministers, vice presidents and presidents. Unfortunately I went anti-clockwise so you can imagine how disturbing it was starting with President Kibaki and his photos with world leaders then going backwards until seeing some guys drinking traditional brews.

There was also an actual archive section on this floor which you pay Kshs200 to access as a Kenyan citizen. The friendly attendant there told me that the facility houses pre-independence political and non political documents.  History buffs will be happy to peruse through the old books and see how life was before the Brits came to our rescue and gave us trousers.

The interesting thing about the archives however is the presence of former vice president Joseph Murumbi. The former politico was supposedly big on politics until his pal and mentor Pio Gama Pinto was assassinated in 1965. The man decided to get out before the buggers got him (my inference) and went into the art business starting African Heritage with American Alan Donovan.

His love of art shone through and it was all over the building. Many of the sculptures and paintings and other knick knacks were donated by the old man. The first floor also has Murumbi and his wife’s Sheila pan African stamp collection with stamps from around the continent. (For those under 20 who may be reading this, a stamp is something that used to be attached to the “emails” of before 2000 that were called “letters.” There were collected by people just like one collects bonga points).

What I came away from the national archives is that in future Joseph Murumbi will be thought to have been a very influential politician when he was alive. It is quite interesting considering that he was not a major political player when he was alive if current perceptions are anything to go by. I need to up my art collecting game to increase my legacy in death. Maybe I should start collecting those old Blackberry apps?

Check out the Kenya National Archives this Mashujaa Day.