From the moment Johnstone Kamau Ngengi arrived in London, the British Empire’s capital, on March 8, 1929, it was obvious his stay would attract interest.
For the next 17 years, life in Europe for the man who would later be known as Jomo Kenyatta was marred with controversy and intrigue.
However, his long stay abroad was not filled with the glamour envisioned by people back home; he was often hungry and short of money — sometimes due to his extravagance.
Secret documents would also later reveal that the British intelligence spied on him.
Mr Kenyatta had arrived in London on a one-way ticket as the representative of the Kikuyu Central Association, entrusted with a petition to present to the Secretary of State for the Colonies at London’s White Hall.
Mr Kenyatta briefly returned to Kenya on September 24, 1930 and back to London on May 22, 1931.
From 1931 he spent 15 years in the UK during which he witnessed, from London, some of the most significant historical events of the 20th Century, including the Second World War from 1939 to 1945.
As conflict ravaged the world, Mr Kenyatta resided in Storrington.
But he got people in Kenya talking because of extravagantly squandering funds raised for his upkeep by KCA — a controversial visit to Moscow in the autumn of 1929 where he allegedly joined the Communist Party and trained as a revolutionary, accumulating debts, living hand-to-mouth in 1930s and an unconventional civil marriage to British governess and orphan Edna Clarke in May 1942.
But perhaps what puzzled many was how Mr Kenyatta, who was a former city council meter reader with limited education when he left Kenya, enrolled for a diploma at the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE).
More importantly, what qualification was Mr Kenyatta awarded after studying at LSE between 1935 and 1937?
Formal records at LSE revealed very little, but it is documented that Mr Kenyatta began to study anthropology under the tutelage of world-famous Polish born anthropologist Prof Bronislaw Malinowski, becoming among the first African students to be taught by the famous scholar.
Mr Kenyatta’s name was concurrently in the books of University College London from January to July 1935 for a course in English and again from October 1935 to June 1936 for a three-hour course of Phonetics.
In an exclusive interview with this writer in August 2001, former lecturer and world famous anthropologist Sir Raymond Firth divulged new insights on the LSE credentials of the man who would be Kenya’s first President.
“Kenyatta was my student at LSE. He was admitted under special terms as a candidate for a diploma course, though diploma in Anthropology was ideally for graduates or candidates who already possessed equal academic ratings,” Prof Firth recalled at his Highgate home in North London.
He added: “There were special exceptions for persons who had spent over two years overseas engaging with work that had brought them in contact with ‘native’ life, and it was therefore thought that Kenyatta’s previous personal experiences of his Kikuyu tribe made him a suitable student and was subsequently admitted as a special candidate.”
When he arrived in London, Mr Kenyatta is said to have taken a keen interest in social anthropology, and came across the work of people like Prof Malinowski.
Prof Firth, who retired in 1968, noted that Mr Kenyatta thought anthropology would provide analytical help in solving Kenya’s colonial problems.
The diploma course was supposed to last three years, of which one year was reserved for field work, and on successful completion there was a thesis to be written before the diploma could be awarded.
“He was to take the diploma in two years and as a major element in the diploma, he wrote a thesis,” the former lecturer added.
According to Prof Firth, Mr Kenyatta was a bright student and on November 14, 1935 he presented his thesis at LSE before his teachers, critics and fellow students which centred on female circumcision among the Kikuyu.
“Europeans and missionaries consider this rite disgusting and barbarous, but the Kikuyu consider it very important for the solidity of the social structure,” Jeremy Murray-Brown writes in Kenyatta, a biography published in 1972.