Kenya’s First President

Kenya 1975 50 Cent obverse

President Jomo Kenyatta adorns the obverse of a 1875 Kenyan 50 cent coin.

President Jomo Kenyatta led the African nation of Kenya from independence in 1963 until his death in 1978. A revolutionary and Pan-Africanist, he was imprisoned for several years by the British colonial authorities due to allegations of involvement with the Mau Mau movement. There remains no convincing evidence of his membership of the Mau Mau and it seems likely that he was convicted on trumped-up charges by a hostile judge.

As with some other African nations, the independence coinage of Kenya replaced the traditional portrait of the reigning British monarch with that of their newly elected leader. Until approximately 1969 there was no inscription accompanying Kenyatta’s portrait. Upon his death, a decade later, his image was replaced with that of his successor, Daniel arap Moi. However, Kenya’s latest coinage issue, running from 2005 to 2010, restores Kenyatta’s portrait and inscription. This long tradition of African portraiture on Kenyan coins looks due to come to an unfortunate end as the country’s 2010 constitution prohibits the depiction of any person on the national currency.

Kenya 1975 50 Cent reverse

The coat of arms of Kenya on the reverse of a 1975 50 cent coin.

The reverse of most Kenyan coins depicts the country’s coat of arms. The nations of East Africa have traditionally incorporated the lion among their national symbols, here represented as spear-carrying bearers. The African shield rests on a depiction of Mount Kenya, adorned with fruits of the territory’s bounty: pineapples, maze, coffee and tea. This warm combination is enhanced by the appearance on the shield itself of a rooster carrying an axe. This symbol, also used by Kenyatta’s political party, represents progress, hard work and success at the breaking of a new dawn. The motto, “Harambee,” means “pulling together” in Swahili.

President Kenyatta is regarded by Kenyans as the father of their nation and is memorialised in the names of many landmarks in the country. Shortly after enjoying a celebratory reunion of his large family in 1978 he died of of a heart attack, well into is eighties. Although there are many different opinions about his time in office there can be no doubt that he served as a powerful, unifying influence over his nation and continues, as a symbol, to do so today. I selected this coin to thank my Kenyan visitors, who have generated the largest number of foreign hits on this site so far.

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