Kenyatta, Jomo jō´mō kĕnyä´tə [key], 1893?–1978, African political leader, first president of Kenya (1964–78). A Kikuyu, he was one of the earliest and best-known African nationalist leaders. As secretary of his tribal association (1928), he campaigned for land reform and African political rights. In England he collaborated with other African nationalist students and founded (1946), with Kwame Nkrumah, the Pan-African Federation. Returning (1946) to Kenya, he became president of the Kenya African Union. In 1953, during the Mau Mau uprising, Kenyatta was imprisoned by the British as one of its instigators, then sent to internal exile (1959). Kenyatta was elected president of the newly founded (1960) Kenya African National Union while in exile. Released in 1961, he participated in negotiations with the British to write a new constitution for Kenya, which became independent in 1963. Kenya became a republic in 1964 with Kenyatta as president. Influential throughout Africa, Kenyatta was intolerant of dissent in Kenya, outlawing some opposition parties in 1969 and establishing a one-party state in 1974. The stability resulting from his leadership attracted foreign investment. He followed a nonaligned foreign policy and died in office. He wrote Facing Mount Kenya (1938) and Suffering without Bitterness (1968).
See biography by J. Murray-Brown (1972).