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Kenyan Tycoon Who Employed Jomo Kenyatta as Bartender

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KENYANS 29 MAR 2020

In the run-up to Kenya’s independence in 1963, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was busy building his reputation as a vocal advocate for Pan-Africanism. It was during this period that the man who would later become Kenya’s first president befriended one of the richest Africans in Britain at the time, Ras Makonnen.

Makonnen was born George Thomas Nee Griffiths in Buxton, Guyana. His paternal grandfather was reportedly born in Tigre, Ethiopia, and taken to British Guyana by a Scottish miner.

Ras Makonnen was a Guyanese-born, Pan-African activist.

In his prime, the vocal advocator for Africa’s liberation from the colonial masters owned many restaurants and lodges in Manchester and shops on the exclusive London Oxford Street.
 
Due to their friendship, Makonnen employed Mzee Jomo at one of his night clubs in Manchester.

The two were almost inseparable ever since they met in 1935 at a meeting in Trafalgar Square where the Ethiopian crisis organised by the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE), was the main agenda.

The dynamic duo used the restaurants to further their cause with renowned African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and others who were frequent patrons at the restaurants.

Makonnen used profits from the hotels to fund his countless political works across the African continent.

He was one of the last people to see Mzee Jomo before he left Britain to return to Kenya.

After Kenyatta’s departure from Europe and years later when his arrest was imminent, Makonnen was questioned by the British MI-5 (intelligence agency) about his contacts with the Kenyan leader.

Former President Jomo Kenyatta. In the late 1930’s he once worked at a night club in Manchester.DAILY NATIONMakonnen is credited as having played a key role in facilitating the crucial 5th Pan-African Congress, as he played host to the likes of Nkrumah, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B) Du Bois and Hastings Kamuzu Banda, as well as his bosom friend Mzee Jomo.

It has been documented that one of the reasons why congress was held in Manchester was because Makonnen owned restaurants and lodges where delegates could sleep and eat. He was granted citizenship in Ghana following its independence on March 6, 1957.

However, he found himself behind bars at Ussher Fort Accra for 9 months after Nkrumah was deposed in 1966. By this time, Kenya had already gained its independence from British rule and Mzee Jomo – who was now the president – made a special appeal for his long time friend to be released by General Ankrah and flown to Kenya.

He arrived that same year and the president appointed him as the adviser in the Ministry of Tourism, granting him full citizenship in 1969.

The man who was considered by many to be the father of African freedom fighters, passed away on Dec 18, 1983, in Nairobi West. 

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