A Daunting Journey is the memoir of Jeremiah Gitau Kiereini one of the most well known and least known Kenyans in recent times. This reviewer knew Bwana Kiereini for one reason; that he was the big boss at the Kenya Breweries then East Africa Breweries for quite a long time. The book tells tale of the young man born in 1929 on the year that Wall Street crashed leading to the US Great Depression in Kibicho, Central Kenya. He tells us about being raised by his haughty father Kiereini who was a leader of his sub-clan who had two wives Njanja and Njuhi. From the first wife he had Mai, Kirika, Jeremiah and Wambui while from Njuhi his second he had Zakayo Njoroge, Elizabeth (Beth) Njeri and Jeremiah Gitau the writer of the story.
He goes to school as a young man to the local school in Kiamwangi in Kiganjo then goes to Kagumo Primary, to Alliance High and finally Makere like all the bright chaps at the time. From here he returns to look for work and eventually works at the Indian High Commissioner. Here he works as an administrator and he sees what Africans are going through as they fight for independence in the 1950s. He leaves his cushy job at the commission and joins the colonial service as a rehabilitator of those who were in the concentration camps that the British had set up for people alleged to be Mau Mau or their sympathiser. After this role he becomes a District Assistant and then moves up in the new Kenyan civil service becoming a permanent secretary in the ministry of defence before being given the highest job in his profession as Head of the Civil Service.
He ends the tale with his life outside of the government explaining to us how he has kept himself busy after leaving government at the CMC Group which was a government parastatal when he joined. Also in there was an explanation of how he gained what his earthly possessions mainly by at the right place and the right place and loans from the bank.
He closes with a comprehensive statement on his dealings with the CMC motors that had led him to battlingtoclearhisname.
The book has some things going for it. It brings new light to one of the most traumatizing things to happen in Kenyan history; the attempted coup by Air Forces soldiers in 1982. He explains how the administration, where he was head of the civil service, know of the coup attempt beforehand and how the mutineering soldiers went ahead with their action just before they were arrested. He explains in detail how he goes about helping the country get the back on its feet after the madness.
Also in the book is a brilliant explanation of the history of Kenya especially in the earlier pages as he catalogues how the country came into being and the reason why there were so few people when the colonialists came at the end of the 19th century. This is because of death from disease that decimated the local population. We also learn how important the local Indian High Commission to the Kenyan independence struggle.
The book has several flaws. For one it is not well edited; looking through the book one could see typos all over the product that would have been caught by a half decent editor. With the stature of the man you would have imagined he would have gotten three or four professionals to go through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb. With the pride in his professional life you would have assumed that he would have packaged his product tow world class standards.
Then there is the amazing number of stands that the writer makes in his life. He takes the Mau Mau oath but somehow ends up working for the colonial government as a civil servant – the term at the time was home guard. The “notorious Jeremiah Kierieni” as he is known as to many Mau Mau as stated by Caroline Elkins in her book Britain’s Gulag, joins the administration even if he was supported the Mau Mau stand on independence but was against their violent methods as a Christian. He and President Jomo Kenyatta blame the constitution of independence as being used by the colonialists to delay freedom and they go on to change it then at the end he claims that it was the best constitution that the country ever had. So was the independence constitution a great or a lousy one?
While the bulk of this book concentrates on his work, a man’s family is an important part of who he is. This book touches on his family life but there are some aspects of it that are not clear. He married and then after a while had another lady, the National Nurse, as his wife. It is not clear whether he divorced the first and married the second or just got two wives.
Apart from this he reads as having mellowed out in his old age unlike in his youth when he and his cronies would not allow someone not driving a car of their class. In those days, he once went out of a club when he was drinking with some people with the intention of getting a pistol in his car to shoot a person who dared refer to former Attorney General Charles Njonjo as his husband before he saw sense and stood down.
Would I recommend you read this book? For an overview of how the country has changed in the last century and Kiereini’s place in it this book is quite good. Unfortunately I get the feeling that most of what he gives is probably available in the public domain and no new information is added to the Kenyan knowledge bank. It looks more like an attempt to answer to those who have accused him for a litany of ills from being on the wrong side of history during the Mau Mau rebellion, the Moi administration his involvement and most recently to CMC Motors and its drama.