Arwings-kodhek-minister-of-foreign-affairs1968

THE NAME BEHIND THE ROAD: ARGWINGS KODHEK ROAD, NAIROBI.

CMG Argwings Kodhek (1923-1969) was the Kenya’s first African lawyer. He is fondly remembered for providing legal defense to freedom fighters during the fight for independence; mostly for free and in the harsh conditions of remote detention camps. Since most of his clients were mainly those accused of Mau Mau-related activities, the colonialists nicknamed him the ‘Mau Mau’ lawyer.

After independence, he went on to become an assistant minister, then Minister for Natural Resources (1966) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1968).

Sadly his life was cut short in 1969 in what has been described a mysterious road accident along this road now named after him. Wikipedia – French. (Category: History Asides)



malkiat-singh

MALKIAT SINGH: THE MAN BEHIND THE 8-4-4 REVISION BOOKS.

As we say goodbye to the 8-4-4 system, there is no other Kenyan writer whose name we identify more with this education system (for good or bad) than Malkiat Singh. Singh came to Kenya in 1958 starting out as a primary and high school teacher before settling for writing books full-time in 1975. Although he sold his brand to Longhorn publishers in 2013, he still earns a royalty of 12% from every textbook you buy bearing his name. Not bad for retirement! And 100 books later – as they say, the rest is history. (Category: History Asides)

HISTORY SHORTS: MEKATILILI WA MENZA

The fight for Kenyan Independence and freedom was an all-hands-on-deck affair that started almost immediately after the British arrived and at every corner of Kenya.

Mekatilili wa Menza (born sometime in the 1860s – died in 1824) led the Giriama people between 1913-1914 in resisting British occupation and the disruption to their cultural heritage including worship. Through her eloquent arguments against colonial rule, she marshaled and organized the Giriama people to form a parallel government to the local colonial government.

She took issue with young Giriama men being forced to provide labor for the colonial government along the Kenyan coastal region which brought back memories of Arab slave traders who lured young men with promises of work only for the young men never to come back. Similarly, she brought to task Giriama headmen recruited by the British accusing them of receiving payments to encourage their people to work for the British. [1] These were just but a few of the grievances that led Mekatilili to take on the colonial government.

To galvanize her followers to the cause, she encouraged them to travel to their Kayas (Kayas are sacred dwellings among the Mijikenda located in forests and are today designated as UNESCO heritage sites) as part of returning to their Giriama traditions and religion. Mekatilili had also installed Wanje wa Mwadori, a mediceneman, as the Chief Judge to lead the parallel government. Mwadori was on hand at the Kaya to hear people’s grievances and most importantly administer the mukushekushe (women) and fisi  (men) oaths resisting British occupation. (These oaths were taken very seriously by the Giriama people and the mere mention of them was enough to keep people on the straight-and-narrow path.)

For leading this resistance, she was exiled to Gusiiland by the colonialists. A famous account among her people says she escaped, freed her fellow detainees and walked all the way back to her home to continue the resistance.[2]

To discredit her, the British branded Mekatilili a ‘witch’ and a ‘mad woman’; they were especially befuddled by her performance of the “Kifudu” funeral dance which was her way of attracting large crowds to listen to her.[3] But judging the success of the resistance, one can only conclude that Mekatilili was a brilliant charismatic leader and strategist who united her people against the colonialists by appealing to what they valued most; their religion and traditional values. Wikipedia


Read More About Mekatilili wa Menza.

The Giriama and Colonial Resistance in Kenya, 1800-1920. Cynthia Brantley.  ISBN: 978-0520042162
Rethinking the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya. 2007 By S. Alam.
Mekatilili wa Menza (c.1860-c.1925). The widow who beat the British through ecstatic dance. Read here.
Mekatili wa Menza Facebook tribute page.
Photocourtesy: Feature photo – Art by Zarina Patel. Read more about the artist.

HISTORY SHORTS: FIELD MARSHAL MBARIA KANIU

It was after our Facebook posts on Mau Mau movement leaders Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima and Field Marshal Musa Mwariama, that a member of Field Marshal Mbaria Kaniu’s family contacted us and brought him to our attention.

Indeed, due to the devolved nature and fluidity of the Mau Mau movement (not to mention divisions within the ranks), it is easy to leave out high ranking members as one delves into reconstructing the movement’s leadership structure. Furthermore, many freedom fighters involved in the armed struggle for freedom were unable to learn how to read and write, leading many of these valiant heroes to leave it to historians and others to tell their story.

This is especially true in the case of Field Marshal Mbaria Kaniu (1920-2003).

As we dug up the history books and archives, certainly it was indisputable Field Marshal Kaniu, who originated from the Fort Hall region (modern Murang’a), was in the upper echelons of the movement. [1,2,3,4] A 1956 Chicago Tribune article reporting of his capture placed him as the Mau Mau movement third-in-command. In many books and articles he is mentioned in the same breath with Mau Mau heroes such as Dedan Kimathi, Stanley Mathenge wa Mirugi, Waruhiu Itote, Mwangi Kariuki aka General Matenjagwo, among many others.

Although he was born in Njumbi, Murang’a, it is in Naivasha where he made his name as a respected Mau Mau military commander. Among his many accomplishments was the successful attack of the Naivasha Police Base in 1953 that led to the capture of much needed guns and ammunition from British forces.[2] It was also in Naivasha that he was famously captured in January 1956 at a papyrus swamp during a British military exercise known as Operation Bullrush whose sole purpose was to flush out Mau Mau fighters from this swampIn an act of love he chose to stay back and nurse his injured companion instead of making his escape. [3, 4]

Photo of Field Marshal Kaniu and his injured companion after their capture in Naivasha.

Field Marshal Kaniu went on to form the Kenya Land Freedom Army (KLFA) made up of former Mau Mau activists in 1958 but it was outlawed in 1961. After independence, he became a well respected community leader especially in Rift Valley. Marshall S. Clough, in his book on the Mau Mau, describes Field Marshal Kaniu as follows [3]:

“…Mbaria wa Kaniu, on the other hand, was admired for refusing to place himself above the ordinary gitungati (rear guard), for his commitment to justice, and for his skill as a mediator of  disputes…”

Field Marshal Kaniu was certainly the epitome of integrity and loyalty. At the time of his passing, he left four widows and thirty-six children who have continued to perpetuate his enduring legacy and keep his name alive as a bona-fide Kenyan hero. This is despite the many financial hardships the family continues to face even to this day.


Caption: Mbaria Kaniu Road in Naivasha

We would like to thank the family of Field Marshal Mbaria Kaniu for the cover picture and their invaluable information which was certainly corroborated by the history books and archives.


References and Good Reads:
A History of Pan-African Revolt (The Charles H. Kerr Library). Oct 1, 2012 by C. L. R. James and Robin D. G. Kelley
Mau Mau: The Peak of African Political Organization and Struggle for Liberation in Colonial Kenya. Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, 12(3) by Maina-Wa-Kinyatti, 1983
Kenya Cowboy: A Police Officer’s Account of the Mau Mau Emergency. Apr 1, 2008 by Peter Hewitt
Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory, and Politics. Nov 1997 by Marshall S. Clough
Rethinking the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya. 2007 By S. Alam.

HISTORY SHORTS: JEAN-MARIE SERONEY

JEAN-MARIE SERONEY (1927-1982), was the first Kenyan to obtain an undergraduate degree in law (LLB). A brilliant lawyer and politician by all accounts, he was an ardent and steadfast defender of the sovereignty of the Kalenjin community and their land during both the colonial era and post-independent Kenya.

For this and his many honest views including the checking of executive power, he paid a heavy price. He spent 3 years in detention between October 1975 and December 1978 alongside fellow agitators Martin Shikuku, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Koigi wa Wamwere among many others.

He had been elected Deputy Speaker of the Parliament in February 1975, just a couple months before detention. He died in Dec. 1982 but his legacy lives on.Wikipedia


Read More about Seroney:
Detailed Facebook article that was used for Wikipedia page.
Just for Today: The Life and Times of Jean-Marie Seroney. By Godfrey K Sang ISBN:978-1909204799. Google books.
PHOTO-COURTESY: By Godfreysang – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

HISTORY SHORTS: FIELD MARSHAL MUTHONI WA KIRIMA

FIELD MARSHAL MUTHONI WA KIRIMA (b. 1931;also known as Nyina wa Thonjo) was a close confidante of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi and one of the highest ranking women in the command structure of the Mau Mau movement. Considered by many of her fellow fighters to be a master tactician and a great marksman, she inflicted immense pain on the colonial government and only left the forest right after Kenya’s Independence ceremony.

She received her nickname “Nyina wa Thonjo” (Nyina is Mother-of and Thonjo is weaver bird in Kikuyu) from Dedan Kimathi for her ability to “weave” intricate and brilliant plans on how to fight the British forces.

Field Marshal Muthoni represents the many women and mothers who made great sacrifices and suffered immensely during Kenya’s fight for freedom. Her name is truly worthy of being etched into our history books alongside the greatest of our heroes.


Good Read:

War and Women across Continents: Autobiographical and Biographical Experiences edited by Shirley Ardener, Fiona Armitage-Woodward, Lidia D. Sciama. Chapter 4 “Mau Mau Women” by Tabitha Kanogo. ISBN 978-1-78533-013-1
Field Marshal Muthoni-Kirima, Warrior Woman. Read PDF here.

HISTORY SHORTS: FREEDOM FIGHTERS OF SOUTH ASIAN DESCENT

Pinto Pio Gama Pinto (1927-1965) was a Kenyan journalist of Indian and Goan descent, actively involved in the fight for independence. After spending four years in colonial detention, he founded the official KANU newspaper “Sauti ya KANU” in 1960. He continued his activism after independence and was sadly killed in 1965, some speculating he was assassinated for his strong socialist views while Kenya was starting to move more towards capitalism, while others thought it was due to his alleged communist activities throughout Africa. Incidentally he died only 4 days after Malcolm X was assassinated. The two were well acquainted and Malcolm X considered Pinto a great influence on his worldview. He was only 38. Wikipedia


~Image result for makhan singh KENYAMakhan Singh (1913-1973) -Trade unionist and a close associate of Fred Kubai. He formed the first trade union in 1935, the Labour Trade Union of Kenya. Spent 11 years of detention in Lodwar, but despite his great contribution to Trade Unionism and sacrifice to the freedom struggle, he has not received a much of attention among historians like the other freedom fighters of his calibre have received. Read this great article on Makhan Singh at sikhfoundation.org.


Image result for eddie pereira kenyaEddie Pereira (1915-1995) – Kenyan Nationalist of Goan descent who wrote over 100 newspaper articles critical of colonial rule. Was jailed under fabricated charges for his anti-colonial activities. After independence, he became a hotelier in Kisumu. Was sadly murdered in Nairobi in 1995. Before he died, Eddie wrote the following remarkable words: “…A good character is the best tombstone…Carve your name in heart, not on marble…Read more about Eddie at goacom.com


Fitz De Souza (b.1929) – Barrister and graduate of prestigious London School of Economics, he worked tirelessly to defend those accused of Mau Mau related activities in addition to serving as an advisor during the Lancaster House Conferences that laid the framework for an independent Kenya. After independence, he went on to become Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly until 1970. Wikipedia


Good Reads on these heroes

Liberating Minds, Restoring Kenyan History: Anti-Imperialist Resistance by Progressive South Asian Kenyans 1884-1965. Mar 23, 2017 by Nazmi Durrani. Google books preview.
Yesterday in Paradise Paperback – September 15, 2016 by Cyprian Fernandes. ISBN:978-1504303439. Google books preview.

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