Born in 1907, Peter Mbiyu Koinange was among the first batch of students of Alliance in its first year, 1926, and, in 1938 became the first Kenyan to obtain an MA degree. His father, Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu, sent him to the US in 1927 to complete secondary education and enrol for higher education, the first Kenyan to be educated in America.
Having also studied in Europe for many years, he was a man of outstanding academic and social credentials. He later became Jomo Kenyatta’s constant companion throughout Kenyatta’s rule, earning himself the nickname Kissinger (after the American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger).
He first attended Hampton College in West Virginia and later Ohio Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a BA degree. He then studied for the MA degree at the University of Columbia. When he came back to Kenya, he and his father set up the Kenya Teachers College in Githunguri, Kiambu, the cornerstone of independent schools in colonial Kenya. These were focal institutions in the struggle for independence. Between 1938 and 1947, Koinange was the principal of the Kenya Teachers College, Githunguri, and a representative of the Kenya African Union in Europe from 1951 to 1959.
In 1947, Koinange handed over the school to Kenyatta and joined the University of London for a diploma at the Institute of Education, and then the prestigious London School of Economics for his postgraduate studies. Kenyatta and Koinange had met earlier in England and remained in touch when the younger man left the UK.
Koinange would not be able to come back to the country for many years due to the Mau Mau War and the declaration of the State of Emergency in 1952. His father and a host of his relatives were caught up in the crossfire between the Mau Mau and the colonial government. They were either detained or restricted.
In England, apart from representing the Kenya African Union (KAU) and the Pan-African movement, Koinange was involved in Pan-African meetings and demonstrations. He met the Gold Coast’s Kwame Nkrumah and when the West African country got independence in 1957 as Ghana, Nkrumah gave him a job as the director of the new Bureau of African Affairs in Accra between 1959 and 1961.
In London, Koinange was also in touch with other key supporters of Pan-Africanism, such as Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, George Padmore of Trinidad and Fenner Brockway, the British politician and anti-war activist. Secret material released recently by the British security branch, the M15, show that Mbiyu received so many letters from all over the world, including Kenya, that it is not clear how he was able to cope with the volumes in a non-electronic age. But this reinforces the impressive global network of political leaders, trade unionists and NGOs that Koinange was in touch with.
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