Very few Suffolk folk are aware of Leslie Whitehouse (known as Wouse). Born in Coddenham, Suffolk, his father operated a windmill, and when that failed tried the coal business, later running a sweet shop in Ipswich. Wouse was a shy retiring youngster, the sixth and last child. He was five years younger than his nearest sister. He hated the municipal school in Ipswich.
His oldest brother Geoffrey was a Commander in the Royal Navy retiring in 1919 he was allocated a farm in western Kenya. He asked Wouse to help run a flax farm. It failed. Wouse found a job in a pharmacy. That took him to Maasiland, as the Maasai welcomed vaccination, realising its value in combating smallpox.
Wouse loved the life, and was fortunate to be offered a job as a schoolmaster at Narok. Immediately he came upon the social differences of Africa compared with Europe. Circumcision was an accepted rite of passage, taxation was not! He was an unusual Englishman in Kenya at that time. He’d no educational qualifications, had not been to public school nor in the armed services.He was a loner, he was different, but he loved Africa and its people.
Wouse spoke many languages well, and was accepted by local people. First he was a teacher at Kijabe. He was impressed by the young Maasai warriors, their fine physiques, and no reliance upon possessions. A spear, a blanket (once it would have been a lion skin) and cattle, animals they were convinced were put on this world for the Maasai so rustling was merely reclaiming their property.
Wouse was made a District Commissioner and sent to Lodwar to cover the area of the Turkana tribe, and he spent much of his time identifying the borders between Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. No easy task, requiring exceptional diplomatic skills when dealing with people who had no conception of borders, but understood tribal areas.
Turkana was remote so the colonial government found it a useful place to keep prisoners. There was little chance of escape. Wouse was then a senior district commissioner charged with building a prison, which he did at Lokitaung, remote outpost.
Peter Johnstone, a fatherless young Kenyan, deserted by his mother, was educated at a Presbyterian school in Kikuyu. He found it difficult to match the moral codes of Christianity, and was dissatisfied until he became secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association trying to preserve tribal customs. The Kikuyu were one of 27 different tribes in Kenya. Changing his name to Jomo Kenyatta his influence grew, and he was sent to London to represent the KCA. He loved London, spending 18 months in Europe before going to Moscow.
Life then became very political, and for an outline of those times I suggest you got to http://www.psywar.org/maumau.php who does a much better job than I can of painting the political picture.
Wouse had built a prison, and now Jomo Kenyatta was his prisoner. Kenyatta and his fellow defendants put their faith in a defence counsel, a Mr Pritt, who promised they would be released. That did not happen. Wouse was ordered to take care of Mzee: the name he used for Jomo Kenyatta, who was then 60 years of age. A martyr was not wanted.
Kenyatta’s fellow prisoners were antagonistic towards him. There were at least two attempts to kill him. He was constantly bullied, and only one prisoner, China, gave him any support.
Wouse was more interested in problems at the frontier with Sudan and Ethiopia. and Kenyatta fell ill, so bad he was flown to Nairobi for treatment. During 1954 Jomo Kenyatta began to receive visitors, all sorts of people made the journey to his remote prison, where he spent most of his time in solitary confinement, and worked as the camp’s cook. Only six prisoners were kept there at that time.
The care taken of Jomo Kenyatta did not endear him to his fellow inmates. It was reported that too much time was spent dealing with the complaints of the prisoners, although relationships with the District Officer were always cordial. One young prisoner, Karioki, a convicted murderer who had not been executed because of his age, attacked Kenyatta with a knife. It’s reported that, ‘Fortunately for Kenyatta his attackers trousers caught in a splinter on the table. Kenyatta had just enough warning to catch the man’s arm with the knife in it. He shouted to China. The others tried to hold China back but he threw them off and grabbed the knife’.
It was a clear attempt at murder, with the young attacker immune from execution having nothing much to lose. Kenyatta remained in his cell, very depressed, but also a Kikuyu tradition to talk very little about oneself.
It’s clear that Mzee and Wouse had a close relationship. Neither man was very expressive, and Wouse goes to great lengths to not reveal the true nature of that friendship. He goes as far to say that ‘I am obliged to inhibit some part of our acquaintanceship’. They had a lot in common, both born at the end of the century, with unhappy childhoods, so that neither realised their full potential. Both felt they were outsiders, and both had sought escape in foreign lands. Neither gained any comfort from established religions. Kenyatta was a man of ideas, a born leader. Wouse was an implementer, experiencd in the art of the possible.
Wouse retired in 1958, Kenyatta said, just before his release, ‘We have been in university. We learned more about politics that we learned outside’. An indirect compliment to Wouse,
Wouse was then encouraged to take Kenyan citizenship and to represent Kenya on the Sudan/Kenya/Uganda boundary commission, and to become a judge. He worked hard. He had to because the British government used the excuse of his Kenyan citizenship to deprive him of enhanced pension rights. It was a dismal time for Wouse, forced to sell his home, to rent somewhere smaller, and to keep working until he was over 85. Fortunately the Kenyan President allowed him to receive his salary after retirement, so he was able to live in Kenya, but all dreams of returning to England were dashed.
Much is now said about British colonialism, some of it bad. However Leslie Edward Whitehouse did his best for Kenya, and as Suffolk people we can be proud of his achievements.
The information for this blog came from a book published in 1993 Jomo’s Jailor, Grand Warrior of Kenya. The author, Elizabeth Watkins, has added valuable information to an international library. It is regrettable that the book is now out of print. If the author can be traced I’d be pleased to consider republication.