On 31st December 1966, the Kenyan Vice President, Joseph Murumbi, walked into President Kenyatta’s office at his vacation home in Mombasa where he usually spent the Christmas holidays and announced: “Mzee (a term of respect for an elder) I wanted to hear from you whether it is ok for me to leave. Today is my last day. Mzee just turned his back on me and walked away. He didn’t answer my question. I think he didn’t want me to leave. I think he was hurt”. Having served President Kenyatta as his right hand man, first as personal secretary, then as Minister of State, Foreign Minister and finally the coveted position of Vice President, why did Murumbi decide to walk away from the pinnacle of power? This has been a subject of intrigue in Kenyan politics for decades. But the assassination of his friend and mentor, Pia Gama Pinto, had shaken him to the core, and he was very unhappy with the way things were going which he thought were not in the interest of the common person he came to represent. Instead, Murumbi chose to serve his country, his continent and the world in another role, as preserver and protector of the African heritage.
He was probably the continent’s greatest private collector of art, books, postage stamps, artifacts, textiles, jewellery and everything African, including 50,000 documents on Africa, many of which he acquired during the decade that he was in exile in England before Kenyan Independence, a time when friendly British MPs (Members of Parliament) would save
documents and information on Africa for him to collect and take away, which he gladly did.
In 1972, he opened the continent’s first Pan African Gallery, with his wife Sheila and Alan Donovan, an American designer. The gallery became a show window of African culture and the largest, most organized supplier of arts and crafts from Africa to the rest of the world for over three decades.