International Trends Personal Policy and Politics

Ernest Manheim’s Encounter With Jomo Kenyatta at the London School of Economics

On March 8, 2013 results of the presidential election in Kenya gave Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the famed first President of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, a narrow win (1). Kenyatta was a Kikuyu like his father.  The runnerup in this history-evoking and bitterly contested election was Raila Amollo Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, He was the then current Prime Minister of Kenya and a son of the first Vice President of Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Odinga challenged the election on grounds of irregularities in a suit rejected by the  Kenyan Supreme Court in 2013. An indictment by the International Criminal Court against Kenyatta for instigating violence against the Luo tribe was dropped in 2014 (2). The position of Prime Minister was abolished in Kenya on April 9, 2013.

The events in Kenya brought back to me a story told by my father, Ernest Manheim, of an encounter with Jomo Kenyatta when he and Kenyatta were students at the University of London in 1935. My father’s His own early story had plenty of drama. Born in Budapest Hungary (1900), young Ernő was gifted in music and interested in chemistry. But during World War I at the age of 17 he volunteered for the Royal Hungarian Military Academy and in 1918 fought on the Italian front in the Hungarian Army, part of the Austro-Hungarian army that was allied with Germany. After the war and the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovak and Romanians forces moved into Hungary in 1920. Young Ernö volunteered again for the national Hungarian army mobilized by the revolutionary (Communist) government of Béla Kun. In charge of a platoon of Bosnian machine gunners, he was captured by the Romanians, who would also take Budapest and end the Kun government. Ernő escaped to East Hungary (now Slovakia).

Affected by the cataclysmic events of war and collapse of the “eternal” Austro-Hungarian empire, Manheim moved to Germany to study sociology.  After a PhD dissertation in sociology at the University of Leipzig he moved in 1934 to the London School of Economics at the University of London, where his older and more famous cousin, Karl Mannheim (the name given by an English publisher to Manheim Károly) was already well established.

The University had many foreign students, among whom were Jomo Kenyatta (3). Kenyatta (1891-1972), earlier known as Kamau wa Ngengi, became a pupil at the Church of Scotland mission near Nairobi. Kamau converted to Christianity in 1914 and in 1922 became a clerk and water reader for the Nairobi Department of Public Works. He became active in Kikuyu politics, rising to become General Secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association in 1928. Sent to London in 1929 to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land affairs Kenyatta studied briefly in London and then in Moscow until the Soviet Union, seeing Britain and France as potential allies against Hitler’s growing power, withdrew its support for the movement against colonial rule in Africa. In 1934 Kenyatta enrolled in the University College, London. He initiated doctoral studies at the  London School of Economics under the internationally renowned Polish-British anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski. Ernest Manheim was also a Malinowski student, ultimately completing a second dissertation on power relationships in Southern Africa.

Ernest continued fascination with folk music, to which he had been introduced through the field collections and research of Hungarian composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. He developed common interests with fellow student Kenyatta both regarding folk music and Africa. Ernest related that on one occasion Kenyatta took him up to his room to demonstrate some Kikuyo songs. He stripped off his shirt and, accompanying himself on a drum, launched into  song, during which he became visibly affected on an emotional level.

In 1938 Kenyatta later released a book revised from his dissertation at LSE, Facing Mount Kenya (4). 


1.  Wikipedia, “Uhuru Kenyatta”, 2015

2.  Marlise Simons and Jeffrey Gettleman, “International Court Ends Case Against Kenyan President in Election Unrest“, New York Times, Dec. 5, 2014. 

Uhuru Kenyatta Faced Allegations of Crimes Against Humanity


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Supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya celebrated Friday in Nairobi after charges were dropped in The Hague.


Daniel Irungu/European Pressphoto Agency

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3. Wikipedia, “Ernest Manheim”, 2015

4. Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya, Vintage Books editionl, 352 p. (1962)