The Eyes of a Hungry Child, a speech by JM Kariuki

Written by | Features, Musings

One month before Independence, JM Kariuki delivered a gripping speech to the House of Representatives.

Now remembered for that immortal phrase ‘the eyes of a hungry child’, the speech was long, frank and inspiring. JM Kariuki sought to have the government find and fund solutions for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the disabled.

In it, he communicates his ideas about the future, and his role as he understood it on the eve of independence from colonial rule. I have edited out parliamentary jargon to make it easier to read.


“At this time of the eve of Uhuru, I am urging the government to acknowledge the birth of a new era of unity, peace and good fellowship among the people of the land by removing any last traces of resentment and bitterness which may still linger as a result of the eight years of the state of emergency in Kenya which have already passed.

I have no need to remind the Members of this House of those dreadful days when brother was turned against brother. Like other Members I have turned from the past knowing that many brothers were turned against each other. There were many things which took place during those times and those were the darkest days we have known.

However, we are now looking ahead to freedom and all of us, in this House and outside, have learnt a great lesson and will now be able to replace the colonialist dictum of divide and rule with our new slogan of “Unite and live.”

It is in the interests of unity and brotherhood that I move this motion. I ask the Hon. Members on both sides of this House to give particular attention to its wording. It does not seek preference for anybody on any side, thus recalling the rancour of past days, it asks that the government should take under its protection all those people who suffered in that time of violence, whichever side they fought on and whatever tribe they may belong to.

I believe that the government will finally reconcile those who were thrust apart by the interests of imperialism and will cement the rule of peace and law into the foundations of our new Kenya. We must not allow our people to live in the past, harbouring grudges and resentment about what was or was not done.

Therefore, let us give our people a future to which they can look forward with confidence in the knowledge that our leader has made provisions for them. These people voted for us in this House and they expect us to represent them in every way.

There is nobody in this house who can feel free after meeting a hungry child. I am well aware that in this challenging times, when the ties of a new nation are being forged, there is much to be done and many calls are made upon our time and upon the country’s coffers by the government, and the country at large is still waiting to see that the bereaved, the orphans, the widows and the disabled are recognized.

There is no one among us here today who can sit comfortably at his table after meeting the eyes of a hungry child. There is no one who can button his coat about him with ease as he thinks of the threadbare shift of a woman who is in want. There is no one who can walk with pride and comfort when he remembers the cripples who cannot walk.

At the moment, you can find many of these people as you around the River Road area and other such places. There is no one to care for these people. We cannot alleviate their problem by giving them Shs. 1 or Shs. 2. They frequently cry for help in voices that we cannot ignore. These people elected us here, and as I have said, they expect us to do something for them.

There is no one among us here today who can sit comfortably at his table after meeting the eyes of a hungry child.

If you go to Kiambu, or to Turkana or any other place you will find so many children left by their parents. They have nobody to look after them. These people expect something to be done for them by their own government. This is the government they have voted in, they are the women who queued during the election to vote in this government. Are we going to ignore them now that have come to power? Are we going to ignore the cripples and disabled after all their suffering? Who is at the moment taking of them and how long are we going to abandon them?

I do not want to dwell on these points, but what I would like to say is a special word for the children, the citizens of tomorrow who must go forward with the task of building the nation when we ourselves are no longer able to do so. We, in this House, do not expect to live for much longer, but let us ensure by timely action that yesterday’s bitterness is not carried forward to tomorrow, from generation to generation, thus perpetuating what would survive as a bad memory from the past.

This should be softened by the remembrance that a wise and just government rescued them from their troubles. Children raised in want will remember their deprivation and therefore let us act now to ensure this burden is lifted from the memories of our future citizens. Let us without delay seek to establish Harambee homes for these young children and let us not only have these homes in the Central Region but in all areas where the need arises.

May I remind the House the purpose of this Motion.

It is to unify the people by alleviating their distress and by providing for all who have suffered, regardless of who they are or what they may have done. It is to fulfill this purpose that I ask for the support of this House to confer upon the unfortunates the greatest gift we can give, the blessing of a future with the hope of a better life. I do not want to criticize anybody, least of all the government, because those people are the people who voted in this government, but they are expecting the government they voted for to do something for them.

How long are we going to wait before we do something? We should not wait until these people are indignant and do something wrong.

Therefore, I would like to suggest that the Government, in trying to help those people, the orphans, the disabled, and the widows, should at least try to observe the following suggestions.

  • Firstly, I feel that there should be created a National Assistance Scheme which would make the widows, the orphans and other disabled persons a national liability. Under such a scheme they would be designated as State-aided Persons.
  • Secondly, training centers should be established throughout the country on a regular basis to train and care for disabled persons who in any case would come under a National Assistance Scheme.
  • Thirdly, free education and medical care should be provided for the orphans.
  • Fourthly, the current National Fund should remain open for contributions for another year so its proceeds after the Independence celebrations may go into the National Assistance Scheme.
  • Fifthly, those who are able to work should be provided with employment by the government.
  • Finally, those who want to become farmers and cannot afford to buy shambas should be settled by the government.

These are the points that I would like to raise for the Government to observe when they come to answer this motion. These are the only points which I feel, if they were observed, would start to alleviate many of the problems. There are so many farms which are being left by the European farmers after they have been satisfied with this country.

Why does the State not take some of these farms and give them to those widows who need them?

The charitable bodies in England and other countries would like to contribute something to this scheme, and it would be better if instead of taking money offered by the United States or the Soviet Union, and putting it into our own banks and pockets, we formed a fund whereby this money could be sent to us to help the poor people.

This is everybody’s problem; it is the problem of every leader in this country, the problem of anybody who wants a good future, of anybody who wants a stable government.”


Source: Hansard Record [Link]

You can find more of JM’s speeches in these two books

JM Speaks His Mind. Download it here [LINK]. The link currently doesn’t work, but you can search the KHRC site here.

JM Kariuki in Parliament. Available in print.

Owaahh, 2016.

One story is good

till Another is told.

Last modified: March 3, 2020

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