Political history of Kenya

Traditional Kenyan societies had well organised systems that helped them live peacefully long before the coming of the Europeans. Most traditional societies were governed by a council of elders, chiefs or kings. Some of these leaders were; Mumia of the Luhya, Waiyaki wa Hinga-Kikuyu, Samoei-Nandi, Masaku-Kamba, Sakawa of the Gusii community, etc.

Conflict and resentment marked the relationship between the colonial government and the ‘native’ Kenyans.

The Kikuyu and the Maasai were the two communities that lost of their land to the colonial settlers. The Kikuyu, especially, became very bitter and formed political movements to air their grievances. In Kiambu 60,000 hectares of land occupied by the Kikuyu community was converted to European coffee farms. By the end of the Second World War, 3,000 European settlers owned 43,000 square kilometres of the most fertile land. The African population of 5.25 million occupied, without ownership rights, 135,000 square kilometres of land. The Kikuyu who were expelled from their ancestral homes to make way for the settlers, lost over 500,000 acres, for which they were not paid any compensation.

Lord Delamere, one of the earliest settlers, took up over one hundred thousand acres. Other aristocrats like Lord Francis Scott, uncle of the Duchess of Gloucester, and Earl of Plymouth secured about 350,000 acres between them. The son of the Duke of Abercorn acquired an estate of 30,000 acres.

In 1921, Harry Thuku formed a political movement called the Young Kikuyu Association. In the following year (1922) he formed the first multi-ethnic nationalist movement called the East African Association. This movement sought to address the following grievances:

the colonial government’s plan to reduce the Africans wage by a third
the Kipande system of movement control
forced labour of women and girls
In the same year Thuku was arrested and detained in connection with his political activities. Two days of demonstrations followed to protest his arrest. On the second day of demonstration (March 16, 1922) a crowd of 7-8,000 of his supporters gathered around Central police Station to demand his release from detention. The police and White civilians at the Norfolk hotel shot at the crowd killing 25. Thuku was exiled without trail at Kismayu island. He returned to Kiambu in January 1931 after his release.

In 1907, the first Legislative Council (LEGCO), a kind of parliament was formed in Kenya by the colonial government. Until 1944 there was no African representative in the LEGCO. In a bid to meet some of the demands of the Kenyan political movements the colonial government nominated Eliud Mathu as the first African representative in the LEGCO.

In 1925, the East African Association was repressed by the colonial government. Members of the association regrouped and formed the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). Educated and politically enlightened Jomo Kenyatta became the first General Secretary and editor of the organisation’s newspaper, Muiguithania (“The Unifier”).

Other political movements formed to fight colonial rule include: Young Kavirondo Association, Kavirondo Tax payers Association, Taita Welfare Association, Akamba African Association, North Kavirondo Association and the Kikuyu Provincial Association.

In 1946 the number of African representatives in the LEGCO rose to two, four in 1948 and six in 1952.

The Kenya African Study Union (KASU) was formed in 1944 with Harry Thuku as the President. In 1946, KASU was renamed Kenya African Union (KAU) with James Gichuru as President. In late 1946 when Jomo Kenyatta returned to Kenya from England he became leader of the nationalist movement, and during mid-1947 he was elected as president of KAU.

However, KAU’s efforts to win self-government under African leadership were unsuccessful, the natives resistance to colonial policies in Kenya became militant with the formation of the Mau Mau movement among the Kikuyu in 1952.

In 1957 Africans were allowed to elect representatives to the LEGCO from different regions in the country. The elect were:

Daniel Arap Moi – Rift Valley
Ronald Ngala – Coast
Oginga Ondinga – Central Nyanza
Tom Mboya – Nairobi
Masinde Muliro – North Nyanza
Lawrence Ogunda – South Nyanza
James Muimi – Ukambani
Bernand Mate – Central
Mau Mau Rebellion and the Kapenguria six
August 24, 1952 the British administration imposed a curfew in three districts on the outskirts of Nairobi where gangs of arsonists, believed to be members of the Mau Mau were setting fire to homes of Africans who refused to take the Mau Mau oath.

October 9, 1952 Chief Waruhiu, a staunch British loyalist was shot and killed by Mau mau gunmen. The British government saw this as the first serious threat to colonial rule by Lands Freedom Army (LFA) or “Mau Mau” as it was known. Mau Mau was born out of the military wing of the defunct Kenya Central Association called Forty Group.

The origin of the term Mau Mau is uncertain. According to some members of Mau Mau, they never referred to themselves as such, instead preferring the military title Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA).

The name Kenya Land and Freedom Army is sometimes heard in connection with Mau Mau. KLFA is not simply another name for Mau Mau: it was the name that Dedan Kimathi used for a coordinating body which he tried to set up for Mau Mau.

On October 20, 1952 a state of emergency was declared by the then British Governor to Kenya Sir Evelyn Barring.

On the early morning of October 21, 1952 Operation Jock Scott was launched: the Kenyan police carried out a mass-arrest of Jomo Kenyatta and 180 other Mau Mau leaders, and British troops patrolled Nairobi.

Up to 8,000 people were arrested during the first 25 days of the Operation Jock Scott.

November 14, 1952, 34 schools in Kikuyu areas were closed by the British administration in an attempt to clamp down on Mau Mau activists.

November 25,1952, the Mau Mau declared open rebellion against British rule in Kenya. The British forces responded by arresting over 2000 Kikuyu suspected of Mau Mau membership.

January 18, 1953, the governor-general, Sir Evelyn Baring, imposed the death penalty for anyone who administers the Mau Mau oath.

January 26, 1953. European settlers in Kenya created their own commando units.

April 8, 1953. Jomo Kenyatta known to his followers as the “Burning Spear” is sentenced to seven years of hard labour.

May 29, 1953. Kikuyu tribal lands are to be cordoned (a line of police, military posts enclosing of guarding an area) off from the rest of Kenya to restrict movement of potential Mau Mau terrorists.

January 15, 1954, General China ‘Waruhiu Itote’, the second in command of the Mau Mau military efforts was wounded and captured by British troops. On March 9, 1954 two more Mau Mau leaders were taken into custody: General Katanga was captured and General Tanganyika surrendered to the British authority.

January 18, 1955. the Governor-general of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring offers a limited amnesty to Mau Mau activists. The offer meant that the activists who surrendered would not face the death penalty, but be imprisoned for their crimes. Britain withdrew the offer of amnesty to the Mau Mau on June 10, 1955.

October 1955, official reports state that over 70,000 Kikuyu suspected of Mau Mau membership have been imprisoned and over 13,000 people have been killed during the past three years of Mau Mau rebellion.

January 7, 1956, the official death toll for Mau Mau activists killed by the British forces in Kenya since 1952 was put at 10,173.

In January 1953, six of the prominent detainees arrested for being KAU leaders in Operation Jock Scott were put on trial. These were: Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai, Achieng’ Oneko and Kung’u Karumba.They were charged with jointly managing a proscribed society-the Mau Mau, which had conspired to murder all white residents of Kenya. The six KAU leaders were all convicted, and sentenced to long terms and permanent restitution. Kenyatta received three year’s hard labour while the others got seven years each.

Kenyatta was tried at Kapenguria on April 8, 1953 for managing Mau Mau. The prosecution’s key witness was Rawson Mbugua Macharia. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison with hard labour and to an indefinite restriction thereafter. On April 14, 1959, Jomo Kenyatta completed his sentence at Lokitaung but remained in restriction at Lodwar. Later, he was moved to Maralal, where he remained until August 1961. On August 14, 1961, he was allowed to return to his Gatundu home. On August 21, 1961, nine years after his arrest, he was freed from all restrictions.

Lari massacre: On March 26, 1953 the Mau Mau attacked loyalist (Home Guard) families in Lari in what came to be known as the Lari massacre. Approximately 74 people were killed and about 50 wounded. The Lari massacre targeted Chief Luka Mbugua Kahangara village. March 26,1953 the night of the Mau Mau attack has come to be known as ‘the Night of the Long Knives.

One of Mau Mau leaders Field Marshall Dedad Kimathi was captured on October 21, 1956 and executed by the colonial government in February 18, 1957. Other leaders were Waruhiu Itote (General China) and General Stanley Mathenge and Musa Mwariama.

Hola massacre: By January 1959 the Hola labour and detention camp had a population of 506 detainees of whom 127 were held in a secluded “closed camp” reserved for the uncooperative of the detainees. On March 3, 1959, 85 prisoners were marched out a site from Hola Detention Camp, near the Tana River and ordered to work. The prisoners refused to work. The commandant blew his whistle and the guards started beating the prisoners. Afterwards, eleven men lay dead and sixty were seriously injured. Hola camp housed detainees classified as “hard-core”.

The Mau Mau killed at least 2,000 Kenyan civilians, 32 Europeans settlers, and 200 British and Kenyan soldiers in the eight-year uprising. The British and Kenyan militant units killed 20,000 Mau Mau rebels in combat, hanged over 1,000 suspected Mau Mau supporters, and interned more than 70,000 Kikuyu civilians.

The State of Emergency ended on November 10, 1959.

Trade Unions
A trade union or labour union is an organisation of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargaining with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with employers. The working class began to set up their own organisations -trade unions- and used the strike weapon to achieve their goals. The first strike was organised in the year 1900.

Early trade unions included the Indian Trade Union (Mombasa and Nairobi, 1914), Workers Federation of British East Africa (for European workers) formed in 1919, and the Indian Employees Association formed in 1919.

The first African workers’ movement took the form of Associations, for example, the Kenya African Civil Servants Association, the Railway African Staff Association, both formed after the First World War.

In 1934 railway artisans in Nairobi formed the Kenya Indian labour Union, which was renamed Labour Trade Union of Kenya in 1935 in a bid to make it non-racial.

In 1935, Makhan Singh formed the Labour Trade Union of Kenya, and, in 1949 he and Fred Kubai formed the East African Trade Union Congress, the first central organisation of trade unions in Kenya.

By 1948, there were 16 trade unions affiliated to the Labour Trade Union of East Africa, with a total membership of 10,000 workers.

In February 1946, the African nationalist organisation, the Kenya African Study Union changed its name to Kenya African Union (KAU). There was a close co-operation between the trade unions and KAU with many trade union officials (e.g. Chege Kibachia-assistant editor of Sauti ya Mwafrika, Fred Kubai) being active in political organisations.

In 1949 the East African Trade Union Congress was formed. It was both a federation of trade unions and a ginger group within the dominant nationalist political party, the Kenya African Union (KAU).

In 1956 the major expatriate firms formed their own organisation, later known as the Federation of Kenya Employers.

Besides the political parties and the Mau Mau, Kenyans formed Trade Unions which pitched themselves against colonialism and provided fora for those rallying people to the call for independence. In the years following the declaration of a State-of-Emergency in Kenya trade unions gained momentum as one of the main campaigners for more African representation.

With the rise of the Mau Mau in the early 1950s, the colonial government imposed severe restrictions on African political life and organisations of political flavour, however, trade unions were largely exempt.
Members of these trade unions were local groups of professionals such as lawyers and doctors, the petite bourgeoisie (clerks, teachers, small merchants), urban workers, cash crop farmers, peasant farmers, etc. who became increasingly concerned and vocal about the running of their country just as the political elite had.

The labour movement (trade union) then known as the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL) led by Tom Mboya, carried the banner of those nationalists clamouring for change from colonial masters. KFL fought against the injustices done to African workers and raised funds to assist those who had been evicted from the “White highlands”. Prominent leaders of the trade unions included Mr. Makhan Singh, Pia Gama Pinto and Tom Mboya.

In 1956, when the colonial administration allowed the formation of political parties (at district level) in the country, most of the leaders of the parties that sprang were from the labour movement. When the district political parties were allowed to progress and come together to form two national parties: the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), labour movement personalities like Mboya were deeply involved in the organisation of the national political parties.

Independence and after
In 1960, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), an African party, with the slogan “Uhuru”  was formed under the leadership of Kikuyu leader James Gichuru and labour leader Tom Mboya. A split in KANU produced the breakaway rival party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), led by Ronald Ngala and Masinde Muliro.

In 1960, Kenya African National Union (KANU) which advocated for a unitary government was formed. In 1961, Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) which advocated for a quasi-federal government (Majimbo) was also formed.

On August 21,1961, nine years after his arrest, Kenyatta was freed from all restrictions. In 0ctober 1961, Kenyatta took on the leadership of the KANU, which proceeded to win the pre-independence elections of May 18, 1963.
The first full franchise General Elections were held in May 1963 and KANU emerged the winner.

On May 27, 1963, Jomo Kenyatta was elected prime minister in Kenya’s first multi-racial elections.

Kenya attained Internal self government on June 1, 1963 (today celebrated as Madaraka day).

On December 12, 1963 (today celebrated as Jamhuri day) Kenya attained independence with Kenyatta as the first Prime Minister. Kenya was the 34th African state to achieve independence.

On December 16, 1963 a general amnesty was announced for Mau Mau activists.

In November 1964 KADU dissolved and merged with KANU.

In December 1964, Kenya became a republic and Kenyatta was elected as the first president.

In 1965 KFL was disbanded and replaced with the Central Organisations of Trade Unions (COTU), which is still in existence today.

Soon after independence Kenyatta introduced the slogan “Harambee”:a call to self-sufficiency for the purposes of national development. As president, Kenyatta worked to establish harmonious race relations, safeguarding White’s property rights and appealing to both whites and Africans to forget past injustices and work together for the development of Kenya. This and other of Kenyatta’s compromise policies became unpopular with radicals within KANU among them the then vice president Oginga Odinga who advocated for a socialist state structure for the country.

In 1966, policy disagreements between Kenyatta and Odinga led to the latter being forced out of KANU and of government. Odinga and his supporters formed a rival party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).

To counter the challenge posed by KPU Kenyatta banned the KPU and detained its leaders. He then called for elections in which only KANU was allowed to participate, in effect making Kenya a one-party state.

Kenyatta was re-elected as president in 1969 and in 1974, unopposed each time and for the remainder of his term Kenya was a one-party state.

Kenyatta died on August 22, 1978 at 3.30 A.M. in State House Mombasa at the age of 89 years, while on a working holiday. He was succeeded by the then Kenya’s vice president Daniel Arap Moi.

On August 22, 1978, Moi assumed office as interim president for 90 days during which time new elections would be held. In his first address to the public Moi pledged to continue Kenyatta’s work, labelling his own program “Nyayo” (Swahili for footsteps). On October 14, 1978, Moi became president officially after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee.

In 2002, Moi was constitutionally barred from running, and Mwai Kibaki, running for the opposition coalition “National Rainbow Coalition” — NARC, was elected President

September 1, 2003, after more than 50 years, the Mau Mau movement, who fought for Kenya’s independence was unbanned. The Mau Mau movement was banned by the British colonial government in 1952.

In 2007, the Kenyan government unveiled Vision 2030, an economic blueprint it hopes will put the country in the same league as the Asian Economic Tigers by the year 2030.

The latest general elections were held on 27 December 2007. In them, President Kibaki under the Party of National Unity (PNU) ran for re-election against the main opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). The eleection results were disputed by ODM and the following protests escalated into ethnic violence and destruction of property where about 1,000 people were killed and nearly 600,000 displaced.

On 28 February 2008, Kibaki and Odinga signed an agreement on the formation of a coalition government in which Odinga would become Kenya’s second prime Minister.

On 13 April 2008, President Kibaki named a grand coalition cabinet of 41 Ministers- including the prime minister and his two deputies. The cabinet, which included 50 Assistant Ministers, was sworn in at the State House in Nairobi on Thursday, 17 April 2008 in the presence of Dr. Kofi Annan and other invited dignitaries.

A referendum to vote on a proposed new constitution was held on 4 August 2010, and the new constitution came into effect on 27 August 2010.Among other things, the new constitution delegates more power to local governments and gives Kenyans a bill of rights.