Multi-Party Politics in Kenya: The Kenyatta & Moi States & the Triumph of the System in the 1992 Election

By David W. Throup; Charles Hornsby | Go to book overview

Two
The Independence Struggle The Development of Political Consciousness

Kenya faced severe problems at independence in 1963. During the 1950s, its various racial and ethnic groups were divided both by economic differentiation, encouraged by the British colonial government, and by the consequences of Africa's first war of liberation, the ' Mau Mau' Emergency. This revolt, which became more serious after the detention of Kenyan African Union (KAU) leader Jomo Kenyatta and other nationalist leaders on 20 October 1952, was not simply a rebellion against British colonialism but also a civil war among the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group.1 It set poor Kikuyu, who were being dispossessed by ambitious commercial farmers, against the chiefs, successful entrepreneurs and local Christians. Many Luo, Abaluhya, Kalenjin and the people of the Rift Valley and Coast Provinces were reluctant to rally behind Kikuyu leadership, and most other Kenyans remained on the sidelines waiting to see whether the Kikuyu fighters or the colonialists would triumph. Even when Mau Mau was defeated militarily, and the Mau Mau leader in the Nyandarua forest, ' Field Marshall' Dedan Kimathi. was captured in October 1956, Kikuyu society remained deeply divided. Seven years later, at independence, the country's integrity was at best uncertain.2

The legacy of democratic institutions from the colonial era was mixed. Until the late 1950s, formal political institutions evolved as tools for the white settler community to influence colonial policy. These were adapted, however imperfectly, to represent the voice of the substantial Asian community, but the Legislative Council remained alien to African political interests. After the defeat of the Mau Mau insurrection in 1952-5, it was clear that whatever political democratisation took place would be on the terms of the British. The colonial government was far from happy about being forced into a 'premature' transfer of sovereignty but was able to influence the form it would take, ensuring that power would be handed over at independence to an African élite favouring the world view that the British felt appropriate. The first elections in which Africans were allowed

-7-

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