Kenya Independence

Kenya Independence

After the Portuguese were driven out from parts of what is now Kenya by the Omani Arabs and Swahili tribes in the late 17th century, the British founded the British East African Protectorate in 1895 and it was renamed Kenya after becoming a crown colony in 1921 under the control of a British governor. Within a year, dissent against British policies was beginning to fester led by Harry Thuku and his East African Association. Thuke was arrested and exiled for seven years triggering a massacre outside Nairobi's Central police station in which twenty-three Africans were killed.

This event probably marked the beginning of a concerted effort to achieve independence for the country. One Jomo Kenyatta then became leader of the East African Association and later the secretary-general of the Kikuyu Central Association. In 1929 he went to the UK to make an abortive attempt to convince the Colonial Office that Kenya should be set free however, far from moves towards independence, Britain responded by convening the Carter Land Commission which concluded that permanent barriers should be in force between white-owned farms and reserves for Africans, which they needed permission to leave. Black outrage resulted in all African political associations being banned in 1940.

The Second World War gave further impetus to the independence movement as hundreds of thousands of Kenyans fought side by side with white Europeans making them realise that the whites were by no means invincible and could be defeated just as easily as anyone else. In 1944 the Kenyan African Union was formed, dedicated to ending British rule and establishing Kenyan independence. In 1946 Kenyatta returned to Kenya after almost fifteen years abroad and soon thereafter assumed the leadership of the Kenya African Union. As the KAU's support grew and convened strikes, the police started firing on protestors to suppress the movement, but this only fed the growing clamours for independence.

British East African 

Kenya's most popular tribal group, the Kikuyu, led this clamur and formed the Mau Mau, a movement dedicated to overthrowing white dominance by whatever means required. Such were the levels of violence, not just against whites but blacks who were considered white collaborators, a state of emergency was declared in Kenya in 1952 after Kenyatta and five colleagues were arrested. They were accused of organising the Mau Mau and subjected to seven years hard labour at a camp near Lake Turkana. The state of emergency lasted until 1959 during which time the Kenya Citizens Association emerged, promoting change through dialogue and compromise rather than violence. During the Mau Mau rebellion, which ended in 1956, 13,500 Africans were killed and over 30,000 men, women and children were held in concentration camps.

Jomo Kenyatta in 1965

Sensing the tide was turning, many whites began to leave. Kenyatta was released from prison in 1959 but kept under house arrest. During this time he was elected ~ in his absence ~ president of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) an organisation formed in 1960 by Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga. By this time the British government was aware than independence was inevitable and invited representatives of both KANU, who advocated a strong central government, and the newly formed Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) who favoured a more decentralized federal form of government, to Lancaster House for talks. Kenyatta himself was still under house arrest and was therefore unable to attend the talks which concluded a general election should be called for the first time in February 1961. KANU won most votes in the election, but refused to take office until Kenyatta was released, a release finally achieved in August 1961. Further universal elections were held in May 1963 which saw KANU triumph and Kenyatta became Kenya's first Prime Minister before taking the country to independence on 12 December 1963 as president with KANU co-founder Oginga Odinga as his vice-president. The video (below) shows images from the day when Kenya achieved its independence in original news footage.

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