The Bitter Struggle To Independence
AUTHOR Major John F. Waweru, Kenya Army
SUBJECT AREA General
TITLE: THE BITTER STRUGGLE TO INDEPENDENCE
I. Purpose: To highlight the sufferings, frustrations and
degradation that the Kenyans had to put up with as they struggled
for their political independence.
II. Problem: On arrival colonialists believed that they had found
a haven in Kenya. The weather, climate and the small
population, encouraged them to go ahead and settle down in the
best parts of the country with total disregard of the indigenous
Africans. On realizing what all this meant the Africans began to
demand their independence and the return of the 'stolen land',
two issues the British government would not even address then.
Left with no alternatives the Africans commenced a bitter and
protracted struggle for their independence.
III. Data: Kenya's political history began in the last quarter
of the nineteenth century when the British etablished a colony
and protectorate in that part of Africa. The changes they brought
were not beneficial to the Africans, whom they considered as
social and cultural inferiors. These provoked unrest and
formation of tribal political action groups in the 1920's. By mid
1940s there was only limited improvement on the lot of the
average African. The Europeans were determined to retain
exclusive control in the 'White Man's Country' [Kenya]. The
Africans were denied their natural and national rights. This
maltreatment set off violent insurgency activities which led to
the declaration of a state of emergency in 1952. The uprising
was suppressed and nearly all of its leaders arrested and either
given long jail terms, detained or even hanged. This move gave
rise to organized African political activities. In the 1960s
the campaign for majority rule within the framework of the
colonial regime succeeded in unifying the different tribes
against colonialism and winning the recognition by the
authorities. 1961 saw most of the political prisoners and
detainees released and set Kenya on a course that led to
sovereignty by end of 1964.
IV. Conclusions: After 70 years of hard and bitter struggles,
Kenya became a sovereign state. Since then, Kenyans have
continued to forge ahead in the economic field despite various
constraints, while consolidating national unity and safeguarding
V. Recommendations: The older generation of Kenyans who have
perhaps the worst experience of life under colonial rule and
several of whom are now at the helm of the country's leadership
should be the vanguard in safeguarding political stability in the
country. Any ofattempt neocolonialism by any of the world
powers should be resisted and condemned in the strongest terms
THE BITTER STRUGGLE TO INDEPENDENCE
Thesis Statement: The significance of these celebrations is that
Kenyans seize the opportunity to look back to the history of the
long and bitter struggle for freedom in the country and address
themselves to the crucial task of consolidating the country's
hard earned independence while at the same time forging national
I. Early History:
A. National days and nationalists.
B. Arrival of Arabs and Europeans
C. Establishment of a colony.
D. The land issue.
II. Political awakening:
A. Pseudo-political parties.
B. African political organizations.
III. The MAU MAU uprising:
A. MAU MAU activities.
B. State of emergency.
C. Trial and imprisonment of patriotic nationals.
D. The labour movement.
IV. Political parties:
A. Regional political parties.
B. Kenya African Natonal Union [KANU])
C. Kenya African Democratic Union [KADU].
V. General elections:
A . Constitutional conference-London.
B. Release of Jomo Kenyatta and other detainees.
THE BITTER STRUGGLE TO INDEPENDENCE
On December 12, 1963, the day Kenya finally shrugged off the
yoke of colonial rule and attained its independence, the late
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, father and founder of the Kenya nation,
described the occasion as "A day of great rejoicing".1 Since
that day, there have been a good many days on which Kenyans have
had excuse to rejoice during ceremonies marking national days
such as Kenyatta Day [October 20th], Madaraka Day [June 1st], and
of course Jamhuri Day [December 12th]. The significance of these
celebrations is that Kenyans seize the opportunity to look back
to the history of the long and bitter struggle for freedom in the
country and address themselves to the crucial task of
consolidating the country's hard earned independence while at the
same time forging national unity.
December 12, 1963, marked the end of almost a century of
bitter struggles which saw a lot of suffering and bloodshed in
Kenya. During that long period of struggling for self assertion,
there were painful sacrifices on the part of indigenous people of
Kenya. A great number of children became orphans, parents lost
their children, men and women lost their spouses and thousands of
freedom fighters, branded by the colonialist terrorists were
marched off to detention camps where they were thoroughly
humiliated and where several of them met their deaths.
The forty years between 1920 and 1960, were perhaps the most
trying of all periods in which Kenyans struggled to shape their
political course. That poignant epoch was, indeed, a time when
Kenyans intensified their struggle in a more organized manner
behind nationalist leaders such as Harry Thuku, Jomo Kenyatta,
Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya and Daniel arap Moi to name just a few.
Those were some of the banner bearers who gave inspiration to the
Kenyan masses and spearheaded an onslaught against the
machinations of the colonial establishment that for many decades
subjugated the people of Kenya.
Though the bitter political struggles waged in Kenya took a
more drastic turn from the 1950s, especially as a consequence of
the arrest of nationalist leaders and the declaration of a state
of emergency in l952 in Kenya, the historical origins of the
struggle stretch further back. This long history can be traced
back to the last century when the whiteman first penetrated the
East African hinterland. Even before the arrival of the
whiteman, foreigners, notably Arabs, had already made their
presence felt along the East African coast where, initially, they
traded in ivory but later degenerated to trade in human beings
[slave trade]. When the Arabs started capturing Africans and
selling them abroad, [some of those captured met their deaths in
transit] the Africans were, naturally, stunned at this brutality
and appeared helpless but, later on, put strong resistance to
this inhuman trade.
The second category of outsiders to arrive at Mombasa were
equally adventurous, fortune seeking Portuguese. In their
ambitious quest to establish a base along the East African coast,
they fought and drove away the Arabs and established a rule in
Mombasa and other areas along the coast of East Africa, for some
200 years. Subsequently, however, the Arabs re-emerged as a
strong force which pitted itself against the Portuguese, finally
driving them away. The Arabs re-occupied Mombasa towards the
close of the 17th century. When they finally established a firm
rule along the coastal strip that included Zanzibar, Pemba,
Mombasa and Lamu islands, this marked the beginning of a reign of
Arab Sultans that was more repressive and exploitative than ever
of the Africans.
The suffering the Africans experienced at the hands of the
Arabs and the Portuguese was, however, mostly felt along the
coast. However this suffering quickly spread to affect the
Africans in the hinterland when British foreigners came in around
1888. About half a dozen years later, the new masters signed an
agreement with the Sultan of Zanzibar in which a 10-mile strip
along the coast was leased to the British, who took it upon
themselves to "protect" the African subjects. For protecting
the "natives" the British government paid an annual "rent and
concession interest fee" to the Sultan and this continued until
1963 when the agreement came to an end with attainment of
independence for Kenya.
The coming-to-stay of the whiteman in Kenya and the nature of
his interests, no doubt, is what led to the Africans in Kenya
fall under the yoke of colonialism and suffering the subsequent
degradation. For example when the white settlers arrived in
Kenya, they quickly colonized and violently robbed the Africans
of large tracts of fertile arable land. Most of the prime land
stolen was in the Rift Valley and Central regions of the country,
although some large patches could also be found in other regions
of the country. As if land grabbing alone was not enough to hurt
the Africans, the colonialists also introduced hut and poll taxes
and used the Africans as a source of free forced labour in their
[settlers'] plantations. More shaming was the requirement that
parents in central Kenya [Central Province] and the Rift Valley
region, where most of the settlers' farms were situated pay a tax
on the breasts of their daughters.
As the whiteman consolidated his rule in Kenya, other abuses
clearly aimed at portraying the African as an inferior person
were unashamedly put to practice. One practice which was to
provide the Africans with one of the key reasons for open protest
against the repressive excess of colonial rule was the issuance
of "Kipande" [identity card]. Africans living in urban areas as
well as upcountry were required by the whiteman's law to carry an
identification card issued by the labour department, but the main
purpose of this card went beyond the need to identify the
Africans. The "Kipande" which subsequently met with a lot of
resistance, was actually aimed at restricting the movement of
Africans in their own country.
Resistance against unjust land [according to a Crown Land
Ordinance issued in 1902, Africans could only own five acres of
land for one year on temporary basis2] and identification laws
was widespread throughout the country, but this was usually
crushed by the colonial machinery of coercion. The ferocity of
machinery can be illustrated in a case involving the resist of
the Giriama [a coastal tribe] people against the settlers'
robbery of their lands. In ensuing clashes with the British
forces, a colonial policeman was killed. The colonial government
on realising that the Giriama were not going to abandon the
resistance to the alienation of their land, placed the whole area
under martial law. This led to the massacre of hundreds of
Africans, and the capture of thousands of goats, possession of
which the colonialists believed made the Africans big headed.
In the subsequent years, the iron hand of the colonialists
tightened its grips on the Africans with a view to making them
more submissive to colonial rule. The Africans however,
particularly the more politically enlightened ones were not
easily cowed. With sharpening of contradictions between
colonialism and nationalism in the country, there emerged in
increased awareness of the need and urgency of political change
in the country. The few decades running up to the declaration of
emergency in the country were therefore characterized by
heightened political activities launched by the awakening
nationalist forces in the country. These heated political
struggles first took the form of peaceful negotiations by
political organizations such as the Kikuyu Central Association,
the Young Kavirondo Association, the Taita Welfare Society and
the Kenya African Union among others. However the fruitless
peace negotiations finally gave way to the need for more violent
approach to the struggle. In reaction, in October 1952, the
colonial government moved against the Kenyan nationalist
leadership with a view to crushing it altogether. This in itself
marked the turning point for the freedom struggle, spurring men
and women in unprecedented numbers to go to the forests to launch
a bitter armed struggle against a clearly identified enemy
Men chose to step up armed struggle to express their
feelings. There was determination to hit back at the wicked hand
that had so rudely picked nationalist leaders such as Jomo
Kenyatta from the people, whose aspirations they represented.
Kenyatta's arrest in particular sparked off a succession of
events in the country. The urge to rebel against repression and
denial had been fomenting and this vicious stroke of Kenyatta's
arrest unleashed the flames of unbridled revolution in the
country. Although there had been sporadic acts of protest before
October 1952, men did not take to forests - en masse before the
emergency. Kenyatta's arrest gave thousands of able-bodied men
and women no option but to go into the bush to wage war against
the coloniaists. These simple people, who were poorly armed
vowed [usually they took a binding oath] to fight to the bitter
As the war against colonialism escalated, so did the colonial
crackdown on suspected Mau Mau freedom movement leaders. Mau Mau
was outlawed and branded a terrorist organization by the colonial
establishment though it was, in fact, a movement demanding
freedom in Kenya and return of the stolen land to its legitimate
owners - the Africans. The colonial government's decision to
round up all the leading nationalists was, however, not promoted
merely by the desire to eliminate Mau Mau, but to eliminate the
only political organization, the Kenya African Union [KAU] which
was fighting constitutionally for the rights of the Africans.
Those leading nationalists rounded up at the declaration of
emergeny were arraigned in a kangaroo court in a remote town-
Kapenguria in northern Kenya and sentenced to seven years
imprisonment with hard labour for managing Mau Mau. During the
trial, Kenyatta averred that he believed that the activity of the
government in arresting KAU leaders, whom he referred to as
innocent people engaged in ordinary business, was not the right
way of combating the Mau Mau. He added that those arrested knew
very well that the reason for their arrest was not Mau Mau, but
because they were going ahead uniting the people in demanding
their rights. The government arrested them because it realized
that these leaders were able to to organize more than 40,000
people into demanding their rights and used the Mau Mau as a
scapegoat to stop this.3
The period 1945-51 had been a crucial one for the
independence struggle, for it was around this time that a solid
feeling of togetherness was taking root among the different
tribes in Kenya. The emergence of such a feeling was a major
achievement for the national leaders. Particularly influential
was Kenyatta's charismatic personality and gift of leadership,
always exerted in such skillful manner as to coordinate with
efforts of other leaders. The spread of nationalism in Kenya
necessitated that the nationalist leaders address many public
rallies in various parts of the country. Jomo Kenyatta, seized
every opportunity as in the fight against the "Kipande" system,
to promote or place emphasis on which Africans felt strongly, so
that national unity would be strengthened both consciously and
subconsciously through themes and struggles which could bind
people together. In the years leading up to emergency, Kenyatta
and other nationalist leaders traveled widely in Kenya delivering
speeches and rallying people to struggle for freedom. Much of
their effort was directed towards building a national party and
forging unity in the country.
The declaration of a state of emergency in the country was a
desperate attempt by the colonialists to stem the tide of the
liberation struggle. Rounded up in large numbers, the
nationalist leaders were usually condemned to languish for years
in jails or detention camps. However with the subsequent
fruition of the struggle these people were, upon their release,
garlanded by the masses as heroes of the struggle for Kenya's
independence. Besides the political parties and the Mau Mau,
there were other forces that pitched themselves against
colonialism in Kenya and thus provided fora for those rallying
the people to the call for independence.
Trade unions were one of the main forces that led the
struggle for Kenya's independence, particularly during the hard
days of emergency. When KAU was banned in 1952 and its leaders
including Jomo Kenyatta-arrested and detained, it was the
labour movement then known as the Kenya Federation of Labour
[KFL] and led by Tom Mboya, that carried the banner of those
nationalists clamouring for change from the colonial masters.
During that time the KFL became so active that at one time, there
was a motion in the legislative council demanding it be banned.
The KFL fought against the injustices done to African workers and
raised funds to assist those who been evicted from the "white
Thus besides championing the cause of workers, the labour
movement found itself increasingly at the centre of an awakening
society demanding political freedom. It was not, therefore,
surprising that the colonialists were uneasy about the activities
of the KFL An attempt to ban the KFL came during the absence of
Tom Mboya who was at that time at Ruskin College in England.
Mboya's role as a key figure behind the political campaigns of
the K.F.L. enabled him and many others to play an active part in
nationalistic politics. When the colonial administration
allowed, in 1956, the formation of political parties [at district
level] in the country, virtually all the leaders of the parties
that sprang up emerged from the labour movement. Some of these
parties included the Nairobi Congress Party led by Argwings
Kodhek, the Nairobi Peoples Convention Party, the Mombasa African
Democratic Union and the South Nyanza Congress to name just a
few. Subsequently, however, 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]. Again labour personalities like
Mboya, were deeply involved in the organization of the national
Like Mboya, Kodhek boldly championed the freedom struggle,
especially during the volatile emergency years. Kodhek who was
also the first African lawyer to set up a legal practice in
Nairobi, played an important role in defending many Africans
arrested during the state of emergency. A good example of this
is that in 1953, in Lari, a small town west of Nairobi, there was
a massacre after which more than 500 people were arrested, put on
a mass trial in a cattle shed and convicted. Kodhek who
specialized in criminal law helped 48 of the accused persons
successfully to appeal on a legal technicality against the
conviction of taking part in the massacre. The lawyer was also
adept on the political platform. He made fearless, hard hitting
and impassioned speeches in Nairobi which promoted his arrest and
charges of making seditious utterances.
All said and done, Kenya's first general elections were held
in February 1961. Campaigning very largely on the issue of
Kenyatta's release and national leadership KANU one of the two
newly formed political parties emerged victorious over KADU,
winning about two thirds of the vote. In March of the same year,
six nominees from each party were authorized as a delegation to
visit Kenyatta in Lodwar, a small town in northern Kenya, where
he had been restricted. Kenyatta urged them to unite and work
for full independence. Kenyatta was released later that year and
in August of the same year called for a joint meeting of the two
parties. As a result of this meeting the two parties agreed to
form an interim coalition government and to hold elections before
A constitutional conference was held at Lancaster House in
London from February to April 1962, with KADU appearing as the
governing party and KANU in the opposition. [Although KANU won
the 1961 general elections, the party refused to form a
transitional government because of Kenyatta's continued
restriction, and this led to KADU's being invited to form the
first African government in Kenya.] The conference ultimately
shaped the framework of a new Kenyan constitution with the
objective of a new Kenyan nation. KANU agreed to join KADU-led
transitional government and both parties returned to Kenya
anxious to put into practice a national coalition administration
and to work towards a general election in May 1963.
When the elections came round, KANU scored a far greater
victory over KADU than before, and these elections resulted in
the all important achievement of internal self-government for the
country on June 1 1963. To many Kenyan nationalist leaders, it
was a proud moment, a realization of a goal long identified and
fought for and which now represented the last lap of the road to
independence. To finalize the arrangements for the country's
independence, another round of important deliberations was held
at Lancaster House in London, between September and October 1963.
Among other things the conference agreed on amendments and
additions to the constitution that were necessary to effect
Kenya's change of status from self-government to independence.
This conference confirmed that December 12, 1963 would be the
date of the country's independence.
On the night of December 11, 1963 over half a million people
thronged the Independence Arena in Nairobi to witness the
unfolding of a historic ceremony. When the black, red and green
flag of independent Kenya was hoisted at midnight [and the Union
Jack lowered], it was greeted with the thunderous applause of the
crowd below. The glory of the day was underscored by Jomo
Kenyatta himself who, as the new prime minister, received the
instruments of independence and affirmed: "It is with great pride
and pleasure that I receive these constitutional instruments
today as embodiment of Kenya's freedom. This is the greatest day
in Kenya's history."4 Exactly a year later, on December 12,
1964, Kenya became a republic and the last British governor in
Kenya departed, leaving Kenyatta to steer the country as its
first president. Indeed Kenya was now a free country having
severed a colonial ties and becoming a republic answerable to
no one else but its people.
THE BITTER STRUGGLE TO INDEPENDENCE
1 Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya. African Writers Series No
219. London: Heinemann  192.
2 Kanogo, Tabitha. Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau. 1st ed.
James Currey [London] and Heinemann [Nairobi] 
3 Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya. African Writers Series No
219 London: Heinemann  201-202.
4 Ndegwa, R N Mau Mau. A Select Bibliography. Nairobi Kenyatta
University College  141
Leakey, Louis S B Defeating Mau Mau. London Methuen 1954.
Kenya Ministry of Home Affairs. White Highlands No More. Nairobi
Government Printer 1983.
Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Time-Kenya. Where
Government Printer 1983.
Wa-Githumo, Mwangi. Land and Nationalism. Washington University
Press of America. 1981.
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