Transition to Independence in Kenya

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The Transition to Independence in Kenya spanned both the colonial and post-colonial eras.

"The British Government suddenly and unexpectedly announced in January 1960 that Kenya would move rapidly to independence under an African Government. African and European political leaders were equally surprised and confounded by the decision. Africans were promised independence before they could even demand it through national political parties, since the bar on these had only just been lifted. On what other basis could African political leaders mobilise grass-roots support behind reconstituted national parties? Resentment against the European farming enclave in the 'White Highlands' was one possible basis, but the British Government, under heavy pressure from Europeans, pre-empted this issue through the land resettlement programme."[1]

The Role of KANU and Jomo Kenyatta

The first president of Kenya was Jomo Kenyatta and shortly after independence, Kenya became and remained a one-party state for many years. The ruling party, Kenyatta's party, was KANU, the Kenya African National Union.

"Jomo Kenyatta, the acknowledged leader of Kenya African nationalism, whose release from detention for alleged leadership of the Mau Mau insurgency was the main issue for K.A.N.U. in the 1961 election, faced a difficult choice when he resumed the active leadership of his party later in 1961. Since prompt independence was guaranteed and Europeans had taken the initiative in resettling landless Africans in the former European Highlands, the prime objectives of Kenya African nationalism were about to be realised without the need to mobilise militant support at the grass-roots level. Should he resist land resettle- ment because it came about on the initiative of a colonial administration and on European terms and conditions ? or should he 'play along' so as not to risk further domestic strife between Europeans and Africans at the possible price of delayed independence?"[2]
"The beginning of a serious ideological schism within the future ruling party (K.A.N.U.) occurred when Kenyatta and many of his principal lieutenants were persuaded to accept the two most important European conditions: (i) that Africans must pay (initially aided by government loans) for the land they were to receive, and (ii) that resettlement must be accomplished as far as possible before independence. The former condition required Kenyatta and his followers to compromise on the historic nationalist principle that Europeans had no just claim to the land they were about to try to sell."[3]

For more information on resettlement, see the article on Resettlement Schemes in Post-Colonial Kenya.

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. John W. Harbeson, "Land Reforms and Politics in Kenya 1954-70," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Aug., 1971), pp. 231-251.
  2. John W. Harbeson, "Land Reforms and Politics in Kenya 1954-70," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Aug., 1971), pp. 231-251.
  3. John W. Harbeson, "Land Reforms and Politics in Kenya 1954-70," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Aug., 1971), pp. 231-251.

External Resources


  • Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, Owl Books, 2005.
  • Frederick Cooper, Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present.
  • An Economic History of Kenya, William Robert Ochieng' and Robert M. Maxon, eds, East African Publishers, 1992.
  • Norman Miller and Rodger Yeager, Kenya: The Quest for Prosperity, Second Edition (Boulder: Westview Press, 1984).

External Articles

  • Daniel Branch and Nicholas Cheeseman, "The Politics of Control in Kenya: Understanding the Bureaucratic-Executive State, 1952-78," Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 33, No. 107, State, Class & Civil Society in Africa (Mar., 2006), pp. 11-31.
  • P. Anyang’ Nyong’o, “State and Society in Kenya: The Disintegration of the Nationalist Coalitions and the Rise of Presidential Authoritarianism, 1963-78,” African Affairs vol. 88 no. 351 (1989).