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Jomo Kenyatta

Part 3: From the Mau Mau Rebellion to his Presidency

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Previous > Part 1: From Early Days to His Political Awakening
Previous > Part 2: From Political Awakening to the Mau Mau Rebellion

Managing the Mau Mau, Allegedly
The trial, which lasted several months was a travesty, witnesses perjured themselves, and the judge was openly hostile to Kenyatta. The trial achieved worldwide publicity, despite the colonial authorities trying to claim is was simply a 'criminal' matter. On 8 April 1953 Kenyatta was sentenced to seven-years hard labor for "managing the Mau Mau terrorist organization". He spent the next six years at Lokitaung before being moved to 'permanent restriction' at Lodwar (a particularly remote desert army post) on 14 April 1959. The Mau Mau Rebellion had been crushed by the British Army, and the State of Emergency was lifted on 10 November.

The Path to the Presidency
During Kenyatta's incarceration the mantle of nationalist leadership had been taken up by Tom Mboya (a Luo) and Oginga Odinga (a Luo chief). Under their guidance KAU merged with the Kenya Independent Movement to form a new party, the Kenya African National Union or KANU, on 11 June 1960. The Kenya African Democratic Union was formed in opposition (representing the Maasai, Samburu, Kalenjin, and Turkana).

Kenyatta's 15 year stay away from Kenya had proved beneficial -- he was seen by much of the Black population of Kenya as the one person who was free from the ethnic bias and factional infighting of the new political parties. Mboya and Odinga arranged for his election as president of KANU in absentia (he was still under house arrest) and campaigned for his release. On 21 August 1961 Kenyatta was finally released, on the condition that he didn't run for public office.

Independence for Kenya
By 1960 the British government had conceded the principle of one man-one vote for Kenya, and in 1962 Kenyatta went to the Lancaster Conference in London to negotiate the terms of Kenya's independence. In May 1963 KANU won the pre-independence election and formed a provisional government. When independence was achieved on 12 December that year, Kenyatta was prime minister. Exactly one year later, with the proclamation of a republic, Kenyatta became Kenya's first president.

Heading to an Effective One-Party State
Although he initially appealed to all sectors of Kenya's population, appointing members of government form various ethnic groups - he did this more to avoid the development of an ethnically based opposition. But the central core of his government was strongly Kikuyu in make up. KADU merged with KANU on 10 November 1964, Kenya was now effectively a one-party state with Kenyatta in charge.

Let's All Pull Together
Kenyatta also sought to gain the trust of the white settlers of the Central Highlands. He outlines a program of conciliation, asking them not to flee form the country but to stay and help make it an economic and social success. His slogan for these early years of his presidency was Harambee! - a Swahili word which means 'lets all pull together'.

Increasingly Autocratic Approach
Kenyatta also rejected calls by African socialists to nationalize property, following a pro-Western, capitalist approach instead. Amongst those alienated by his policies was his first vice-president Oginga Odinga. But Odinga, and the rest, soon discovered that under Kenyatta's smooth façade was a politician of stern resolve. He brooked no opposition, and over the years several of his critics died under mysterious circumstances, and a few of his political opponents were arrested and detained without trial. Increasingly isolated, Odinga left KANU to form a left-wing opposition party, the Kenya People's Union or KPU, in 1966. But by 1969 the party had been outlawed and Odinga and several other prominent members were in detention.

Assassination of Tom Mboya
1969 also saw the assassination of Tom Mboya, a Luo ally of Kenyatta's, who some believed was being groomed as his successor. His murder on 5 July sent shock waves through the nation and led to tension and violence between the Luo and Kikuyu. Kenyatta's position was, however, unaffected, and he was re-elected for a second presidential term at the end of the year.

By 1974, riding on a decade of high economic growth based on exports of cash crops and financial aid from the West, Kenyatta won a third presidential term (he was, however, the only candidate). But the cracks were starting to appear. Kenyatta's family and political friends had gained considerable wealth at the expense of the average Kenyan. And the Kikuyu were openly acting as an elite, especially a small clique known as the Kiambu Mafia who had greatly benefited for land redistribution in the early days of Kenyatta's presidency.

An Attempt to Avoud Tribalism
Since 1967, Kenyatta's vice president had been Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin (the collective name for several small ethnic groups who were mainly settled in the Rift Valley). When Kenyatta suffered his second heart attack in 1977 (his first was in 1966) the Kiambu Mafia became worried: according to the constitution when the president died the vice-president would automatically take over. They however, wanted the presidency to remain in Kikuyu hands. It is to Kenyatta's merit that he safeguarded Moi's position when a constitutional drafting group attempted to have this rule changed.

Kenyatta's Legacy
Jomo Kenyatta died in his sleep on 22 August 1978. Daniel arap Moi took office as Kenya's second president, and pledged to continue Kenyatta's good work - under a system he called Nyoyo, a Swahili word for 'footsteps'.

Kenyatta's legacy, corruption not withstanding, was a country which had been stable both politically and economically. Kenyatta had also maintained a friendly relationship with the West, despite his treatment by the British as a suspected Mau Mau leader.

Along with his written testament to the culture and traditions of the Kikuyu, Facing Mount Kenya, Kenyatta published in 1968 a memoir of reminiscences and speeches -- Suffering Without Bitterness, sadly now out of print.

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