On This Day

Jomo Kenyatta, Jomo Kenyatta kenya
Ludwig Wegmann/German Federal Archive
Jomo Kenyatta

On This Day: Kenya Gains Independence

December 12, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 12, 1963, Kenya, which had been under British rule since 1895, officially gained independence.

The Road to Independence

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The road to independence began in the 1950s with the Mau Mau Rebellion. The Mau Mau movement was a radical splinter group of the pro-independence Kenya African Union that militantly opposed British colonial rule and its exploitation of the native population.

Mau Mau members, made up primarily of Kikuyu (the largest ethnic group in Kenya) peasants, carried out violent attacks against colonial leaders and white settlers. In 1952, the colonial government declared a state of emergency and arrested many Kenyan independence leaders, even moderates who had little or no connection to the Mau Mau, including Jomo Kenyatta.

Between 1952 and 1956, the British defeated the Mau Mau through an oftentimes brutal campaign of military action and widespread detention of the Kikuyu.

However, the Mau Mau Rebellion also persuaded the British that social, political and agrarian reforms were necessary. In 1957, the British allowed for the first direct elections of native leaders to the Legislative Council and by 1960 Africans were a majority in the council.

Over the next several years, the British negotiated with African and white settler leaders to provide independence for the country. These conferences produced a constitution in 1963 that provided for the creation of a bicameral legislature with elections held that May. The Kenya African National Union (KANU) won majorities in both houses and selected its leader, Kenyatta, who had been released from prison in 1961, to be the first prime minister of the new nation.
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