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Wednesday, December 24, 1997 Published at 14:49 GMT

Special Report

Kenya: a political history
image: [ Thousands of Kikuyu were killed by the British in the 1950s ]
Thousands of Kikuyu were killed by the British in the 1950s

Basic Facts

  • Population: 29 million
  • Capital: Nairobi
  • Language: The official language is Kiswahili, and English, Kikuyu and Luo are also widely spoken
  • Religion: Most of the population follow traditional beliefs. There is a fairly large Christian community, and a smaller Muslim community.

Recent History

Kenya was a British colony until 12 December 1963.

In 1944 the first national African organistion was formed, the Kenya African Union (KAU). This gained the support of the Kikuyu, which is the largest ethnic group in Kenya.

The Mau Mau was a mainly Kikuyu secret society, headed by Jomo Kenyatta. It launched a terrorist campaign aimed at expelling European influence from the country in 1952. The British authorities reacted brutally, killing an estimated 13,500 Africans and herding a further 100,000 into detention camps. Britain declared a state of emergency in October 1952 and banned the KAU in 1953. The terrorist attacks ended in 1956 and the state of emergency was ended in 1960.

A new African elite replaces the colonialists

General Elections were held in May 1963, and in June 1963 Kenya was granted internal self government. Kenya gained independence on 12 December 1963. It became a Republic on 12 December 1964.

[ image: Jomo Kenyatta: one elite replaces another]
Jomo Kenyatta: one elite replaces another
The Mau Mau leader, Jomo Kenyatta, was appointed Prime Minister in June 1963 and became President in December 1964.

The National Assembly was formed in 1966. The Kenyan African National Union (Kanu) was the only party to contest elections in 1969 and in 1974, and hence became the dominant party in the Assembly.

But the assassinations of two politicians in the 1970s - Tom Mboya, who was a cabinet minister and secretary-general of Kanu, and J.M. Kariuki - prompted civil unrest.

President Kenyatta died in August 1978 and Vice-President Daniel Arap Moi, who was then little known, took over the presidency in October. He was the only candidate to stand in a presidential election held the following month, in November 1979.

The Moi years

Kenya was officially declared a one party state by the National Assembly on June 9 1982. Human rights abuses increased and political activity was suppressed. President Moi won a second election in September 1983, and a third in February 1988.

Throughout the 1980s President Moi tightened control over the civil service. His regime faced increasing criticism over its human rights record.

The Minister of Transport and Communications, Kenneth Matiba, resigned in December 1988, and was expelled from Kanu after he criticised the conduct of the elections to Kanu leadership, which had been held in September 1988.

[ image: Demonstrations against political prisoners]
Demonstrations against political prisoners
The death of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation , Dr Robert Ouko, in suspicious circumstances on February 16 1990, led to increased dissent against the regime.

Kenneth Matiba led a group of intellectuals, lawyers and clergy in pressurising the government to legalise political opposition to Kanu. Mr Matiba was arrested in July 1990, along with other dissidents, and 20 people were killed in the subsequent rioting. Mr Matiba was held until January 1991.

The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) was formed in August 1991, by six opposition leaders, including Oginga Odinga. But it was outlawed by the regime, and members of the group were arrested before a pro-democracy rally. They were released only after fierce international condemnation in which creditors suspended aid to Kenya in protest.

In December 1991 a special conference of Kanu agreed to introduce a multiparty political system.

Mwai Kibaki resigned as Minister for Health in December 1991, and formed the Democratic Party. Several other ministers resigned during this period and many new political parties were formed.

The early part of 1992 saw approximately 2,000 people killed in tribal conflict in the west of the country. President Moi responded by banning political rallies, but was forced to lift the ban after Ford organised a two day general strike.

In August 1992 Ford split into two factions - Ford-Asili (led by Matiba) and Ford-Kenya (led by Odinga).

The beginnings of a multi-party state

[ image: Elections were held in 1992]
Elections were held in 1992
Multiparty presidential and legislative elections took place on 29 December 1992. President Moi won a fourth term of office. Although the election was widely viewed to be not free and fair, a Commonwealth monitoring group assessed that the election outcome "reflected the will of the people".

In November 1992 the international donor community ended its suspension of aid to Kenya.

Oginga Odinga died in January 1994, and was succeeded as Chair of Ford-Kenya by Michael Wamalwa Kijana. In June 1994 the opposition groups - with the exception of Ford-Asili formed a coalition , the United National Democratic Alliance (UNDA). It was plagued by disagreements.

Opposition to Kenneth Matiba within Ford-Asili led to the formation of a rival party executive in Ford-Asili, led by first Salim Ndamwe and then Oginga Odinga's son, Raila Odinga.

Safina was formed as a new political party in May 1995. Mutari Kigano was appointed Chair, and Richard Leakey, a prominent white Kenyan, became secretary -general. The party campaigned for the introduction of proportional representation and improved human rights. It was refused official registration until November 1997, when President Moi gave all parties the go-ahead to register.

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