As a focal point of nationalism in Kenya, KANU is consistently associated with the history of anti-colonialism, the struggle for independence and devotion to the building of a united, peaceful and prosperous nation, in which every Kenyan enjoys political freedom, social justice and equal opportunities.

In outlining the evolution of KANU as a political party, it must be appreciated several formal and informal political organizations preceded it in serving as an expression of the same spirit the KANU stood for on its formation in 1960. Upon formation, KANU became the party that best exemplified the aspirations of the national movement for independence, formed the first African Government of independent Kenya and therefore, laid the firm foundation for the present and future of Kenya.

Before looking at the evolution of KANU, it is therefore necessary to present briefly the contribution to the nationalist struggle of other political organizations that were the forerunners of KANU, for they cultivated the spirit and determination which KANU was to thrive in its programmes and activities.

Background to the Formation of KANU: Early political Organizations.

1895: In order to secure a route to Uganda, the area that today forms most of Kenya was declared a British Protectorate, British East Africa Protectorate and was administered by the Counsul-General in Zanzibar until 1902. This period saw the construction of the railway from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, to what is present day Kisumu, on Lake Victoria.

1907: Saw increased pressure from the local white settler community, led by Lord Delamare, for more control over their destiny resulted in the formation of the Legislative Council (Legco). The council had no representation from the African or Indian (imported to build the railway and then abandoned) communities.

1920s and 30s: The lack of representations by the Africans coupled with economic inequalities and led to the birth of political organizations. These included the East African Association, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), both formed the 1920s. The formations of these political associations can be traced back to the effects of the First World War, when Africans became more aware of themselves as a distinct racial group. They discovered the weaknesses and heterogeneity of the whites and, even more crucial, they learnt the importance of organized resistance.

It is not without significance therefore that several African political leaders in the 1920's and 1930's had either fought or served in the Carrier Corps in German East Africa (later known as Tanganyika and today called the United Republic of Tanzania). Other political organizations formed during this period were the Young Kavirondo Association, Ukamba Members Association, North Kavirondo Central Association, and Kikuyu Provincial Association in the 1930's.

These associations agitated for direct representation in the Legislative Council (Legco), but more significantly for consideration of African land claims and greater educational and economic opportunities. Although none of these had any significant influence on the Colonial Government policy, they had an important impact on post-World-War II political activities.

For example they had succeeded in making the different ethnic groups become socialized for organized political activity. Indeed, some like the Young Kavirondo Association and the Young Kikuyu Association, were trans-tribal organizations. Additionally, an examination of their activities and programmes reveal that they were at the same time largely welfare organizations concerned with the personal improvement of their members.

Harry Thuku

Harry Thuku led the first national movement, the East African Association, protesting against white settler dominance in the government in the early 1920s. He was arrested by the colonial authorities in 1922 and exiled for seven years. Also founder of the Young Kikuyu Association, Thuku believed that:

" what all of us wanted was to show people that we were all one family and what there was no different between all the tribes of Kenya".

1940-1944: The second world war brought Kenya into war against the Italians in Somalia and Ethiopia in the North and the Germans in Tankanyika in the South.

In 1940 a total ban was placed on African political organizations, except the Kavirondo Taxpayers and Welfare Association and the Kikuyu Provincial Association. But consequent political developments were to make it necessary to form organizations claiming national membership.

Meanwhile, the two associations agitated for political rights in the colonial government and on October 5, 1944, Eliud Mathu was nominated as the first African unofficial Member of the Legislative Council, this time in an effort to channel the emergent voice of Africa nationalism towards the support of the colonial administration. Africans took the new development as evidence of what could be achieved through a well coordinated countrywide organization.

A meeting was thus convened in October 1944 which led to the formation of the Kenyan African Union (KAU) whose aims and objectives were:-

1946-1950: Upon his return from Britain in 1946, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta assumed the leadership of KAU which now set to mobilize the population, organization public rallies to educate the public and to recruit membership from the whole cross-selection of the African population, the farmers, the educated and uneducated, the workers and ex-soldiers. By 1947, KAU had established itself as "the first sustained effort of the Africans to create a congress organization to cover the Africans of the whole colony and an important landmark in the political evolution of the Africans in Kenya".

Other organizations were formed during the same period to work against the colonial establishment. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga formed the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation to create an economic base for the Luo community. Other similar organizations included the North Kavirondo Central Association, the Ukamba Members Association and the Taita Hills Association.

1950s: The Mau Mau Revolt and the Struggle for Constitutional Advancement.

Meanwhile a majority of Africans who grew impatient with the Colonial Government failure to solve their problems, resorted to armed struggled which crystallized in what came to be known as the Mau Mau movement.

President Kenyatta (extreme left) during his infamous trial at Kapenguria in 1959. With him (l-r) are Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia, Paul Ngei and Kungu Karumba

The amount of insecurity unleashed on the country by this movement forced the Colonial Government to declare a State of Emergency on October 20, 1952. All African political associations were proscribed, and their leaders imprisoned and detained. They included Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubia, Achieng Oneko, Kariuki Chotara, and Bildad Kaggia. A state of political statement set in with a military solution against the armed uprising nowhere in sight.

Since the proscription of African political associations in 1952, the vacuum had been filled by the African Labour Federation (AFL) with headquarters in Nairobi. Headed by Tom Mboya, the AFL assumed an increasingly important nationalist role in voicing African political aspirations albeit its limited capacity.

Daniel Moi (3rd from Left) leads nationalists and leaders to meet Jomo Kenyatta (middle) in detention in 1959

The Mau Mau armed uprising, and the demand for constitutional advancement by Africans, through the mushrooming of 'political organizations' forced the colonial administration to lay down a framework for independence. The framework was embodied in the Lyttelton Constitution of 1954 allowing limited multiracial government.

1955: The formation of district-based political organizations was allowed, except in Central Province where the main activities of the Mau Mau anti-colonial movement were concentrated. Among the district organizations that emerged were: the Nairobi District African Congress, the Nairobi People's Congress, the Mombasa African Democratic Union, the African District African Provincial Association, the Kisii Highlands Abagusii Association (South Nyanza), the Taita African Democratic Union and the Nakuru African Progressive Party.

1957: In spite of African opposition to the Lyttelton Constitution, the new Colonial Secretary, Lennox Boyd, applied pressure and managed to have the first African election held on a limited franchise in 1957. Eight members were elected, including Daniel Arap Moi, Tom Mboya, Masinde Muliro, Ronald Ngala, Oginga Odinga, J.N. Nuimi, and L. Oguda.

In October of the same year another Constitution was handed over from London. This was the Lennox Boyd Constitution, which added six more African seats to achieve parity with elected Europeans. It was also a multiracial document. The Africans demanded a nonracial policy where the interests of the majority Kenyans would be given due regard. They therefore turned down the ministerial offer.

The ban clamped on countrywide political organizations created the problem of an organizational focus for African political activity. There was the need to foster unity amongst the disparate district associations. Fortunately, the African Elected Members constituted themselves into an African Elected Members' Organization (AEMO), a front to develop common political approach in the struggle for a nonracial Government.

With the country still under a state of emergency, the 'armed struggle' had resulted in the death of 13,000 Africans (almost all Kikuyu) and 32 European civilians. In addition, 80,000 Africans were in various detention camps all over the country.

1959: Unfortunately, intrigues of the settlers and fear of some African leaders saw the split of AEMO into two camps, which culminated in the formation in 1959 of the multiracial Kenyan National Party (KNP) formed by the smaller ethnic groups (The Kalenjin under Moi and Towett, the Baluhya-Bukusu under Masinde Muliro, and the Coast under Ngala) and the Kenya independence Movement (KIM) dominated by the Kikuyu and Luo and led by Jaramogi Odinga, Dr. Gikonyo Kiano and Tom Mboya.

These were the direct precursors of the two main political parties to be formed in 1960. The two parties represented the battle between the forces of African nationalism and settlerdom.

These forces ultimately clashed in 1959 when the Colonial Government, in a desperate attempt to assist the KNP, declared the objective of the removal of all racial barriers, including throwing open the "White Highlands" to all races. The settlers viewed this as betrayal of their interests and privileged position. They were determined to fight against this new twist of the evasive multiracial policy. But in Britain, a new Colonial Secretary, Ian Macleod, announced that the emergency would end, and that a Constitutional Conference would take place the following year.

Political Parties and Independence:

This new concession by the British Government put Kenya on the firm path to ultimate independence. Despite parochial differences, the African elected members presented a united front at the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference. They sent a joint delegation led by Ronald Ngala and Tom Mboya to London where they were able to speak with one African voice calling for a new constitution.



©2001 State House, Nairobi and Science and Engineering Research Center