Monday, August 21, 2017
KENYA | Aug. 21 – Kenyatta Freed
This day in 1961 he was freed by the British colonial government.
Kenyatta governed Kenya as its Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964 and then as its first President from 1964 to 1978. He was the country's first black head of government and was a key player in transforming Kenya from a colony of the British Empire into an independent republic.
Kenya was an economic powerhouse relative to its neighbors during his 15 years as Kenyan leader.
As the leader of the Kenyan independence movement, Kenyatta was in prison while the British worried about the independence movement. A member of the largest, Kikuyu, tribe, he was ideologically an African nationalist and conservative and he led the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party from 1961 until his death.
Kenyatta was born to Kikuyu farmers in Kiambu, British East Africa, southwest of Mount Kenya. Educated at a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) mission, he worked in various jobs before becoming politically engaged through the Kikuyu Central Association.
In 1920, Kenya formally became a British colony, and as of 1921 Kenyatta had moved to the colonial capital of Nairobi. He became involved in African nationalism and by 1928 had risen to the post of general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association, an organization opposed to the seizure of tribal land by European settlers. In 1929, he travelled to London to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land affairs.
During the 1930s he studied intensely: (1) political tactics at Moscow's Communist University of the Toilers of the East, (2) phonetics at University College London, and (3) anthropology at the London School of Economics. At the end of the decade, in 1938, he published Facing Mount Kenya, which was an anthropological analysis, and celebration, of traditional Kikuyu society. He discussed its plight under colonial rule.
During World War II, he lived in England, lecturing and writing. In 1946, he returned to Kenya and in 1947 became president of the newly formed Kenya African Union (KAU). He pushed for majority rule, recruiting both Kikuyus and non-Kikuyus into the nonviolent movement.
In 1952, an extremist Kikuyu group, the Mau Mau, began a guerrilla war against the settlers and colonial government, leading to bloodshed, political turmoil, and the rounding up of tens of thousands of Kikuyus in detainment camps. Although he was not directly involved, Kenyatta was put on trial in 1952 with five other KAU leaders for "managing" the Mau Mau. An advocate of nonviolence and conservatism, Kenyatta pleaded innocent. After a politicized trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison. He spent six years in jail and was then sent to an internal exile at Lodwar, where he lived under house arrest.
Meanwhile, the British government saw the Swahili script on the wall and decided to prepare Kenya for black majority rule, allowing the nationalist groups to organize openly. In 1960, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was created, and Kenyatta was elected president in absentia. The party announced it would not take part in any government until Kenyatta was freed.
Kenyatta pledged the protection of settlers’ rights in an independent Kenya, and on August 14, 1961, he was allowed to return to Kikuyu territory. He was formally released on August 21 and the following year he went to London to negotiate Kenyan independence. In May 1963 he led the KANU to victory in pre-independence elections. On December 12, 1963, Kenya celebrated its independence, and Kenyatta became prime minister. The next year, a new constitution made Kenya a republic, and Kenyatta was elected president.
As Kenya’s leader until his death in 1978, Kenyatta encouraged racial cooperation, promoted capitalist economic policies, and adopted a pro-Western foreign policy. He also consolidated his authority, suppressing opposition groups deemed radical. Kenya's stability attracted foreign investment in Kenya and Mzee ("elder" in Swahili) Kenyatta was influential throughout Africa. After he died on August 22, 1978, Daniel arap Moi continued most of Kenyatta's policies.