bathimpact advent calendar, december 12th 1963: Kenya achieves Independence

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Today marks the 51st anniversary of Kenyan independence. On December 12 1963, Kenya’s Mau Mau movement won the fight in the quest to free itself from the clutches of British imperialism and the majority 8, 365, 942 Africans took back control over their country from the 55, 759 British white population.

Ludwig Wegmann

Jomo Kenyatta was Kenyan Prime Minister following Kenya’s independence in 1963

A nationalist, militant African group, known as the ‘Mau Mau movement’, which was made up primarily of Kikuyu, the biggest ethnic group in Kenya, led the rebellion against British colonialism in the 1950s. The Mau Mau mainly used violent tactics against British colonial leaders and white settlers in the defence of the many Kenyans against exploitation. Following the violence, the colonial government’s declaration of a state of emergency led to the detention of multiple nationalist, independence-movement leaders and the mid 1950s saw an equally violent brutal British repression of not only the Mau Mau leaders but also the majority Kikuyu population.

The late 1950s, however, saw a more lenient British rule that recognised the need for a move towards Kenyan independence in the name of democracy and justice, with firstly elections of natives to lead in the Legislative Council in 1057 and by 1960 Africans made up most of the council. The British worked more closely with settlers and Kenyans and drafted a constitution in 1963 which allowed elections in May of that year. The elections saw a majority victory for the Kenya African National Union led by Jomo Kenyatta, who was released from prison to then become the Kenya’s first Prime Minister.

However, the road to democracy has been hindered by successive Kenyan leaders, starting with Kenyatta’s decision to increase Presidential powers and ban opposition parties so that the Prime Minister could run unopposed in the 1969 elections. As a result, corruption ran rampant in a country where ethnic divisions became more prevalent over the years, which were not addressed properly until the constitution was amended in 2010 to curtail “the powers of an imperial-style presidency”, to pave “the way for much-needed land reform” and to give “Kenyans a bill of rights”.

Nowadays, corruption and crime still run rampant in Kenya once again exasperated by its authoritarian-style President, Uluru Muigai Kenyatta, who just two years before being elected President in 2011, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes including murder, rape and deportations. Kenyatta then, in true corrupt fashion, killed, intimidated and bribed indispensable witnesses to the investigation, leaving ‘insufficient evidence’ to the ICC. It is clear that corruption and inequality is still prevalent in the African country, since 1963 the population has increased from 8.1 million to over 43 million, yet inequality and poverty remains extremely high. An estimated 45% of the population lives on just $1.25 a day, whilst 65% live on less than $2.

Although the revised constitution in 2010 aimed to promote more democracy within Kenya, what is clear is that both corruption and democracy remain dominant problems for the African nation. What is needed is more democratic leadership along with reforms that promote equality and alleviate poverty throughout the country. Known as one of Africa’s ‘lion economies’, Kenya has vast potential, seeing it continue to go to waste at the expense of its population of 43 million is tragic. 

Photo credits: Ludwig Wegmann

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Alex Egan is a former Features Editor at bathimpact (2014/15). She writes on politics - both national and international - as well as business.

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