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Uhuru, Jamhuri, Harambee (1963-1978)

The 12th of December, 1963, was the day of the declaration of independence (Uhuru), and just one year later a new country was born: the Republic of Kenya, Jamhuri ya Kenya, presided by 'Mzee' Jomo Kenyatta. He based his mandate, until his death in 1978, in something that would become a motto for the people of Kenya: 'Harambee', meaning "pulling all together at once".

With independence, many Europeans left the country, fearing that the free Kenya would give rise to new times of prosecution and extermination of the representatives of the old European power. In fact, the former Mau-Maus were waiting for the green light to invade the whites' farms. Very differently, those that chose to stay found a conciliatory and dialoguing Kenyatta, pragmatic and intelligent, inviting the Europeans to join Harambee and not excluding anyone of the national construction process. Some of the former Colony's chief civil servants kept their jobs. Kenyatta requested the Bristish troops in Kenya to remain and help him extinguish the Somalis revolts in the North East and an army mutiny in Nairobi. This presence would be expanded through a defense agreement between Kenya and Great Britain, that kept the British army in their current headquarters in Nanyuki.

The idea of Harambee included a dark side, a wrong interpretation of political opposition as needless and annoying dissidence. Obsessed by the need of one single thinking, Kenyatta imposed monolithism in the ranks of KANU. In the same line, the 10th of November of 1964, KADU's leader Ronald Ngala announced before the National Assembly the voluntary dissolution of the opposing party, justifying the decision "on the interest of national unity". During that Parliament session, all KADU MPs crossed over to the KANU wing. The president so achieved his goal of having one single political party in Kenya. This would be the first of a long series of movements that would reveal the course of Kenyatta's politics in the following years: eliminate opposition, concentrate power in his own hands and in those of his KANU loyals, and thus make his Kikuyu ethnic group become the dominant class.

Successes in foreign affairs forecasted good expectations for the newborn Republic. Very soon, Kenya was granted access to the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Organisation for African Unity (OAU). The leaders of the three new East African nations, Milton Obote from Uganda, Julius Nyerere from Tanzania and Kenyatta himself, decided to set up a common market to maintain unity of those services that used to give supply to the 30 million people of the former Colonies. In 1967, the East African Community was inaugurated, unifying the utilities of post and telecommunications in the East African Posts and Telecomunications, railways and harbours in the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation, and airways in the East African Airways. The alliance also grouped under a common umbrella the customs and indirect taxes of the three countries.

The main lines of Kenyatta's policies were focused on the most urgent affairs. Among these, the major one was reforming land, the greatest good in Kenya, and regularising the situation of those arrested during the war. The government started a plan to buy properties to the Europeans for redistributing small plots to the dispossessed peasants, under loans to be payed off in 30 years. In 1970, more than two thirds of the land of colonial farms were already occupied by 50,000 Africans, and life quality in general had increased. This "million acre" scheme, agreed during the conversations prior to independence, was followed by the Shirika, the cooperativist movement. Farms were sold as a whole to cooperatives that were bound to give one hectare (2.5 acres) to each member for self use. This scheme apparently failed and farms would finally be divided among cooperativists during Moi's mandate. Some of the large estates were transferred as national farms to the Agricultural Development Corporation, for the development of agricultural research and the production of certified seeds.

But reality hidden behind the smoke curtain of redistribution was quite different: of the 550,000 hectares (1,360,000 acres) offered for free purchase, most of it was sold in lots to large African private investors, mainly KANU leaders and the Kikuyu and Luo lobbies, which favoured the growth of a native elite. The new landowners, Jomo Kenyatta among them, accumulated large estates similar to those that existed in the Colony days.

The redistribution programme was closed in 1966, its goals judged "extensively accomplished". Nonetheless, many peasants formerly settled in European farms were now illegal occupants in private lands belonging to Africans. The immediate consequence was emigration to the city surroundings, where employment was scarce. Slums soon started to sprout.

Health and education lacked a public system to guarantee benefits for all citizens. The Harambee motto presided, in the 60's and 70's, a campaign aimed at collecting funds for these purposes. The new power elite donated generously for the building of hundreds of Harambee schools. Of course, inaugurations served as a showcase for the donors' public image, and so these acts became a symbol of social status.

The industrialising process followed a slower pace. Kenya lacks great mineral resources and petrol is imported from Arab countries. Foreign investors had retracted during the unsteady years prior to independence and it was urgent to give confidence back to them. Programmes initiated those days, like the Foreign Investment Protection Act (1964), offered great advantages for private investment, facilitating the imports of technology and equipemnt and the export of profits, which obviously reduced the positive impact on the country's development. From the outside, Kenya started to appear before the world as a country attractive for investment: democratic, politically stable and with great advantages for foreign capital, with better standards of living than other African countries and safe from invasions, civil wars and droughts. Tourism development contributed to recover investors' confidence.

Clearly, the government's priority was growth over redistribution. Economic growth was fast during the first ten years. GDP figures started to reflect the contribution to exports of the small farmers, whose plots produced tea, coffee, pyrethrum and several fruits. But social differences worsened with prosperity of the new middle class, while 16,000 sq km of farms and plantations remained in foreign hands. The dominant elite, called Wabenzi after the Mercedes Benz vehicles they use, thrived thanks to commercial operations with multinational companies. Nepotism was a usual practice and Kenyatta himself was said to make one of the biggest fortunes in the continent. Meanwhile, life conditions for most Kenyan people had not varied substantially since the Colony days. Schooling increased, but the unemployment level was overwhelming, the population growth rate one of the highest in the world and most of the land was still in the hands of the greedy, that simply had changed faces.

It is true that the Kikuyu people were the most damaged during the Colony days, but the benefits of independence were as well mainly for them, more specifically for the elite surrounding power, while discomfort grew amid the rest of ethnic groups.

The first years after independence were also of great political convulsions. Evolution of KANU's lines raised complaints from the party's left wing, led by the Luo Oginga Odinga, vice-president of the Republic since 1964. Two years later, Odinga finally resigned and left the party to place himself in the opposition by giving birth to a new group, Kenya People's Union (KPU), of socialist ideology, that attracted other 29 MPs. The former guerrilla leader co-founder of the Forty Group, Bildad Kaggia, became the visible head of KPU for the poor Kikuyu, the "betrayed by independence", whom he represented and encouraged with his speeches. KPU offered an anti-capitalist alternative pleading for a socialist, non-aligned Kenya.

From KANU, Tom Mboya responded to the KPU's prosperity by emphasizing the need for tightening the links with the Westworld and stimulating foreign investment, international help and entrepreneurship. KANU attributed itself the true African socialism, accusing KPU of segregationist. The dissident party was tolerated for hardly three years, but meanwhile its members were harassed, its leaders arrested and its activities blocked by constitutional reforms and new laws destined to suppress opposition. In April 1966 Kenyatta dispossessed the KANU dissidents of their seats.

In KANU, the vacancy after Odinga's resignation was occupied by Joseph Murumbi, and later on, with the support of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, by Daniel Arap Moi. In this way, Britain protected its interests avoiding the possibility that a radical could take over as the new VP.

The next elections, celebrated in June that same year, 1966, confirmed Kenyatta in his position. One year later, the president managed to be granted plenary powers from the Parliament.

By then, political movements started to contemplate a possible succession to Kenyatta. Odinga counted with the support of Luo and Gusii sectors in Western Kenya, but Mboya was Kenyatta's right hand and the leader of many poor Kikuyu. Mboya's increasing popularity was not appreciated by the powerful Kikuyu, followers of Kenyatta. On the 5th of July 1969, Mboya, at the time Minister of economic development, was shot down dead. The attack, that took place in Nairobi downtown, was attributed to a young Kikuyu who acted independently.

Mboya's murder shook Kenya's fragile political stability. The Luos, watching themselves progressively moved away from government for the benefit of Kenyatta's absolute power, began to make public protest. During a presidential visit to Kisumu in October, with the occasion of a meeting in which Odinga and his followers were also present, the Luos demonstrated violently and the police fired against the multitude, with a balance of 11 dead. On the other hand, border clashes with Somalia contributed to aggravate the conflict panorama.

The hounded president responded with severity: KPU was declared illegal and Odinga was arrested without trial and banned from public posts until 1977. The Constitution still recognised the right to form opposition parties, but in practice, candidatures to Parliament outside KANU were systematically rejected.

In the same line, hegemony of Kikuyu, Meru and Embu was reinforced through several measures. To guarantee the loyalty of security forces, Kikuyu presence in the army was increased and a new assault unit was created, directed by Kikuyu officers: the General Service Unit (GSU), independent from police and army, with the mission of working as a domestic security force.

In the early 70's, new measures and promises to Africanise the country cooled down protests. Kikuyu control was even more evident in the administration, institutions, businesses and lands. The following years were more peaceful, with the people expecting results.

But results failed to deliver what was promised and conflicts soon sprouted again. In 1975, a group self-called Maskini Liberation Organisation performed a number of terrorist attacks, among them the bomb placed in March 1975 in a bus stop in Nairobi, which caused 27 dead and 37 wounded.

That same year, the radical opposition MP J. Mwangi Kariuki was the first to raise his voice publicly against the Kikuyu hegemonic power, warning that Kenya was becoming a country with "ten millionaires and ten million beggars". Kariuki was a Kikuyu, from a non-dominant clan, arrested in the Mau-Mau days and formerly close to Kenyatta. He was immediately arrested and, a few weeks later, his body was found in Ngong Hills.

Reactions to this murder soon arised. Kariuki's multitudinous funeral was followed by a student revolt, joined by several MPs. Along the next years, more MPs were arrested, but none dared raise his voice the way Kariuki had done. Apparently, the parliamentary report about the MP's death contained two prominent names, that were suppressed after Kenyatta's request. Non-official sources attributed the murder to the GSU, the Kikuyu secret police.

The country's turbulences started to attract international attention. Foreign media talked about corruption in Kenyatta's clan, and great diffusion was given to a parliamentary discussion about ivory smuggling, in which the president himself was supposed to be deeply involved. But the Westworld was not willing to annoy Kenyatta in excess: despite formally non-aligned, Kenya was still appreciated as a strong anti-communist ally and a paradise for investment.

With the purpose of alleviating the increasing tension, in December 1975 Kenyatta decreed an amnesty. However, elections to be held in 1977 were suspended. That year, the East African Community collapsed definitely. It had previously suffered several hard beats, motivated by the lack of confidence between capitalist Kenya and socialist Tanzania, the domination of Kenya as the strongest member and the 'coup d'etat' by Idi Amin in Uganda in 1971. At the moment of the union's shattering, Kenya took hold of most of the assets that belonged to the Community.

In 1977, aged 85, Kenyatta was locked in his dictatorship protected by a court of loyals, headed by Charles Njonjo and the Kikuyu chief Koinange, while the Parliament's and Cabinet's functions became more and more diluted. The old man replied to the accusations of corruption with new arrests, attempting to distract his citizens' attention with accusations of comunism to the Tanzanian regime and vague warnings of external threats to the country. On the 28th of August 1978, Jomo Kenyatta died in bed, leaving behind a country that had travelled a long distance just to go back to where it was twenty years earlier.


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Cradle of Mankind
First migrations
Swahili coast
Portuguese empire
Omani domination
Mountains of the Moon
Inland peoples
Kenya exploration
Partition of East Africa
Protectorates & Lunatic Express
Settlers, hunters & sportsmen
African nationalism
Mau-Mau & end of the Colony
Uhuru, Jamhuri, Harambee
End of a century
Moi's decline & Constitution