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History, African Opposition to the British

Mau Mau rebellion, African activists, KADU, African nationalism, Jomo Kenyatta

Following World War I, protests against settler supremacy and the policies of the colonial government emerged among Kenyan Africans. Much of the opposition during this period came from educated Kenyans who objected to the government’s high taxes, labor-control policies, and a general lack of opportunities. One of the first opposition movements to emerge was the East African Association, which was banned by colonial authorities in 1922. In the 1920s and 1930s African protests focused on local issues and remained within the boundaries of the ethnic units recognized by colonial rule. The Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), formed in 1924, began advocating the return of land lost to European settlement, the importance of Kikuyu cultural values, and improvement in the lot of its middle-class leadership. One of the leaders of the KCA was Jomo Kenyatta. During this period, the KCA and similar organizations in other parts of Kenya sought not the removal of colonial rule but rather improvement within it.

After World War II (1939-1945), opposition increasingly took the form of nationalism, with African activists demanding self-government and independence. A colony-wide political party, the Kenya African Union (KAU), was formed in 1944 to advocate this goal. Kenyatta became the leader of the party in 1947. KAU made little headway with its demands, however, as European settlers still enjoyed far greater influence than Africans within the colonial government.

In these postwar years, economic and political discontent mounted, particularly among the Kikuyu. Some outbreaks of violence occurred in 1951, and the following year a secret Kikuyu guerrilla organization known as Mau Mau began a campaign of violence against Europeans. In October 1952 the colonial government declared a state of emergency and arrested Kenyatta, charging him with managing Mau Mau. Kenyatta’s arrest and later conviction and imprisonment, and the banning of KAU in 1953, spurred on the Mau Mau rebellion, in which thousands of Africans—the majority of whom were Kikuyu—fought a guerrilla war against colonial rule and settler supremacy. The rebellion proved also to be a Kikuyu civil war: Those who fought against British rule were drawn from the poorest segment of Kikuyu society, while wealthier Kikuyu, who had profited from colonial rule, fought against the rebels. After four years of fighting and thousands of deaths (mostly of Africans), the British finally suppressed the rebellion in 1956.

Although the British moved to provide greater economic, educational, and political opportunities for Africans, African nationalism continued to intensify and to spread among all of Kenya’s ethnic groups. In 1960 and 1961 the British rapidly took steps to end settler supremacy and establish independence for Kenya with African majority rule. Colony-wide political parties were formed, and when Kenyatta was freed from detention in 1961 he became the leader of the newly formed dominant party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU). KANU was supported by the Kikuyu and the Luo, Kenya’s two largest ethnic groups at the time. In pre-independence elections held in May 1963, Kenyatta led KANU to victory over its main rival, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), which was supported by a number of smaller ethnic groups. Kenyatta became prime minister in June, and in December Kenya became an independent nation.



Article key phrases:

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