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History, Independent Kenya

Daniel arap Moi, Tom Mboya, Oginga Odinga, KPU, coup attempt

As an independent country, Kenya was initially a constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch as its nominal head of state and a prime minister as head of government. In December 1964, however, Kenya became a republic with a president as both head of state and head of government. Kenyatta was chosen as the country’s first president. By this time KADU had dissolved, and its members had joined KANU.

The Kenyatta era, which lasted until 1978, was a period of considerable social change and economic growth for Kenya. Kenyatta appointed members of many different ethnic groups to government positions and encouraged the people of Kenya to come together as Kenyans, rather than focus on their different ethnic alignments. Many whites had left the country when Kenya became independent, and Kenyatta divided their land among blacks. These Kenyans were encouraged to grow export crops such as coffee and tea on their new land. Aided by a steady flow of foreign investment, largely from Britain, Kenya’s economy flourished. The standard of living rose for most Kenyans, and the nation’s economy became one of the fastest growing in post-colonial Africa.

However, Kenyatta’s capitalist economic policies and pro-Western orientation provoked division within KANU. Kenya’s vice president, an ethnic Luo named Oginga Odinga, resigned from the government in 1966 and formed the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), which drew a great deal of Luo support away from KANU and presented the Kenyatta government with a challenge. In 1969 Tom Mboya, an influential Luo cabinet minister, was assassinated, resulting in a further loss of Luo support for the government. Kenyatta surmounted these challenges through the use of state power: detaining opponents without trial, banning the KPU, and filling government positions with supporters. Kenyatta made appeals for ethnic solidarity among Kikuyu, and many Kikuyu achieved influence and considerable wealth under his rule. However, the president resisted attempts by Kikuyu to remove his vice president, an ethnic Kalenjin named Daniel arap Moi, from the position of successor.

Kenyatta died in 1978, and Moi assumed the presidency of Kenya. He took the Swahili word nyayo (meaning “footsteps”) as his leadership motto to assure Kenyans that he was following the legacy of Kenyatta. At first, Moi adopted a populist approach, releasing political prisoners, moving to limit Kikuyu political and economic influence, and traveling among the nation’s people. In the 1980s, however, Kenya’s economic growth began to slow, and Moi’s rule became increasingly authoritarian. In 1982 the Moi government altered the constitution to make Kenya officially a one-party state. That year Moi survived a coup attempt by air force personnel. Beginning in the 1980s, Kenya experienced several debilitating droughts and the price of coffee dropped several times. These factors damaged the Kenyan economy; the nation fell into debt, and unemployment rose dramatically.

Fueled by economic discontent, strong pressure for reform of the political system and an end to Moi’s rule emerged from many sectors of Kenyan society by the end of the 1980s. Moi resisted the calls for reform, but his government came under pressure from foreign economic donors, such as the World Bank and the United States, to implement political and economic reforms. Meanwhile, in the early 1990s violent ethnic clashes rocked Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, as Kalenjin people attacked Kikuyu living in traditionally Kalenjin areas. Moi finally bowed to domestic and international pressures in December 1991 and agreed to legalize other political parties. Multiparty legislative and presidential elections were held in December 1992, but the opposition to KANU split along ethnic lines; Moi was reelected in the presidential race, and KANU won the majority of seats in the assembly.

Continuing economic difficulties and calls for further reform marked Moi’s new term. His administration also was accused of corruption and overspending, particularly through its favoring of development projects in Kalenjin-dominated areas that supported him. Before the elections of 1997, opposition parties held demonstrations calling for electoral reform, and further ethnic clashes occurred. In late 1997 Moi consented to the repeal of repressive anti-opposition laws that had existed since colonial times. However, opposition to Moi’s rule remained divided, and he was reelected president in December.

The Kenyan economy continued to decline into the 21st century and opposition to Moi and KANU mounted. Constitutionally prohibited from seeking another term, Moi handpicked KANU’s candidate to succeed him. Expressing fears that Moi would manipulate the next KANU president behind the scenes, several major opposition parties joined forces to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), led by former vice president Mwai Kibaki. NARC and Kibaki swept the December 2002 elections with more than 60 percent of the vote. Kibaki was sworn in as president of Kenya in late December, ending four decades of KANU rule.



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