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KENYA AFRICAN NATIONAL UNION(KANU) and the role of political parties in the struggle for independence

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KANU was formed on May 14th 1960, at the height of the independence struggle in Kenya. KANU's famous emblem, the cockerel, is very familiar to Kenyans, who casually refer to the party as jogoo, swahili for cockerel. KANU's formation is largely attributed to the public outcry that followed Jomo Kenyatta's arrest and detention in 1952. The demand for Kenyatta's release ushered in a new sense of Nationalism in Kenya and the existing political parties saw a need to abandon their personal ambitions and work for the country's common good. KANU thus became Kenya's true national party and the sole pulpit for advocating Kenyan demands to the colonial government. Though KANU became a true national party, it was basically a conglomeration of the three major political parties at that time, namely Jomo Kenyatta's Kenya Africa Union(KAU), Tom Mboya's National People's Convention Party(NPCP), and Kenya Independence Movement(KIM) of Oginga Odinga and Dr. Kiano. Kenyatta was elected President of KANU while still in prison and his seat was filled by James Gichuru, who became its first President. You will recall that Gichuru earlier in 1944 founded the Kenya African Union(KAU), and again stepped aside for Kenyatta when he came back from London. Tom Mboya was KANU's Secretary-General at its inception. Kenyatta was finally released in 1961 and took over KANU's Presidency from Gichuru. He headed KANU until his death in 1978, when his successor, President Moi took over from him. Moi continues to head KANU to this day.

Political activity in Kenya however was very much alive way before 1960 when KANU was born. Records indicate that as early as 1920, Kenya was already buzzing with political activity. The rising peasant population that worked in the colonial firms was growing increasingly agitated at the colonial regime because of the income disparities they were witnessing between them and their white counterparts. In addition to that, their rights and freedom were severely restricted, relegating them to second-class citizens in their own homeland. Among the earliest parties to come into play were the East African Association(EAA) and the Kikuyu Central Association(KCA). The East African Association was founded in 1921 by Harry Thuku, Jessie Kariuki, Joseph Kangethe, Abdulla Tairara, Norman Mboya and a Ugandan by the name Ssetongo. These were among the pioneers in Kenya's struggle for independence but are rarely mentioned alongside other freedom fighters. Harry Thuku in particular, who was the leader of EAA, was very instrumental in Kenya's independence struggle. He was arrested in 1922 in an effort to clamp down on the rising African political activism. This however did not deter the Africans, who in 1924 went ahead and formed the Kikuyu Central Association(KCA). One of KCA's major objectives was to secure the release of Thuku. KCA was headed by James Beauttah and Joseph Kangethe. As the name suggests, KCA was primarily a political party fronting the demands of the Kikuyu community in Central Kenya. In 1930, Thuku was finally released and later went on to lead the KCA in 1932. Other political organisations also sprung up in 1924. These were the Kavirondo Taxpayer's Association, Ukamba Members Association, and Taita Hills Association. In 1944 James Gichuru, together with Harry Thuku founded the Kenya Africa Union(KAU). It actually began as KASU(Kenya African Study Union) with Harry Thuku as President. Thuku later resigned and Gichuru became President. Kenyatta came back from London and took over KAU leadership from Gichuru.

Other than the release of Harry Thuku, the 1930s was a period of relative quiet politically. Before the 1940s, Africans were represented in the Legislative Council(LEGCO), by 2 missionaries. It was not untill 1944 that Eliud Mathu became the first black African member of the LEGCO. During the late 40's and early 50's, Kenya saw a rise in religious movements which also doubled as political parties seeking more African rights. Examples include Dini ya Msambwa in Western Province, Nomia Church in Nyanza Province, andDini ya Kaggia in Central Province. These religious movements acted as a breeding ground for political parties. The Mau Mau also came into existence around this time(1946), and was initially more of a spiritual movement than a political movement. Right around this time, Oginga Odinga formed the Luo Thrift and Trading Company, in an attempt to bolster the economic base of his Luo community and thus aid them in their struggle for independence. All these, combined with the potent Mau Mau factor led the colonial government to declare a state of emergency in 1952 and ban all political activity. After the ban on political activity, labour unions sprung into center stage. At the center of it all was Tom Mboya who used his new-found power to press for the release of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Mboya's labour movement activity is partly responsible for the eventual legalization of political parties in late 1955. The colonial government allowed resumption of political activity but on condition that it remained at district level. In addition to that the they stiffled political activity in Central Kenya where most of the activism in Kenya seemed to emanate. The colonialist's plans to sideline the Kikuyu community politically did not work as most leaders continued to agitate for Kenyatta's release and a united African front against colonialism. They however succeeded to some extent because various regional parties sprung up also threatening to tear the country down along tribal lines. With the formation of KANU in 1960, the colonial government got very threatened by the party's huge following and set out to incite members of the smaller communities to form their own party. This led to formation of the Kenya African Democratic Union(KADU) in the same year. KADU's first leader was Ronald Ngala.

The first multi-party elections in Kenya were held in 1961. KANU beat KADU in the elections but refused to form a coalition government unless Kenyatta was released. Their demands were met and Kenyatta was released on 14th August 1961. KANU and KADU then formed a coalition government. The coalition was not a very stable one because there were huge differences between the two parties. KANU favoured a unitary system with a strong central government whereas KADU wanted a federal system(Majimbo) with a weak central government. Most people in KADU feared domination by the larger communities, namely the Kikuyu community. In the 1963 General Elections, KANU trounced KADU and proceeded to form the internal self-government on June 1st 1963 (Madaraka Day) with Kenyatta as Prime Minister. On November 10th 1964 KADU's leader Ronald Ngala announced the voluntary dissolution of his party. This officially paved the way for Single-Party rule in Kenya that lasted until 1990, when Section 2(A) of the constitution was repealed allowing Multi-Party politics.

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