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close this bookThe Courier N 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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close this folderKenya - Democracy: winning the hearts and minds of wananchi
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View the documentKANU, the ruing
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KANU, the ruing

The seeds of the one-party state in Kenya were sown in the colonial era during the struggle for economic and political rights when only one strong organisation, the Kenya African Union (KAU) emerged. Founded in 1944, mainly by the educated elites of almost all the major tribes, KAU was nevertheless predominantly Kikuyu both in leadership and in popular support. It was banned in 1953 by the British colonial administration under a state of emergency. This followed the arrest and imprisonment of its leader, Jomo Kenyatta, on a charge of involvement in the Mau Mau uprising.

During the state of emergency two Luo personalities, Tom Mboya, leader of the trade union movement, and Oginga Odinga emerged in Kenyan politics, being the most vocal opponents of the colonial regime in the absence of the mainly Kikuyu nationalists who were either in prison or in exile. It was, however, the allegiance of all politicians to the imprisoned Jomo Kenyatta that was to determine the entire course of Kenyan political life.

Boycotting national politics and cleverly exploiting their influence at the district level, Kenyan nationalists successfully campaigned for a widening of the franchise to universal adult suffrage and for self-government. In January 1960, the state of emergency was lifted and following a constitutional conference in London in February that year, the ban on national party politics was lifted. In the election that followed, Africans were returned in the majority to the Legislative Council. This led immediately to the formation of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) with the absent Jomo Kenyatta as acting President.

But, like in many African countries at the approach of autonomy, divisions began to appear among the ethnic groups, opposing principally a Luo-Kikuyu alliance against a coalition of minority tribes (mainly Maasai and Kalenjin) which feared losing out in a Luo-Kikuyu dominated government that sought access for Africans to the ‘Highlands’, an area reserved for the exclusive use of whites. Led by Ronald Ngala, the latter soon broke away from KANU to form the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).

There were fundamental differences in the political philosophy of the two parties. KANU could be described as having a leftist leaning, being, as it was, for a fairer distribution of land to the landless, nationalist not only in its anti-colonial posture but also in terms of the system of government it sought for the country - a unitary state with little power for regional or local governments. KADU, by contrast, sought a federalist constitution which it felt would safeguard the interests of minorities.

Although KANU won a majority in the 1961 election, it refused to form a government, in protest against the continued detention of Jomo Kenyatta. KADU, however, did, forming a coalition which lasted only a couple of months: Kenyatta, the national hero, revered by all, was released in August and bath parties rallied around him, but not for long. The debate on the independence constitution reopened the division between KANU and KADU soon afterwards. The 1963 Constitution, which granted self-government to Kenya, however, created six local governments to the delight of KADU. In the election that followed in June, KADU could not field sufficient candidates. It was decisively won by KANU. Jomo Kenyatta became prime-minister and, in December, President when Kenya became a republic under another constitution which stripped local governments of many of their powers and brought them under direct control of the central government. Shortly before this, defections from KADU to KANU had brought the existence of the former to an end. Kenyatta’s personality was to dominate Kenyan political life for the next fifteen years with KANU governing unchallenged but with enough internal politics to give the country not only a semblance of democracy but also political stability in a continent rocked by coupe and military dictatorships.

In 1966, the radical Luo politician, Oginga Odinga, then Vice-President, was expelled from the party following his criticisms of the government policy of combatting illegal squatting on private property. When he and 30 members of Parliament formed a new political party, the Kenya Peoples Union (KPU), legislation was rushed through which forced them to contest their seats in by-elections. In the event, only a handful (nine) were returned. Harassed, two defected and the KPU remained ineffectual until it was banned in 1969 following a disturbance and massacre in Kisumu, which happened soon after a visit by Kenyatta. The KPU was accused of masterminding it and its leader Oginga Odinga was detained.

Kenyatta’s determination to tolerate no other political party on the scene, or dissent was obvious until his death in 1978. Indeed the last three years of his government saw the imprisonment or detention of many dissidents, prominent among them, Seroney, Shikuku, Mutai, Anyona and the writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

Kenya remained a de facto one-party state until 1982 when the Constitution was amended to make it de jure. In August that same year, a coup attempt was made by a section of the air force. Although it failed, it drove home to the authorities the depth of discontent in the country over what the coup leaders claimed were corruption and lack of freedom. With university students joining the rebel airmen and crowds in Nairobi going on the rampage, the scale of looting and loss of life was immense. The government reacted by temporarily closing down the University of Nairobi, and shaking up the armed forces. Observers note since then a change in the government attitude to public opinion, being now much more responsive to it than previously. The coup marked the beginning of a higher profile in public relations by KANU. Anti-corruption campaigns, probity in government and efficiency in the civil service have become watchwords. They remain, however, major problems despite President Daniel arap Moi’s personal commitment to combat them, particularly his crusade against corruption.

The party has also tried to broaden its appeal. It recently released the report of a Review Committee whose recommendations are designed to improve the democratic process under the one-party system. The recommendations include the abolition of queue voting (the process whereby party members line up behind their preferred candidate for nomination for election) and the abolition of the 70% rule (whereby a candidate at the nomination stage who attains 70% of the total number of votes cast in a constituency or is unopposed, is declared duly nominated as the sole candidate). Henceforth, the best placed three candidates in a secret ballot go forward for the final election. The measures also include the abolition of expulsion from the party as a disciplinary measure.