Kenya at 60: Key low and high moments since 1963

By , K24 Digital
On Tue, 12 Dec, 2023 08:26 | 5 mins read
Statue of soldiers raising Kenyan flag at independence. PHOTO/Tripadvisor
Statue of soldiers raising Kenyan flag at independence. PHOTO/Tripadvisor

60 years ago, on December 12, 1964, Kenya became a republic after 68 years of British colonial rule.

As we celebrate 60 years of independence today, we analyze key low and high moments since 1963.

No tribalism

At independence, Kenya had two major political parties; Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) which represented the interests of different ethnic groups.

KADU was formed to represent the interests of Kalenjin, Luhya, Somali, Maasai, Turkana, Samburu and other smaller ethnic groups against the imagined future dominance of the larger Luo and Kikuyu tribes that comprised the majority of KANU's membership.

However, at independence, first President Jomo Kenyatta persuaded KADU to fold and join KANU in a bid to end ethnic tension and divisions in a young country that was Kenya.

The dissolution of KADU was orchestrated by the then Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Tom Mboya, the first Secretary General and a founding member of KANU, who followed orders from Kenyatta.

The founding fathers seemed to have found the magic bullet for tribalism following the KANU/KADU merger at independence.

However, the stubborn demon of tribalism returned only a few years after independence following power struggles between Kenyatta and his deputy Jaramogi Odinga Oginga.

As Vice President, Jaramogi did not agree with Kenyatta on a myriad of issues. During those years, the world was divided into two blocks in terms of economic ideologies – Capitalism and Communism.

Jaramogi forged closer ties with the Communist block (Soviet Union, China and others) while Kenyatta had a soft spot for the Capitalist block (US, UK and the Western world).

Kenyatta and Jaramogi’s differences led to the latter resigning as Kenya’s first Vice President and quitting KANU in 1966 to form the Kenya People's Union (KPU).

Jaramogi’s exit from the government sparked ethnic tensions between Luos and Kikuyus, which has formed much of the distrust between the two communities to date.

Mysterious assassinations

From 1965 onwards, Kenya witnessed mysterious assassinations of key figures including seasoned politicians like Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Pio Gama Pinto, Robert Ouko and others.

On February 24, 1965, Pio Gama Pinto was shot dead in the driveway in Westlands while waiting for the gate to be opened.

On July 5, 1969, then Minister for Economic Planning and Development Tom Mboya was assassinated.

Mboya, who was only 39 at the time, was gunned down at Government Road (now Moi Avenue), just as he left Chaani's Pharmacy.

His killer, who would later be identified as Nahashon Isaac Njenga, quickly vanished amidst the confusion, after shooting Mboya in the chest.

Prison officials announced in December that year that the convicted assassin was secretly hanged. Officials refused to disclose the date or details of the execution.

Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly referred to as 'JM', was assassinated in March 1975 barely a year after he was re-elected Nyandarua's Member of Parliament (MP).

The first attempt on JM’s life was on March 1, 1975, when a bus he was supposed to travel in to go to Mombasa was bombed.

On March 2, 1975, JM’s remains were found in Ngong Forest by a herd boy. His hands had been chopped off, his eyes gorged out, his face burnt with acid and left on an ant's nest.

Robert Ouko, who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was assassinated shortly after a meeting with late President Daniel Arap Moi.

On February 5, 1990, Ouko met with Moi, the Japanese Ambassador, the Canadian High Commissioner, Bethuel Kiplagat (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and Hezekiah Oyugi (Permanent Secretary, Internal Security).

Later that day, Ouko traveled to his rural home in Koru, Kisumu County. On the night of 12/13 February 1990, Ouko disappeared from his Koru farm near Muhoroni.

Ouko's lifeless body was found later in the day on February 13 at approximately 1:00 pm by a local herdsboy at the foot of Got Alila Hill, about 3 km from his home.

The late minister had a single shot to the head, the right leg broken in two places and his body left partially burned.

Attempted coup

A group of disgruntled soldiers in August, 1982 tried to overthrow the government of late President Daniel Arap Moi.

The soldiers, drawn from Kenya Air Force, in the wee hours of August 1, 1982, took over Eastleigh Air Base at 3:00 am and Embakasi Air Base at 4:00 am.

At 6:00 am, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka and Sergeant Pancras Oteyo Okumu captured the Voice of Kenya radio station (now KBC) and announced in both English and Swahili that the military had overthrown the government.

Ochuka, whose rank of Senior Private Grade-I, the second lowest rank in the Kenyan military, ruled Kenya for about six hours before the other faction of the military that was loyal to Moi ‘overthrew’ him.

The junta leader fled to Tanzania before he was arrested and extradited to Kenya.

Ochuka was tried and found guilty of leading the coup attempt, and was hanged in 1987.

Death of multiparty democracy

The failed August 1, 1982 coup only hastened President Moi’s push to ban multiparty democracy in Kenya.

Before the violent insurrection against Moi’s regime by low-rank airmen, the president had tried to muzzle dissenting voices in opposition and civil rights movements.

Moi reined in Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and George Anyona who sought to register a socialist opposition party in 1982, striking back using the law he had passed to criminalize competitive politics and criticism of his leadership.

The government introduced Amendment Act, Number 7 of 1982 to Parliament, which introduced Section 2(A) transforming Kenya into a de jure one-party state by introducing the detention laws which had been suspended in 1978.

The failed coup only reinforced Moi's urge to consolidate power and become more authoritarian. The government amended the constitution twice to cripple oversight authorities such as the Judicial Services Commission and the Attorney General's office by removing their security tenure.

Return of multiparty democracy

On December 10, 1991, President Daniel Arap Moi allowed for the restoration of multiparty government by repealing Article 2A of the Constitution, which had made KANU the only authorized political party in Kenya.  

Moi was forced to restore democracy as Western backers were no longer tolerant of dictatorship following the collapse of the Soviet Union marking the end of the Cold War.

Western countries for three decades tolerated tyrants for fear that they would turn to the Soviet Union if not supported.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the winds of democracy started sweeping over many African countries and Kenya was among the nations that enjoyed what is termed as ‘second liberation’ after independence.

2002 election

The 2002 presidential election in Kenya is still touted as the most credible poll ever held in the country since independence.

Opposition clinched power against insurmountable odds to defeat the government machinery that tried moving heaven and earth to keep KANU in power as Moi retired.

Raila Odinga united opposition parties when he declared the two magical words ‘Kibaki Tosha’ and marshalled support for Mwai Kibaki who floored Uhuru Kenyatta of KANU.

2007/2008 post-election violence

The 2007–2008 post-election violence resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Kenyans and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Chaos erupted after Samuel Kivuitu, the former head of the now-defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) declared President Mwai Kibaki the election winner when provisional results had put Raila Odinga in a clear lead.

Kibaki was quickly sworn in at night at State House by then Chief Justice Evan Gicheru on a Sunday, December 30, 2007, as Kenya continued to burn.

The violence finally ended following a mediation process by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that birthed the first famous political handshake and ‘nusu mkate’ government with Kibaki as President and Raila as Prime Minister.

2010 constitution

A constitutional referendum was held in Kenya on August 4, 2010. Voters were asked whether they approved of a proposed new constitution, which had been passed by the National Assembly on April 1, 2010.

The result was a resounding victory for the "Yes" campaign, with 68.6% of voters approving the constitution. The "No" camp led by current President William Ruto conceded defeat.

The new constitution came into force on August 27, 2010.

The new constitution was seen as a vital step to avoid a repeat of the violent outbursts after the 2007 General Election.

The 2010 constitution allows that a person may file a petition at the Supreme Court to challenge the election of the President-elect within seven days after the date of the declaration of the results of the presidential election.

The 2010 constitution also calls for the President-elect to be sworn-in in public to avoid Kibaki-style night swearing-in at the State House.

The President-elect is also sworn-in 14 days after the date of the declaration of the result of the presidential election, and not immediately he/she is declared winner as was the case with Kibaki.

The 14-day window allows petitioners to challenge the presidential results at the Supreme Court.

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