The scramble for colonies in Africa among European countries reached fever pitch in 1884, when the Berlin Conference was convened to partition Africa amongst European colonial rivals. Among British acquisitions was the land we today call Kenya. A British trading company, Imperial British East Africa Company, was set up and posted to administer Kenya under the name British East Africa Protectorate. When it was realised that the company could not contain Kenya’s hostile communities the British declared the country a colony and Protectorate on 1st July 1895 and posted the first Governor, Sir Arthur Hardinge, to establish a formal British administration.
The seventy years of colonial rule in Kenya were characterised by punitive economic, social and political policies. Most outstanding among these policies was racial discrimination. Huge fertile land was alienated for white settlement, and harsh labour laws were enacted to force the Africans to work at low wages on settler farms and public works. In addition, African political participation was confined to local government.
It was against this scenario that African protest movements began in earnest from the early 1920s. Several political associations, including the Young Kikuyu Association, East African Association, Young Kavirondo Association, North Kavirondo Central Association and Taita Hills Association, were formed to articulate African grievances against forced labour, low wages, heavy taxation, continuing land alienation, and racial discrimination.
Between 1944 and 1960 African political activity and pressure were intensified. In 1944, the first countrywide nationalist party, Kenya African Union (KAU) was formed. And in the same year the first African, Eliud Mathu, was nominated to the settler dominated Legislative Council. Unhappiness with the slow political and economic change led to the breakdown of law and order in the early 1950s, and in 1952 Governor, Sir Everlyn Baring declared a state of emergency following the outbreak of the Mau Mau rebellion, whose major grievances included land alienation, racial discrimination and lack of political progress.
The state of emergency, however, intensified political resolve for independence, forcing the colonial government to come up with constitutional proposals. Under the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 Africans were allowed to directly elect their representatives to the Legislative Council. The elections were held in 1957, and eight African leaders – Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya, Daniel arap Moi, Mate, Muimi, Oginga Odinga, Oguda and Muliro, were elected. They stepped up agitation for widened representation and independence. After considerable discussion, it was decided to form a mass organization to mobilize the people for the final assault on colonialism, hence the birth of Kenya African National Union, (KANU). KANU was formed in March 1960, at Kiambu town, and on 11 June 1960, it was registered as a mass political society. But as the objective of freedom became evident, many of the smaller communities feared domination by the larger ethnic groups, and on June 25, 1960 they formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The first election on a broad electoral register was held in 1961, and was won by KANU. In another election in May 1963, KANU captured 83 of the 124 seats in the House of Representatives and formed the Madaraka Administration on 1st June 1963, and the independence Government on 12th December 1963, under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.