On December 12, 1963, Kenya declares its independence from Britain. The East African nation is freed from its colonial oppressors, but its struggle for democracy is far from over.
A decade before, in 1952, a rebellion known the Mau Mau Uprising had shaken the British colony. Not only did the British spend an estimated £55 million suppressing the uprising, they also carried out massacres of civilians, forced several hundred thousand Kenyans into concentration camps, and suspended civil liberties in some cities.
The war ended in the imprisonment and execution of many of the rebels, but the British also understood that things had permanently changed. The colonial government introduced reforms making it easier for Kenyans to own land and grow coffee, a major cash crop previously reserved for European settlers. Kenyans were allowed to be elected to the Legislative Council beginning in 1957. With nationalist movements sweeping across the continent and with Britain no longer financially or militarily capable of sustaining its empire, the British government and representatives from the Kenyan independence movement met in 1960 to negotiate independence.
The agreement called for a 66-seat Legislative Council, with 33 seats reserved for Black Kenyans and 20 for other ethnic groups. Jomo Kenyatta, a former leader of the Kenya African National Union whom the British had imprisoned on false charges after the Mau Mau Uprising, was sworn in as Kenya’s Prime Minister on June 1, 1963, in preparation for the transition to independence. The new nation’s flag was modeled on that of the Union and featured a Masai shield at its center.
Kenya’s problems did not end with independence. Fighting with ethnic Somali rebels in the north continued from the time of independence until 1969, and Kenyatta instituted one-party rule, leading a corrupt and autocratic government until his death in 1978. Questions about the fairness of its elections continue to plague the country, which instituted a new constitution in 2010. Since declaring independence in 1964, Kenya has had just five presidents.