Present-day Kenya is a mix of colonial struggle and capitalist vigor. The road to Kenyan independence began in earnest in October 1952.
Kenya, under a state of emergency that would last seven years, began its march toward decolonization. The Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule prompted the successful request for a state of emergency. Britain rallied its own troops, in addition to African troops, to suppress the rebellion. With newfound intelligence data gathered during the integration of General China, Britain embarked on Operation Anvil on April 24, 1954, in hopes of ending a successful rebellion against them. Operation Anvil severely restricted the already limited freedoms of the citizens of Nairobi. Mau Mau supporters left in the capital were moved from the city to detention camps. Although the Mau Mau rebellion was not officially over until 1959, the capture of Dedan Kimathi on October 21, 1956, decreased the optimism of those fighting for the end of colonial rule.
The end of the Mau Mau rebellion’s main military offensive in 1956 opened the door for voluntary British withdrawal. The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council were in 1957. With moderates making up the majority of the Legislative Assembly, the British government had hoped that power could be passed to those who wished to see a minimal British presence in Kenya. However, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and extremist Jomo Kenyatta formed the government shortly before Kenya became officially independent on December 12, 1963.
Single-party leadership continued after Kenyatta’s death in 1978 with Daniel arap Moi. President arap Moi survived an abortive military coup attempt on August 1, 1982, masterminded by air force serviceman Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka. Ochuka attempted to take the capital, but the coup was suppressed by loyalist forces led by the army, the general service unit, and later the regular police. Intimidated by the strength of the air force, arap Moi disbanded the Kenyan Air Force.
Moi was unsuccessful in nurturing Kenya’s postcolonial economy. Sensing radical changes to Kenya’s governmental institutions, Moi enacted constitutional reform during the 1988 elections. Elections were opened to the mlolongo system, by which voters lined up behind their selected candidate. Over the course of the next years several clauses from the constitution were changed in order to reestablish Kenya’s failing political and economic systems.
The first democratic elections were held in 1992. Moi was reelected and again in 1997. In the 2002 elections, Moi was constitutionally barred from running, and Mwai Kibaki was elected for the National Rainbow Coalition.
With the absence of civil war in Kenya the country remained relatively stable, but it continued to be a single-party state until the 2002 elections. President Kibaki instituted long-needed reforms, but continued Kenya’s tradition of corruption at the highest levels. A draft constitution put forth in November 2005 was defeated by the Kenyan electorate when it was discovered it would only decrease transparency in government. In response, Kibaki dismissed his entire cabinet and appointed new ministers, many of whom belonged to political parties with which he was aligned.
Natural disaster plagued Kenya in the late 1990s, compounding the already poor economic situation. Severe flooding destroyed roads, bridges, and crops; epidemics of malaria and cholera overran the health care system; and ethnic clashes erupted. Desperate to win back International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank funding to assist the millions in need, President Moi appointed his high-profile critic and political opponent, Richard Leakey, as head of the civil service in 1999. A third generation white Kenyan, Leakey was fired by Moi two years later for apparently engaging in corruption. This prompted the ruling party to put forth an anticorruption law in August 2001, whose failure to pass ended Kenya’s chances for renewed international aid.
Corruption continued under President Kabaki. His anticorruption minister, John Githongo, resigned in February 2005 over frustrations that he was prevented from investigating scandals. In early 2006 investigations showed that the government was linked to two corruption scandals. Economic devastation brought on by severe droughts compounded the systemic corruption.
Elections in December 2007 sparked weeks of violence, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan Brokened a deal to form a new government, thus halting the possible threat of civil war.