Kenya became independent in 1963. The
liberation hero Jomo Kenyatta ruled the country until
his death in 1978, when Daniel arap Moi took over as
president. In the 2002 election, the Kanu government
party lost power for the first time and a coalition
government was formed with Mwai Kibaki as president.
Tensions were great in the multi-pronged government
alliance and ethnic contradictions increasingly came to
the surface. When Kibaki was declared victorious in the
2007 election, extensive violence erupted. As a result,
a unifying government was formed in which Kibaki
continued as president and his rival Raila Odinga became
On December 12, 1964, on the day one year after
independence, Kenya became a republic with Kenyatta as
president. His message was national reconciliation. Soil
in the fertile highlands previously reserved for whites
was divided and handed over to black Kenyans.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Kenya. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
Until the late 1970s, Kenya experienced strong
growth. But within Kenya's African National
Union (Kanu), tensions between
the party's two wings increased, one conservative under
Tom Mboya and one radical led by Oginga Odinga (see
Older History). The latter was deposed as Vice President
in 1966 and formed the Party of Kenya's People's
Union (KPU) which was critical
of developments under Kenyatta. The KPU claimed that a
few became richer at the expense of the majority. The
party was banned in 1969, Odinga was imprisoned and
"independent" candidates were banned from participating
in parliamentary elections.
Politically divergent views became an increasingly
sensitive issue. From 1975 to 1978, a number of
prominent regime critics were imprisoned. When Kenyatta
died in 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi took power.
At first, Moi's rule meant increased transparency, but
from the beginning of the 1980s he showed less tolerance
for his critics. The one-party system that prevailed in
practice was written into the constitution. At the same
time, the country was in a recession.
The Air Force made a failed coup attempt in 1982. The
couplers were executed and many were imprisoned. Moi,
himself Kalenjin, accused the Luo people of lying behind
the coup attempt, but kikuyer was also pointed out.
Multiparty systems are reintroduced
Gradually, the regime's violation of human rights
brought increasing international criticism. In an
attempt to appease public opinion, the regime released
all political prisoners in July 1989.
When several opposition leaders were arrested in July
1990, this led to riots in Nairobi. About 20 people were
killed as security forces opened fire on the crowd.
Criticism against President Moi increased and unrest
spread to other cities. Now the country's aid donors
also started pushing for a democratic development and
decided to freeze much of their support for Kenya. At
the same time, demands were made for continued
liberalization of the economy. In 1991, President Moi
agreed to reintroduce multi-party systems.
Large parts of the opposition were then gathered in
the Democracy Restoration Forum (Ford). Internal
contradictions caused the party to split in two parts as
early as the following year (see Political system).
In 1992, Kenya was also shaken by violent clashes
between various ethnic groups, which demanded around
2,000 lives. The regime was accused of instigating
ethnic contradictions. Nevertheless, Moi won when
elections were held in December that year, thanks in
large part to the opposition's split, and Kanu gained
his own majority in the National Assembly. After the
election, Moi continued to strengthen its hold on power
and human rights violations. At the same time, the
standard of living of many Kenyans fell, as growth did
not keep pace with population growth. Extensive
corruption contributed to the economic problems.
Daniel arap Moi reunited
Prior to the 1997 elections, again, politically
colored violence was occurring between different groups
of people. Protest actions against the government were
often brutally defeated. Just before the election, the
government made a series of concessions, which
contributed to Moi winning the presidential election by
a good margin. Kanu took over half of the seats in
Parliament. The result confirmed Kenya's ethnic divide
as no opposition candidate in the presidential election
had any stronger support outside his home province.
New unrest in early 1998 demanded hundreds of
casualties and displaced 300,000 people. This time it
was calendars who attacked kikuyos and luos in the Rift
Valley in western Kenya. The government was again
accused of failing to intervene in the violence and it
was widely believed that the attacks were organized by
Kanu, probably as revenge for the Kikuyu and Luos to a
large extent voting on the opposition in the 1997
elections. The government, for its part, accused the
opposition of having undermined troubles.
The violence, together with the government's lack of
action against the corruption, led the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) to once again freeze parts of its
support for Kenya.
Terror affects Kenya
A terror attack shook Kenya in August 1998, when the
US embassy was destroyed in a violent explosion. Over
250 people, most Kenyans, were killed and 5,000 injured.
At the same time, a similar explosion was carried out
against the US embassy in Tanzania. Muslims with ties to
the al-Qaeda terror network were identified as guilty
and four men were later sentenced in New York to life
imprisonment for involvement in the attacks.
In November 2002, Kenya was hit by new terrorist
attacks, when three suicide bombers killed 13 people at
an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa. On the same day, an
Israeli charter plane was attacked by two robots, who,
however, missed their target by barely a margin. Somalis
with ties to al-Qaeda were suspected of the attacks.
The widespread corruption continued to create
tensions in contacts with Kenya's aid donors. To resume
its support, the IMF and the World Bank required
far-reaching measures. Several commissions were set up
to investigate corruption and political violence, but it
did not yield much results. No new aid money came, and
the economy continued to lag.
Canoe loses power
Before the December 2002 elections, there were
contradictions within Kanu. According to the
constitution, Moi was prevented from running for
re-election. As "Crown Prince", he appointed Uhuru
Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first president but a
fairly untested card in politics. The decision prompted
a large number of ministers and MPs to leave the party.
Among them was Luo leader Raila Odinga, the son of
former Vice President Oginga Odinga. The outbreakers
founded the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP),
which then formed an alliance with about ten other
parties. The new opposition alliance, the
National Rainbow Coalition (Narc),
agreed on Mwai Kibaki as presidential candidate.
Political violence occurred during the electoral
movement, but it was not as extensive as in the 1992 and
1997 elections. Since the main candidates - Kenyatta and
Kibaki - were both kikuys, ethnic belonging played less
role than before. The result was that Kanu lost power
for the first time since independence. Kibaki won the
presidential election with 62 percent of the vote and
Narc also won clearly in the parliamentary elections.
Many saw the election results primarily as a
manifestation of the great dissatisfaction with Mois and
Kanu's rule, and not as a strong expression of
confidence for Narc.
The change of power went smoother than expected and
Mwai Kibaki was able to take over quickly. In his first
government, he tried to balance between different ethnic
groups and the government's two major blocs: his own
Kenya National Alliance Party (NAC) and Odinga's LDP.
But the contradictions were great, not least about how a
new constitution would be drafted. Kibaki and his
supporters wanted to maintain a strong presidential
power, while the LDP wanted to restrict it and introduce
a more federal state.
Disputes regarding constitutional proposals
The constitutional issue was the main reason why the
government coalition gradually collapsed. In June 2004,
Kibaki re-furnished and included members from the former
Kanu government party, as well as from the opposition
party Ford-People. LDP became increasingly marginalized.
In July 2005, Parliament adopted a proposal for a new
constitution, according to which the President would
retain much of his power. Violent protests erupted on
the streets of Nairobi and in the government organized
the opponents ahead of the referendum on the proposal
that must be held by the constitution. The opposition
was led by LDP leader Odinga, who together with Kanu
formed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
The Yes side was led by Kibaki, and the divide within
the government was obvious.
The result of the referendum was a staggering defeat
for the president when 57 percent of voters said no to
the proposal. A few days later, Kibaki resigned his
government. When a new government was introduced, Odinga
and other LDP members who opposed the new constitution
were no longer included.
In early 2006, Kibaki faced new problems due to
reports from investigations into two corruption
scandals. The two deals had long troubled the government
that came to power with promises to fight widespread
corruption. New revelations now forced three ministers
to resign (see Calendar).
In preparation for a parliamentary election in the
summer of 2006, the Kibaki circle formed a new party,
Narc-Kenya, which took place in
parliament. The original alliance Narc had in practice
The ODM, which was registered as a political party,
was also unstable. Kanu was very fragmented internally
and withdrew from ODM, and in August 2007, ODM was split
in two. Shortly thereafter, Kanulearen Kenyatta withdrew
his own candidacy for the upcoming presidential election
and gave his support to Kibaki, who now formed a new
party alliance: the National Unity Party
A few months before the election, ODM leader Odinga
led the opinion polls. He had many followers among young
Kenyans, especially within his own people group luo.
The presidential and parliamentary elections were
held in December 2007. ODM won the parliamentary
elections with just over twice as many seats as PNU.
Election polls pointed to an equally convincing
victory for Odinga in the presidential election and he
proclaimed himself victorious. But three days after the
election, the Election Commission announced that Kibaki
had won, and immediately swore in for a new term. The
opposition accused the government of electoral fraud. EU
observers also reported on irregularities, saying that
the vote count had not kept international standards.
Outbreak of violence after the election
The unexpected news of Kibaki's election victory led
to an explosion of violence in several parts of the
country. The violence appeared to be coordinated:
existing gangs and rapidly assembled militia struck,
mainly in Nairobi's slums and in the cities of Eldoret
and Kisumu. The violence was largely ethnic, and took
place mainly - but not exclusively - between kikuyu on
the one hand and luo, and to some extent calendars on
Many feared that Kenya was on the brink of civil war.
The unrest caused major disruptions to the economy and a
humanitarian crisis threatened as many had difficulty
with food supply. Several international players
intervened to mediate. The major donors US, UK and EU
threatened to withdraw their support if the government
did not seek to reach a "meaningful settlement" with the
Among the mediators was former UN chief Kofi Annan,
who is considered to have played a crucial role in
keeping the port in agreement: two months after the
election, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to form a unifying
government. Then the violence ended as suddenly as they
had flared up. About 1,300 people had been killed and
perhaps half a million were fleeing. Both sides were
accused of staging the violence.
A commission was appointed to investigate the events.
An expert committee was commissioned to produce a
proposal for a new constitution.
New constitution is adopted
The Committee's constitutional proposal, which not
least limited the presidential power (see Political
system), was approved by Parliament in April 2010. In
August, two-thirds of voters voted yes to the new
constitution in a referendum. It was seen as a great
success; Disagreement over the constitutional change had
long been a source of bitter political conflicts. At the
same time, the fragile unity government managed to hold
together, despite strong internal contradictions. No new
major outbreaks of violence came and economically the
situation was more stable than many dared to hope.
On the other hand, the Commission investigating the
wave of violence did not come to terms with any attempt
to answer anyone in Kenya. In the end, the whole was
instead turned over to the International Criminal Court
(ICC), which in January 2012 decided to prosecute four
people for crimes against humanity ((see further ICC
trials after the 2007 election).
The ICC's message meant that war criminal charges
were brought against two people - Deputy Prime Minister
Uhuru Kenyatta and Ex-Minister William Ruto - who were
expected to stand against each other in the presidential
election a year later.