Kenya, a former British colony, became politically independent on December 12, 1963. Independence was preceded by the Mau Mau armed rebellion against the colonial government. 20,000 or more people died in what is known as the British Imperial Gulag. Among the top commanders of the Mau Mau were Dedan Kimathi, Waruhiu Itote (General China), Stanley Mathenge and Musa Mwariarama.
Kenya has had checkered political history. Its first 15 years, under the leadership of President Jomo Kenyatta, were fairly stable, albeit marred by assassinations of prominent politicians and a ban of opposition parties. The next 24 years under Daniel arap Moi were characterized by heavy-handed authoritarianism and economic decline.
The period since 2002 has witnessed political and economic progress that has given Kenyans and the international community good reason to be optimistic. However, the 2007 elections were followed by bloody violence, deaths and population displacement. Notwithstanding this post-election violence, Kenya has demonstrated an ability to seek and find amicable solutions to its very complex ethnic-based politics.
But the economic and political elite’s struggle for state resources and the exploitation of ethnicity for political purposes still threaten the country’s existence. Today, Kenyans are arguing over many of the issues that divided them 50 years ago. The new Constitution promulgated in 2010 provides an opportunity for national renewal, but it must confront a heavy legacy of history.
That new Constitution was put to the test following the elections of 2017. After the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the elections, Raila Odinga, lodged a case in the Supreme Court of Kenya seeking annulment of the results. In a 4-2 decision, the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice David Maraga made a precedent-setting ruling on September 1, 2017 nullifying the declared results of the presidential elections and ordering fresh elections to be held within 60 days of that ruling. This was a first in Africa and was received with wide acclaim around the world.