Chapter 5.1 (SST 8)

Activities of early political associations in Kenya upto 1939

Activities of early political associations in Kenya upto 1939

Before the coming of Europeans and the establishment of colonial rule, the African communities lived a relatively easy independent life with each community leading a unique social and political life. Some of the communities were centralised, while others were decentralised. Centralised communities such as the Abawanga had one leader on whom all power and authority over the community rested. Most of the communities depended on a group of elders at the clan level to make decisions on behalf of the community. Both centralised and decentralised communities formed separate nations with marked boundaries.

The independence and sovereignty of the African Nations in Kenya ended after 1895, when the region to the east of Naivasha was declared a British Protectorate and called British East Africa. This meant that from then onwards the communities in British East Africa were no longer free, but were under the control of the British.

Decentralised communities were given chiefs to administer them on behalf of the British, thereby instituting indirect rule among the communities. Rules and regulations were imposed on the communities, which changed their life. Missionaries established stations from where they spread Christianity and despised the African culture and forms of worship.

European farmers from South Africa were invited to settle in the Kenya Highlands and carry out farming. The settlers took away land from the Africans. These grievances made the Africans to resist colonial administration as some communities took up arms to defend their independence. Communities that resisted colonial rule were defeated by the British forces because each community fought separately and had inferior weapons. The Africans realised that they could only win if they remained united through the formation of associations. The first African association was the Kikuyu Association, which was formed in 1920, consisting of chiefs and headmen among the Agikuyu of Kiambu, under the leadership of Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu, Josiah Njonjo, Philip Karanja and Mathew Njoroge. It was a moderate group under the influence of missionaries, which was seeking for co-oporation and peaceful means of asking for their needs and protecting their land from the settlers.

(a) Young Kikuyu Association (YKA)

The Young Kikuyu Association was formed in June 1921, by the youth from Kikuyu land, who felt that the Kikuyu Association did not fight for the welfare of the community. Led by Harry Thuku, the YKA was militant and more organised than the Kikuyu Association. They demanded the withdrawal of Kipande policy, better working conditions, return of their land and a reduction of poll tax.

In 1922, Harry Thuku formed the East African Association, to involve more communities in demanding for their rights, but he was deported to Kismaiyu, Somalia. The YKA continued to press for their demands and changed to Kikuyu Central Association in 1924.

Fig. 5.1: Harry Thuku

(b) East African Association (EAA)

The East African Association was formed in July 1922, after the formation of YKA, because the leaders wanted it to have a national and regional outlook. It had members from Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi. 

The officials of EAA were Harry Thuku as Chairman, I.M. Ismael, Johnstone Kamau, Z.K.Sentongo, Norman Mboya, Abdalla bin Assumah, Kibwana bin Kombo, Jesse Kariuki, Joseph Kang’ethe, George Okoth, Douglas Mwangi and Waiganjo wa Ndotano.

Their demands included independence for Kenya, free elections to the Legcoreturn of African landabolition of taxesmore education opportunities for Africans and abolition of forced labour. In their struggle, they got support of the Asians, which did not please the colonial administrators.

As the support for EAA increased, Harry Thuku got arrested in 1922. The Africans protested and demanded his release. A large demonstration was carried out at Central Police Station in Nairobi. The police and some settlers angered by the action of the Africans, opened fire on the demonstrators, where 27 people were killed and several wounded. This made Thuku to be deported to Kismaiyu, where he was detained for 9 years.

The action of the Africans made the Governor to appoint a white man to represent the Africans in the Legco and work for their interests. The Africans rejected the idea of being represented, forcing the colonial office to ban the EAA in 1923.

(c) Young Kavirondo Association (YKA)/Kavirondo Taxpayers Welfare Association

Young Kavirondo Association was formed in 1922 by former students of Maseno School. It was being supported by Luo and Luhyia members of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in western Kenya. They had developed fears that their land may be taken away by the settlers. They were also against Kipande system and taxes imposed on the Africans. The leaders of YKA included Jonathan Okwiri as Chairman, Benjamin Gumba as Secretary and Simeon Nyende as Treasurer, Reuben Omullo, Ezekiel Apindi, Joel Omino and George Okoth.

Young Kavirondo Association was changed in 1923, by Archdeacon Walter Owen of Maseno CMS to Kavirondo Taxpayers Welfare Association. The change of its name also reflected a change in its objectives, as it became a welfare organisation that co-operated with the colonial government. Its demands included better education, hygiene and better wages. It used peaceful means to press for their demands. This weakened the organisation as it used moderate and peaceful means in demanding for the African rights. The organisation was later weakened by tribal and religious divisions resulting to its collapse. The officials were appointed into government service as chiefs and members of the Local Native Councils.

(d) Kikuyu Central Association (KCA)

Kikuyu Central Association was formed in 1924, after the ban on East African Association. Its headquarters were at Kahuhia in Murang’a and later moved to Nairobi. Its officials included Joseph Kang’ethe as its President, Jesse Kariuki, James Gichuru, Johnstone Kamau (Secretary), Henry Mwangi, Henry Kiiru, John Mbuthia, James Beauttah and Hezekiah Mundia.

KCA demanded return of Kikuyu land, end of Kipande system, end of forced labour, election of a Kikuyu paramount chief, Agikuyu to be allowed to grow coffee and cotton, issuance of title deeds for their land, release of Harry Thuku and African representation in the Legco. They were also opposed to the type of colonial education that was being offered to the Africans. They were unhappy with the missionaries agitating for the end to women circumcision. They were also opposed to low wages, long working hours, poor working conditions and racial discrimination.

In 1929, the Scotland Church Mission at Thogoto outlawed female circumcision among the Agikuyu. The mission began a campaign whereby its members would stop female circumcision and cease being members of KCA. The KCA under its Secretary, Johnstone Kamau, protested that the whites were interfering with the Agikuyu ways of life. This led to the start of Independent Schools and Churches where the Africans could carry out their activities without interference.

They started a magazine called Muiguithania (unity), where they wrote articles critical of the Scottish missionaries. Johnstone Kamau was later made its editor. In 1930, Johnstone Kamau was sent to London to present its grievances to the Secretary for Colonies. Even though KCA had its great impact in Central Province by the 1930’s, it had opened branches in Nairobi and Nakuru and was well known among the squatters and workers in the white Highlands.

Between 1931 and 1938, there were rivalries among the leaders and members, which nearly weakened it. The spirit of KCA led to the formation of political associations in other parts of Kenya such as the Ukamba Members Association, Taita Hills Association and Trade Unions in Mombasa. The Ukamba Members Association was demanding for grazing rights, while Taita Hills Association wanted a return of their land. The Trade Unions in Mombasa demanded for labour rights among the African workers. The protests by the KCA and the rise of the other associations did not please the colonial government. This led to the banning of KCA and all other groups in May, 1940.

Fig. 5.2: Johnstone Kamau

Find out the other political associations that were formed in Kenya before 1939. Why were they formed and who were the officials?

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