How Kenyans forced the British to the negotiating table

by Rose Wangechi

Kenya’s independence was a product of two processes; the armed resistance propelled by the Mau Mau freedom fighters and the diplomatic process that happened in form of Lancaster House Conferences.

While Mau Mau war began in early 1950s, the three Lancaster House Conferences took place between 1960 and 1963 – after the realization that Britain could not sustain a colony by force.

Historian and scholar Prof Macharia Munene says the the colonial government had initially adopted “three pronged strategy” to deal with Mau Mau war. They were; the military strategy, propaganda strategy; and a political angle of creating new leadership.  Thus, the Lancaster Conferences were not, originally, on the strategy card. They came in later.

The colonial administration had, initially,  “expected to win quickly against Mau Mau” with the military strategy “premised on the assumption that by decapitating African political leadership, defeating the Mau Mau” would be easy.   

However, all the strategies failed. The fighters in the forest were unrelenting and the war dragged on for years. For government, which fought with superior weapons in comparison to rudimentary arms the Mau Mau used, failure loomed large. The British Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton once remarked the Mau Mau war had created “unexpected convulsion” in the colony.

Against the backdrop of perennial failure in counter Mau Mau strategies, the British government was desperate to save face. It is therefore no surprise that in under a week after lifting of the State of Emergency that had remained in force for eight years, the British Government hosted the first Lancaster House Conference. But this was  not without challenges.

The first Lancaster meeting nearly aborted after Mbiyu Koinange, who was supposedly in Ghana for exile, showed up. The British were opposed to his presence essentially for his involvement in Mau Mau. At this time, Jomo Kenyatta was still in restriction.

In fact, some British officials at the Conference said it was “morally wrong” to allow Koinange to attend the meeting. They perceived Koinange as a principal assistant to Jomo Kenyatta, a convicted Mau Mau member. In the interest of the deliberations, Koinange was allowed to participate.

But there was more to Koinange’s presence at the meeting. Many Africans saw it as defeat to the British. In his writing, Prof. Munene opines that by allowing Koinange presence in the meeting signified that was unstoppable in “assuming leadership” in Kenya.

When the political dust settled, Ronald Ngala was appointed chair of the delegation. Tom Mboya was elected secretary and through Mboya’s connection, American national Thurgood Marshall was nominated as an advisor. Mbiyu Koinange was also appointed an advisor.   

Serious deliberations happened at the Conference with some sessions turning emotive as the discussants vented out issues. A constitution that gave Africans majority representation in government was proposed. Under this proposal, Africans would get the majority in the legislature as well as appointment into the Council of Ministers.

It proposed 65 people in the legislature; 33 elected while 20 were reserved seats (Europeans 10, Asians 8, Arabs 2). The reserved seats would also go through common roll; the reserved seats candidates were to be subjected to community primaries before facing the voters.

The rest 12 seats were to be filled through communal nominations between Europeans, Asians, and Africans with each racial group getting four. In the council of ministers, there were to be four Africans, three Europeans, and one Asian.

When the proposal came up for debate the British rejected it. However, Asians and Africans accepted the proposal.

Naturally, the British felt betrayed. According to records, Mboya accepted the proposal noting that it was a temporary measure meant to improve coexistence.

Upon the end of the conference, the delegation returned to Kenya and held rallies across the country to educate the citizens on the deliberations.

In preparation for independence, a national party was to be formed. Various political parties were merged in Limuru in order to form the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in 1960. The acting president was James Gichuru while Oginga Odinga was named Vice President. The position of Secretary General went to Tom Mboya.

Initially, some seats had been reserved to Daniel arap Moi and Ronald Ngala – but they had their separate plans to start Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).

Dissatisfied, the settlers living in Kenya hatched a plan to scuttle imminent independence. They blamed the Kikuyus for the violence and blamed the community for only perceiving colonialism from a negative angle.

The settlers formed a small white tribe and urged the other small tribes to join them to fight against the dominant Kikuyu and Luo tribes. They portrayed KANU as a tribal party and prevailed upon Moi to decline a position in the party leadership.

In 1961 there were two parties competing; KANU and Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).  

It was another blow to the British. When elections were held, KANU won. The political turmoil that ensued triggered another conference.

The second Lancaster House Conference

In February 1962, Kenyatta led the KANU delegation to a second constitutional conference at Lancaster House. The outcome of that conference was the combination of the American federal system and the British Westminster model. Powers were to be divided between the national government and local political entities. The cabinet ministers, the attorney general and prime minister were to be members of parliament. The Governor was to represent the Queen as the head of state. Kenyatta and his team agreed to the resolutions but abandoned them soon after assuming power. They for example rejected the Majimbo system that was proposed.

The third Lancaster House conference

In October 1963, KANU and KADU went to London to discuss the constitution of Kenya. KANU wanted some of the powers given to the regions, the majimbo, to be transferred to the central government as well as the ability to make constitutional changes eased.

While Kenyatta accepted the 1963 Constitution of Kenya, his plot was to change it once he formed the government.

After the conference, and as Kenyatta entrenched his leadership, KADU slowly weakened with its officials such as Moi becoming close allies with Kenyatta. The majimboism was disbanded  and Kenya became a de facto one party state as KADU memembers crossed the floor.

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1 comment

Maina wa githui June 3, 2021 - 7:47 pm

Much more deep state mysteries

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