Kenya Federation of Labour

Trade union can be defined as an association of workers whose main aim is to improve the welfare of members in their work places. Most of them are concerned with better pay, acceptance of working hours, compensation in case of injury.

It started in Kenya in 1900; originally there were no trade unions for Kenyans and Indians. The first union to accept other races was Kenya Labour of Trade Union.

The Kenya federation of labour was formed later; it was originally called Kenya Federation of registered labour.

Its officials were men included Aggrey Minya, Muchingi Karanja, and Samuel Ondiege among others.

Basically the unions fought for the rights of workers.

In 1955 the Kenya Federation of registered labour changed its name to Kenya Federation of Labour. Its main role in the struggle for independence in Kenya included:-

  1. Kept the spirits of African nationalism alive especially after the banning of political parties.
  2. It secured international support for the course of African nationalism.
  3. It educated African workers on their rights
  4. Helped to improve the living workers of Africans.
  5. Prepared African nationalists for leadership e.g. Tom Mboya, Martin Shikuku etc.

The General role of Trade Union

  1. They contributed to the improvement of wages and working conditions in aim of negotiations, striking, go slows etc.
  2. They introduced the concept of collective bargains whereby the workers raised their complains as groups other than individuals.
  3. They generally opposed colonial rule and raised people’s political awareness.
  4. They provided training grounds for national leaders e.g. Fred Kubai, David Khaggia, Martin Shikuku etc.
  5. They promoted regional organizations
  6. They filled the vacuum filled b their predecessors.
  7. They educated workers on their rights through seminars and workshops
  8. They promoted co operation between workers, employers and the government which boosted their contribution hence efficiency and effectiveness.

Problems encountered by the Trade Unions

  1. Fear of victimization among workers, this was rampant because trade union leaders were harassed by white settlers.
  2. The African workforce were migrant workers
  3. There was ignorance of the people on the role of trade unions.
  4. Poor leadership skills especially due to lack of trade personnel with knowledge of Trade unions.
  5. Many of them experienced shortage of funds and mismanagement of the little they ha.
  6. The choice of leaders was sometimes influenced by ethnicity
  7. There were sometimes wrangles among leaders themselves hence poor governance.

Role of the Mau Mau movement

There is no clear source of the nature of the Mau Mau in historical literature, however, it is generally accepted that it was an organization of freedom fighters who were mostly young men from Central province who had undergone circumcision in 1940; some of whom had participated in the Second World War.

Causes of the Mau Mau Uprising

  1. The land alienation; they lost their land to White settlers. Although many African communities e.g. Maasai, Nandi had also lost their land to white settlers, the Agikluyu suffered most because of their proximity to Nairobi the city of colonial government.
  2. Poor living and working conditions; many Africans especially those who lived as squatters on white settlers lands (labourers) were in pathetic condition utmost poverty.
  3. Oppressive policy; Africans were against policies such as forced labour, low wages, Kipande system and racism.
  4. Request for constitutional reforms; Africans were grieved by the failure of the government to make a new constitution that would look onto their demands and rights; African political parties were banned, their leaders detained etc. these encouraged underground activities like oath taking of the Agikuyu.
  5. Preservation of Culture; Africans wanted to preserve their edible culture at cost.
  6. Colonial brutality; Africans were beaten and those who could resist5 were even killed by colonialists and such feelings provoked the vengeance.
  7. Cruel evictions; they were evicted from farms to leave room for white settlers; the methods of eviction were cruel as they lost crops, livestock and even lives.
  8. Unemployment; as the population grew most Africans remained idle thus resulted to high level of unemployment.
  9. Racial discrimination; they were given the worst education and health facilities and wages by the British settlers.
  10. Disillusion of Soldiers which made them resolve to fight on for protection of their communities and people.

Factors that facilitated Mau Mau movement

  1. The fighters took second oath that united them and made them committed to the strength and made them keep secrets.
  2. The Mau Mau used the Guerilla tactics which was difficult for the British.
  3. Civilians brought information about the British troops movement.
  4. The Mau Mau had resourceful and courageous leaders some of who fought in the Second World War e.g. Dedan Kimathi, General Mthenge among others.
  5. The fighters had good hide outs in the forests, caves etc.
  6. The fighters had access to guns and ammunition some of which was home made while others ceased from the European settlers.

Problems which the Mau Mau faced

  1. Lack of transport and communication facilities
  2. The warriors had to put up with extreme weather conditions as some of them succumbed to diseases.
  3. They were always anxious due to the brutal retaliation from the British forces that were better armed.
  4. In the forest where they operated they were frequently attacked by wild animals.
  5. Divisions arose among them due to disagreement
  6. Spies betrayed their movement exposing their fighting techniques and hide outs.
  7. They lacked proper coordination due to the forests
  8. The recruitment process was disjointed.
  9. The arrest of key leaders dealt a destructive role to the movement.

Results of the Mau Mau uprising

  1. Many innocent people died (estimation 50,000 people)
  2. Many Africans arrested and detained
  3. The war attracted attention of the British citizens and the internal communities and the suffering of Africans in the hands of colonialists
  4. The war speeded up the emerge of independence
  5. It led to destruction of properties
  6. It led to the establishment of emergency villages created to separate civilians from the colonialists.
  7. Large of the Agikuyu, Akamba and Ameru were forcefully evicted from Nairobi
  8. Forced the colonial government to restrict the activities of the African parties


Importance personalities in the Struggle of Independence in Kenya

Eliud Mathu

Graduated from Fort Han University and Oxford University and was a former teacher at Alliance school; first African to be nominated to Legislative Council by the colonial government.

They formed KAU with other educated Africans led by Francis Khamisi.

They later changed to KASU  after the governor argue that since it was meant to help Mathu, KASU was appropriate as the association worked and was involved towards studying African problems.

Harry Thuku

In 1921, he founded first East African Association which was firstly formed as Young Kikuyu Association; he was educated at the Gospel Missionary Society School at Kiambaa, Kiambu.

He was able to influence other Africana to come to a meeting which was successful   e.g. representatives from Tanganyika was Kambo and Sentongo was from Uganda and Asians like Dessai contributed a lot.



The Lytteton plan (constitution)

Tax payers in Britain had become more reluctant to finance local empires. As a result, the British government began to take measures and the key among them was constitutional reforms. For instance, in 1944 the first African was appointed to Legco  Eliud Mathu in 1946, Benaiah Ohanga was the second to be appointed to the Legco by 1948, there were four Africans in the Legco, eleven Europeans, five Asians and two Arabs.

Lyteltal plans

Olive Lyteltol visited Kenya in 1954 and made further proposals on government reforms; the creation of multi racial society where all races share common political power.

He also suggested that instead of the governor of council, there should be the council of ministers who represent three races thus one African, two Asians and three Europeans. As a consequence, Benaiah Ohanga was appointed the first minister; he started the proposal that each race should elect its representative to the Legco and this was done in 1956 – 1957 elections.

The elected Africans formed the African elected members’ organization (AEMO).


Criticisms of Lyteltal plan

  1. Provided a few elected members than the nominated ones i.e. there were only 29 elected members against 30 nominated majority being Europeans.
  2. Rigid voting qualifications imposed on Africans.

In 1957, Sir Alan Lenox Boyd succeeded Oliver Lyteltol; he also came up with further constitutional reforms.


The Lennox Boyd constitution

  1. An increase in the number of Africans to Legco to 14 seats same as that of the Europeans.
  2. Special membership in the Legco with 4 members from each race elected.
  3. The number of African ministers be doubled.

Ultimately, African members of AEMO demanded the convention of a full constitutional conference to discuss Kenyans’ future.

 The first Lancaster House conference

The first constitutional conference discussed to Kenya’s future was held in London in Lancaster house in 1960. It was convened by Sir Ian McLeod.

The conference was attended by both African and radical European multiracial.

The Africans who attended were led by Ronald Ngala and Tom Mboya; this team demanded a common electoral role based on one man one vote.

African majority in the proposed team of the ministers following a lot of controversies between various racial groups, the following compromises were arrived at:-

  1. The 12 elective seats in the Legco would remain attached.
  2. 32 electives in the Legco to be vied for a common role.
  3. 20 reserve seats in the Legco, 10 for Europeans, 8 for Asians, and 2 for Arabs.
  4. The composition of ministers in the Legco to be altered to have 4 Africans, 3 Europeans and 1 Asian.
  5. The formation of country wide political parties for Africans was authorized.

Following the first Lancaster house conference, African parties were still not happy with the passed roles.

The then secretary Reginald Maudling convened the second Lancaster House Conference in 1962. The main reason behind this conference was to come up with an independent constitution acceptable to the two political parties KANU and KADU to cancel their differences.

After a lengthy debate, KANU considered to the wishes of KADU for the sake of speeding up independence.

Results of Second Lancaster House Conference

The new constitution arrived at establishment of Majimbo government with federation of six (6) regions. The legislature was to consist of two chambers; upper house (senate) and the lowere house.

In 1963, KANU won the elections and Jomo Kenyatta became the first prime minister on the 1st June 1963 when Kenya attained self government. This meant the internal security was under Jomo Kenyatta. In Dec 12th 1963, Kenya attained full independence thus it could run her affairs of defense however the foreign was still the Queen of England.

On Dec 12th 1964, Kenya was declared a republic; Kenyatta declared the president and the Queen seized being the head of state

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