Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Kenya
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 991-992
KENYA: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-19631
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The white settler population dominated the colonial government of Kenya and was unreceptive to the idea of African participation in the government, not admitting an African to the Legislative Council until 1944. The Kenyan African Union (KAU), founded in the mid 1940s and headed by Jomo Kenyatta in 1947, pushed for governmental reforms and greater African participation. Some constitutional changes in 1951 increased the African representatives (appointed, not elected) from four to five, but the Europeans and Asians also got increased representation. Impatience with the pace of change led to violence, especially among Kenyatta's Kikuyu, where the Mau Mau movement flourished. Although Kenyatta denounced the Mau Mau, belief of his association with the movement resulted in his arrest in 1952, his subsequent imprisonment, and the outlawing of the KAU in June 1953. A formal state of emergency existed in Kenya from 1952 to 1960, which largely proscribed African political organizations from 1953 to 1955. Some additional constitutional revisions were enacted in 1954, but these were not considered significant by African leaders.

Further reforms in 1957 permitted the first elections for African seats and gave Africans equality with Europeans in the Legislative Council, although the 14 delegates elected for each group sat in a chamber with 6 elected Asians, 2 elected Arabs, and 55 other members, appointed and specially elected. Moreover, Kenyatta was still in detention, there were no organized parties, and there was no timetable for self-government. But, in 1959, the elected African delegates demanded Kenyatta's release, and the British government was made aware of the need for change by riots in Nyasaland. A constitutional conference in January 1960 provided for a Council of Ministers, selected by the government, with more African representation than European representation but no prime minister. However, 33 of the 65 seats in the Legislative Council were to be filled by open elections, with the other seats reserved for Europeans, Asians, Arabs, and some specially elected members. This formula allowed for an African majority, and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) were formed in March and June of 1960, respectively, to contest the elections, scheduled for February 1961. KANU won 18 seats to KADU's 11, but both parties refused to take office without Kenyatta. He was finally released in August 1961, and the colonial office allowed him to enter politics. He joined KANU and became its leader. Kenyatta entered the Legislative Council in January 1962, however, as leader of the opposition rather than as minister. He did not enter the Council of Ministers, headed by Ngala of KADU, until April 1962. KANU won a clear majority of seats in the elections of 1963, and Kenyatta, who became prime minister in June 1963, pressed hard for independence, which was granted by the British in December.

Continuity and Change since 1963

Kenya changed from a two-party system to an effective single-party system in 1964. One of our two original parties merged into the other and thus no longer existed by 1978. Although a new party, the Kenya People's Union (KPU) was formed in 1966 and drew strength from the governing party, it did not last long enough to qualify for study.

Original Parties, Terminated

962 African Democratic Union. KADU ended in 1964, when it merged with the governing party KANU to transform Kenya into a de facto single-party state.

Original Parties, Continuing

961 African National Union. KANU continued as the governing party of Kenya through 1978. In 1966, KANU was challenged by a split of 30 deputies who followed Odinga Odinga to form the Kenya People's Union. The KPU was banned before the 1969 elections, and KANU recovered all the seats in the new National Assembly.


Despite the personal prestige of Jomo Kenyatta and KANU's government monopoly, Kenya was troubled by top-level assassinations and other incidents of political violence beginning in the early 1970s. In January 1977, Kenyatta prorogued the Assembly. Against this backdrop of domestic unrest and involvement in foreign disputes with Uganda, Somalia, and Tanzania, Kenyatta died in August 1978. Stability was maintained for the time, at least, when Vice President Daniel arap Moi succeeded Kenyatta in a peaceful transition of power. In early 1979, Kenya remains a one-party state that is not without threats to its stability.

[For party politics in Kenya since 1962, go to the essay by Christina A. Nyström]

1. Our study of party politics in Kenya is based on a file of 981 pages from 100 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by John K.C. Wang. Judith Mael and John Pederson began coding KANU on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework, and Judith MacIntosh and Candy Chapello began coding KADU. Mary Welfling completed the coding for both parties. Newell Stultz was our consultant.