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Chapter 5 investigates how the Kenyan government organized a repression against the Mau Mau fighters who refused to surrender upon independence. The chapter focuses on the Meru district, in Eastern province, where prominent Mau Mau leaders continued to be active. Meru was also the home-district of the future Minister for Lands, appointed by Kenyatta himself Jackson Angaine. A detailed analysis of Jackson Angaine’s biographical background explains why the president chose a man with an ambiguous Mau Mau past and troubled links to the traditional institutions of the district. The chapter highlights the essential connection between the government’s repression of resilient Mau Mau fighters and the shaping of the Ministry of Lands as a powerful institution to cut short subversive land claims. It explains how Kenyatta managed to pacify and control potentially subversive districts without risking his popularity. His ability to satisfy diverging expectations was at stake: those of the landless, squatters and former Mau Mau fighters, who demanded free redistribution of land, and those of the white settlers and British authorities, whose support for the government hinged on the willing buyer-willing seller principle of land buying agreed on at independence.
Chapter 7 explores how Kenyatta’s presidential authority evolved after the stabilisation of his regime. It first analyses how the politicization of the land market was an exercise of regime-building, establishing a network of shared dependencies, allocating land to local political “big-men”. This is followed by an examination of the early years of the politics of succession. By 1965, the fragile alliance of convenience set up between Kenyatta and his main contenders, Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya, was beginning to crack, while Kenyatta’s old age and fragile health revived the question of presidential succession. The government’s merciless repression against any form of opposition and dissidence culminated with the murder of Tom Mboya in 1969. Throughout these years, Kenyatta used the same strategy that had salvaged him during the “Release Kenyatta” campaign: preserving the status quo. He was left with the role of ruling over a divided political family, using his unrivalled access to state resources.
Chapter 6 investigates how Kenyatta established an institutional order that kept his political authority insulated from potential challengers. It argues that by controlling the funds and distribution of land resources, Kenyatta successfully isolated competing political actors and institutions, thus preventing various political grievances to spill over into his government. The chapter first highlights the continuity between colonial and post-colonial land politics, but also emphasizes the Kenyan government’s agency in facilitating land accumulation by the elite. Exploring land files from the British and Kenyan National Archives, it shows that Kenyatta had concerns about certain sensitive land settlement schemes, but preferred to secure political order by marginal and well-timed adjustments, instead of profound reforms to change colonial economic structures. The chapter then shows how the quasi-limitless presidential powers established an institutional imbalance, which Kenyatta cultivated very carefully, sparsely meting out personal promises and favours. The competition between parliament and civil administration shows how Kenyatta used informal, yet far-reaching powers to prevent both institutions from escaping his presidential authority, all while remaining unexposed. This subtle imbalance may also explain why the landless and poor remained locked into kafkaesque bureaucratic procedures.
Chapter 4 explores how Kenya became, in 1964, a presidential republic. As the previous chapter showed, the centralisation of state resources (i.e. land) was decided before independence had been negotiated. Kenyatta thus found himself in control of centralized resources that enabled him to defend presidentialism (i.e. the concentration of extensive executive powers in the hands of the president) as the only possible system of rule for the post-colony. The chapter reconstructs the negotiations of presidential power: these were hasty and poorly anticipated by the divided Kenyan elite. The chapter argues that presidential rule emerged out of the weaknesses of KADU and KANU contenders, who depended on the central state to access state resources. The creation of an independent presidential republic in 1964 left Kenyatta not only with a new, but also an extensive set of powers to control a territory that was politically, socially and ethnically divided.
Writing the history of Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency, it was particularly difficult to disentangle the history of a politician from that of a newly created institution: the presidency. The inherently discreet and distant nature of Kenyatta’s presidential style, together with the scattered and incomplete nature of the available sources, only partially explains this difficulty. A more thorough explanation highlights the unprecedented connection between the sudden emergence of a politician and the unexpected formation of the presidency. Contingency played a central role in Kenyatta’s political career and significantly shaped the nature of his presidential rule. Soon after he was released from jail, it became clear that Kenyatta had virtually no political resources with which to command political loyalties, other than the popularity he owed to his ambiguous past. The independence negotiations further exposed his shallow political anchoring, as Kenyatta refrained from committing himself personally to any of the debates. In the end, the presidency was tailor-made to turn his political isolation into a political system.
Chapter 3 focuses on the negotiations concerning the decolonisation of land. It analyses how the reshaping of land transfer institutions impacted both the decolonisation process and Kenyatta’s ascension to power. The setting-up of the Central Land Board in 1961 and the peaceful decolonisation of land was central to the independence conferences. The chapter argues that land negotiations prepared the way for a centralized government, even before the debate over federalism versus centralization was settled among the Kenyan political elite. It shows that the British fear of a security breakdown not only led to the creation of centralized institutions for land transfer, but also played a significant role in their favouring Kenyatta as a leader. By doing so, the British authorities abandoned both the European settler’ and the minority ethnic groups, who were arguing for majimboism (regionalism). At independence, Kenyatta would not only be considered the guardian of political order, he would also inherit an advantageously designed institutional framework to control the most valuable political and economic resource in Kenya: land.
Chapter 2 narrates how the campaign to release Kenyatta from jail, launched in 1958, culminated with him taking over the leadership of the nationalist party, the Kenyan African National Union, in 1961. Using the new “migrated files” from the British National Archives, it argues that Kenyatta emerged as a national figure out of a deeply divided and inimical political scene. This chapter shows that Kenyatta’s rise to power was largely accidental. His name was merged with the myth of the father of the nation, which his comrades had created, and wrongly thought they could manipulate and control. In fact, no politician who campaigned for Kenyatta’s release expected that he would dominate the political scene and frustrate their own political ambitions. No one had anticipated how the power of this ambiguous Mau Mau past managed to unite a fragmented electorate. Once released, Kenyatta chose to remain silent, refusing to speak publicly. His almost unexpected political rise would have a profound impact on Kenyan decolonisation: he became the “sole spokesman” of a nationalist elite he could not trust, and yet he alone could unite.
Analysing Kenyatta’s writings and speeches, chapter 1 uncovers how Kenyatta imagined a postcolonial society. It argues that Kenyatta never imagined state authority as an inclusive authority for all. Neither did he preview a creative role for the state, or for himself. This lack of nationalist perspective was inherent in his Kikuyu ethics (the protection of land property and the civic virtues that promoted land productivity). Although it was reinforced by British colonization, Kenyatta avoided reflecting on how he could reconcile Kikuyu history, which he praised, with a social order disrupted by colonialism. The chapter first attempts to situate the concept of the “family” in Kenyatta’s early writings. It then explores the intellectual legacy of his writings after independence, and shows how Kenyatta was at pains to enlarge and adapt his moral discourse to the new Kenyan nation. After examining how his politics were influenced by his discourse on moral virtues, the chapter emphasises Kenyatta’s constant care for family politics, and his mistrust for any nationalist ambitions he saw as betraying his “tribal” origins.
Chapter 8 covers the last decade of Kenyatta’s life and rule. As signs of Kenyatta’s age became more visible, the 1970s were not only marked by an increasingly tense struggle for succession, but also by a more acute “tribalisation” of politics. The assassination, in 1975, of the promising young Kikuyu leader J. M. Kariuki, whose dissident politics alarmed the government, signalled a clear descent into factionalism. This chapter shows that Kenyatta was unnerved by factional disputes and rising popular disaffection. Fears of a potential coup against his regime led him to tighten his control over state institutions. The succession of Daniel arap Moi upon Kenyatta’s death in 1978 confirmed that the core of Kenya’s post-colonial state was the president’s isolated status and unrivalled ambiguity, which is the central argument of this book. By expressing his preference for Moi as a potential successor, Kenyatta not only chose a non-Kikuyu, but an isolated political player, like himself ten years earlier. Far from preparing the ground for tribal inclusion in the top sphere of government, Kenyatta’s choice helped the institution of the president to prevail over a divided elite, to compensate for weak institutional ties through presidential favours, and to preserve parochial family interests.
October 20, Mashujaa Day (Heroes’ Day), celebrates Kenya’s heroes who contributed to the struggle for independence. It commemorates the declaration of the Emergency by the British colonial government in 1952, in the midst of the Mau Mau violent uprising, and the arrest of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who was accused of leading the Mau Mau movement. Some sixty years later, on October 20, 2015, as I sat in a local canteen in Makutano town, Meru district, an old television high up on the wall was showing the British documentary “End of Empire. Chapter 12: Kenya.”1 One could hear the late politicians Bildad Kaggia and Fred Kubai, who were arrested by the British government alongside Kenyatta on October 20, 1952, affirming in an interview that Jomo Kenyatta was no Mau Mau, and knew nothing about the movement. Due perhaps to the poor quality of sound and image, the program did not arouse much curiosity in the restaurant. No one seemed to care about the documentary: a disinterest that tempered this surprising choice of film to be broadcast on Mashujaa Day.
In December 1963, Kenya formally declared its independence yet it would take a year of intense negotiations for it to transform into a presidential republic, with Jomo Kenyatta as its first president. Archival records of the independence negotiations, however, reveal that neither the British colonial authorities nor the Kenyan political elite foresaw the formation of a presidential regime that granted one man almost limitless executive powers. Even fewer expected Jomo Kenyatta to remain president until his death in 1978. Power and the Presidency in Kenya reconstructs Kenyatta's political biography, exploring the links between his ability to emerge as an uncontested leader and the deeper colonial and postcolonial history of the country. In describing Kenyatta's presidential style as discreet and distant, Angelo shows how the burning issues of land decolonisation, the increasing centralisation of executive powers and the repression of political oppositions shaped Kenyatta's politics. Telling the story of state building through political biography, Angelo reveals how historical contingency and structural developments shaped both a man and an institution - the president and the presidency.