On 12 December 1963 Kenya was granted independence from British colonial rule. The following year, on the same day, the country was established as a republic. Today in Kenya, 12 December is one of the most important national holidays.
In 1890, Kenya became a British colony, known as British East Africa. In 1920, the country changed its name to Kenya, after Mount Kenya which was the tallest mountain in British East Africa and second-tallest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro in neighbouring German-controlled Tanganyika (now Tanzania). In the 1950s the Mau Maus started their rebellion against the British rule and a state of emergency was declared in October 1952 and remained in place for eight years. At the time however, the British had other challenges (namely their colony in Malaysia) and so they started the process of handing over independence.
And so at midnight on 12 December 1963 the Union Jack was lowered for the final time and Kenya’s flag was raised – a Maasai shield on a black, red and green background.
December 12, 1964 was Jamhuri Day – “Jamhuri” is a Kiswhahili word meaning “republic” and indeed this was the day Kenya was established as a republic. This was the day that Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.
The British had hoped a more moderate party would take control, but rather it was the KAU, led by Jomo Kenyatta that retained power. Kenyatta had been a key member of the Mau Maus and had spent time in prison for his activities. The British and Kenyans worked together to design a constitution that gave rights to all Kenyans, which Kenyatta signed simply to please the British. As soon as the British left, Kenyatta ignored the constitution and it soon became apparent that his Kikuyu tribe would be the main beneficiaries of independent Kenya. Fifty years later, Kenya is still suffering from similar tribalism and elections are fuelled with ethnic tensions.
Despite the unrest at election-time, Kenya is one of Africa’s most politically stable and most democratic countries. It is also the richest country in East Africa and the eleventh-richest country on the continent (out of 52) due to a growing finance industry and tourism.
Today, Independence Day in Kenya is typically celebrated with feasts, speeches from prominent politicians, including the president, parades and dancing. In 2013, Kenya celebrated it’s Jubilee and there was a huge amount of celebrations throughout the country to mark 50 years of independence.