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Kenyatta sentenced to seven years hard labor

This Day in World History

April 8, 1953

Kenyatta sentenced to seven years hard labor

Jomo Kenyatta, 22 February 1966. Source: German Federal Archive.

On April 8, 1953, Jomo Kenyatta and five associates were sentenced by a British judge to seven years hard labor for allegedly directing the Mau Mau rebellion, a bloody, ongoing violent protest against European domination of what is now Kenya.

Mau Mau was a movement among Kenya’s Kikuyu people that was dedicated to evicting European whites who had seized land for themselves. The movement grew violent in the early 1950s, and the British declared it illegal and began a massive military offensive against known and suspected members. They killed more than 11,000 suspected members and rounded up and detained more than 20,000 Kikuyu.

Kenyatta — a Kikuyu — became a political leader of black Kenyans in the late 1920s. He campaigned for more rights for black Kenyans and redistribution of land. In the 1940s, he took charge of the Kenya African Union, a political movement.

The British were convinced that Kenyatta’s group was behind Mau Mau and had him arrested late in 1952. During the two-month trial, he maintained his innocence, insisting that his movement was political and nonviolent. He had little hope of convincing the court, however.

“You (Kenyatta) have successfully plunged many Africans back to a state which shows little humanity,” judge Ransley Thacker lectured Kenyatta at the sentencing. “Make no mistake about it,” he said, “Mau Mau will be defeated.” The rebellion did indeed peter out some years later, but Kenyatta’s political goals never did. In fact, they took the form of seeking independence and self-rule.

That dream was finally realized on December 12, 1963, when Britain formally withdrew. By that time, Kenyans had elected a new government and Jomo Kenyatta, the spearhead of the independence movement, was the first prime minister.

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  1. [...] majority of parliamentary seats was KANU, the Kenya African Nation Union. As a result, 73-year-old Jomo Kenyatta, leader of Kenya’s independence movement and head of KANU, was assured to become the nation’s [...]

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