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Kenyatta elected Kenya’s First Prime Minister

This Day in World History

May 27, 1963

Kenyatta elected Kenya’s First Prime Minister

Jomo Kenyatta, 22 February 1966. Source: German Federal Archive.
On May 27, 1963, the people of Kenya voted for the first time in history for their own government. Winning a better than two-to-one 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 first prime minister.

Kenyatta, speaking to all Kenyans, promised peace and goodwill toward Britain and white settlers in the African nation. “We are not to look to the past — racial bitterness, the denial of fundamental rights, the suppression of our culture,” he said. “Let there be forgiveness.”

The historic vote came while Britain still controlled Kenya as a colony but marked a step in the move toward full Kenyan independence. That independence was recognized by Britain in December of 1963. The following year, the Republic of Kenya was declared and, in new elections, Kenyatta became its first president.

Kenyatta’s rule was not without problems. Unrest in the armed forced later in 1964 forced Kenyatta to call on British military aid to maintain stability. Members of other ethnic groups charged that he unfairly favored his own Kikuyu people, the nation’s majority group. His vice president, Oginga Odinga of the Luo people, formed an opposition party, but it and other parties were banned as Kenyatta built a one-party state. Odinga and others also argued that the capitalist economy Kenyatta built abandoned the socialist principles he had claimed to support and left too many people poor. A military coup was attempted in 1971, but failed.

Despite these problems, Kenyatta remained in power until his death in 1978. The major role he played in spearheading Kenya’s independence movement was widely recognized at his passing.

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