The Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) was an organization that took a central role in the Kenyan struggle for independence from the British Empire in the first half of the 20th century. The KCA was dominated by the Kikuyu ethnic people and eventually provided in Jomo Kenyatta the first prime minister and then president of independent Kenya.
The Kikuyu were a tribal agricultural people whose territory at one time extended across much of what is now modern Kenya. At the time of the arrival of expansionist European powers, Kikuyu power was declining owing to disease, particularly smallpox. Kenya was brought into the British Empire, and British and British-sponsored settlers took over much of the best land. The Kikuyu leader Mbatian died at this time, and his people were divided. It was not until the 1920s and 30s that the Kikuyu were reunited and started to organize themselves to protest against imperial control. The KCA was shaped in part by the intensely decentralized and tribal nature of the organization of the people and was largely inspired by the desire to recover the lands lost to the primarily white settlers. In the early 1920s, the East Africa Association was founded as the first expression of Kenyan independence. It was dissolved in 1925 owing to government pressure but then reconstituted as the KCA in the same year. Within a few years, the KCA came under the direction of Jomo Kenyatta, who became its general secretary.
Progress in obtaining independence was slow and hampered by the outbreak of World War II. By the early 1950s, sentiment had hardened to the extent that the Kenyans were prepared to enter into violent struggle to ensure their independence. Those with this hardline tendency came to be known as the Mau Mau, who were closely associated with the oaths that members of the KCA took to demonstrate their dedication to unity.
The Mau Mau Rebellion took a decade to succeed, during which time many thousands of rebels were killed by the British, and thousands more were interned in concentration camps. Mau Maus pursued a policy of sabotage and assassination, and the attempts to suppress them were severe but considered acceptable by authorities in the field. The truth as to what happened during this period has only recently begun to become known widely. It was the Kikuyu people and the KCA who led the way in the Kenyan independence movement, and this enabled Kikuyus to take leading roles in the postindependence government. This led to subsequent political dissent.
- Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005;
- Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya. Vintage, 1962;
- Kyle, Keith. The Politics of the Independence of Kenya. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.