Harry Thuku

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Harry Thuku (1895–1970), was a Kenyan politician, who was one of the pioneers in the development of modern African nationalism in Kenya. Thuku was born in Kambui in Kiambu district of Central Kenya. His descent is traced from one of the most influential Kikuyu families of the region.


He spent four years at the school of the Kambui Gospel Mission, Harry Thuku became a typesetter for the Leader, a European settler newspaper. In 1918, He rose to the position of a clerk-telegraph operator in the government treasury office in Nairobi. He accumulated vast experience while he was working for the government. Thuku was one of the first of Kenya's Africans to be fully capable of working in the English language.

Political activism[edit]

The Kikuyu Association[edit]

At the time, he was involved in the formation of the first African organisation to defend African interests in a Kenya that was dominated by European rule. He founded The Young Kikuyu Association, a non-militant group that pursued a peaceful and structured liberation struggle with the government and missions.

Advocacy issues[edit]

The organisation's main concern was for the preservation of African-owned land. He argued that land was an important factor of production and that the livelihood of the Kikuyu people, who are primarily farmers, risked being lost. His message reverberated strongly not only within his immediate Kikuyu tribe but also with other farming communities in Kenya and Africa. From 1920 to 1921 Thuku served as the secretary to the Kikuyu Association. However, he was more interested in action-oriented measures to address the rising economic challenges facing Kenyan Africans, realizing that the organisation was becoming heavily political and thus ill equipped to achieve the association's original objectives of economic emancipation. In 1921, he stepped down from his position at the Kikuyu Association. Kenyan Africans were suffering economic difficulties, and the better organised Europeans who were now in control of vast swathes of the local economy wanted to further cut Native African wages on the pretext of reviving the colony's economic position. Thuku's political and economic vision for the native African is widely credited as an important underlying common theme that was adopted and greatly characterised the greater African struggle for economic and political independence.

East African Association[edit]

Harry Thuku went on to become a founder of the East African Association (1921), now a bigger and more representative African organisation. It became Nairobi's first modern political organisation. It drew its members from many tribal groups, however, because of its location most of the members were Kikuyu. Thuku continued to play an important role in Kenya's political and economic circles not only because of his level of education and position in government but also due to the practical down-to-earth politics that strived to restore native African dignity through economic empowerment.

Opposition to the East African Association[edit]

The then colonial Kenyan government was heavily opposed to the association's aims, for good reason. The settler-dominated colony was not yet ready for any forceful representation of African economic, social and political views. Thuku and his colleagues were undeterred by the mounting settler opposition and continued to work and to gain support among Kenya's and Africa's un-educated, educated and informed.


This meteoric success led to Thuku's arrest in 1922. This event was met by an extensive African protest that resulted in a demonstration culminating in violence. Thuku was then deported to remote Kismayu in present-day Somalia. During his absence, the government of the day moved quickly by attempting to co-opt the leadership of the association with monetary inducements and piece-meal reforms to appease the native. Thuku remained in their thoughts as a primary leader. The East African Association declined to participate in the political process, but those co-opted individuals and a host more who were interested in classical African political rights remained actively engaged.

Kikuyu Central Association[edit]

He was later released in 1931; and later in 1932 he became president of the Kikuyu Central Association, then Kenya's foremost African political group. Although dissension arose among the loyalists and the co-opted leaders of the association, which was fomented by the colonial powers of the day. The power struggles split the organisation into factions.

Kikuyu Provincial Association[edit]

Harry Thuku went on to re-assemble the loyal remnants of the East African Association, which was renamed the Kikuyu Provincial Association, devoted to legal, non-militant protest. This underlying approach of moderation in political struggle caused a permanent split between Thuku and the rising generation of the future leaders of Kenya.

Influence on the independence movement[edit]

Harry Thuku's ideals and approach went on to inform the larger struggle for political and economic independence that took Africa like wild-fire from the late 1940s to '60s. Thuku played an important role in the evolution of African nationalism within his country. He later retired to a successful life in business in Kabete, Central province, Kenya.


After independence, Harry Thuku Road in Nairobi was named for him. He died in 1970.


1. J. Makong’o et al. History and Government Form 2. East African Publishers. pp. 103–. ISBN 978-9966-25-333-0. Retrieved 1 November 2011.

2.By the early 1920s, women and girls were being conscripted in increasing numbers, for both public – often, digging roads and trenches – and private – often, working on white-owned plantations – work. Since this removed them from their families, and exposed them to assault, it was deeply unpopular. Churchill had issued a memorandum forbidding forced labour in 1921, but, apparently, the practice had continued. 3. See Wipper 1989:313

4. See Lonsdale 2004 for the number of casualties.

5. See Lonsdale 2004 for white civilian participation, and Thuku 1970: 33 for the claim that white civilians shot protesters in the back.

6. The Times (Saturday, 18 March 1922), p. 10. The White Paper issued by the British Government put the number of dead at 21 (The Times (Saturday, 27 May 1922), p. 9.)

7. The Times (Thursday, 8 January 1931), p. 11.

8. Thuku's apparent premise was false: not all, or even most, of the Kikuyu had taken the Mau Mau oaths. By this time, Thuku was ultra-conservative: KPA members were required to take an oath "to be loyal to His Majesty the King of Great Britain and the established government and...to do nothing which is not constitutional according to British traditions or do anything which is calculated to disturb the peace, good order and government" (see Maloba 1998: 50). At the time, these regulations, innocent enough in themselves, were unacceptable to most of Thuku's former colleagues and supporters. It unclear, therefore, how seriously his denunciation would have been taken.

9. The Times (Saturday, 13 December 1952), p. 6. The Times (Friday, 29 January 1954), p. 8.


  • David Anderson (2000), "Master and Servant in Colonial Kenya", Journal of African History, 41:459–485.
  • Thuku, Harry. Harry Thuku: An Autobiography. Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1970.
  • Harry Thuku explains why he formed a political movement for all East Africans.
  • John Lonsdale (2004), "Thuku, Harry", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
  • Wunyabari Maloba (1998), Mau Mau and Kenya: An Analysis of a Peasant Revolt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press ISBN 0-253-21166-2.
  • Carl Rosberg and John Nottingham (1966), The Myth of 'Mau Mau': nationalism in Kenya. New York: Praeger.
  • Audrey Wipper (1989), "Kikuyu Women and the Harry Thuku Disturbances: Some Uniformities of Female Militancy", Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 59.3: 300–337.