Mwakenya leaders regroup to tell their experiences

A book on Mwakenya written by Prof Maina wa Kinyatti. The name Mwakenya irked the government resulting to increased State terrorism from 1986. 

Photo credit: File

What you need to know:

  • Not so long ago, reading these books could have landed you in detention.
  • Individuals who played a role in the Mwakenya underground movement are coming out.
  • The former Mwakenya members have already reprinted some of the publication.

The Ukombozi Library and the Mau Mau Research Centre are located at some old nondescript poorly-lit building along the University of Nairobi.

To arrive at the centre, you have to climb through a steep staircase made out of old metal bars.

In this library, you will find books and publications like Mwakenya, the once-monthly newsletter Mwanguzi, Cheche Kenya (Independent Kenya), The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, Pambana and Mpatanishi.

Other publications in the library include Kenya News, Moi’s Reign of Terror, University Destroyed: Moi Crowns Ten Years of Government Terror in Kenya, Repression Intensified in Kenya Since the August 1 Coup Attempt, Struggle for Democracy in Kenya and Draft Minimum Programme of Mwakenya, Kenya: A Prison Notebook, Mother Kenya, A Season of Blood and Mwaki Utangihoreka.

You can also find publications like Upande Mwingine (The Other Side), Kenya Twendapi? (Where are we headed to in Kenya?), Coup Broadcast, Article 5, Kauli Raia (People’s Opinion) and Kenya: Register of Resistance in the library.


Not so long ago, reading these books could have landed you in detention, where torture was the order of the day.

For instance, in the early 1980s, security forces were deployed on the streets to look for copies of Pambana, the first underground anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonial newspaper since independence, and to arrest anyone caught reading or distributing it.

But now, almost 18 years after Moi left power, individuals who played a role in the Mwakenya underground movement are coming out in the open to document their history.


“We want to ensure that our history is not lost. We are pushing for these materials to be archived in government libraries and also in universities,” says Shirazz Durrani, one of the Mwakenya members, who fled into exile in 1984.

Mr Durrani says that to date, much of this history of the movement is yet to be documented as Mwakenya was an underground drive and, of necessity, had to keep the names of its members and leaders secret.

“The only person mentioned in public was Ngugi was Thiong'o, who was the spokesperson of the movement,” Mr Durrani says.

The former Mwakenya members have already reprinted some of the publications and plan to publish more copies which will be made available to the public.


“It is a matter of shame for independent Kenya that no university, archives or research institute has tried to collect these important documents,” Mr Durrani says.

With partnership with the George Padmore Institute in London, the members are also working to digitise the books and publications.

The group will also be producing books that details Kenya’s pre-independence struggle.

“We will start by reprinting the two books by Makhan Singh on the history of trade unions in Kenya. We don’t want the rich history to be lost,” Mr Durrani says.


Mr Singh, was a revolutionary Kenyan trade unionist who laid the foundation for radical trade unionism in the country.

“We had a long discussion with the University of Nairobi about digitising the Makhan Singh archives they have had for years. They sound positive but then do not respond.

“The same with Mwakenya documents. Makhan Singh's family feels strongly that it is the responsibility of Kenyan institutions and Cotu to be involved. But nobody is interested,” Mr Durrrani alleges.

The Mwakenya Movement was an offshoot of the December Twelve Movement (DTM) which came up from the formation of a clandestine political party during the First Conference of the Kenyan Marxist-Leninist secretly held from December 22-23, 1974 in Nairobi.


One of the recommendations of the Kenyan Marxist-Leninist conference whose delegates included Adhu Awiti, Koigi wa Wamwere, Kamoji Wachiira, Maina wa Kinyatti and Amin Kassam was the formation of the Workers’ Party of Kenya.

According to the founders, the Workers’ Party of Kenya was formed to lead the struggle for democracy and social justice.

The first recruits of the clandestine party included Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Willy Mutunga, al-Amin Mazrui, Edward Oyugi, Shiraz Durrani, Ngugi wa Mirii, Sultan Somjee, Kuria Murimi, Kariuki Kiboi and Ngotho wa Kariuki.

Prof Kinyatti notes that the party leadership embraced the name December Twelve Movement to be a front name of the Workers’ Party of Kenya as they felt that the time was not yet ripe to publicly expose the real name of the clandestine party to the Moi security agents.


“However, that decision turned out to be a political error, for the name DTM became popular among university students, workers and the patriotic petty-bourgeoisie, and they identified with it …” Prof Kinyatti writes in his book, Mwakenya the Unfinished Revolution.

The growth of the underground movement shook the Moi government resulting to the arrest of several of its leaders and the forced exile of others.


Among the first individuals to be arrested and detained included six university academics — Prof Kinyatti, Mr Wachiira, Mr Mazrui, Dr Mutunga, Prof Oyugi and Mukaru Ng’ang’a who were arrested in June 1982 and accused of teaching revolutionary violence and imprisoned.

Except for Kinyatti, the five of them were key leaders of the December Twelve Movement which transitioned into the Mwakenya movement.

The Moi regime also arrested Mumbi wa Maina, a Kenyatta University academic while others like Ngugi wa Mirii, Kimani Gicau, Mr Durrani, Shadrack Gutto, Kuria Murimi and Prof Micere Mugo were forced into exile.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o escaped arrest because he was out of the country while Salim Lone, the editor of the Viva Magazine, was stripped of his citizenship and expelled from Kenya – his country of birth.


Wang’ondu wa Kariuki, another journalist, was arrested, charged with sedition and imprisoned.

The government also arrested several militant university students among them Mwangi wa Kwirikia, Onyango Oloo, Peter Ogego, and Mwandawiro Mghangha, who was imprisoned in 1986 for being a member of Mwakenya.

In October 1984, the name of the movement was changed to the Communist Party of Kenya (CPK) from the December Twelve Movement, a name that majority of the clandestine party leaders agreed that it was “abstract.”

A year later, in February 1985, the name of the movement was once again changed from the Communist Party of Kenya to Mwakenya, a Kiswahili acronym for Muungano wa Wazalendo wa Kuikomboa Kenya.


The name Mwakenya irked the government resulting to increased State terrorism from 1986 in which anyone identified as a member of the group was arrested, tortured and imprisoned.

Mwakenya also had UKENYA (United Movement for Democracy in Kenya), its front based in London. The leadership of UKENYA was made up of Wanjiru Kihoro, Naila Durrani, Nish Matenjwa, Wangui wa Goro, Abdilatif Abdalla, Mr Durrani, Yusuf Hassan and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

“The December Twelve Movement stage was the first underground movement to set out a socialist agenda to oppose capitalism that Kenyatta and Moi, with the support of UK and USA, forced on the people via Kanu which purged, exiled or assassinated all those in favour of socialism,” Mr Durrani says.


The December Twelve Movement set out it’s ideology in the pioneering book, Independent Kenya which set a major challenge to the US-inspired, capitalist, Sessional Paper No. 10 on African Socialism promoted by Kanu.

Similarly, Umoja continued organising and setting up its ideological stand. Its primary documents were The Struggle for Democracy in Kenya and Moi's Reign of Terror.

Mwakenya continued this organisational and ideological trend with publications in Kiswahili and English with key documents, including Msimamo, Democracy Plank, and it’s all-important, Draft Minimum Programme of Mwakenya.