Harry Thuku and the Young Kikuyu Association in Kenya


African nationalism strengthened during the 1920s as European settlers grabbed more land and more settlers came to the colony. In response to repressive laws against Africans, the Kikuyu Association was formed in 1920. It was a moderate organization that sought reduction of poll tax and the return of land to the Kikuyus. However, in 1921 the Young Kikuyu Association was formed by Harry Thuku. Thuku demanded African participation in laws concerning wages, land, and taxes.

The Young Kikuyu Association had thousands of paid members who were mobilized to fight against chiefs who were working with the British and against unfair labor conditions. The association distributed flyers and held meetings where thousands of people gathered. The association educated its members about how the political system was being used to create an unjust and unequal society and then informed them on:

  • What needed to be changed.
  • Why it should be changed and
  • How to get it changed

In March 1922, Harry Thuku was arrested and detained in Nairobi as a troublemaker. When supporters heard of his arrest they gathered to protest. The police shot and killed about 25 protestors and arrested many protestors then blamed Thuku and his protestors for their deaths. Harry Thuku was exiled to a remote area in Kenya and the organization informally disbanded.

Later, other organizations began to form like the Kenya Central Association in 1924. They demanded more changes than what the government was willing to offer at the time. Between 1925 and 1936, about 75% of Kenyan government revenue came from taxes. Most of the revenue was derived from the African Hut and Poll Tax and Customs duties.

Harry Thuku’s ideas and early resistance became the foundation for the future struggles against colonialism and the demands for independence.