The Story of Kenya and the Cold War

Kenya and the Cold War is a rather delicate story. During the Cold War (the conflict between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union from 1945 to 1991) – the two superpowers didn’t dare to confront each other directly. A direct conflict could have triggered a truly disastrous nuclear war.

Kenya was just one nation within this global power struggle. Until 1963, Kenya was a full British colony and as the British were the strongest US ally, automatically on the Western side. After independence, Kenya continued this course under it’s first president Jomo Kenyatta.

Although he had been strongly anti-British and anti-colonial, Kenyatta always warned of the dangers of communism. Kenyatta wanted to reconcile with the British and the West. He called on white settlers to stay in Kenya, allowed former colonial civil servants to keep their government jobs, and ensured Kenya’s entry into the British Commonwealth of Nations. Kenya enjoyed an international reputation for being politically stable, foreign investments flew in and the country did comparatively well economically.

Kenyatta’s successor (from 1978 on) Daniel Arap Moi stepped up Kenyatta’s authoritarian tendencies. In 1982, after a failed coup attempt against him, he constitutionally banned all political parties except his own. This did not keep the West from supporting him. Even evidence of systematic torture of citizens by Moi’s regime (among others in the infamous Nyaya House torture chambers) was deliberately overlooked by the West. Kenya was seen as a strategic bulwark against the socialist tendencies in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Kenya and the Cold War in literature

Recently the role of the British in Kenya and the Cold War has been scrutinized by British author David Percox in his book “Britain, Kenya and the Cold War: Imperial Defence, Colonial Security and Decolonisation”. He shows that although Kenya became formally independent, Britain retained military camps in Kenya, rights of overflying by airplanes and even directly supported the Moi regime by staging and training the Kenyan military and internal security forces.

Go back to our Kenya History page.

Kenya and the Cold War - references at


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