The Kenyan flag, National Anthem and local currency are some of the emblems, names, and words protected in the country’s laws against improper usage

The Kenyan flag

The story of the making of the Kenyan flag dates back to June 1963 when Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Tom Mboya called Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta’s office and informed him that if Kenya was to become a republic in six month’s time, they needed a new flag, an emblem and a national anthem.

Mboya wanted Kenyatta to call an urgent Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue although some of his colleagues wanted Kenya to simply adopt the flag of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) political party.

Coat-of-Arms-FebOne of Mboya’s fears was that Kenya could become a republic minus a flag approved by Queen Elizabeth II, who was then the Head of State. Again, Mboya was opposed to the adoption of Kanu’s flag as the national one, fearing that there could be a backlash from the opposition.

“While there is some justification in simply adopting the party flag for this purpose, such a course would undoubtedly give rise to considerable bitterness and resentment in certain quarters and this would lead to unpleasant incidents,” Mboya submitted in a Cabinet paper. “This danger would be particularly marked at the independence flag raising ceremony, which is a strong emotional event, and any commotion here would be most unfortunate as the ceremony will receive the widest international publicity.” One of Mboya’s suggestions was that the national flag should be a symbol of unity and freedom. Thus it was to merge both the colours of Kanu and the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu ).

The similarities between the two flags made it easier to come up with a compromise national flag. While Kadu’s flag was black, white, and green, the Kanu flag was black, red, green, with a white cockerel in the centre.

But Mboya still wanted the Kanu flag to have its place in Kenya’s history and this was a good chance. The Cabinet papers show that Mboya suggested that the national flag should be crafted on the same likeness as the Kanu flag, adopting similar colours. It was not an original idea. Actually, he had copied it from Tanzania and Uganda, which had modified the winning party’s flag to national flags. “It is not without significance that our neighbours, Tanganyika and Uganda, both saw fit to use the ruling party flag simply as a basis for the national flag,” Mboya defended his view. The other person involved in its design was Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano. The opposition Kadu, led by Daniel arap Moi and Ronald Ngala, had at first been opposed to Kenya’s republican status.

To mollify the Kadu leaders, Mboya came up with a suggestion to merge the colours of the two parties into one flag

“Fortunately, Kanu and Kadu have flags that were similar in design. Both have three horizontal bands and two similar colours, black and green. The difference lies only in the third colour, red for Kanu and white for Kadu,” he later wrote to Kenyatta and the Cabinet. “It would be a wise and unifying act of grace to have all the colours in the national flag. It would also save the country any unpleasant incidents, bitterness, and resentment.” But there was the question of whether it was appropriate to have the colour white to represent the multi-racial society. White existed as the third major colour in Kadu’s flag and Mboya suggested that it be retained as a “small strip” separating the other colours. The onus of selecting the colours was left to Dawson Mwanyumba, the Kanu chairman for Taita and Kenyatta’s minister for Works, Communication, and Power.

PromulgationMwanyumba, unlike other Kanu members, was a moderate. It was the small team chaired by Mwanyumba that finally decided that the white colour be included. “It would be a magnanimous gesture towards our political opponents and would be an act tending to unity rather than dissension,” Mwanyumba submitted to the Cabinet. The Cabinet had earlier suggested that the colour gold be used as a tiny strip separating the major colours. But Mwanyumba on June 26, 1964, told the Cabinet that “the inclusion of gold strips does not go far enough (in pacifying the opposition)” and described it as a “shortcoming that may well arouse bitter and resentful feelings.” Inside the Cabinet, white was adopted to denote the multi-racial society and pacify Kadu, but the Cabinet decided to have a different meaning for the colour. Black was to denote “the people of Kenya”, red “the struggle for freedom”, white “unity and peace”, and green “agriculture and natural resources”. Having downgraded one of Kadu’s main colours and vision of a multi-racial state into a small strip, the next hurdle was to get the Queen’s approval.

Since the procedure for registering a new national flag up to the approval stage would take more than six months, Kenyatta and the Cabinet decided to have the flags manufactured in advance, even before the Queen approved the final design and the flag was registered. “In these circumstances,” Mboya wrote in a Cabinet paper, “I recommend that arrangements be set immediately to manufacture the flag, but the details of the design should not be made public until Her Majesty’s approval has been received.”