Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya archive collection

August 4, 2021

The Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya (CRPPK) was established in 1982 and coordinated by John La Rose in north London. The Committee emerged as a response to evidence of increasingly repressive tendencies in the Kenyan government under President Daniel Arap Moi and those of his predecessor, Jomo Kenyatta. Of particular concern was the arrest of the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o on 31 December 1977 and his detention in maximum security prison for a year without charge, following the publication of Ngugi’s novel Petals of Blood which criticised the neo-colonial tendencies of postcolonial Kenya. Even after his release in 1978, continued harassment from the Kenyan government and a murder plot led Ngugi to leave Kenya for exile in the UK. His presence in London from 1982 allowed him to be an important interlocuter for the CRPPK.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the CRPPK acted as a 'solidarity organisation' for those arrested, detained or harassed for their political activities in Kenya. It exposed Moi's 'systematic attacks on intellectual, political and cultural life' and brought to light the struggles of 'lecturers, students, writers, lawyers, peasants, workers and members of parliament'. The CRPPK published the influential Kenya News bulletin and collaborated with other Kenyan democratic and solidarity movements abroad.

The CRPPK archive collection at the George Padmore Institute, rich in correspondence and pamphlets, as well as posters, adverts and clippings from the press, documents the history of a truly international movement. It covers campaigners, exiles, prisoners, international bodies and underground organisations from across the world on the issue of repression and tyranny in Kenyan politics. In addition to following the history of organisations like the London-based UMOJA-Kenya or the Kenya-based Mwakenya, the collection also includes single events and individual campaigns such as the exile Wanyiri Kihoro's One Million Signature Campaign in 1991 or the Saba Saba Protest Anniversary organised in London the same year. Insight is provided into African diaspora politics in London such as those related to the Africa Centre, London WC2 as well as relations between local politics and supranational organisations like Amnesty International and International PEN.

For more detailed information about the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya archive collection visit the archive page here.

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John La Rose and Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Credit: Julian Stapleton)