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About & History - Kenya Apply now for international schools jobs and start teaching abroad with overseas adventure.

Officially the Republic of Kenya, the country is home to over 44 million people and covers over 581 thousand square miles of land, sharing borders with Somalia in the north-east, Ethiopia to the north, South Sudan to the north-west, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south as well as having an ocean border with the Indian Ocean on the south-east.

Kenya’s capital is Nairobi and its Parliamentary government is run under President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Samoei Ruto. It’s historically been recognized as one of the oldest human habitations in the world, with Ethiopia, often called the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ in near proximity. 

Stone Age History

Early hominids (Orrorin Tugenensis) dating back possibly as far as 6.1 million years ago are believed to have inhabited Kenya as is denoted by fossils found in 2000 in the Tugen Hills. Additionally, Australopithecus Anamensis fossils have been found near Lake Turkana in 1965 which date back 4.1 million years, a 1.6 million year old Homo Erectus skeleton found in 1984 in Lake Turkana and Acheulian hand axes dating back as far as 1.76 million years ago have been discovered in Namoratunga on the coast of Lake Turkana, Nyanza.

Bronze Age History

By the start of the Bronze Age in the 3rd Millennium BC, the only remaining groups of hominin were anatomically modern humans and likely ancestors of the modern Khoisan peoples. Cushitic speakers migrated from northern Africa into the country around the 2nd Millennium BC.

Iron Age History

By the beginning of the Iron Age in the 1st Millennium BC, the Bantu peoples reached the country following their expansion from the Cameroon.

1st Century – 15th Century History

It’s known that by the 1st Century AD, Arab Traders had made contact with the peoples of the Kenyan coastline and had begun trading with the inhabitants. Shortly afterwards, Greek Merchants originating in Egypt had also begun to trade with the region and by the 5th Century AD, seafaring traders from India, Indonesia and the Persian Gulf had also begun to trade with the country and its surrounding neighbours. At a certain point in time, other countries in Oceanic Asia  (mainly Malaysia) as well as China and Persia (modern day Iran) also began to trade with the region.

With a huge amount of increased traffic and commerce, large centres for business began to be constructed in settlements which eventually developed into city-states such as Pate, Malindi, Mombasa and Zanzibar. By the 8th Century the city-states had come under the influence of Islam which reinforced ties with the Gulf region and the surrounding Middle East area while the Swahili language had been standardized as the spoken language of business and Arabic became the prominent aspect of Swahili written language. Trade exploded as rare gems, ivory, gold, tortoise shells and slaves began to be traded in mass numbers and economies on all sides of the Indian Ocean dramatically rose.

By the end of the 15th Century, specifically 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached Mombasa, Kenya, and attempted to begin setting up naval bases to gain control over the Indian Ocean, competing with other European economies, most prominently the Spanish, French and British Empires, in the process.



16th Century – 19th Century History

The Portuguese continued to install naval bases in the country and in the process set up direct trade routes with the Middle East and Africa as well as their goal country: India. Spice Trade routes became the biggest targets due to the influx of cultures conglomerated into one location and so the Red Sea and Persian Gulf began being targeted majorly by European colonies as trade routes, as well as many land-based caravan routes. However, the Republic of Venice rapidly gained control of these regions and began a trade monopoly following the closing of traditional land routes to India by the Ottoman Turks. The Portuguese began to try to break the monopoly by setting up formal settlements from the 16th Century onwards, starting in Tanzania and moving out from there. Eventually the Portuguese set up Fort Jesus in Mobasa in 1593 and using its influence combined with a strong naval force were able to demand high tariffs on transported items through the local area.

In the 17th Century, a combination of English, Dutch and Omani forces began to break the new monopoly set up by the Portuguese, openly attacking their fortresses and naval vessels with Omani forces capturing Fort Jesus in 1698, struggling to maintain control over the next few decades.

In the 18th Century, Omani forces expelled the last of the Portuguese forces in Kenya and the surrounding East Africa coastline, specifically capturing the last Portuguese stronghold in 1730. However, to the south in Mozambique, Portuguese ports, settlements and territories persisted well into the late 20th Century despite a now-lost interest in the region by the Portuguese Empire.

Following the expulsion of Portuguese forces from the region, Omani forces began to colonize the Kenyan and Tanzanian coastline and ran a much tighter monopoly on the city-states than the Portuguese had, but were unable to control the interior section of the country much like their predecessors. This was null, however, as the main trade routes via the ocean were now under Omani control, whom had begun a monopoly mainly on the Spice and Slave trades. The control of the Omani forces became so strong in fact, that the Omani Sultan Seyyid Said relocated Oman’s capital to Zanzibar in 1839. Meanwhile, the British Empire had focused their efforts purely on taking India and had disrupted the Omani trade routes in the process, putting pressure on Omani rule. Britain opened consul offices in Zanzibar alongside the French, Germans and Americans in 1840 to protect foreign investment in the area. Additionally, Britain began to launch Christian missionaries into the region in 1846 and in just four years they began to map the interior section of Kenya for the first time.

This new-found interest in Kenya sparked trade between the British Empire and Kenya, with Zanzibar becoming the main base of trade for the British, with the tonnage of foreign shipping calling at Zanzibar reaching 19 thousand tons by 1859. The British desired to abolish the slave trade at this point in time and this had put additional pressure on Oman’s forces due to their large dependence on the trade. In 1885, Imperial Germany set up a protectorate over the new Omani Sultan, Bargash bin Said’s, territory in Zanzibar. However, this was transferred to British Power in 1890 in exchange for the coast of Tanganyika, meeting strong resistance from multiple indigenous groups and individuals including Waiyaki Wa Hinga, leader of the Agikuyu, whom burned down Imperial British East Africa Company Administrator Frederick Lugard’s fort due to harassment after signing a treaty with the latter in the same year. In 1895, the British established direct rule through the East African Protectorate and the development of the first British railway from Mombasa to Kisumu began at the same time.

20th Century History

The railway line was completed in 1901 and in 1902, the border for the East Africa Protectorate was extended to Uganda, allowing fertile highlands to be used by the British Empire for coffee farms. In the same year, the railway line began being extended into Uganda and was completed the following year. As the British attempted to modernize the region, 32,000 Indian labourers were imported into the country and laws were passed in 1909 prohibiting witchcraft, which was a major cause of murders in the country at the time. By the end of the 1910s, militant resistance by African forces had died out, but aggravation festered on.

In 1911, the Maasai peoples were forcefully removed from the Laikipia Plateau and were restricted to the southern Loieta plains two years later in 1913. This was largely in attempt to make way for Europeans from Britain and South Africa to set up coffee farms in the region. The Kikuyu tribe were able to take back some of the land reserved for Europeans but continued to feel cheated out of their rightful lands. Further confrontation was found during the railway line’s construction, especially when the Nandi tribe leader and diviner, Koitalel Arap Samoei prophesied that a black snake would tear through the surrounding lands spitting fire, and was interpreted as the railway line sparking ten years of warring between the local tribes and builders of the line. The country became a military base for the British in the First World War in 1914 in an attempt to minimize activity by the German colonial efforts to the south, and despite a truce between the governors of British and German East Africa in the same year, Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck took command of German Military Forces and conducted a guerrilla warfare campaign. Lettow-Vorbeck was able to effectively capture most of Britain’s suppliers in the region but surrendered in Zambia eleven days after the end of the war in 1918.

As the war came to a close, the African natives in the region began to realize their effect on the surrounding area on a political level and began to actively form parties to participate in government starting in 1921 with Harry Thuku’s East African Association and Archdeacon Owen’s Voice of the People. Shortly afterwards, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) formed and began to attempt to unite the Kikuyu peoples, but this was seriously undermined by various controversies over tradition and support for Thuku.

By the 1930s, the government began to become negatively involved in the lives of ordinary Africans through changes in land management, educational supervision and marketing controls, devaluing the tribal hierarchies employed traditionally and further pressuring the indigenous peoples. At the same time, the White Coffee Farmers began to take a voice in government and through hut taxes, the banning of coffee grown by the natives and less valued labour, the natives began to move to the cities and the farmers took more land. As the end of the 30s rolled around, the Second World War kicked off and Kenya once again became a British military base.

Britain began launching campaigns against Italian forces in Somalia and Ethiopia from Kenya and through African Nationalism stimulated by the war, the British forces gained 98,000 African men in their military. On the closure of the war in 1945, African Nationalism kept on holding fast and a majority of the peoples had moved to the major cities. In 1946, the Kenya African Study Union, founded by Thuku in 1944, became the Kenya African Union (KAU) and the group began calling for widespread access to white-owned land and in 1947, Jomo Kenyatta became the new president of the KAU and pushed more aggressive polities and tactics.

In 1952, the British Colonial Office diversified its members in the Legislative Council greatly, electing 14 European, 6 Asian, 6 African and 2 Arabs whom rapidly became the driving force in government by 1954. At the same time, the Mau Mau militant group, dominated by the Kikuyu, rose up against British forces in the area and engaged in multiple bloody skirmishes with the British Army. By 1956, the British had killed over 12,000 Mau Mau Militants in an attempt to suppress the Mau Mau’s multiple atrocities and Kenyatta was convicted as the leader of the group, being sentenced to prison. However, the military campaign had strong implications; in 1958 the country received its first constitution, and, for the first time ever, Thuku, a Kikuyu, was able to win a coffee licence, becoming the first African Board member of the Kenya Planters Coffee Union in 1959.

Following the Mau Mau Uprising, the British realized that more struggles were inevitable unless change was made, so in 1960 the New Kenya Group reached an agreement between its African and English members that moved towards independence and equality. The Kenya African National Union (KANU) was formed as well by James S. Gichuru, a Kikuyu leader, and Tom Mboya, a Labour leader. However, the group fragmented in 1961 with the new group called the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) led by R. Ngala and M. Muliro. In the general elections in the same year, out of 33 African seats (20 were reserved by Europeans, Arabs and Asians), KANU took 19 seats while KADU took 11. In the same year, Kenyatta was released from prison and quickly became the president of majority seat holder KANU. A coalition was formed between the KADU and the KANU in the following year with Kenyatta as the head of the latter while Ngala took the head position of the former. They managed to establish a new 1962 Constitution which set up a 117-member House of Representatives and a 41-member Senate, dividing the country into seven regions, each with their own assembly. Furthermore, the principle of seats reserved for non-Africans was abandoned.

The following year in 1963, open elections were held with KADU gaining control of the Western, Coast and Rift Valley regions, and KANU gaining control of the Nyanza, Central and Eastern Regions as well as winning majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Kenyatta became President as Kenya, for the first time in history, gained complete self-governance. Further constitutional changes occurred in 1963 with British agreement, eventually culminating in Kenya’s independence at the end of the same year but retaining the status of a Commonwealth realm. The following year Kenya became a Republic and further constitutional changes were made. The White farmers were mainly bought out by the British government and returned to Britain, the resulting land was then split up and given to farmers, mainly Kikuyu, Meru and Embu tribespeople. KADU dissolves voluntarily in 1964 and most of the former members joined the only party left, KANU. KANU remained the sole government party until 1966 when it fractured again, with the fracture becoming the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) lead by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. In 1969, Mboya was assassinated to stop his potential successorship to Kenyatta and following the proceeding riots and tensions between the Kikuyu and Luo peoples, the KPU was banned and Kenya became a one-party state.

Kenya entered into a proposal with Tanzania and Uganda to form an East African Union but the plan did not win approval, however, it was able to form the East African Community that maintained customs union and some common services until it fell apart in 1977. The following year, Kenyatta passed away and Vice-President Danial Arap Moi became interim President, and then was formally made President after being elected head of KANU and designated as the sole nominee. Moi quickly drove power and authority into his tribe, the Kalenjin, and a few allies, sparking a failed coup d’état by Senior Private Grade I Hezekiah Ochuka, riots and looting. In response to the attempt, Robert Ouko was appointed to expose corruption as high levels but was assassinated, with Moi’s closest associate dismissed and incriminated. Starting with Germany, multiple countries began to politically protest the violence of Moi’s regime and to push for the allowance of other parties.

In 1980, Kenyan forces pushed into the Somali Garissa District of the North Eastern Province under the premise of flushing out local gang leader Abdi Madobe but in actuality set fire to buildings, killed inhabitants and committed rape, the survivors were rounded up into a primary school and held there for three days without food or water, resulting in the deaths of over 3000. The Somali government threatened to occupy the country if the atrocities didn’t end and the Kenyan government responded by pulling out of the area. Four years later in 1984, Kenyan forces pushed into the Wagalla Airstrip in the same province under the ruse of diffusing clan-related conflict, kidnapping 5,000 Somali men and starving them of food and water for five days, before executing them.

With pressure mounting, the one-party section of the constitution was revoked in 1991 and the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was formed under Oginga Odinga, a Luo, and Kenneth Matiba, a Kikuyu. The following year in the general elections the government entered into a coalition as Moi took 37% of the vote, Matiba took 26%, Mwai Kibaki took 19% and Odinga took 18% with KANU winning 97 of the 188 seats. In 1993, Moi’s government agreed to economic reforms and serviced over $7.5 billion of its foreign debt. In 1997, the political system became even more liberal as political parties were made able to diversify from 11 parties to 26 and Moi retained his position as President in the elections but his party only barely held onto a majority in parliament. He realized his grip was slipping and attempted to shift the strategy of his party to the politics of generational conflict.



21st Century History

Due to not being able to run for President again due to the constitution, Moi appointed Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor, but the strategy backfired and instead his former Vice-President, now National Rainbow Coalition (NaRC) Leader Mwai Kibaki, was elected as President. For the next few years, Kenya’s economy dramatically improved due to a more balanced cabinet and widespread international support for its government, seeing its annual growth rate change from -1.6% in 2002 to 2.6% by 2004, 3.4% in 2005 and 5.5% in 2007. Despite this, tensions remained high due to social inequalities with a disproportionate amount of funding going to the Kikuyu and the already-wealthy.

In 2007 alone, 120 people were killed during a feud betweenthe Mungiki tribe and the police, and likewise in many places across the country, ethnic groups continued to fight for land. In the same year, the Oranga Democratic Movement (ODM) came into power with their leader, Raila Amolo Odinga, as President. However, it’s known that claims of rigging by both sides smeared the results of the elections, with the votes being roughly even before the rigging started.
In 2008, hundreds of Kalenjin came down from the hills and burned a Kikuyu school in Rift Valley and displaced three hundred thousand Kikuyu community members. The Kikuyu responded by forming into gangs, hunting down Luos and Kalenjins and killing them with makeshift weaponry.