History of Kenya

Origin of name Kenya

Kenya is named after a mountain of the same name. The Kikuyu people who lived around present day Mt Kenya referred to it as Kirinyaga or Kerenyaga, meaning ‘mountain of whiteness’ because of its snow capped peak.

Mt Kirinyaga which was the main landmark became synonymous with the territory the British later claimed as their colony. However, the name Kenya arose out of the inability of the British to pronounce Kirinyaga correctly.

Historical Background of Kenya

The first people to settle in Kenya were indeginous African communities who migrated from various parts of the continent. Other visitors included traders, explorers and tourists who came in from various parts of the world such as Portugal, Arabia, Roman empire, India and Greece. They visited mainly the East African Coast from as early as the first century A.D. While the majority of the visitors went back to their countries, some settled, and intermarried with the local populations giving rise to a new Swahili culture along the Coast.

The civilisation base of craft industries, farming, fishing and international trade gave rise to both Coastal city states such as Siu, Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Gede, Mombasa and Vanga . Islam and Kiswahili language were also introduced . The traders from overseas brought such items as clothes, beads, wines, iron weapons, porcelain and handicrafts. These were exchanged for ivory, timber, gold, copper, rhinoceros horns, animal skins and slaves.

The first major European presence in East Africa started with the arrival of the Portuguese in the East African waters in 1498 when Vasco Da Gama’s fleet made its initial forays on its way to the East Indies. On the first voyage his only negotiations were with the ruler of Malindi and, indeed, for the next hundred years this alliance was the foundation of the Portuguese network in the region. Their quest to control and dominate the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, the conquest of several city-states along the coast, and the establishment of their dominance, lasted 200 years.

But their presence was hated and resisted and there were many insurrections against them. For example, on the 16th August 1631, the Arab Sultan of Mombasa called Dom Jeronimo Chingulia entered the Portuguese Citadel of Fort Jesus with a band of followers through the passage of the Arches. He killed the Portuguese Captain, Pedro Leitao de Gamboa, and then gave the signal to his followers outside the Fort to set fire to the Portuguese houses in the town. There was no marked resistance and in the course of the next two weeks all the Portuguese were killed. The Portuguese were finally kicked out of the Coastal towns through a combination of local nationalisms, aided by the Omani Arabs. To ensure the Portuguese did not return, Sultan Seyyid Said of Oman moved his capital to Zanzibar and ruled the entire East African Coastline until the establishment of British rule.

 Colonial Rule in Kenya

The scramble for colonies in Africa among European countries reached fever pitch in 1884, when the Berlin Conference was convened to partition Africa amongst European colonial rivals. Among British acquisitions was the land we today call Kenya. A British trading company, Imperial British East Africa Company, was set up and posted to administer Kenya under the name British East Africa Protectorate. When it was realised that the company could not contain Kenya’s hostile communities the British declared the country a colony and Protectorate on 1st July 1895 and posted the first Governor, Sir Arthur Hardinge, to establish a formal British administration.

The seventy years of colonial rule in Kenya were characterised by punitive economic, social and political policies. Most outstanding among these policies was racial discrimination. Huge fertile land was alienated for white settlement, and harsh labour laws were enacted to force the Africans to work at low wages on settler farms and public works. In addition, African political participation was confined to local government.

It was against this scenario that African protest movements began in earnest from the early 1920s. Several political associations, including the Young Kikuyu Association, East African Association, Young Kavirondo Association, North Kavirondo Central Association and Taita Hills Association, were formed to articulate African grievances against forced labour, low wages, heavy taxation, continuing land alienation, and racial discrimination.

Between 1944 and 1960 African political activity and pressure were intensified. In 1944, the first countrywide nationalist party, Kenya African Union (KAU) was formed. And in the same year the first African, Eliud Mathu, was nominated to the settler dominated Legislative Council. Unhappiness with the slow political and economic change led to the breakdown of law and order in the early 1950s, and in 1952 Governor, Sir Everlyn Baring declared a state of emergency following the outbreak of the Mau Mau rebellion, whose major grievances included land alienations, racial discrimination and lack of political progress.

The state of emergency, however, intensified political resolve for independence, forcing the colonial government to come up with constitutional proposals. Under the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 Africans were allowed to directly elect their representatives to the Legislative Council. The elections were held in 1957, and eight African leaders – Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya, Daniel arap Moi, Mate, Muimi, Oginga Odinga, Oguda and Muliro, were elected. They stepped up agitation for widened representation and independence. After considerable discussion, it was decided to form a mass organization to mobilize the people for the final assault on colonialism, hence the birth of Kenya African National Union, (KANU). KANU was formed in March 1960, at Kiambu town, and on 11 June 1960, it was registered as a mass political society. But as the objective of freedom became evident, many of the smaller communities feared domination by the larger ethnic groups, and on June 25, 1960 they formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The first election on a broad electoral register was held in 1961, and was won by KANU. In another election in May 1963, KANU captured 83 of the 124 seats in the House of Representatives and formed the Madaraka Administration on 1st June 1963, and the independence Government on 12th December 1963, under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Independent Kenya

The first Government of independent Kenya immediately had to deal with some pressing economic and political problems. The priorities were acceleration of growth, Kenyanisation of the economy and redistribution of incomes. None of this, however, could be achieved without political stability, and it was first felt necessary to neutralize those elements in the country who supported extreme policies and who were undermining, rather than building confidence in the new nation. Thus, Kenya embarked on the road to peace and stability, which has made it possible for the country to realize great strides in development.

The country has had three Presidents since independence. Upon Jomo Kenyatta’s death on 22nd August 1978, Daniel arap Moi took over the leadership. He retired on 30th December 2002 in line with a constitutional Provision which limits the Presidential term to a maximum 10 years of 5 years each. This provision took effect in 1991 following the re-introduction of multipartism. Previously kenya was a single party state.

Mwai Kibaki took over from Moi on 30th December 2002 to become Kenya’s third President. Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) won with a landslide in the December 27 2002 general elections, thus ending KANU’s forty year stranglehold.

Kenya has played a leading role in the quest for peace and stability in the turbulent East African region, because of her stability and general neutrality. The country has held regular elections every five years since independence. The last election held in December 2002 and which was largely hailed as peaceful paved the way for a smooth transfer of power.

Kenya Political History

Kenya Politica History – Facts and Statistics

Fossils found in East Africa suggest that protohumans roamed the area more than 20 million years ago. Recent finds near Kenya’s Lake Turkana indicate that hominids lived in the area 2.6 million years ago.

Cushitic-speaking people from what became Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia moved into the area that is now Kenya beginning around 2000 BC. Arab traders began frequenting the Kenya coast around the first century AD. Kenya’s proximity to the Arabian Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian settlements sprouted along the coast by the eighth century. During the first millennium AD, Nilotic and Bantu peoples moved into the region, and the latter now comprise two thirds of Kenya’s population. Swahili, a Bantu language with significant Arabic vocabulary, developed as a trade language for the region.

Arab dominance on the coast was interrupted for about 150 years following the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498. British exploration of East Africa in the mid-1800s eventually led to the establishment of Britain’s East African Protectorate in 1895. The Protectorate promoted settlement of the fertile central highlands by Europeans, dispossessing the Kikuyu and others of their land. Some fertile and well watered parts of the Rift Valley inhabited by the Maasai and the western highlands inhabited by the Kalenjin were also handed over to European settlers. For other Kenyan communities, the British presence was slight, especially in the arid northern half of the country. The settlers were allowed a voice in government even before Kenya was officially made a British colony in 1920, but Africans were prohibited from direct political participation until 1944 when a few appointed (but not elected) African representatives were permitted to sit in the legislature.

From 1952 to 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the “Mau Mau” insurgency against British colonial rule in general and its land policies in particular. This rebellion took place almost exclusively in the highlands of central Kenya among the Kikuyu people. Tens of thousands of Kikuyu died in the fighting or in the detention camps and restricted villages. British losses were about 650. During this period, African participation in the political process increased rapidly.

The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963, and the next year joined the Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became Kenya’s first President. The minority party, Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), representing a coalition of small ethnic groups that had feared dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself in 1964 and joined KANU.

A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice President and Luo elder. The KPU was banned shortly thereafter, however, and its leader detained. KANU became Kenya’s sole political party. At Kenyatta’s death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin from Rift Valley province, became interim President. By October of that year, Moi became President formally after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee for the presidential election.

In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state. Two months later, young military officers in league with some opposition elements attempted to overthrow the government in a violent but ultimately unsuccessful coup. In response to street protests and donor pressure, parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution in December 1991. In 1992, independent Kenya’s first multiparty elections were held. Divisions in the opposition contributed to Moi’s retention of the presidency in 1992 and again in the 1997 election. Following the 1997 election Kenya experienced its first coalition government as KANU was forced to cobble together a majority by bringing into government a few minor parties.

In October 2002, a coalition of opposition parties formed the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). In December 2002, the NARC candidate, Mwai Kibaki, was elected the country’s third President. President Kibaki received 62% of the vote, and NARC also won 59% of the parliamentary seats. Kibaki, a Kikuyu from Central province, had served as a member of parliament since Kenya’s independence in 1963. He served in senior posts in both the Kenyatta and Moi governments, including Vice President and Finance Minister. In 2003, internal conflicts disrupted the NARC government. In 2005 these conflicts came into the open when the government put its draft constitution to a public referendum–key government ministers organized the opposition to the draft constitution, which was defeated soundly. In 2007, two principal leaders of the movement to defeat the draft constitution, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka–both former Kibaki allies–were presidential candidates for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party and the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K) party, respectively. In September 2007, President Kibaki and his allies formed the coalition Party of National Unity (PNU). KANU joined the PNU coalition, although it was serving in parliament as the official opposition party.

On December 27, 2007, Kenya held presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections. While the parliamentary and local government elections were largely credible, the presidential election was seriously flawed, with irregularities in the vote tabulation process as well as turnout in excess of 100% in some constituencies. On December 30, the chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared incumbent Mwai Kibaki the winner of the presidential election. Violence erupted in different parts of Kenya as supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga and supporters of Kibaki clashed with police and each other. The post-election crisis left about 1,300 Kenyans dead and about 500,000 people displaced. In order to resolve the crisis, negotiation teams representing PNU and ODM began talks under the auspices of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Panel of Eminent African Persons (Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Graca Machel of Mozambique).

On February 28, 2008, President Kibaki and Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement, which provided for the establishment of a prime minister position (to be filled by Odinga) and two deputy prime minister positions, as well as the division of an expanded list of cabinet posts according to the parties’ proportional representation in parliament. On March 18, 2008, the Kenyan parliament amended the constitution and adopted legislation to give legal force to the agreement. On April 17, 2008 the new coalition cabinet and Prime Minister Odinga were sworn in. The Kofi Annan-led political settlement also set out a reform agenda to address underlying causes of the post-election violence. The focus is on constitutional, electoral, land, and institutional reform as well as increased accountability for corruption and political violence. The new constitution was approved in a referendum on August 4, 2010.

Kenya Economic History

Kenya is the largest economy in east Africa and is a regional financial and transportation hub. After independence, Kenya promoted rapid economic growth through public investment, encouragement of smallholder agricultural production, and incentives for private (often foreign) industrial investment. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual average of 6.6% from 1963 to 1973. Agricultural production grew by 4.7% annually during the same period, stimulated by redistributing estates, diffusing new crop strains, and opening new areas to cultivation.

After experiencing moderately high growth rates during the 1960s and 1970s, Kenya’s economic performance during the 1980s and 1990s was far below its potential. From 1991 to 1993, Kenya had its worst economic performance since independence. Growth in GDP stagnated, and agricultural production shrank at an annual rate of 3.9%. Inflation reached a record 100% in August 1993. In the mid-1990s, the government implemented economic reform measures to stabilize the economy and restore sustainable growth, including lifting nearly all administrative controls on producer and retail prices, imports, foreign exchange, and grain marketing. Nevertheless, the economy grew by an annual average of only 1.5% between 1997 and 2002, which was below the population growth estimated at 2.5% per annum, leading to a decline in per capita incomes. The poor economic performance was largely due to inappropriate agricultural, land, and industrial policies compounded by poor international terms of trade and governance weaknesses. Increased government intrusion into the private sector and import substitution policies made the manufacturing sector uncompetitive. The policy environment, along with tight import controls and foreign exchange controls, made the domestic environment for investment unattractive for both foreign and domestic investors.

The Kenyan Government’s failure to meet commitments related to governance led to a stop-start relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, both of which suspended support in 1997 and again in 2001.

During President Kibaki’s first term in office (2003-2007), the Government of Kenya began an ambitious economic reform program and resumed its cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF. There was some movement to reduce corruption in 2003, but the government did not sustain that momentum. Economic growth began to recover in this period, with real GDP growth registering 2.8% in 2003, 4.3% in 2004, 5.8% in 2005, 6.1% in 2006, and 7.0% in 2007. However, the economic effects of the violence that broke out after the December 27, 2007 general election, compounded by drought and the global financial crisis, brought growth down to less than 2% in 2008. In 2009, there was modest improvement with 2.6% growth, while the final 2010 growth figure was expected to be about 5%.

In May 2009, the IMF Board approved a disbursement of approximately $200 million under its Exogenous Shock Facility (ESF), which is designed to provide policy support and financial assistance to low-income countries facing exogenous but temporary shocks. The ESF resources were meant to help Kenya recover from the negative impact of higher food and international fuel and fertilizer costs, and the slowdown in external demand associated with the global financial crisis. In January 2011, the IMF approved a 3-year, $508.7-million arrangement for Kenya under the Fund’s Extended Credit Facility.

To a considerable extent, the government’s ability to stimulate economic demand through fiscal and monetary policy is linked to the pace at which the government is pursuing reforms in other key areas. The Privatization Law was enacted in 2005, but only became operational as of January 1, 2008. Parastatals Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), Telkom Kenya, and Kenya Re-Insurance have been privatized. The government sold 25% of Safaricom (10 billion shares) in 2008, reducing its share to 35%. Accelerating growth to achieve Kenya’s potential and reduce the poverty that afflicts about 46% of its population will require continued deregulation of business, improved delivery of government services, addressing structural reforms, massive investment in new infrastructure (especially roads), reduction of chronic insecurity caused by crime, and improved economic governance generally. The government’s Vision 2030 plan calls for these reforms, but realization of the goals could be delayed by coalition politics and line ministries’ limited capacity.

Economic expansion is fairly broad-based and is built on a stable macro-environment fostered by government, and the resilience, resourcefulness, and improved confidence of the private sector. Despite the post-election crisis, Nairobi continues to be the primary communication and financial hub of East Africa. It enjoys the region’s best transportation linkages, communications infrastructure, and trained personnel, although these advantages are less prominent than in past years.

In FY 2010, tea was Kenya’s top export, accounting for $1.15 billion. Fresh horticulture exports were $718 million, well short of the record high of $1.12 billion in 2007, in part due to unfavorable global weather conditions that affected air transportation. Tourism has rebounded from the drop experienced in 2008 after the post-election violence, bringing in $807 million in 2009, an increase of 19% from 2008. In 2010, the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism recorded nearly 1.1 million tourists–an all-time high–and an 18% revenue growth, in local currency terms. Africa is Kenya’s largest export market, followed by the European Union (EU). Kenya benefits significantly from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but the apparel industry is struggling to hold its ground against Asian competition. Currently there are 19 apparel factories, 1 yarn/fabric company, and 6 accessory companies (labels, sewing supplies, hangers) operating in the Export Processing Zones. Approximately 90% of Kenya’s AGOA exports in 2010 were garments, and Kenya’s garment exports under AGOA totaled $202 million in 2010 (a slight increase over 2009 but still well below the 2006 level of $265 million).

Kenya does not systematically collect foreign direct investment (FDI) statistics, and its historical performance in attracting FDI has been relatively weak. The stock of FDI in 2005 was estimated to be about $1.04 billion, less than half of that in neighboring Tanzania. Net foreign direct investment was negative from 2000-2003, but started trickling back in 2004. The stock of U.S. FDI (at historical prices) was estimated to be about U.S. $180 million as of 2010.

Remittances are Kenya’s single largest source of foreign exchange and a key social safety net. According to the Central Bank of Kenya, recorded remittances totaled about $640 million in 2010; however, the actual number may be as high as $1 billion.

Kenya faces profound environmental challenges brought on by high population growth, deforestation, shifting climate patterns, and the overgrazing of cattle in marginal areas in the north and west of the country. Significant portions of the population will continue to require emergency food assistance in the coming years.

Kenya is pursuing regional economic integration, which could enhance long-term growth prospects. The government is pursuing a strategy to reduce unemployment by expanding its manufacturing base to export more value-added goods to the region while enabling Kenya to develop its services hub. In March 1996, the Presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda re-established the East African Community (EAC). The EAC’s objectives include harmonizing tariffs and customs regimes, free movement of people, and improving regional infrastructures. In March 2004, the three East African countries signed a Customs Union Agreement paving the way for a common market. The Customs Union and a Common External Tariff were established on January 1, 2005, but the EAC countries are still working out exceptions to the tariff. Rwanda and Burundi joined the community in July 2007. In May 2007, during a Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) summit, 13 heads of state endorsed a move to adopt a COMESA customs union and set December 8, 2008 as the target date for its adoption. On July 1, 2010, the EAC Common Market Protocol, which allows for the free movement of goods and services across the five member states, took effect. In October 2008, the heads of state of EAC, COMESA, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed to work toward a free trade area among all three economic groups with the eventual goal of establishing a customs union. If realized, the Tripartite Free Trade area would cover 26 countries.


 Kenya History – Timeline


Prehistoric Kenya

Some of our earliest human ancestors (Homo erectus and Homo habilis) walked on East African ground more than 2 million years ago. Several skulls and fragments has been found in Kenya and neighbouring countries.

The Khoisan-speakers are the first modern people known to inhabit East Africa. They are followed by Cushitic people (from north), Bantu speaking groups (from Central Africa), Nilotes (from Sudan) as well as Oromos and Somalis (from Ethiopia).

Arabian and Portuguese traders/invaders

8th century AD: The first visits by Arabian and Persian traders to East Africa are made. Some Arab traders stays in the region and brings a Muslim influence to the culture. Most areas of Kenya are inhabited at this time, but most trade and development takes place in the coastal region. Trade with ivory, rhino horn, gold, shells and slaves makes Mombasa, Malindi and the Islands Lamu, and Pate into important centres of trade.

The 15th century: The Coast is rich and the cities are great in this period. It becomes the first centre of trade out of Africa. The African groups on the coast gradually forms the Swahili culture adapting Islam as their religion. The common religion makes way for better understanding and business with the Arabs. Religious beliefs (Islam and later Christianity) also gives status in society (this can still be seen in the pride of many religious people in Africa). Some Africans may have turned to Islam simply to avoid being sold as slaves. The Swahili were mainly black Africans and it were these people who build the great cities along the coast.

The Swahili people makes a fortune on trade and forms business families. They are able to communicate better with the foreign traders as the Kiswahili language develops. They also serves as middlemen for those wanting to sell gold and Ivory from deep within the continent.

The trade net grows to cover Africa, Arabia, Persia, India and China. It is recorded that traders even succeeds to send a live Giraffe all the way the Emperor of China.

Vasco da Gama1498: Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reaches East Africa with ships and guns. Until now most meetings with foreigners has been relative peaceful, but the Portuguese are eager to get their hands on the rich trade around the Indian Ocean. The Swahili people gives Vasco da Gama what he wants: They direct him on the way to India -and are happy to sea him leave. (See also Mozambique Timeline).

1505: The Portuguese invades, slaughters and robs most cities on the East Coast of Africa. Dom Francisco de Almeida arrives with 23 ships and approximately 1500 soldiers. Mombasa is bombed and the occupied by Portuguese troops.

The next 200 years are marked by the fights between the Arabs and the Portuguese for control of the region. The main losers in this long struggle are the Africans, seeing their towns destroyed all along the coast.

1585 and 1589: The Ottoman Turks tries to regain their power on the Kenyan Coast but are beaten by the Portuguese. Portugal starts a brutal colonial rule and exploitation of the Africans and their resources. With weapons in hand they try to convert people into Catholicism, but Islam has already grown strong on the coast.

Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa

The Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa. Photo: © Jacob Crawfurd. View more photos from Mombasa.

1593: Mombasa becomes the local centre of Portuguese power. Fort Jesus is constructed in Mombasa harbour to defend the city from the seaside and also against a growing resistance among the Swahili people.

1698: Fort Jesus and Mombasa are finally lost to the Arabs after 33 months of siege. After a few years the Portuguese has left Kenya completely. Arab sultans now rules over different parts of the coast.

19th Century: The European countries starts a race of land grabbing in Africa. In East Africa it is mainly Germany and England competing in making colonies and protectorates. By now a political pressure has influenced Britain to try and stop the African slave trade.

1822: The Sultan of Oman (Sayyid Said) sends an army to East Africa. He claims control of all Swahili dynasties along the coast. The local Swahili clans resists to give up their power and asks Britain for help. Two warships are send from Britain and the captain declares the Mombasa region for British protectorate. The protectorate is given up after 3 years.

1832: The sultan of Oman moves with his court to Zanzibar. He starts plantations of cloves and develops trade routes deeper into Africa. Spice production and export of Ivory and slaves are an important economic injection for the Sultan’s empire.

1847: The first European missionaries starts traveling west and exploring more of Kenya. The Germans, Krapf and Rebmann, are the first to reach Taita Hills and later gives the first reports of seeing Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.

May 1, 1873 : Dr. David Livingstone dies in Central Africa. His body is carried on a month-long journey to Zanzibar.

1877: the Sultan offers the company British East Africa a concession of administration in East Africa. The British completely ignores the Swahili people -only negotiating with the Sultan on Zanzibar. Their racist prejudices makes them believe that the East African Coast has only developed because of the Arabs.

British Crown Colony

1886: The European colonial powers divides Africa between them at a conference in Berlin. Germany and Britain are the main players in the game of control with East Africa. The Sultan of Oman is still granted a strip on the Coastline.

1888: Imperial British East Africa starts “economic development” in their possessions (today’s Kenya and Uganda).

1894: Jomo Kenyatta is born in Ichaweri.

1895: Britain’s protectorate is formed and officially named British East Africa.

1898: Construction of a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria is progressing fast, but delayed in Tsavo. Two lions kills and eats 135 Indian and African railway workers. Lt. Col. J.H. Patterson manages to kill the lions after hunting them for nine months. The events were dramatised in the film The Ghost and The Darkness. The man-eating lions are still on display in The Field Museum, Chicago.

1898: The railway reaches half way through Kenya. The city of Nairobi is founded a few years later.

1901: The railway from Mombasa to Kisumu is completed with its 965 km. European and Indian settlers now arrives in great numbers to East Africa. White settlers are favoured from the beginning and given influence on the management of the colony. The African inhabitants of the “White highlands” are forced into “native reserves”. In the following years several local uprisings are stopped by British soldiers. As in the other African colonies some tribes are favoured by the British. This makes the foundation for jealousy, hatred and ethnic clashes for generations ahead.

1902: The border between Kenya and Uganda is adjusted. Before this Kisumu and the area around Lake Victoria was a part of Uganda.

1905: First experiments with growing coffee in Kenya are made by British settlers. Today Kenya is the African country exporting most coffee.

1907: The British colonial administration moves from Mombasa to Nairobi.
The Karen Blixen farm near Nairobi

January 1914: 28 year old Karen Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen) arrives in Kenya with her husband Bror Blixen. They settle on a farm close to Nairobi and starts growing coffee. Karen Blixen has no experience and no success with farming but after returning to Denmark in 1931 she becomes a well known writer.

1914: World War I also includes Africa. 200,000 Africans are recruited in Kenya by the British Army. One fourth of them dies.

1915: The British settlers requires more land. Another 5186 hectares are taken from the Africans. The “Registration Act” forces all African adult males to carry identification whenever leaving the reserves.

1921: The protectorate becomes Kenya and gets status of British Crown Colony. A British governor administrates the colony.

1922: Foundation of East African Breweries (today: Kenya Breweries, producing the popular “Tusker” and other brands).

1922: Africans educated in the Missions starts protesting against the British policies. Harry Thuku, leader of the East African Association (EAA) is arrested. Another young Kikuyu from EAA is about to begin his career: Jomo Kenyatta leaves for university Studies in England (1931) and returns to become a political leader years later.

1923: The first tea plantation is founded in Kenya. A law ensured that only the European settlers could profit from growing tea and coffee for export.

1924 : Daniel Arap Moi is born in Baringo.

1933: American writer Ernest Hemingway visits Kenya and writes some of his most famous stories.

1939: Labour unions are becoming stronger in the colony. Strikes hits hard on Mombasa.

1944: A organisation for African independence is formed: Kenyan African Union (KAU).

1947: Jomo Kenyatta becomes leader of KAU.
Mau Mau rebellion

1952: A political Kikuyu group called “Mau Mau” starts violent attacks on white settlers. The Mau Mau guerillas are organised in Kenya Land Freedom Army (KFLA). Jomo Kenyatta is regarded to be leader of the “Mau Mau” and he is jailed the following year. The Mau Mau rebellion continues and Britain declares a state of emergency in Kenya.

February 6, 1952: The young Elizabeth stays in the Aberdare Treetop Hotel when her father, King George VI, dies of cancer. She returns to England as Queen Elizabeth II.

October 1956: The leader of KLFA, general Dedan Kimanthi is captured by British troops with assistance from a loyal Kikuyu group. The Mau Mau are now without efficient leadership.

1956: The Mau Mau warriors kills more Africans loyal to the British than white people. Around 50,000 British soldiers are set in against the rebellion. They burn down villages and carry out bomb attacks from airplanes. When the rebellion is finally put down a total of app. 12,000 Africans are killed -and only about 30 Europeans. 100,000 Africans are imprisoned.

1957: Dedan Kimanthi is executed.

195?: Kenyan songwriter Fadhili William records the pop song Malaika. The song becomes a world-wide hit and as has since been recorded by several other artists.

1957: Ghana is the first African colony to gain independence. (See also Ghana Timeline)

1959: Kenyatta is transferred from jail to house arrest. Formation of political parties are now allowed and African politicians are invited for negotiations in London.

Jomo Kenyatta1960: Britain gives in to the pressure and starts preparing Kenya for independence. Estimated 60,000 Europeans now live in Kenya.

1960: A team of archaeologists led by Mary and Louis Leakey finds a skull of Homo Habilis near Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya. The skull is estimated to be 1.8 million years old.

1961: House arrest ends for Kenyatta and he becomes leader of the political party KANU.


1964: The Republic of Kenya (Jamhuri ya Kenya) is formed with Kenyatta as president and Oginga Odinga as vice president. The party KADU dissolves and integrates with KANU. The government is without opposition.

1966: The Luo politician Oginga Odinga is excluded from the Kikuyu dominated KANU party. He tries to start an opposition party, but is arrested several times during the following years.

1969: Conflicts between ethnic groups continue. The Luo politician Tom Mboya aspires to future presidency and is assassinated by a Kikuyu. Odinga is arrested.

1974: Jomo Kenyatta is re-elected as president. Kiswahili becomes official language in the parliament.

1976: Border problems and regional tensions: The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin claims huge parts of Kenya and Sudan.

1977: Big game hunting becomes prohibited by law.

August 22, 1978: Jomo Kenyatta dies in his home in Mombasa. During his presidency Kenya has become one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Africa. In spite of mistakes and some degree of paranoia, Kenyatta was loved by most Kenyans and respected by politicians abroad. The Republic of Kenya held many promises which were soon to fade.

Kenya’s second president

October 6, 1978: Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi becomes president of Kenya. At the time he is not seen as a very strong politician, but he was vice president for Kenyatta and the parliament agrees on the choice. This is partly because as a Kalenjin (Tugen) he is not representing any of the dominant tribes in Kenya. The new national slogan launched by Moi is “nyayo” -follow the tracks. But soon Moi starts hitting hard on opponents, banning tribal societies and closing universities. The president makes more and more frequent use of prisons and guns in the coming years.

1979: The president launches a plan for protection of Rhinos in Kenya.

June 1982: The Republic of Kenya is officially declared to be a one party state by ruling party KANU.

August 1982: The Kenyan Airforce attempts a military coup. A few days pass in uncertainty and 120 people are killed. Then forces loyal to the government puts an end to the rebellion. Following the coup-attempt, 12 people are sentenced to death and 900 are jailed.

1985: Hollywood premieres Out Of Africa filmed on location in Kenya, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

1987: President Moi is re-elected after introducing a complicated and highly criticised voting system. Opposition leaders including Kenneth Matiba are jailed without trial.

1989: Paleontologist Dr. Richard Leakey becomes manager of the Department of Wildlife in Kenya. President Moi burns of 12 tons of ivory, making a public statement against poaching.

1990’s: Communist regimes in eastern Europe collapses, putting an end to “the Cold War” era. USA and Western Europe has supported corrupt regimes all over Africa in their attempt to keep communism from the door. But now they loose interest in the continent. For the first time donor countries makes demands of democratic development and puts pressure on the Kenyan government. Multiparty systems are a public demand all over the continent and the governments no longer has Western support to suppress the opposition.

The KANU Youth group is used as pro-government troublemakers. In the following years KANU Youth are used to harass opposition members and provoke riots in democratic demonstrations. The KANU Youth has also been involved in the unleash of violence and ignition of ethnic clashes.

July 7, 1990: An illegal demonstration becomes known as the “Saba Saba” (Seven Seven – the date in Swahili). The government sends in police and military, killing at least 20 and arresting several hundreds, including politicians, human rights activists and journalists.

1991: A new opposition party is formed under the name Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). The party is at first banned by Moi. Leaders, including Oginga Odinga, are arrested. Most Western countries suspends their economic aid to Kenya in condemnation of the political oppression and abuses of human rights. Moi finally gives in and introduces the multiparty system in Kenya: The constitution is changed, for the first time allowing registration of opposition parties.

Political violence on the road to democracy

1992: Political discussions slowly becomes more common on the streets and some people even dare to hope for a change. But at the same time many people fears the wars, violence and chaos in other African countries. An argument often heard is that Moi may be one the most corrupt leaders in the world, but he has kept Kenya peaceful.

Prior to elections, 2000 are killed in ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley region. It is almost certain that the violence was provoked by KANU. But President Moi manages to end the conflict and makes himself an image as the peace maker.

1992: The Ford party splits into two fractions. Moi gains more power as the opposition waste their efforts on internal conflicts.

December 29, 1992: Moi is re-elected as President in Kenya’s first multiparty election. All foreign observers reports that KANU manipulated the voters and election in every possible way.

1993: International donors, IMF and the World Bank forces the government to start economic reforms in Kenya.

1994: Oginga Odinga dies. The opposition parties form a new coalition, but are still having strong internal disputes. Moi is becoming more and more clever in setting up opposition members against each other.

1995: Paleontologist Richard Leakey forms Safina, a new opposition party. The Leakey family is famous for their archaeological findings in Kenya. Moi argues strongly against having white men in government.

1996: KANU announces a wish to change the constitution allowing Moi to stay in office for one more term.

1997: Demonstrations for democracy are frequent in Kenya.

August 14, 1997: 200 raiders attacks the police station in Likoni, Mombasa. Prisoners are freed, six police officers and seven civilians are killed. The violent attackers steels rifles and ammunition. In the following weeks horror rules on the coast with massacres and ethnic violence. Many people are on the run. Who started this, and why was nothing done to stop it?

1997: Daniel Arap Moi wins his 5th term as president in criticised elections. Once again Moi has succeeded to play opposition and ethnic groups against each other.

1997: The El Nino weather phenomena brings cascades of water to the Kenyan coast. Several thousands are left homeless.

September 8, 1997: President Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire (D. R. Congo) loses his power and dies soon after. Mobuto was considered to be the richest man in Africa. According to an Ugandan newspaper, Daniel Arap Moi is a possible number two. (The Monitor, August 4, 1997)

August 1998: 230 people are killed when a bomb explodes in Nairobi’s US embassy. At the same time people are killed by a terror bombing in Tanzania. The bombings are later linked to Osama Bin-Laden and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

1999: Richard Leakey becomes minister in the KANU government. He is tasked with fighting corruption in Kenya.

June 2001: Moi forms the first coalition government in Kenya. Opposition leader Raila Odinga becomes minister of Energy.

August 2001: 3 million people starves as Northern Kenya suffers from drought.

2001: Several anti-corruption initiatives are started in order to please the IMF.

October 2001: Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Jomo Kenyatta) is appointed to parliament and a cabinet post by President Moi. The inexperienced Uhuru Kenyatta is later appointed by Moi to be his successor in the presidential office.

2001: Ethnic clashes breaks out again. Worst in the Kibera slum area of Nairobi. As the violence continues the government stays passive. Some people fears that Moi would like to see chaos break out in Kenya after he gives up presidency.

The third president

2002 December – Elections. Mwai Kibaki wins a landslide victory, ending Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year rule and Kanu’s four decades in power.

Moi’s successor, Mwai Kibaki, promised to tackle corruption

2003 January – Government bill proposes anti-corruption commission. Moi critic John Githongo appointed anti-graft czar.

2003 November – International Monetary Fund (IMF) resumes lending after three-year gap, citing anti-corruption measures.

2003 December – Government decides to grant former president Daniel arap Moi immunity from prosecution on corruption charges.

2004 March-July – Long-awaited draft of new constitution completed. Document requires parliament’s approval and proposes curbing president’s powers and creating post of prime minister. But deadline for enactment is missed.

2004 July-August – Food crisis, caused by crop failures and drought, dubbed “national disaster” by President Kibaki. UN launches aid appeal for vulnerable rural Kenyans.

2004 October – Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Controversy over jail conditions amid intense media coverage of inmate deaths at Meru jail in the east.

2005 January – Clashes over land and water rights leave more than 40 people dead.

2005 February – Corruption takes centre stage when it is claimed that graft has cost Kenya $1bn under Kibaki. Leading anti-graft official John Githongo resigns. International donors voice unease.

2005 July – Parliament approves a draft constitution after days of violent protests in Nairobi over aspects of the draft which demonstrators say give too much power to in the president’s hands.

Constitution spurned

2005 November-December – Voters reject a proposed new constitution in what is seen as a protest against President Kibaki. The president replaces his cabinet; some nominees reject their appointments.

2006 January – Government says four million people in the north need food aid because of a drought which the president calls a “national disaster”.

2006 January-February – Government ministers are linked to a corruption scandal involving contracts for a phantom company, Anglo Leasing. One of them, Finance Minister David Mwiraria, resigns and says allegations against him are false.

2006 March – Armed police, acting on government orders, raid the offices and presses of the Standard group, one of Kenya’s leading media companies.

2006 April – Three days of national mourning are declared after an aircraft carrying several prominent politicians crashes in the north.

2006 April – Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao signs a contract allowing China to prospect for oil off the Kenyan coast. His African tour has focused on trying to satisfy China’s hunger for energy and raw materials.

2007 May – A Kenya Airways plane crashes in Cameroon, killing all 114 on board. An official investigation finds pilot error was to blame.

2007 December – Disputed presidential elections lead to violence in which more than 1,500 die.

The government and opposition come to a power-sharing agreement in February and a cabinet is agreed in April.

2008 October – Report into post-election clashes calls for international tribunal to try those implicated in violence. Many political leaders are reluctant to implement the commission of inquiry’s recommendations, with some arguing that prosecutions could trigger further clashes between communities.

Constitution approved

2010 January – The US suspends $7m of funding for free primary schools in Kenya until fraud allegations are investigated.

2010 February – President Kibaki overturns a decision by Prime Minister Odinga to suspend the country’s agriculture and education ministers over alleged corruption. The row threatens the coalition government.

2010 July – Kenya joins its neighbours in forming a new East African Common Market, intended to integrate the region’s economy.





As a focal point of nationalism in Kenya, KANU is consistently associated with the history of anti-colonialism, the struggle for independence and devotion to the building of a united, peaceful and prosperous nation, in which every Kenyan enjoys political freedom, social justice and equal opportunities.

In outlining the evolution of KANU as a political party, it must be appreciated several formal and informal political organizations preceded it in serving as an expression of the same spirit the KANU stood for on its formation in 1960. Upon formation, KANU became the party that best exemplified the aspirations of the national movement for independence, formed the first African Government of independent Kenya and therefore, laid the firm foundation for the present and future of Kenya.

Before looking at the evolution of KANU, it is therefore necessary to present briefly the contribution to the nationalist struggle of other political organizations that were the forerunners of KANU, for they cultivated the spirit and determination which KANU was to thrive in its programmes and activities.

Background to the Formation of KANU: Early political Organizations.

1895: In order to secure a route to Uganda, the area that today forms most of Kenya was declared a British Protectorate, British East Africa Protectorate and was administered by the Counsul-General in Zanzibar until 1902. This period saw the construction of the railway from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, to what is present day Kisumu, on Lake Victoria.

1907: Saw increased pressure from the local white settler community, led by Lord Delamare, for more control over their destiny resulted in the formation of the Legislative Council (Legco). The council had no representation from the African or Indian (imported to build the railway and then abandoned) communities.

1920s and 30s: The lack of representations by the Africans coupled with economic inequalities and led to the birth of political organizations. These included the East African Association, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), both formed the 1920s. The formations of these political associations can be traced back to the effects of the First World War, when Africans became more aware of themselves as a distinct racial group. They discovered the weaknesses and heterogeneity of the whites and, even more crucial, they learnt the importance of organized resistance.

It is not without significance therefore that several African political leaders in the 1920’s and 1930’s had either fought or served in the Carrier Corps in German East Africa (later known as Tanganyika and today called the United Republic of Tanzania). Other political organizations formed during this period were the Young Kavirondo Association, Ukamba Members Association, North Kavirondo Central Association, and Kikuyu Provincial Association in the 1930’s.

These associations agitated for direct representation in the Legislative Council (Legco), but more significantly for consideration of African land claims and greater educational and economic opportunities. Although none of these had any significant influence on the Colonial Government policy, they had an important impact on post-World-War II political activities.

For example they had succeeded in making the different ethnic groups become socialized for organized political activity. Indeed, some like the Young Kavirondo Association and the Young Kikuyu Association, were trans-tribal organizations. Additionally, an examination of their activities and programmes reveal that they were at the same time largely welfare organizations concerned with the personal improvement of their members.

Harry Thuku led the first national movement, the East African Association, protesting against white settler dominance in the government in the early 1920s. He was arrested by the colonial authorities in 1922 and exiled for seven years. Also founder of the Young Kikuyu Association, Thuku believed that:

        ” what all of us wanted was to show people that we were all one family and what there was no different between all the tribes of Kenya”.

1940-1944: The second world war brought Kenya into war against the Italians in Somalia and Ethiopia in the North and the Germans in Tankanyika in the South.

In 1940 a total ban was placed on African political organizations, except the Kavirondo Taxpayers and Welfare Association and the Kikuyu Provincial Association. But consequent political developments were to make it necessary to form organizations claiming national membership.

Meanwhile, the two associations agitated for political rights in the colonial government and on October 5, 1944, Eliud Mathu was nominated as the first African unofficial Member of the Legislative Council, this time in an effort to channel the emergent voice of Africa nationalism towards the support of the colonial administration. Africans took the new development as evidence of what could be achieved through a well coordinated countrywide organization.

A meeting was thus convened in October 1944 which led to the formation of the Kenyan African Union (KAU) whose aims and objectives were:-

* To unite the African people toward an African nation.
* To fight for the abolition of the colour bar.
* To struggle for the restriction of European and Asian migration in Kenya.
* To act as an African party for unofficial representation in the Legislative Council.
* To campaign for a common electoral role based on an unlimited franchise, and
* To foster the social, economic and political interests of the Africans in general.

1946-1950: Upon his return from Britain in 1946, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta assumed the leadership of KAU which now set to mobilize the population, organization public rallies to educate the public and to recruit membership from the whole cross-selection of the African population, the farmers, the educated and uneducated, the workers and ex-soldiers. By 1947, KAU had established itself as “the first sustained effort of the Africans to create a congress organization to cover the Africans of the whole colony and an important landmark in the political evolution of the Africans in Kenya”.

Other organizations were formed during the same period to work against the colonial establishment. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga formed the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation to create an economic base for the Luo community. Other similar organizations included the North Kavirondo Central Association, the Ukamba Members Association and the Taita Hills Association.

1950s: The Mau Mau Revolt and the Struggle for Constitutional Advancement.

Meanwhile a majority of Africans who grew impatient with the Colonial Government failure to solve their problems, resorted to armed struggled which crystallized in what came to be known as the Mau Mau movement.

President Kenyatta (extreme left) during his infamous trial at Kapenguria in 1959. With him (l-r) are Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia, Paul Ngei and Kungu Karumba

The amount of insecurity unleashed on the country by this movement forced the Colonial Government to declare a State of Emergency on October 20, 1952. All African political associations were proscribed, and their leaders imprisoned and detained. They included Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubia, Achieng Oneko, Kariuki Chotara, and Bildad Kaggia. A state of political statement set in with a military solution against the armed uprising nowhere in sight.

Since the proscription of African political associations in 1952, the vacuum had been filled by the African Labour Federation (AFL) with headquarters in Nairobi. Headed by Tom Mboya, the AFL assumed an increasingly important nationalist role in voicing African political aspirations albeit its limited capacity.

Daniel Moi (3rd from Left) leads nationalists and leaders to meet Jomo Kenyatta (middle) in detention in 1959

The Mau Mau armed uprising, and the demand for constitutional advancement by Africans, through the mushrooming of ‘political organizations’ forced the colonial administration to lay down a framework for independence. The framework was embodied in the Lyttelton Constitution of 1954 allowing limited multiracial government.

1955: The formation of district-based political organizations was allowed, except in Central Province where the main activities of the Mau Mau anti-colonial movement were concentrated. Among the district organizations that emerged were: the Nairobi District African Congress, the Nairobi People’s Congress, the Mombasa African Democratic Union, the African District African Provincial Association, the Kisii Highlands Abagusii Association (South Nyanza), the Taita African Democratic Union and the Nakuru African Progressive Party.

1957: In spite of African opposition to the Lyttelton Constitution, the new Colonial Secretary, Lennox Boyd, applied pressure and managed to have the first African election held on a limited franchise in 1957. Eight members were elected, including Daniel Arap Moi, Tom Mboya, Masinde Muliro, Ronald Ngala, Oginga Odinga, J.N. Nuimi, and L. Oguda.

In October of the same year another Constitution was handed over from London. This was the Lennox Boyd Constitution, which added six more African seats to achieve parity with elected Europeans. It was also a multiracial document. The Africans demanded a nonracial policy where the interests of the majority Kenyans would be given due regard. They therefore turned down the ministerial offer.

The ban clamped on countrywide political organizations created the problem of an organizational focus for African political activity. There was the need to foster unity amongst the disparate district associations. Fortunately, the African Elected Members constituted themselves into an African Elected Members’ Organization (AEMO), a front to develop common political approach in the struggle for a nonracial Government.

With the country still under a state of emergency, the ‘armed struggle’ had resulted in the death of 13,000 Africans (almost all Kikuyu) and 32 European civilians. In addition, 80,000 Africans were in various detention camps all over the country.

1959: Unfortunately, intrigues of the settlers and fear of some African leaders saw the split of AEMO into two camps, which culminated in the formation in 1959 of the multiracial Kenyan National Party (KNP) formed by the smaller ethnic groups (The Kalenjin under Moi and Towett, the Baluhya-Bukusu under Masinde Muliro, and the Coast under Ngala) and the Kenya independence Movement (KIM) dominated by the Kikuyu and Luo and led by Jaramogi Odinga, Dr. Gikonyo Kiano and Tom Mboya.

These were the direct precursors of the two main political parties to be formed in 1960. The two parties represented the battle between the forces of African nationalism and settlerdom.

These forces ultimately clashed in 1959 when the Colonial Government, in a desperate attempt to assist the KNP, declared the objective of the removal of all racial barriers, including throwing open the “White Highlands” to all races. The settlers viewed this as betrayal of their interests and privileged position. They were determined to fight against this new twist of the evasive multiracial policy. But in Britain, a new Colonial Secretary, Ian Macleod, announced that the emergency would end, and that a Constitutional Conference would take place the following year.

Political Parties and Independence:

This new concession by the British Government put Kenya on the firm path to ultimate independence. Despite parochial differences, the African elected members presented a united front at the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference. They sent a joint delegation led by Ronald Ngala and Tom Mboya to London where they were able to speak with one African voice calling for a new constitution.

History of Kenya After Independence

Founding president and liberation struggle icon Jomo KENYATTA led Kenya from independence in 1963 until his death in 1978, when President Daniel Toroitich arap MOI took power in a constitutional succession.

Kenya was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982 when the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) made itself the sole legal party in Kenya.

MOI acceded to internal and external pressure for political liberalization in late 1991.

The ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud, but were viewed as having generally reflected the will of the Kenyan people.

President MOI stepped down in December 2002 following fair and peaceful elections. Mwai KIBAKI, running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), defeated KANU candidate Uhuru KENYATTA and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform.

KIBAKI’s NARC coalition splintered in 2005 over a constitutional review process. Government defectors joined with KANU to form a new opposition coalition, the Orange Democratic Movement, which defeated the government’s draft constitution in a popular referendum in November 2005.

KIBAKI’s reelection in December 2007 brought charges of vote rigging from ODM candidate Raila ODINGA and unleashed two months of violence in which as many as 1,500 people died. UN-sponsored talks in late February produced a powersharing accord bringing ODINGA into the government in the restored position of prime minister.

Kenya in August 2010 adopted a new constitution that eliminates the role of prime minister after the next presidential election.


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