History of Kenya

Published on 19th July 2005

The first of many human footprints to be stamped on Kenyan soil were left way back in 2000 BC by nomadic Cushitic tribes from Ethiopia. A second group followed around 1000 BC and occupied much of central Kenya. The rest of the ancestors of the country\'s medley of tribes arrived from all over the continent between 500 BC and AD 500. The Bantu-speaking people (such as the Gusii, Kikuyu, Akamba and Meru) arrived from West Africa while the Nilotic speakers (Maasai, Luo, Samburu and Turkana) came from the Nile Valley in southern Sudan. As tribes migrated throughout the interior, Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula and Shirazis from Persia (now Iran) settled along the East African coast from the 8th century AD onwards.

Drawn by the whiff of spices and money, the Portuguese started sniffing around in the 15th century. After venturing further and further down the western coast of Africa, Vasco da Gama finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope and headed up the continent\'s eastern coast in 1498. Seven years later, the Portuguese onslaught on the region began. By the 16th century, most of the indigenous Swahili trading towns, including Mombasa, had been occupied by the Portuguese - marking the end of the Arab monopoly of the Indian Ocean trade. The Portuguese settled in for a long period of harsh colonial rule, playing one sultan off against another. But their grip on the coast was always tenuous because their outposts had to be supplied from Goa in India. Control of the coast was won back by the Arabs in 1720.

The remainder of the 18th century saw the Omani dynasties from the Persian Gulf dug in along the East African coast. The depredations of the Portuguese era and constant quarrels among the Arab governors caused a decline in trade and prosperity, which meant that economic powerhouses such as Britain and Germany weren\'t interested in grabbing a slice of East Africa until about the mid-19th century.

The colonial history of Kenya dates from the Berlin Conference of 1885, when the European powers first partitioned East Africa into spheres of influence. In 1895, the U.K. Government established the East African Protectorate and, soon after, opened the fertile highlands to white settlers. The settlers were allowed a voice in government even before it was officially made a U.K. colony in 1920, but Africans were prohibited from direct political participation until 1944. 

From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the \"Mau Mau\" rebellion against British colonial rule. During this period, African participation in the political process increased rapidly. 

With Europeans suddenly tramping all over Africa in search of fame and fortune, even Kenya\'s intimidating interior was forced to give up its secrets to outsiders. Until the 1880s, the Rift Valley and the Aberdare highlands remained the heartland of the proud warrior tribe, the Maasai. By the late 19th century, years of civil war between the Maasai\'s two opposing factions had weakened the tribe. Disease and famine had also taken their toll. This opened the way for the English to negotiate a treaty with the Maasai laibon (chief, or spiritual leader) and begin work on the Mombasa-Uganda railway - which cut straight through the Maasai grazing lands. The halfway point of this railway is roughly where Nairobi stands today.

It was downhill from here for the Maasai. As white settlers demanded more fertile land, the Maasai were herded into smaller reserves. The Kikuyu, a Bantu agricultural tribe from the highlands west of Mt Kenya, also had vast tracts of land ripped from under their feet.

White settlement in the early 20th century was initially disastrous, but - once they bothered to learn a little about the land - the British succeeded in making their colony viable. Other European settlers soon established coffee plantations and by the 1950s the white-settler population had reached about 80,000. With little choice left but to hop on the economic hamster wheel created by the Europeans, tribes such as the Kikuyu nonetheless maintained their rage. Harry Thuku, an early leader of the Kikuyu political association, was duly jailed by the British in 1922. His successor was Johnstone Kamau (later Jomo Kenyatta).

As opposition to colonial rule grew, the Kenya African Union (KAU) emerged and became strident in its demands. Other such societies soon added their voices to the cry for freedom, including the Mau Mau, whose members (mainly Kikuyu) vowed to drive white settlers out of Kenya. The ensuing Mau Mau Rebellion ended in 1956 with the defeat of the rebels. The death toll stood at over 13,500 Africans - Mau Mau guerrillas, civilians and troops - and just over 100 Europeans.

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, a member of the large Kikuyu ethnic group 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 voluntarily 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 and its leader detained after political unrest related to Kenyatta\'s visit to Nyanza Province. No new opposition parties were formed after 1969, and KANU became the sole political party. At Kenyatta\'s death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi became interim President. On October 14, Moi became President formally after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee. 

Moi\'s rule was characterised by nepotism, rifts and dissension. He took criticism badly and as a result oversaw the disbanding of tribal societies, disrupted universities and harassed opposition politicians. A coup attempt by the Kenyan Air Force in 1982 was put down by forces loyal to Moi. With the winds of democratic pluralism sweeping Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, international aid for Moi\'s Kenya was suspended.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and major aid donors demanded that repression cease and Moi\'s political stranglehold ease. He conceded ground, but much to his delight, the opposition in the 1993 election shot itself in the foot - The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was unable to agree on a leader. By splitting into three parties, FORD\'s much-vaunted cause became hopeless. Moi, the beneficiary of his opposition\'s vanity, won with just one-third of the vote.

The 1988 elections reinforced the one-party system. However, in December 1991, Parliament repealed the one-party section of the Constitution. By early 1992, several new parties had formed, and multiparty elections were held in December 1992.  Moi was reelected for another 5-year term. Opposition parties won about 45% of the parliamentary seats, but Moi\'s KANU Party retained a majority of the legislature. Parliamentary reforms in November 1997 expanded political rights in Kenya, and the number of political parties grew rapidly. Moi won re-election as President in the December 1997 elections, and his KANU Party narrowly retained its parliamentary majority, with 109 out of 122 seats. 

In December 2002, the people of Kenya elected Mwai Kibaki as the country’s third president. President Kibaki received 62 percent of the vote, and his 15-party group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), also won 59 percent of the parliamentary seats. 

Kenya’s Agriculture sector


Real agricultural sector GDP grew by 1.5 per cent in 2003, the highest over five years. This growth was attributed to increased production of maize, wheat, coffee, tea, cotton and dairy produce. Maize production increased from 26.0 million bags in 2002 to 28.0 million (90 kg) bags in 2003. A total of 12.2 thousand tonnes of maize valued at KShs 1.4 billion were imported over the same period. Wheat production increased from 60.1 thousand tonnes in 2002 to 64.4 thousand tonnes in 2003. Coffee production increased by 6.7 per cent from 51.9 thousand tonnes in 2001/02 crop year to 55.4 thousand tonnes in 2002/2003 crop year. The growth in the sub-sector has been affected by poor international prices.


The agricultural sector in Kenya has since independence heavily relied on the Government for its development. The Government controlled the growth of the industry by fixing producer prices of commodities and prices of inputs. Except for the period 1985 to 1990, Kenya has since 1980 never experienced sustained agricultural sector growth. For the first time since independence, the agricultural sector recorded negative growth rates for three consecutive years in 1991, 1992 and 1993 during the turbulence following transition to multi-party democracy in Kenya. The government has since taken decisive measures to divest from agriculture and leave room for private investment and market forces to operate.


Below is an analysis of Kenya according to the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal


Rank: 93

Score: 3.28

Category: Mostly Unfree

Population: 31,345,000

Total Area: 582,650 sq. km

GDP: $ 10.1billion

GDP growth rate: 1.0 %

GDP per capita: $ 322

Major exports: tea, coffee, fish products, petroleum products

Exports of goods and services: $3.2 billion

Major export trading partners: UK 13.5%, Tanzania 12.5%, Uganda 12.0%, Germany 5.5%

Major imports: petroleum products, iron and steel, motor vehicles

Imports of goods and services: $3.4 billion

Major import trading partner: UK 12.0%, United Arab Emirates 9.8%, Japan 6.5%, India 4.4%

Foreign direct investment (net): -$26 million







ke.china-embassy.org/eng/knyzl/t172515.htm www.historyofnations.net/africa/kenya.html


2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal



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