History of Kenya


A part of Eastern Africa, the territory of what is now Kenya has seen human habitation since the beginning of the Lower Paleolithic. The Bantu expansion from a West African centre of dispersal reached the area by the 1st millennium AD. With the borders of the modern state at the crossroads of the Bantu, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic ethno-linguistic areas of Africa, Kenya is a truly multi-ethnic state.

The European and Arab presence in Mombasa dates to the Early Modern period, but European exploration of the interior began in the 19th century. The British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895, from 1920 known as the Kenya Colony.[1]

The independent Republic of Kenya was formed in 1963. It was ruled as a de facto one-party state by the Kenya African National Union (KANU), led by Jomo Kenyatta during 1963 to 1978. Kenyatta was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, who ruled until 2002. Moi attempted to transform the de facto one-party status of Kenya into a de jure status during the 1980s, but with the end of the Cold War, the practices of political repression and torture which had been "overlooked" by the Western powers as necessary evils in the effort to contain communism were no longer tolerated.

Moi came under pressure, notably by US ambassador Smith Hempstone, to restore a multi-party system, which he did by 1991. Moi won elections in 1992 and 1997, which were overshadowed by politically-motivated killings on both sides. During the 1990s, evidence of Moi's involvement in human rights abuses and corruption, such as the Goldenberg scandal, was uncovered. He was constitutionally barred from running in the 2002 election, which was won by Mwai Kibaki. Widely reported electoral fraud on Kibaki's side in the 2007 elections resulted in the 2007–2008 Kenyan crisis. Kibaki was succeeded by Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 general elections. There were allegations that his rival Raila Odinga actually won the contest, however the supreme Court through a thorough review of evidence adduced found no malpractice during the conduct of the 2013 General Election both from the IEBC and the Jubilee Party of Uhuru Kenyatta.


In 1929, the first evidence of the presence of ancient early human ancestors in Kenya was discovered when Louis Leakey unearthed one million year old Acheulian handaxes at the Kariandusi Prehistoric Site in southwest Kenya.[2] Subsequently, many species of early hominid have been discovered in Kenya. The oldest, found by Martin Pickford in the year 2000, is the six million year old Orrorin tugenensis, named after the Tugen Hills where it was unearthed.[3] It is the second oldest fossil hominid in the world after Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

In 1995 Meave Leakey named a new species of hominid Australopithecus anamensis following a series of fossil discoveries near Lake Turkana in 1965, 1987 and 1994. It is around 4.1 million years old.[4]:35

In 2011, 3.2 million year old stone tools were discovered at Lomekwi near Lake Turkana - these are the oldest stone tools found anywhere in the world and pre-date the emergence of Homo.[5]

One of the most famous and complete hominid skeletons ever discovered was the 1.6 million year old Homo erectus known as Nariokotome Boy, which was found by Kamoya Kimeu in 1984 on an excavation led by Richard Leakey.[6]

The oldest Acheulean tools ever discovered anywhere in the world are from West Turkana, and were dated in 2011 through the method of magnetostratigraphy to about 1.76 million years old.[7]

East Africa, including Kenya, is one of the earliest regions where modern humans (Homo sapiens) are believed to have lived. Evidence was found in 2018, dating to about 320,000 years ago, at the Kenyan site of Olorgesailie, of the early emergence of modern behaviors including: long-distance trade networks (involving goods such as obsidian), the use of pigments, and the possible making of projectile points. It is observed by the authors of three 2018 studies on the site, that the evidence of these behaviors is approximately contemporary to the earliest known Homo sapiens fossil remains from Africa (such as at Jebel Irhoud and Florisbad), and they suggest that complex and modern behaviors had already begun in Africa around the time of the emergence of Homo sapiens.[8][9][10]


The first inhabitants of present-day Kenya were hunter-gatherer groups, akin to the modern Khoisan speakers.[11] For the most part, these communities were assimilated into various food producing societies that began moving into Kenya from the 3rd millennium BCE.

Linguistic evidence points to a relative sequence of population movements into Kenya that begins with the entry into northern Kenya of a possibly Southern Cushitic speaking population around the 3rd millennium BCE. They were pastoralists who kept domestic stock, including cattle, sheep, goat, and donkeys.[12] Remarkable megalithic sites from this time period include the possibly archaeoastronomical site Namoratunga on the west side of Lake Turkana. By 1000 BCE and even earlier, pastoralism had spread into central Kenya and northern Tanzania.

In present times the descendants of the Southern Cushitic speakers are located in north central Tanzania near Lake Eyasi. Their past distribution, as determined by the presence of loanwords in other languages, encompasses the known distribution of the Highland Savanna Pastoral Neolithic culture.[13]

Beginning around 700 BCE, Southern Nilotic speaking communities whose homelands lay somewhere near the common border between Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia moved south into the western highlands and Rift Valley region of Kenya.

The arrival of the Southern Nilotes in Kenya occurred shortly before the introduction of iron to East Africa. The past distribution of the Southern Nilotic speakers, as inferred from place names, loan words and oral traditions includes the known distribution of Elmenteitan sites.[13]

Iron Age

The Bantu expansion is thought to have reached western Kenya around 1000 BCE.[14] The walled settlement of Thimlich Ohinga in Nyanza Province is an important site dating to the eastern African Iron Age. Later migrations through Tanzania led to settlement on the Kenyan coast where these communities established links with Arabian and Indian traders leading to the development of the Swahili culture.

Swahili culture and trade

The Kenyan coast had hosted communities of ironworkers and communities of Eastern Bantu subsistence-farmers, hunters and fishers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with outside areas.[15] These communities formed the earliest city-states in the region[16] which were collectively known to the Roman Empire as "Azania".

By the 1st century CE, many of the city-states - such as Mombasa, Malindi, and Zanzibar - began to establish trade relations with Arabs. This led ultimately to the increased economic growth of the Swahili states, the introduction of Islam, Arabic influences on the Swahili Bantu language, and cultural diffusion. The Swahili city-states became part of a larger trade network.[17][18] Many historians long believed that Arab or Persian traders established the city-states, but archeological evidence has led scholars to recognize the city-states as an indigenous development which, though subjected to foreign influence due to trade, retained a Bantu cultural core.[19]

Swahili, a Bantu language with many Arabic loan words, developed[when?] as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples.[4]:214 A Swahili culture developed in the towns, notably in Pate, Malindi, and Mombasa. The impact of Arabic and Persian traders and immigrants on the Swahili culture remains controversial. During the Middle Ages,

the East African Swahili coast [including Zanzibar] was a wealthy and advanced region, which consisted of many autonomous merchant cities. Wealth flowed into the cities via the Africans' roles as intermediaries and facilitators of Indian, Persian, Arab, Indonesian, Malaysian, African and Chinese merchants. All of these peoples enriched the Swahili culture to some degree. The Swahili culture developed its own written language; the language incorporated elements from different civilisations, with Arabic as its strongest quality. Some Arab settlers were rich merchants who, because of their wealth, gained power—sometimes as rulers of coastal cities.[20]

Portuguese and Omani influences

Portuguese explorers appeared on the East African coast at the end of the 15th century. The Portuguese did not intend to found settlements, but to establish naval bases that would give Portugal control over the Indian Ocean. After decades of small-scale conflict, Arabs from Oman defeated the Portuguese in Kenya.

The Portuguese became the first Europeans to explore the region of current-day Kenya: Vasco da Gama visited Mombasa in April 1498. Da Gama's voyage successfully reached India (May 1498), and this initiated direct maritime Portuguese trade links with South Asia, thus challenging older trading networks over mixed land and sea routes, such as the spice-trade routes that utilised the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and caravans to reach the eastern Mediterranean. (The Republic of Venice had gained control[when?] over much of the trade between Europe and Asia. Especially after the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Turkish control of the eastern Mediterranean inhibited the use of traditional land-routes between Europe and India. Portugal hoped to use the sea route pioneered by da Gama to bypass political, monopolistic and tariff barriers.)

Portuguese rule in East Africa focused mainly on a coastal strip centred in Mombasa. The Portuguese presence in East Africa officially began after 1505, when a naval force under the command of Dom Francisco de Almeida conquered Kilwa, an island located in the south-east of present-day Tanzania.[21]

The Portuguese presence in East Africa served the purpose of controlling trade within the Indian Ocean and securing the sea routes linking Europe and Asia. Portuguese naval vessels disrupted the commerce of Portugal's enemies within the western Indian Ocean, and the Portuguese demanded high tariffs on items transported through the area, given their strategic control of ports and of shipping lanes. The construction of Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1593 aimed to solidify Portuguese hegemony in the region, but Portuguese influence was clipped by the English, Dutch and Omani Arab incursions into the region during the 17th century. The Omani Arabs posed the most direct challenge to Portuguese influence in East Africa, besieging Portuguese fortresses and openly attacking naval vessels. Omani forces captured Fort Jesus in 1698, only to lose it in a revolt (1728), but by 1730 the Omanis had expelled the remaining Portuguese from the coasts of present-day Kenya and Tanzania. By this time the Portuguese Empire had already lost interest in the spice-trade sea-route because of the decreasing profitability of that traffic. (Portuguese-ruled territories, ports and settlements remained active to the south, in Mozambique, until 1975.)

Under Seyyid Said (ruled 1807-1856), the Omani sultan who moved his capital to Zanzibar in 1824,[citation needed] the Arabs set up long-distance trade-routes into the African interior. The dry reaches of the north were lightly inhabited by semi-nomadic pastoralists. In the south, pastoralists and cultivators bartered goods and competed for land as long-distance caravan routes linked them to the Kenyan coast on the east and to the kingdoms of Uganda on the west.[4]:227 Arab, Shirazi and coastal African cultures produced an Islamic Swahili people trading in a variety of up-country commodities, including slaves.[4]:227

19th century history

Omani Arab colonisation of the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts brought the once independent city-states under closer foreign scrutiny and domination than was experienced during the Portuguese period.[22] Like their predecessors, the Omani Arabs were primarily able only to control the coastal areas, not the interior. However, the creation of plantations, intensification of the slave trade and movement of the Omani capital to Zanzibar in 1839 by Seyyid Said had the effect of consolidating the Omani power in the region. Arab governance of all the major ports along the East African coast continued until British interests aimed particularly at securing their 'Indian Jewel' and creation of a system of trade among individuals began to put pressure on Omani rule. By the late 19th century, the slave trade on the open seas had been completely strangled by the British. The Omani Arabs had no interest in resisting the Royal Navy's efforts to enforce anti-slavery directives. As the Moresby Treaty demonstrated, whilst Oman sought sovereignty over its waters, Seyyid Said saw no reason to intervene in the slave trade, as the main customers for the slaves were Europeans. As Farquhar in a letter made note, only with the intervention of Said would the European Trade in slaves in the Western Indian Ocean be abolished[citation needed]. As the Omani presence continued in Zanzibar and Pemba until the 1964 revolution, but the official Omani Arab presence in Kenya was checked by German and British seizure of key ports and creation of crucial trade alliances with influential local leaders in the 1880s. Nevertheless, the Omani Arab legacy in East Africa is currently found through their numerous descendants found along the coast that can directly trace ancestry to Oman and are typically the wealthiest and most politically influential members of the Kenyan coastal community.[21]

The first Christian mission was founded on 25 August 1846, by Dr. Johann Ludwig Krapf, a German sponsored by the Church Missionary Society of England.[4]:561 He established a station among the Mijikenda on the coast. He later translated the Bible into Swahili.[21]

By 1850 European explorers had begun mapping the interior.[4]:229 Three developments encouraged European interest in East Africa in the first half of the 19th century.[4]:560 First, was the emergence of the island of Zanzibar, located off the east coast of Africa.[4]:560 Zanzibar became a base from which trade and exploration of the African mainland could be mounted.[4]:560 By 1840, to protect the interests of the various nationals doing business in Zanzibar, consul offices had been opened by the British, French, Germans and Americans. In 1859, the tonnage of foreign shipping calling at Zanzibar had reached 19,000 tons.[4]:561 By 1879, the tonnage of this shipping had reached 89,000 tons. The second development spurring European interest in Africa was the growing European demand for products of Africa including ivory and cloves. Thirdly, British interest in East Africa was first stimulated by their desire to abolish the slave trade.[4]:560–61 Later in the century, British interest in East Africa would be stimulated by German competition.

British rule (1895–1963)

East Africa Protectorate

In 1895 the British government took over and claimed the interior as far west as Lake Naivasha; it set up the East Africa Protectorate. The border was extended to Uganda in 1902, and in 1920 the enlarged protectorate, except for the original coastal strip, which remained a protectorate, became a crown colony. With the beginning of colonial rule in 1895, the Rift Valley and the surrounding Highlands became reserved for whites. In the 1920s Indians objected to the reservation of the Highlands for Europeans, especially British war veterans. The whites engaged in large-scale coffee farming dependent on mostly Kikuyu labour. Bitterness grew between the Indians and the Europeans.[23]

This area's fertile land has always made it the site of migration and conflict. There were no significant mineral resources—none of the gold or diamonds that attracted so many to South Africa.

Imperial Germany set up a protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal possessions in 1885, followed by the arrival of Sir William Mackinnon's British East Africa Company (BEAC) in 1888, after the company had received a royal charter and concessionary rights to the Kenya coast from the Sultan of Zanzibar for a 50-year period. Incipient imperial rivalry was forestalled when Germany handed its coastal holdings to Britain in 1890, in exchange for German control over the coast of Tanganyika. The colonial takeover met occasionally with some strong local resistance: Waiyaki Wa Hinga, a Kikuyu chief who ruled Dagoretti who had signed a treaty with Frederick Lugard of the BEAC, having been subject to considerable harassment, burnt down Lugard's fort in 1890. Waiyaki was abducted two years later by the British and killed.[21]

Following severe financial difficulties of the British East Africa Company, the British government on 1 July 1895 established direct rule through the East African Protectorate, subsequently opening (1902) the fertile highlands to white settlers.

1911 map

A key to the development of Kenya's interior was the construction, started in 1895, of a railway from Mombasa to Kisumu, on Lake Victoria, completed in 1901. This was to be the first piece of the Uganda Railway. The British government had decided, primarily for strategic reasons, to build a railway linking Mombasa with the British protectorate of Uganda. A major feat of engineering, the "Uganda railway" (that is the railway inside Kenya leading to Uganda) was completed in 1903 and was a decisive event in modernising the area. As governor of Kenya, Sir Percy Girouard was instrumental in initiating railway extension policy that led to construction of the Nairobi-Thika and Konza-Magadi railways.[24]

Some 32,000 workers were imported from British India to do the manual labour. Many stayed, as did most of the Indian traders and small businessmen who saw opportunity in the opening up of the interior of Kenya. Rapid economic development was seen as necessary to make the railway pay, and since the African population was accustomed to subsistence rather than export agriculture, the government decided to encourage European settlement in the fertile highlands, which had small African populations. The railway opened up the interior, not only to the European farmers, missionaries and administrators, but also to systematic government programmes to attack slavery, witchcraft, disease and famine. The Africans saw witchcraft as a powerful influence on their lives and frequently took violent action against suspected witches. To control this, the British colonial administration passed laws, beginning in 1909, which made the practice of witchcraft illegal. These laws gave the local population a legal, nonviolent way to stem the activities of witches.[25]

By the time the railway was built, military resistance by the African population to the original British takeover had petered out. However new grievances were being generated by the process of European settlement. Governor Percy Girouard is associated with the debacle of the Second Maasai Agreement of 1911, which led to their forceful removal from the fertile Laikipia plateau to semi-arid Ngong. To make way for the Europeans (largely Britons and whites from South Africa), the Maasai were restricted to the southern Loieta plains in 1913. The Kikuyu claimed some of the land reserved for Europeans and continued to feel that they had been deprived of their inheritance.

In the initial stage of colonial rule, the administration relied on traditional communicators, usually chiefs. When colonial rule was established and efficiency was sought, partly because of settler pressure, newly educated younger men were associated with old chiefs in local Native Councils.[26]

In building the railway the British had to confront strong local opposition, especially from Koitalel Arap Samoei, a diviner and Nandi leader who prophesied that a black snake would tear through Nandi land spitting fire, which was seen later as the railway line. For ten years he fought against the builders of the railway line and train. The settlers were partly allowed in 1907 a voice in government through the legislative council, a European organisation to which some were appointed and others elected. But since most of the powers remained in the hands of the Governor, the settlers started lobbying to transform Kenya in a Crown Colony, which meant more powers for the settlers. They obtained this goal in 1920, making the Council more representative of European settlers; but Africans were excluded from direct political participation until 1944, when the first of them was admitted in the Council.[26]

First World War

Kenya became a military base for the British in the First World War (1914–1918),[27] as efforts to subdue the German colony to the south were frustrated. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the governors of British East Africa (as the Protectorate was generally known) and German East Africa agreed a truce in an attempt to keep the young colonies out of direct hostilities. However Lt Col Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck took command of the German military forces, determined to tie down as many British resources as possible. Completely cut off from Germany, von Lettow conducted an effective guerilla warfare campaign, living off the land, capturing British supplies, and remaining undefeated. He eventually surrendered in Zambia eleven days after the Armistice was signed in 1918. To chase von Lettow the British deployed Indian Army troops from India and then needed large numbers of porters to overcome the formidable logistics of transporting supplies far into the interior by foot. The Carrier Corps was formed and ultimately mobilised over 400,000 Africans, contributing to their long-term politicisation.[26]

Kenya Colony

Before the war, African political focus was diffuse. But after the war, problems caused by new taxes and reduced wages and new settlers threatening African land led to new movements. The experiences gained by Africans in the war coupled with the creation of the white-settler-dominated Kenya Crown Colony, gave rise to considerable political activity in the 1920s which culminated in Archdeacon Owen's "Piny Owacho" (Voice of the People) movement and the "Young Kikuyu Association" (renamed the "East African Association") started in 1921 by Harry Thuku (1895–1970), which gave a sense of nationalism to many Kikuyu and advocated civil disobedience. From the 1920s, the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) focused on unifying the Kikuyu into one geographic polity, but its project was undermined by controversies over ritual tribute, land allocation, the ban on female circumcision and support for Thuku.

Most political activity between the wars was local, and this succeeded most among the Luo of Kenya, where progressive young leaders became senior chiefs. By the later 1930s government began to intrude on ordinary Africans through marketing controls, stricter educational supervision and land changes. Traditional chiefs became irrelevant and younger men became communicators by training in the missionary churches and civil service. Pressure on ordinary Kenyans by governments in a hurry to modernise in the 1930s to 1950s enabled the mass political parties to acquire support for "centrally" focused movements, but even these often relied on local communicators.[28]

During the early part of the 20th century, the interior central highlands were settled by British and other European farmers, who became wealthy farming coffee and tea.[29] By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in the area and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy. The area was already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu tribe, most of whom had no land claims in European terms, and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax and the landless were granted less and less land in exchange for their labour. A massive exodus to the cities ensued as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled.[26]


Kenya became a focus of resettlement of young, upper class British officers after the war, giving a strong aristocratic tone to the white settlers. If they had £1,000 in assets they could get a free 1,000 acres (4 km2); the goal of the government was to speed up modernisation and economic growth. They set up coffee plantations, which required expensive machinery, a stable labour force, and four years to start growing crops. The veterans did escape democracy and taxation in Britain, but they failed in their efforts to gain control of the colony. The upper class bias in migration policy meant that whites would always be a small minority. Many of them left after independence.[30][31]

Power remained concentrated in the governor's hands; weak legislative and executive councils made up of official appointees were created in 1906. The European settlers were allowed to elect representatives to the Legislative Council in 1920, when the colony was established. The white settlers, 30,000 strong, sought "responsible government," in which they would have a voice. They opposed similar demands by the far more numerous Indian community. The European settlers gained representation for themselves and minimised representation on the Legislative Council for Indians and Arabs. The government appointed a European to represent African interests on the Council. In the "Devonshire declaration" of 1923 the Colonial Office declared that the interests of the Africans (comprising over 95% of the population) must be paramount—achieving that goal took four decades. Historian Charles Mowat explained the issues:

[The Colonial Office in London ruled that] native interests should come first; but this proved difficult to apply [in Kenya] ... where some 10,000 white settlers, many of them ex-officers of the war, insisted that their interests came before those of the three million natives and 23,000 Indians in the colony, and demanded 'responsible government', provided that they alone bore the responsibility. After three years of bitter dispute, provoked not by the natives but by the Indians, vigorously backed by the Government of India, the Colonial Office gave judgment: the interest of the natives was 'paramount', and responsible government out of the question, but no drastic change was contemplated -- thus in effect preserving the ascendancy of the settlers.[32]

Second World War

In the Second World War (1939–45) Kenya became an important British military base for successful campaigns against Italy in the Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia. The war brought money and an opportunity for military service for 98,000 men, called "askaris". The war stimulated African nationalism. After the war, African ex-servicemen sought to maintain the socioeconomic gains they had accrued through service in the King's African Rifles (KAR). Looking for middle class employment and social privileges, they challenged existing relationships within the colonial state. For the most part, veterans did not participate in national politics, believing that their aspirations could best be achieved within the confines of colonial society. The social and economic connotations of KAR service, combined with the massive wartime expansion of Kenyan defence forces, created a new class of modernised Africans with distinctive characteristics and interests. These socioeconomic perceptions proved powerful after the war.[33][34]

Rural trends

British officials sought to modernise Kikuyu farming in the Murang'a District 1920–45. Relying on concepts of trusteeship and scientific management, they imposed a number of changes in crop production and agrarian techniques, claiming to promote conservation and "betterment" of farming in the colonial tribal reserves. While criticised as backward by British officials and white settlers, African farming proved resilient and Kikuyu farmers engaged in widespread resistance to the colonial state's agrarian reforms.[35]

Modernisation was accelerated by the Second World War. Among the Luo the larger agricultural production unit was the patriarch's extended family, mainly divided into a special assignment team led by the patriarch, and the teams of his wives, who, together with their children, worked their own lots on a regular basis. This stage of development was no longer strictly traditional, but still largely self-sufficient with little contact with the broader market. Pressures of overpopulation and the prospects of cash crops, already in evidence by 1945, made this subsistence economic system increasingly obsolete and accelerated a movement to commercial agriculture and emigration to cities. The Limitation of Action Act in 1968 sought to modernise traditional land ownership and use; the act has produced unintended consequences, with new conflicts raised over land ownership and social status.[36]

As Kenya modernized after the war, the role of the British religious missions changed their roles, despite the efforts of the leadership of the Church Missionary Society to maintain the traditional religious focus. However the social and educational needs were increasingly obvious, and the threat of the Mau Mau uprisings pushed the missions to emphasize medical, humanitarian and especially educational programs. Fundraising efforts in Britain increasingly stressed the non-religious components. Furthermore, the imminent transfer of control to the local population became a high priority.[37][38]

Kenya African Union

As a reaction to their exclusion from political representation, the Kikuyu people, the most subject to pressure by the settlers, founded in 1921 Kenya's first African political protest movement, the Young Kikuyu Association, led by Harry Thuku. After the Young Kikuyu Association was banned by the government, it was replaced by the Kikuyu Central Association in 1924.

In 1944 Thuku founded and was the first chairman of the multi-tribal Kenya African Study Union (KASU), which in 1946 became the Kenya African Union (KAU). It was an African nationalist organization that demanded access to white-owned land. KAU acted as a constituency association for the first black member of Kenya's legislative council, Eliud Mathu, who had been nominated in 1944 by the governor after consulting élite African opinion. The KAU remained dominated by the Kikuyu ethnic group. In 1947 Jomo Kenyatta, former president of the moderate Kikuyu Central Association, became president of the more aggressive KAU to demand a greater political voice for Africans.

In response to the rising pressures the British Colonial Office broadened the membership of the Legislative Council and increased its role. By 1952 a multiracial pattern of quotas allowed for 14 European, 1 Arab, and 6 Asian elected members, together with an additional 6 Africans and 1 Arab member chosen by the governor. The council of ministers became the principal instrument of government in 1954.

Mau-Mau Uprising

A key watershed came from 1952 to 1956, during the Mau Mau Uprising, an armed local movement directed principally against the colonial government and the European settlers.[39] It was the largest and most successful such movement in British Africa. The protest was supported almost exclusively by the Kikuyu, despite issues of land rights and anti-European, anti-Western appeals designed to attract other groups. The Mau Mau movement was also a bitter internal struggle among the Kikuyu. Harry Thuku said in 1952, "To-day we, the Kikuyu, stand ashamed and looked upon as hopeless people in the eyes of other races and before the Government. Why? Because of the crimes perpetrated by Mau Mau and because the Kikuyu have made themselves Mau Mau." The British killed over 12,000 Mau Mau militants and are implementing policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the incarceration of over 150,000 men, women and children in concentration camps. British authorities used rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots and electric shocks to torture Kenyans.[40][41] Kenyatta denied he was a leader of the Mau Mau but was convicted at trial and was sent to prison in 1953, gaining his freedom in 1961. To support its military campaign of counter-insurgency the colonial government embarked on agrarian reforms that stripped white settlers of many of their former protections; for example, Africans were for the first time allowed to grow coffee, the major cash crop. Thuku was one of the first Kikuyu to win a coffee licence, and in 1959 he became the first African board member of the Kenya Planters Coffee Union.[42][43]

Constitutional debates

After the suppression of the Mau Mau rising, the British provided for the election of the six African members to the Legislative Council under a weighted franchise based on education. The new colonial constitution of 1958 increased African representation, but African nationalists began to demand a democratic franchise on the principle of "one man, one vote." However, Europeans and Asians, because of their minority position, feared the effects of universal suffrage.

At a conference held in 1960 in London, agreement was reached between the African members and the British settlers of the New Kenya Group, led by Michael Blundell. However many whites rejected the New Kenya Group and condemned the London agreement, because it moved away from racial quotas and toward independence. Following the agreement a new African party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), with the slogan "Uhuru," or "Freedom," was formed under the leadership of Kikuyu leader James S. Gichuru and labour leader Tom Mboya. Mboya was a major figure from 1951 until his death in 1969. He was praised as nonethnic or antitribal, and attacked as an instrument of Western capitalism. Mboya as General Secretary of the Kenya Federation of Labour and a leader in the Kenya African National Union before and after independence skilfully managed the tribal factor in Kenyan economic and political life to succeed as a Luo in a predominantly Kikuyu movement.[44] A split in KANU produced the breakaway rival party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), led by R. Ngala and M. Muliro. In the elections of February 1961, KANU won 19 of the 33 African seats while KADU won 11 (twenty seats were reserved by quota for Europeans, Asians and Arabs). Kenyatta was finally released in August and became president of KANU in October.

In 1959, nationalist leader Tom Mboya began a programme conceptualised by a close confidante Dr. Blasio Vincent Oriedo, funded by Americans, of sending talented youth to the United States for higher education. There was no university in Kenya at the time, but colonial officials opposed the programme anyway. The next year Senator John F. Kennedy helped fund the programme, which trained some 70% of the top leaders of the new nation, including the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, environmentalist Wangari Maathai and Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr.[45]


In 1962, a KANU-KADU coalition government, including both Kenyatta and Ngala, was formed. The 1962 constitution established a bicameral legislature consisting of a 117-member House of Representatives and a 41-member Senate. The country was divided into 7 semi-autonomous regions, each with its own regional assembly. The quota principle of reserved seats for non-Africans was abandoned, and open elections were held in May 1963. KADU gained control of the assemblies in the Rift Valley, Coast and Western regions. KANU won majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, and in the assemblies in the Central, Eastern and Nyanza regions.[46] Kenya now achieved internal self-government with Jomo Kenyatta as its first president. The British and KANU agreed, over KADU protests, to constitutional changes in October 1963 strengthening the central government. Kenya attained independence on 12 December 1963 and was declared a republic on 1 June 1964 with Jomo Kenyatta as Head of State.[47] In 1964 constitutional changes further centralised the government and various state organs were formed. One of the key state organs was the Central Bank of Kenya which was established in 1966 .

The British government bought out the white settlers and they mostly left Kenya. The Indian minority dominated retail business in the cities and most towns, but was deeply distrusted by the Africans. As a result, 120,000 of the 176,000 Indians kept their old British passports rather than become citizens of an independent Kenya; large numbers left Kenya, most of them headed to Britain.[48]

Kenyatta tenure (1963–1978)

1973 newsreel about Kenyetta's rule

Once in power Kenyatta swerved from radical nationalism to conservative bourgeois politics. The plantations formerly owned by white settlers were broken up and given to farmers, with the Kikuyu the favoured recipients, along with their allies the Embu and the Meru. By 1978 most of the country's wealth and power was in the hands of the organisation which grouped these three tribes: the Gikuyu-Embu-Meru Association (GEMA), together comprising 30% of the population. At the same time the Kikuyu, with Kenyatta's support, spread beyond their traditional territorial homelands and repossessed lands "stolen by the whites" – even when these had previously belonged to other groups. The other groups, a 70% majority, were outraged, setting up long-term ethnic animosities.[49]

The minority party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), representing a coalition of small tribes that had feared dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself voluntarily in 1964 and former members joined KANU. KANU was the only party 1964–66 when a faction broke away as the Kenya People's Union (KPU). It was led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former vice-president and Luo elder. KPU advocated a more "scientific" route to socialism—criticising the slow progress in land redistribution and employment opportunities—as well as a realignment of foreign policy in favour of the Soviet Union. In June 1969 Tom Mboya, a Luo member of the government considered a potential successor to Kenyatta, was assassinated. Hostility between Kikuyu and Luo was heightened, and after riots broke out in Luo country KPU was banned. The government used a variety of political and economic measures to harass the KPU and its prospective and actual members. KPU branches were unable to register, KPU meetings were prevented and civil servants and politicians suffered severe economic and political consequences for joining the KPU. Kenya thereby became a one-party state under KANU.[50]

Ignoring his suppression of the opposition and continued factionalism within KANU the imposition of one-party rule allowed Mzee ("Old Man") Kenyatta, who had led the country since independence, claimed he achieved "political stability." Underlying social tensions were evident, however. Kenya's very rapid population growth rate and considerable rural to urban migration were in large part responsible for high unemployment and disorder in the cities. There also was much resentment by blacks at the privileged economic position in the country of Asians and Europeans.

At Kenyatta's death (22 August 1978), Vice-President Daniel arap Moi became interim President. On 14 October, Moi formally became President after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee. In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state. On 1 August members of the Kenyan Air Force launched an attempted coup, which was quickly suppressed by Loyalist forces led by the Army the General Service Unit (GSU) – paramilitary wing of the police – and later the regular police, but not without civilian casualties.[21]

Foreign policies

Independent Kenya, although officially non-aligned, adopted a pro-Western stance.[51] Kenya worked unsuccessfully for East African union; the proposal to unite Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda did not win approval. However, the three nations did form a loose East African Community (EAC) in 1967, that maintained the customs union and some common services that they had shared under British rule. The EAC collapsed in 1977 and it was officially dissolved in 1984. Kenya's relations with Somalia deteriorated over the problem of Somalis in the North Eastern Province who tried to secede and were supported by Somalia. In 1968, however, Kenya and Somalia agreed to restore normal relations, and the Somali rebellion effectively ended.[21]

Moi regime (1978–2002)

Kenyatta died in 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel Arap Moi (b. 1924) who ruled as President 1978–2002. Moi, a member of the Kalenjin ethnic group, quickly consolidated his position and governed in an authoritarian and corrupt manner. By 1986, Moi had concentrated all the power – and most of its attendant economic benefits – into the hands of his Kalenjin tribe and of a handful of allies from minority groups.[21]

On 1 August 1982, lower-level air force personnel, led by Senior Private Grade-I Hezekiah Ochuka and backed by university students, attempted a coup d'état to oust Moi. The putsch was quickly suppressed by forces commanded by Army Commander Mahamoud Mohamed, a veteran Somali military official.[52] In the coup's aftermath, some of Nairobi's poor Kenyans attacked and looted stores owned by Asians. Robert Ouko, the senior Luo in Moi's cabinet, was appointed to expose corruption at high levels, but was murdered a few months later. Moi's closest associate was implicated in Ouko's murder; Moi dismissed him but not before his remaining Luo support had evaporated. Germany recalled its ambassador to protest the "increasing brutality" of the regime and foreign donors pressed Moi to allow other parties, which was done in December 1991 through a constitutional amendment.[21]

On the heels of the Garissa massacre of 1980, Kenyan troops committed the Wagalla massacre in 1984 against thousands of civilians in the North Eastern Province. An official probe into the atrocities was later ordered in 2011.[53]

Multi-party politics

President Daniel arap Moi in 1979.

After local and foreign pressure, in December 1991, parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution. The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) emerged as the leading opposition to KANU, and dozens of leading KANU figures switched parties. But FORD, led by Oginga Odinga (1911–1994), a Luo and Kenneth Matiba, a Kikuyu, split into two ethnically based factions. In the first open presidential elections in a quarter century, in December 1992, Moi won with 37% of the vote, Matiba received 26%, Mwai Kibaki (of the mostly Kikuyu Democratic Party) 19%, and Odinga 18%. In the Assembly, KANU won 97 of the 188 seats at stake. Moi's government in 1993 agreed to economic reforms long urged by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which restored enough aid for Kenya to service its $7.5 billion foreign debt.[21]

Obstructing the press both before and after the 1992 elections, Moi continually maintained that multiparty politics would only promote tribal conflict. His own regime depended upon exploitation of inter-group hatreds. Under Moi, the apparatus of clientage and control was underpinned by the system of powerful provincial commissioners, each with a bureaucratic hierarchy based on chiefs (and their police) that was more powerful than the elected members of parliament. Elected local councils lost most of their power, and the provincial bosses were answerable only to the central government, which in turn was dominated by the president. The emergence of mass opposition in 1990–91 and demands for constitutional reform were met by rallies against pluralism. The regime leaned on the support of the Kalenjin and incited the Maasai against the Kikuyu. Government politicians denounced the Kikuyu as traitors, obstructed their registration as voters and threatened them with dispossession. In 1993 and after, mass evictions of Kikuyu took place, often with the direct involvement of army, police and game rangers. Armed clashes and many casualties, including deaths, resulted.[54]

Further liberalisation in November 1997 allowed the expansion of political parties from 11 to 26. President Moi won re-election as President in the December 1997 elections, and his KANU Party narrowly retained its parliamentary majority.

Moi ruled using a strategic mixture of ethnic favouritism, state repression and marginalisation of opposition forces. He utilised detention and torture, looted public finances and appropriated land and other property. Moi sponsored irregular army units that attacked the Luo, Luhya and Kikuyu communities, and he disclaimed responsibility by assigning the violence to ethnic clashes arising from a land dispute.[55] Beginning in 1998, Moi engaged in a carefully calculated strategy to manage the presidential succession in his and his party's favour. Faced with the challenge of a new, multiethnic political coalition, Moi shifted the axis of the 2002 electoral contest from ethnicity to the politics of generational conflict. The strategy backfired, ripping his party wide open and resulting in its humiliating defeat of his candidate, Kenyatta's son, in the December 2002 general elections.[56][57]

Recent history (2002 to present)

2002 elections

Mwai Kibaki and (the late) Mrs. Lucy Kibaki with US President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush at the White House during a state visit in 2003.

Constitutionally barred from running in the December 2002 presidential elections, Moi unsuccessfully promoted Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first President, as his successor. A rainbow coalition of opposition parties routed the ruling KANU party, and its leader, Moi's former vice-president Mwai Kibaki, was elected President by a large majority.

On 27 December 2002, by 62% the voters overwhelmingly elected members of the National Rainbow Coalition (NaRC) to parliament and NaRC candidate Mwai Kibaki (b. 1931) to the presidency. Voters rejected the Kenya African National Union's (KANU) presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, the handpicked candidate of outgoing president Moi. International and local observers reported the 2002 elections to be generally more fair and less violent than those of both 1992 and 1997. His strong showing allowed Kibaki to choose a cabinet, to seek international support and to balance power within the NaRC.

Economic trends

Kenya witnessed a spectacular economic recovery, helped by a favourable international environment. The annual rate of growth improved from −1.6% in 2002 to 2.6% by 2004, 3.4% in 2005, and 5.5% in 2007. However, social inequalities also increased; the economic benefits went disproportionately to the already well-off (especially to the Kikuyu); corruption reached new depths, matching some of the excesses of the Moi years. Social conditions deteriorated for ordinary Kenyans, who faced a growing wave of routine crime in urban areas; pitched battles between ethnic groups fighting for land; and a feud between the police and the Mungiki sect, which left over 120 people dead in May–November 2007 alone.[49]

2007 elections and ethnic violence

Orange Democratic Movement leader Prime Minister Omolo Odinga speaking with the Kenyan media.

Once regarded as the world's "most optimistic," Kibaki's regime quickly lost much of its power because it became too closely linked with the discredited Moi forces. The continuity between Kibaki and Moi set the stage for the self-destruction of Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition, which was dominated by Kikuyus. The western Luo and Kalenjin groups, demanding greater autonomy, backed Raila Amolo Odinga (1945– ) and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).[58]

In the December 2007 elections, Odinga, the candidate of the ODM, attacked the failures of the Kibaki regime. The ODM charged the Kikuyu with having grabbed everything and all the other tribes having lost; that Kibaki had betrayed his promises for change; that crime and violence were out of control, and that economic growth was not bringing any benefits to the ordinary citizen. In the December 2007 elections the ODM won majority seats in Parliament, but the presidential elections votes were marred by claims of rigging by both sides. It may never be clear who won the elections, but it was roughly 50:50 before the rigging started.[59]

"Majimboism" was a philosophy that emerged in the 1950s, meaning federalism or regionalism in Swahili, and it was intended to protect local rights, especially regarding land ownership. Today "majimboism" is code for certain areas of the country to be reserved for specific ethnic groups, fuelling the kind of ethnic cleansing that has swept the country since the election. Majimboism has always had a strong following in the Rift Valley, the epicenter of the recent violence, where many locals have long believed that their land was stolen by outsiders. The December 2007 election was in part a referendum on majimboism. It pitted today's majimboists, represented by Odinga, who campaigned for regionalism, against Kibaki, who stood for the status quo of a highly centralised government that has delivered considerable economic growth but has repeatedly displayed the problems of too much power concentrated in too few hands – corruption, aloofness, favouritism and its flip side, marginalisation. In the town of Londiani in the Rift Valley, Kikuyu traders settled decades ago. In February 2008, hundreds of Kalenjin raiders poured down from the nearby scruffy hills and burned a Kikuyu school. Three hundred thousand members of the Kikuyu community were displaced from Rift Valley province.[60] Kikuyus quickly took revenge, organising into gangs armed with iron bars and table legs and hunting down Luos and Kalenjins in Kikuyu-dominated areas like Nakuru. "We are achieving our own perverse version of majimboism," wrote one of Kenya's leading columnists, Macharia Gaitho.[61]

The Luo population of the southwest had enjoyed an advantageous position during the late colonial and early independence periods of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, particularly in terms of the prominence of its modern elite compared to those of other groups. However the Luo lost prominence due to the success of Kikuyu and related groups (Embu and Meru) in gaining and exercising political power during the Jomo Kenyatta era (1963–1978). While measurements of poverty and health by the early 2000s showed the Luo disadvantaged relative to other Kenyans, the growing presence of non-Luo in the professions reflected a dilution of Luo professionals due to the arrival of others rather than an absolute decline in the Luo numbers.[62]

Demographic trends

Kenya demography (1961–2003).

Between 1980 and 2000 total fecundity in Kenya fell by about 40%, from some eight births per woman to around five. During the same period, fertility in Uganda declined by less than 10%. The difference was due primarily to greater contraceptive use in Kenya, though in Uganda there was also a reduction in pathological sterility. The Demographic and Health Surveys carried out every five years show that women in Kenya wanted fewer children than those in Uganda and that in Uganda there was also a greater unmet need for contraception. These differences may be attributed, in part at least, to the divergent paths of economic development followed by the two countries since independence and to the Kenya government's active promotion of family planning, which the Uganda government did not promote until 1995.[63]

See also


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