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The History of Kenya: Past Embraces the Present

The history of Kenya is not only vast but also intriguing as you all know in Kenya, human history dates back centuries ago due to the discovery of the earliest fossils of hominids. Anthropologist Richard Leaky is one of the renowned ones whose findings in the Koobi Fora region near the shore of Lake Rudolf are famous. Home Habilis and Australopithecus boisoi skeletons are found in this place.

A modern lion skull from Kenya (top) sits next to the left jaw of the 22-million-year-old carnivore Simbakubwa kutokaafrika.
Credit: Matthew Borths

Kenya is not only well-renowned for its history of fossilized remains but also magnificent wildlife preserves and scenic landscape. Along the coast of the Indian Ocean, there lie some of the beautiful beaches in Africa which are historically famed too for being the significant port where Asian And Arabian traders had traded goods in the continent for centuries. 

The coast is dominated by Muslim Swahili cities like Mombasa that has contributed to the culinary and musical heritage of the nation. While Mombasa represents the country as a historic center, the capital of Kenya, Nairobi among other African metropolises is a study in contrast with its high skyscrapers looking out to the distant shantytowns. In this post, we’ll follow the present but focusing mostly on the history of Kenya.

The History of Kenya

Though the present topography is majestic, I’ll show you the past that leads to present Kenya and for that, we have to trace back the Kenyan historical timeline since the pre-colonial time.

Pre-colonial time in the History of Kenya

About two thousand Bc, the people from northern Africa who spoke Cushitic inhabited parts of Eastern Africa which are now known as Kenya. Persian and Arabian colonies were established on the coast of Kenya, by the first century AD due to the close proximity of the country to the Arabian peninsula. During the first millennium AD, the Bantu and Nilotic people moved and settled in the region.

The Arrival of the Europeans

History of the Port Of Mombasa in the history of Kenya
History of the Port of Mombasa
Credit: Kenya Ports Authorities

The Swahili language became the lingua franca, developing from the amalgamation of Arabic and Bantu, among the different people who came for trading products. Mombasa became a vital port that was connected to the far East and was under the dominance of Arab when the Portuguese arrived in the year 1498. The Portuguese surrendered against the Islamic reign under the Imam of Oman until the 1600s when another powerful European influence, the British arrived during the nineteenth century.

Colonial History of Kenya

Uganda Railway in the history of Kenya
Uganda Railway
Credit: Newland, Tarlton & Co.

The historical facts about Kenya dictate that the origin of the colonial history of Kenya is dated back to the Berlin Conference of 1885 when the European authority divided East Africa into influential territories. In 1895 the British Government had established the East African Protectorate and opened the fertile lands to the white inhabitants. The Asians and Africans were prohibited from participating in any political agenda until 1944, while white inhabitants had a voice in the matters of the government even before the country was officially announced as a British colony in 1920. During this period many Indians were brought to build the Kenya Uganda Railway line and soon after settled there with their kin who were mainly businessmen from India.

Resistance of Kenya against Colonialism-the uprising of the Mau Mau

The tribal members of Kamba, Embu, Meru, and Kikuyu took an oath of secrecy and unity to fight for freedom against British rule in 1942. Kenya embarked on the long journey to the National Sovereignty of the Mau Mau movement that started with that oath. Jomo Kenyatta was arrested in 1953 for directing the Mau Mau movement and was sentenced to imprisonment of seven years.

Another freedom fighter named Dedan Kimathi was arrested in 1956 for being one of the leaders of the freedom movement and was then hanged to death by the colonialists. From 1952, October to 1959, December, Kenya was declared as the State of Emergency and several Kenyans were imprisoned into detention camps due to the rapidly rising rebellion of the Mau Mau uprising against the colonial rule of the British. During this time, the participation in the political process of the African was increasing quickly. On a representative basis, in 1954, all three races that included Asian, African and European were admitted to the Kenya Legislative Council.

Jomo Kenyatta in the history of Kenya
Jomo Kenyatta
Credit: britannica.com

It was a monumental moment in the history of Kenya when in 1957, for Africans the first direct election occurred and those who were elected maximized the frustration of the people regarding the release of Jomo Kenyatta from detention. Another significant moment in the history of Kenya was the independence of Kenya on 12th December 1963 followed by the release of Kenyatta to become the first Prime Minister in 1962. To answer your question, when did Kenya become a Republic, I would have to say it became a Republic in 1964 with Kenyatta as the first President and Oginga Odinga as the Vice President, and it also joined the British Commonwealth in the same year.

The Journey of Kenyatta’s Ruling in the History of Kenya

To subdue a mutiny by the army, Kenyatta sought help from the British Troops in 1964. Then the President proposed new promotion conditions in the army but the number of his Kikuyu people in the officer corps increased rapidly. Vice President Odinga was opposed to the president’s pro-Western effective capitalist economic policy as it neglected the interest of the poor people.

He then resigned from KANU or Kenya African National Union to form KPU or Kenya’s People Union in 1966. But it was banned in 1969 and the leaders were incarcerated which led to Kenya becoming a “de facto” single-party state. Following the death of Kenyatta in 1978, August, he was succeeded by his deputy Daniel arap Moi, a member of the minority group Kalenjin. In October, he was elected president and Kibaki as his Vice President.

The Ruling of Moi

June 1982 was acclaimed to be a significant moment in the history of Kenya as the country became a one-party state by the National Assembly, therefore, the constitution was assembled accordingly. For the first time in the history of Kenya, in September 1983, the Parliamentary election took place under a single party, and in 1988, the elections reinforced the one-party system.

However, in December of 1991, the one-party section of the constitution was annulled by the Parliament. The dawn of 1992 saw the formation of diverse new parties and the multiple parties democracy was restored in December of that year while elections took place where several parties participated. Due to the conflict in the opposition parties, Moi has elected again for another term of five years and his party KANU retained a major portion of the legislature. 

Daniel arap Moi in the history of Kenya
Daniel arap Moi Credit: wikipedia

Because of the parliamentary reforms in November 1997, the rights of the political parties expanded which resulted in excessively increasing numbers of political parties and that’s why Moi won again in the re-election as President in December 19997. In the history of Kenya, it is evident that they had to rely on the minor parties to create a working majority despite KANU’s winning of 113 seats out of 222 due to defections. 

President Mwai Kibaki era in the History of Kenya

The history of Kenya states that the National Rainbow Coalition or NARC was formed in October 2002 that emerged from the unified opposition parties with a faction that was divided from KANU. in December of 2002, Mwai Kin]baki had been elected as the third President of Kenya. While NARC gathered 130 seats of 222, meaning fifty-nine percent of the seats, Kibaki had received sixty-two percent votes. During this period, in the history of Kenya, coalition parties sealed its rise while the democratic place had opened up.

The Grand Coalition in the History of Kenya

On 27th December 2007, the Tenth General Election was held in Kenya. And the history of Kenya witnessed how a conflict regarding the election results announced by the Election Commission of Kenya or ECK transformed into an unprecedented seven-week long streak of violence in few parts of the nation causing dislocation of some citizens, deaths of several people, destruction of property and a general upheaval of the economic and social life of Kenya.

His Excellency Mr. Koffi Anan who was the former Secretary-General of the United Nations with the help of other eminent people across the African continent involving, H.E. Mrs. Graca Machel, H.E. President Jakaya Kikwete, the President of Tanzania and the Chairman of the African Union, His Excellency Mr. Joachim Chisamo and His Excellency Benjamin Mkapa assisted to reconcile between H.E. President Mwai Kibaki and his main opposition Hon. The signing of the National Accord and Reconciliation Agreement led by Raila Odinga paved the way for national security and peace and the returning of normalcy in the affected areas of the country.


Kibaki Anounces Coalition Government
Kibaki Announces Coalition Government
Credit: france24.com


In the history of Kenya, the Agreement forged a fundamental transformation in the structure of the Government and introduced the positions of the Prime Minister and two Deputy premiers. They also formed a Grand Coalition between the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Hon. Odinga and National Unity, the President’s party. Proceeding the Agreement, the Prime Minister and His Excellency the President formed a National Accord Implementation Committee to configure a program of action for the GCG or the Grand Coalition Government. To synchronize the propagandas of the two parties and recognize the medium with long and short-term policies to implement by the GCG.

The committee had founded a reconciliation and building program that has covered the whole nation with activities poured down to each district and constituencies. It also included Sports Personalities, Community Based Organizations, Media, Private Sector, Civil society in the National Emergency Recovery Strategy. Furthermore, three additional vital Bodies were founded that are The Commission of Enquiry on Post-Election Violence, The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and the Independent Review Committee on the elections of 2007. The parties also agreed on the roadmap and process for understanding constitutional reform that will address the long-term differences which caused the violence. 

In the GCG, President Kibaki served his second term Hon. Raila Odinga as the Prime Minister till March of 2013 when Hon. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was elected the fourth President along with Hon. William Samoei Ruto as his Deputy of the Republic of Kenya. The history of Kenya repeated itself when they were elected again for their second term in the office in 2017.

For further information on the history of Kenya visit here.

Social Issues in Modern Kenya

Though the reconciliation of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main contender Raila Odinga eased some of the political tension, the authorities have not taken any vital step to assure electoral reformations. The history of Kenya already shows us the current social issues in Kenya such as abusive evictions, extrajudicial killings, and lack of action regarding the severe abuses that remain serious problems in Kenya.

This June 2019 photo shows Gorofa village, Nkoben area, one of the current settlements for those evicted from Mau forest in July 2018.
This June 2019 photo shows Gorofa village, Nkoben area, one of the current settlements for those evicted from Mau forest in July 2018.
Credit: hrw.org

Forced Evictions

Kenya Forest Service, normal police, Kenya Wildlife Service, Narok Police, Administration Police forcefully evacuated the lands of Mau Forest that were documented by the Human rights watch. The people were living there for over thirty years and they were brutally beaten and their homes were torched, crops were ruined and nine people have died which includes two babies. Despite the Kenyan law, they were not compensated or relocated as the evictees are living in harsh circumstances in Narok county.


The Government issued the measurements for quarantine in a degrading, forced and unconstitutional, and abusive manner. The places of quarantining are unsanitary, lacking food and other necessary elements like soap and detergents. The authorities forced people to gather without any social distancing or mask or any type of COVID related restrictions at the arrival area of the airport of Nairobi.  

Abuses by Security Powers

In spite of the documented and vastly-known cases of police brutality, there is little to nothing has been done by the government and the authorities. Human Right Watch had observed that the police had shot eight people in Nairobi between December 2019 and February 2020.

Right to Property

Despite have the legal framework on non-discrimination and equality, several women don’t have the support to claim their matrimonial property. The report of FIDA and Human Rights Watch of 2020 has found that there are antiquated and ambiguous laws on inheritance and matrimonial property on the books and the discriminatory actions make it hard for widowed, married, divorced, or separated women to claim their properties.  

Besides all that, there are other concerns like Right of Girls and Women, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, Environmental Rights, etc. If you want detailed information, this post might help you with the current social issues in Kenya.

Places to Visit in Kenya

Despite the history of Kenya and the current predicament of the society and country, there is still hope as Kenyans are still optimistic about their nation. So, whenever, things are normal, you can always visit these gorgeous places that I’m about to mention.

  • Maasai Mara National Reserve
Maasai Mara National reserve
Maasai Mara National Reserve
Credit: magicalkenya.com
  • Amboseli National Reserve
  • Tsavo National Park
  • Lake Nakuru National Park
  • Lamu Island
Lamu Island in Kenya
Lamu Island in Kenya
Credit: Rough Guides
  • Lake Naivasha
  • Nairobi
  • Nairobi national park
  • Malindi
Malindi in Kenya
Malindi in Kenya
Credit: Pinterest

Here, we are at last! I hope to have encouraged you and also warned you enough about the situation in Kenya. Every country has its own problem but that shouldn’t stop us from being adventurous and seeking to learn more about something that is completely different than you. So, whenever things settle go seek for more! Until then, be well! 



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