At present, Kenya is made up of 43 tribes.
The first inhabitants known to have inhabited present-day Kenya were the hunter-gatherers Khoisan-speakers.
They were followed by Cushitic language speaking people from northern Africa around 2000BC.
The Bantu speaking groups migrated during the 1st millennium BC from Central Africa followed by the Nilotes from Sudan as well as Oromos and Somalis from Ethiopia.
Arabs and Portuguese
In the 8th century AD, Arabian and Persian traders visited East Africa with some Arab traders staying in the region. Trade with ivory, rhino horn, gold, shells and slaves made Mombasa, Malindi and the Islands of Lamu and Pate into important centres of trade. With time, the African tribes on the coast gradually formed the Swahili culture adapting Islam as their religion.
Evolving from a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, the Swahili language then developed as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples.
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached East Africa in 1498 and a few years later the Portuguese invaded and occupied Mombasa. They constructed Fort Jesus in Mombasa harbour to defend the city in 1593 but lost the battle to the Arabs.
The Arab sultans ruled over different parts of the coast until the 19th Century when the Europeans make their call at the coast.
19th Century – Europeans Scramble for Africa
By late 19th Century, European colonial powers begin the scramble and partitioning of Africa and in 1885 divide Africa between them at a conference in Berlin. The sultan is left a strip ten miles wide along the coast. Behind that a line is drawn to Mount Kilimanjaro and on to Lake Victoria at latitude 1° S. The British sphere of influence is to be to the north, the German to the south. The line remains to this day the border between Kenya and Tanzania.
In 1888 Britain assigns a commercial company, The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) the right to administer and develop the territory which stretches all the way from the east coast to the kingdom of Buganda, on the northwest shore of Lake Victoria.
(1896 – 1901) – The Lunatic Express
The IBEA is tasked with building the 965Km Kenya-Uganda railway which is completed in 1901 albeit delay for nine months in Tsavo where two maneless male lions kills and eats 135 Indian and African railway workers. The Construction is also met by strong resistance from indigenous tribes residing along where the lunatic express, as it came to be known, passed through.
Notable resistance is led by Chief Koitalel arap Samoei of the Nandi.
1920’s – White Settlement
The colonials encourage settlement in Kenya’s highlands by farmers of European origin subsequently renaming the region ‘the White Highlands’. By the 1920s new legislation on land tenure unilaterally favours the settlers and in many areas the Kikuyu, the largest tribe inhabiting the highlands, are the main losers. This leads to the MAU MAU uprising.
1952 – MAU MAU uprising
As early as 1921 the Kikuyus who were educated in the missions started protesting against the British injustices. They established groups to assert African rights and, more specifically, to recover appropriated Kikuyu land. The colonials immediately suppressed the movements which led to armed struggle in 1952 led by the MAU MAU. The colonial government declared a state of emergency, arrested Jomo Kenyatta and charged him with planning the Mau Mau uprising. He was sentenced in March 1953 to seven years’ imprisonment. The armed struggle did not subside even with the capture and execution of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi by British troops in 1957.
The rebellions which spread across Africa, led to a conference in 1960 in London which gave Africans a majority of seats in the legislative council. Kenya’s first African parties were formed to take part in the developing political process. Although Jomo Kenyatta was still in detention in 1960, his colleagues elected him president of their newly formed political party KANU (Kenya African National Union).
He was released by the British in 1961 and led Kenya’s delegation to London for independence negotiations in 1962. The new nation included the coastal strip which until this time had been leased from the sultan of Zanzibar.
1963 – Independence
In elections in May 1963, KANU wins the majority of the seats.
Independence is attained on 12th December 1963, with Kenyatta as prime minister. A year later, under a new constitution, Kenya becomes a republic with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta as the founding president and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga as his Vice president.
Presidents of Kenya
(1963 – 1978) – Mzee Jomo Kenyatta
He is the founding father of the nation and leads the nation from indepence on 12th December, 1963 till his death on August 22, 1978 at his home in Mombasa. During his presidency Kenya became one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Africa.
(1978 – 2002) – Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi
On October 6, 1978, long serving Vice president of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is sworn in as the second president of Kenya. He rules for 24 years until 2002. During his tenure, he ushers in multiparty rule.
(2003 – 2013) – Mwai Kibaki
He is elected the third president and rules for two terms from 2003 – 2013. Under his watch, he oversees the promulgation of a new constitution that ushers in a devolved system of governance. Kenya is divided into 47 counties each led by a governor.
(2013 – Present) Uhuru Kenyatta
Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the founding father and president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is elected in March 2013 to become the fourth president of the republic.
He is re-elected in hotly contested elections on 8th August, 2017 which are overturned by the Supreme Court of Kenya. A repeat poll is conducted on 26th October, 2017 and he is declared winner and is currently serving his second term in office.