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Kenyas History

3,600 million years ago, life began to develop on earth. 5 million years ago, humans began to evolve. 1.6 million years ago, the skeleton of homo erectus was discovered. The east African land we now know as Kenya was witness to all of this, and it’s history has remained just as fascinating and dynamic up to the modern day, from the influx of tribes from the North and West, to the docking of Arab dhows in East African Ports, through the devastating days of the slave trade, British occupation, the upheaval of the world wars and independence in 1963.

Dhow docking in KenyaThe period of history which has most ostentatiously shaped the Kenya we know today probably begins with the arrival of Arab peoples, who docked in East Africa in the eigth century during their annual trade migration. They began to settle and marry locals, which gave rise to the culture and language of the Swahili (a word derived from the Arab word for coast.) Soon, exports of animal skins, ivory, tortoiseshells, gold and slaves were heading out to Arabia and India from Kenya, continuing for a good five hundred years before the arrival of Portuguese Christians in the fifteenth century.

Europe recently ravaged by the Black Death was desperately short of labour, and in the wake of this the Portuguese used terror and force (apparently in the name of Christianity) to consolidate their position in East Africa. In exchange for slaves, gold, ivory and beeswax, they introduced metals, alcohols and weapons into Eastern Africa.

The slave trade gained momentum until thousands of slaves were passing through the Swahili market every year, and between 1500 and 1800 2 million slaves were exported from East Africa alone. It was only in 1873 that the Sultan Barghash finally brought this most destructive and abhorrent commercial market to an end.

In 1884, the Berlin Conference saw Africa divided into various colonial states without any consultation or presence of even a single African leader. The British hold on Kenya was firmly established by the early 20th century, though it was interrupted by World War I in 1914, and then again by World War II in 1939.

World War II was in fact an inadvertent catalyst for the advent of Kenyan independence. When, in 1941, Winston Churchill appealed to President Roosevelt for American Aid, the resulting Atlantic Charter contained a clause naming self-determination for all colonies as a post-war objective. Momentum for Kenyan independence gathered in the ensuing years, with military operations, terror activities and guerilla warfare characterising the Kenyan post-war period until 1960, when Britain announced it’s intention to transfer power to an independent Kenyan government. In 1963, a political activist and leader of the Kenya African National Movement by the name of Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.

Various circumstances such as a new and vulnerable economy lead to constitutional amendments (such as 1969′s amendment ensuring presidential power to control the civil service) and the criminalisation of industrial action. This basic failure to delegate power locally effectively paved the way for an authoritarian regime and one-party state. This was consolidated by President Moi, who succeeded Kenyatta in 1978 and, after securing extremely shaky election victories in 1992 and 1997, proved to be so unpopular by the 2002 elections that not only was he defeated, he was pelted with mud during his exiting speech!

The current president, Mwai Kibaki, is the first ever president in Kenyan history to have been elected by popular vote. He is trying to fight large-scale corruption with cabitnet reshuffling and donations from the US, the UK and Germany.