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The Republic of Kenya is an East African nation with a coastline on the Indian Ocean. The country is bounded by Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and includes the Lamu Archipelago off the northern coast and a few lake islands.

The Lamu Archipelago consists of Pate Island, Manda Island, and Lamu Island, as well as some smaller islets. Its lake islands include Mfangano Island, Migingo Island, Ndere Island, and Rusinga Island, on Lake Victoria, as well as Central Island, also known as Crocodile Island, on Lake Turkana.

The area that became Kenya is part of Africa's Great Rift Valley, which is thought to be the place where human beings first walked upright.

Ten thousand years ago, Africa was very different than it is today. The Sahara was green and fertile, and much of what is now Kenya was uninhabitable because its dense tropical forests and swamps were home to the tsetse fly, which is fatal to cattle and people. Over a few thousand years, a changing climate resulted in the tsetse belt dropping south, and the grasslands of Kenya began to spread.

Migrating people began to move into East Africa, including a Cushitic-speaking people who came from Ethiopia, and Nilote-speakers from the Sudan, who shared the land with the indigenous Khoikhoi, who had been there for thousands of years. Later, Bantu-speakers came from the Niger Delta, and soon became the largest ethnic group in East Africa.

In the 8th century, Arab ships began docking at East African ports, setting up trading posts along the coast, intermarrying with Africans, and creating a culture that later became known as Swahili. By the 10th century, the resources of East Africa, including slaves, were being shipped to Arabia and India. Up until 1450, the Islamic world was the only outside influence on sub-Saharan Africa.

The Portuguese came in the 15th century, their interest spurred by tales of gold and riches. During this period, Europe was recovering from the effects of the Black Death and was desperately short of labor. Initially, they worked their plantations by captive Muslims and Slavic people, which is where the word "slave" came from, but they soon found a new market open to them.

Sailing their heavily armed warships into Swahili harbors, they demanded submission to control by Portugal, as well as the payment of large tributes. Those who refused were attacked, their possessions seized, and resisters killed.

Portugal took over the slave trade. Between 1500 and the late 1800s, about two million slaves were taken from East Africa, more than forty percent of its coastal population.

Without consultation with indigenous Africans, the European powers met in Germany in 1884 to divide the African continent. Kenya's colonial period began when Germany established a protectorate over the coastal possessions of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Wanting to consolidate its East African territories, Germany traded its coastal possessions for the sole rights over Tanzania in 1890, and Britain established control over the area of Kenya in 1895, forming British Kenya.

Originally, British control was confined to the coastal regions, with isolated settlers and explorers periodically entering the interior. Maasai resistance to British rule weakened during a civil war between two Maasai groups and the simultaneous arrival of a serious cattle disease, cholera, smallpox, and famine. The British were able to negotiate a treaty with the Maasai, allowing them to construct a railroad through Maasai grazing lands.

By 1912, white settlers had settled the highlands, where they set up agricultural farms, some of which are still heavily white-settled areas. After World War I, the British offered land around Kenya to white veterans of the European campaign, increasing the region's white population. Kenya became a Crown Colony in 1920. A legislative council was formed, but only whites were allowed to participate in the political process.

The Kenyan nationalist movement began in the 1920s. Britain's hold on its African colonies was weakened by World War II and, in the 1950s, Kenyans began a guerrilla operation seeking to drive white settlers from the land, an effort that became known as the Mau Mau Rebellion. In 1960, Britain announced its plan to transfer power to an elected African government, and Kenya became independent in 1963.

Immediately following independence, all power was concentrated in the hands of the president, and opposition activities were outlawed. In the years since, Kenyans have seen unopposed elections, unannounced elections, post-election violence, coup attempts, and retaliatory massacres. In 2002, Kenya held open elections that were deemed fair by international observers, and the new government has promised to focus on combating corruption, improving education, and rewriting its constitution.


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