Fossils found in Kenya suggest that primates roamed the area more than 20 million years ago. Recent findings near Lake Turkana indicate that hominids such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus from 350,000 to 2.5 million years ago, are possible direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens, and lived in Kenya in the Pleistocene epoch.
During excavations at Lake Turkana in 1984, paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey assisted by Kamoya Kimeu discovered the Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old fossil belonging to Homo erectus. Previous research on early hominids is particularly identified with Mary Leakey and Louis Leakey, who were responsible for the preliminary archaeological research at Olorgesailie and Hyrax Hill.
However – many species of early hominid have subsequently been discovered in Kenya, the oldest was found in the year 2000 and is 6 million years old.
The Portuguese became the first Europeans to explore the region of current-day Kenya. Explorer Vasco da Gama reached Mombasa in 1498. After several decades of conflict, the Portuguese were defeated under Seyyid Said the Omani sultan and interior trade routes were set up. Pastoralists and cultivators bartered goods and competed for land as long-distance caravan routes linked them to Kenya’s east coast.
The Portuguese presence in East Africa served the purpose of controlling trade within the Indian Ocean and securing the sea routes linking Europe to 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 shipping lanes. The Omani Arabs posed the most direct challenge to Portuguese influence in East Africa, besieging Portuguese fortresses and openly attacking naval vessels. Arab, Shirazi and coastal African cultures produced an Islamic Swahili people trading in a variety of up-country commodities, including slaves.
The arrival of the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888 was followed by the building of the Uganda Railway passing through the country. This was resisted by some ethnic groups, notably the Nandi led by Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei for ten years from 1890 to 1900. However, the British did eventually build the railway. During the railway construction era, there was a significant inflow of Indian people, who provided the bulk of the skilled manpower required for construction.
At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the governors of British East Africa and German East Africa agreed to a truce in an attempt to keep the young colonies out of direct hostilities.
Completely cut off from Germany, Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck conducted an effective guerrilla warfare campaign, living off the land, capturing British supplies, and remaining “undefeated”. He eventually surrendered fourteen days after the Armistice was signed in 1918.
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. One depiction of this period of change from one colonist’s perspective is found in the memoir Out of Africa by Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, published in 1937.
Throughout World War II, Kenya was an important source of manpower and agriculture for the United Kingdom. Kenya itself was the site of fighting between Allied forces and Italian troops in 1940–41 when Italian forces invaded.
In 1952, Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip were on holiday at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya when her father, King George VI, died in his sleep. The young princess cut short her trip and returned home immediately to take her throne. She was crowned as Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. This was also the year of a state emergency arising from the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule. The Mau Mau, also known as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, were primarily members of the Kikuyu Group.
The governor requested and obtained British and African troops, including the King’s African Rifles. The British began counter-insurgency operations. In May 1953, General Sir George Erskine took charge as commander-in-chief of the colony’s armed forces, with the personal backing of Winston Churchill. During this period, substantial governmental changes to land tenure occurred. The most important of these was the Swynnerton Plan, which was used to both reward loyalists and punishes Mau Mau.
Independence and Political Struggle
The first direct elections for native Kenyans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. The Colony of Kenya and the Protectorate of Kenya each came to an end on 12 December 1963 with independence being conferred on all of Kenya. On 12 December 1964, the Republic of Kenya was proclaimed, and Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.
However, under Kenyatta, corruption became widespread throughout his government, civil service, and business the community. Kenyatta and his family enriched themselves through the mass purchase of property after 1963. Their acquisitions aroused great anger among landless Kenyans. Kenyatta ruled until his death on 22 August 1978.
At Kenyatta’s death in 1978, Daniel Arap Moi became President. Moi retained the Presidency, being unopposed in elections held in 1979, 1983 and 1988, all of which were held under the single party constitution. The 1983 elections were held a year early and were a direct result of an abortive military coup attempt on 2 August 1982.
Kenya became a multi-party state in 1991 after 26 years of being a single party state. This election was a turning point for Kenya as it signified the beginning of the end of Moi’s leadership and the rule of KANU (Kenya African National Union). The elections of 1992 marked the beginning of multiparty politics after more than 25 years rule by KANU. In 1996, KANU revised the constitution to allow Moi to remain president for another term. Subsequently, Moi stood for re-election and won a 5th term in 1997. In 1998, Moi attempted to influence the country’s succession politics to have Uhuru Kenyatta elected in the upcoming 2002 elections. Moi’s plan to be replaced by Uhuru Kenyatta failed, and Mwai Kibaki, running for the opposition coalition “National Rainbow Coalition” (NARC), was elected President.
In 2005, Kenyans rejected a plan to replace the 1963 independence constitution with a new one. As a result, the elections of 2007 happened following the old constitution and Kibaki was re-elected.
As a result from accusations by the main opposition leader, Raila Odinga, that the election results were rigged and that he was the rightfully elected president, many people were killed and around 600,000 were internally displaced, making it the worst post-election violence in Kenya. To stop this, Kibaki and Raila agreed to work together, with the latter taking the position of a prime minister. This made Raila the second prime minister of Kenya. In 2013, Kenya had its first general elections after the new constitution had been passed. Uhuru Kenyatta won in a disputed election result. In 2017, Uhuru Kenyatta won a second term in office in another disputed election. After much controversy, a court case and another re-election, he was reinstated as Kenya’s incumbent President.
The present day and how you can help…
Agriculture is the second largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product after its service sector.
Horticultural produce and tea are the main growth sectors and the two most valuable of all of Kenya’s exports. The production of major food staples such as corn and meat production is subject to sharp weather-related fluctuations. Production downturns periodically necessitate food aid, for example, in 2004 aid was made available for 1.8 million people because of one of Kenya’s intermittent droughts.
Our products here at Jambo are manufactured by hand on a very small scale and raw materials are sourced as a byproduct of the meat industry. This provides an additional income stream which wouldn’t otherwise be available. It gives local communities a sense of worth and pays them accordingly. Our handcrafted bags and accessories help Kenyans directly because there are no huge supply chains involved in getting these items to you. You can help support local Kenyans by making purchases of their handicrafts through this or similar sites that impact these individuals directly.