Around 2000 BC, Cushitic-speaking people from northern Africa settled in the part of East Africa that is now Kenya. By the 1st Century AD, the Kenyan coast was frequented by Arab traders, who due to Kenya’s proximity to the Arabian Peninsula, established Arab and Persian colonies there.
The Nilotic and Bantu people also moved into the region during the first millennium AD. and settled inland.
Evolving from a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, the Swahili language then developed as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. When the Portuguese arrived in 1498, the Arab dominance on the coast was clipped, as the Port of Mombasa became an important resupply stop for ships bound for the Far East.
The Portuguese gave way in turn to Islamic control under the Imam of Oman in the 1600s until another European influence came along, this time from the United Kingdom during the 19th century.
The roots of the colonial history of Kenya go back to the Berlin Conference in 1885, when East Africa was first divided into territories of influence by the European powers.
The British Government founded the East African Protectorate in 1895 and soon after, opened the fertile highlands to white settlers. Even before it was officially declared a British colony in 1920, these settlers were allowed a voice in government, while the Africans and the Asians were banned from direct political participation until 1944.
During this period thousands of Indians were brought into Kenya to work on building the Kenya Uganda Railway Line and subsequently settled there, whilst inviting many of their kith and kin who were mainly traders from India to join them.
Resistance to Colonialism — the Mau Mau
In 1942, members of the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Kamba tribes took an oath of unity and secrecy to fight for freedom from British rule. The Mau Mau Movement began with that oath and Kenya embarked on its long hard road to National Sovereignty.
In 1953, Jomo Kenyatta was charged with directing the Mau Mau and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. Another freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi was arrested in 1956 for his role in the Mau Mau uprising as one of the leaders of the struggle for independence and was subsequently hanged by the colonialists.
Kenya was put under a state of emergency from October 1952 to December 1959, due to the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule and thousands of Kenyans were incarcerated in detention camps.
During this period, African participation in the political process increased rapidly and in 1954 all three races (European, Asian and African) were admitted into the Kenya Legislative Council on a representative basis.
Kenya achieves independence
In 1957, the first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place and those elected increased the people’s agitation for Jomo Kenyatta’s release from detention.
In 1962 Kenyatta was released to become Kenya’s first Prime Minister, when Kenya finally gained independence on December 12, 1963. The following year, Kenya became a Republic with Kenyatta as its first President. In the same year Kenya joined the British Commonwealth.
The Road to Kenyatta’s one party state
In 1966, a small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), was formed by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice President and Luo elder. KPU was banned shortly thereafter and its leader arrested in 1969 and Kenya became a « de facto » single party state.
Following Kenyatta’s death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel Arap Moi succeeded him as Kenya’s second President.
The Moi era
In June 1982, Kenya was officially declared a one party state by the National Assembly and the constitution was amended accordingly. Parliamentary elections were held in September 1983 under a single party for the first time and the 1988 elections reinforced the one party system. However, in December 1991, Parliament annulled the one party section of the constitution.
A diversity of new parties were formed in early 1992 and in December of that year, multiparty democracy was restored and elections were held with several parties participating. Because of divisions in the opposition, Moi was reelected for another 5-year term, and his KANU party retained a majority in the legislature.
Due to parliamentary reforms in November 1997, political rights were expanded, which led to an explosion in the number of political parties. Again, Moi won re-election as President in the December 1997 elections, because of a divided opposition. KANU won 113 out of 222 parliamentary seats, but, because of defections, had to depend on the support of minor parties to forge a working majority.
President Mwai Kibaki
In October 2002, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was formed, emerging from a unification of opposition parties together with a faction, which broke away from KANU. Mwai Kibaki, the NARC candidate, was elected as the country’s third President in December 2002.
President Kibaki received 62 percent of the vote, and NARC garnered 130 out of 222 parliamentary seats (59 percent of seats). During Kibaki’s first time in office, democratic space was opened up even more and coalition politics took root.
The Grand Coalition
Kenya held its Tenth General Election on the 27th of December 2007. A dispute that followed the announcement of the result by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) unfortunately degenerated into an unprecedented seven-week long spate of violence in some parts of the country, leading to loss of lives, dislocation of some citizens, destruction of property and general disruption of social and economic life.
The former Secretary General of the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Koffi Annan with the assistance of eminent persons from across the African continent including H.E. President Jakaya Kikwete, Chairman of the African Union and President of Tanzania, H.E. Mrs. Graca Machel, His Excellency Mr. Benjamin Mkapa and His Excellency Mr. Joachim Chisano, helped broker a reconciliation between H.E. President Mwai Kibaki and his main contender Hon. Raila Odinga leading to the signing of the National Accord and Reconciliation Agreement, thus paving the way for the restoration of peace and security in the country and a return to normalcy in the affected regions.
The Agreement, included a fundamental change in the Government structure to introduce the post of Prime Minister, with two Deputy Premiers and the formation of a Grand Coalition between the President’s party of National Unity and Hon.Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement Party.
Following the agreement, H.E. the President and the Prime Minister Designate appointed a National Accord Implementation Committee to prepare a program of action for the Grand Coalition Government (GCG), synchronize the manifestos of the coalition parties and identify short, medium and long term policies for implementation by the GCG.
The Committee established a reconciliation and building program covering the entire country with activities cascaded down to all districts and constituencies and involved the Private Sector, Civil Society, Media, Community Based Organizations, Sports Personalities and Faith Based Organizations in the National Emergency Recovery Strategy.
In parallel to this, three important Bodies were established: The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, The Commission of Enquiry on Post Election Violence and Independent Review Committee on the 2007 Elections. Through these Bodies truth, reconciliation and healing will be brought to Kenya and its people.
The parties also agreed on a process and roadmap for comprehensive constitutional reform, which will strengthen the institutions of Governance and address the long term differences that contributed to the violence.
Life in Kenya has settled down quickly with the country coming out stronger and more united than before as President Mwai Kibaki begins his second and final term in office.