Fossils found in East Africa suggest that protohumans
roamed the area more than 20 million years ago. Recent finds near Kenya's
Lake Turkana indicate that hominids lived in the area 2.6 million years
Cushitic-speaking people from northern Africa moved into the area that
is now Kenya beginning around 2000 BC. Arab traders began frequenting the
Kenya coast around the first century A.D. Kenya's proximity to the Arabian
Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian settlements sprouted
along the coast by the eighth century. During the first millennium A.D.,
Nilotic and Bantu peoples moved into the region, and the latter now comprises
three-quarters of Kenya's population.
The Swahili language, a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, developed as a
lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. Arab dominance on
the coast was eclipsed by the arrival in 1498 of the Portuguese, who gave
way in turn to Islamic control under the Imam of Oman in the 1600s. The
United Kingdom established its influence in the 19th century.
The colonial history of Kenya dates from the Berlin Conference of 1885,
when the European powers first partitioned East Africa into spheres of
influence. In 1895, the U.K. Government established the East African Protectorate
and, soon after, opened the fertile highlands to white settlers. The settlers
were allowed a voice in government even before it was officially made a
U.K. colony in 1920, but Africans were prohibited from direct political
participation until 1944.
From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency
arising from the "Mau Mau" rebellion against British colonial rule. During
this period, African participation in the political process increased rapidly.
The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took
place in 1957. Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963, and the next
year joined the Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the large Kikuyu
ethnic group and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became
Kenya's first president. The minority party, Kenya African Democratic Union
(KADU), representing a coalition of small ethnic groups that had feared
dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself voluntarily in 1964 and joined
A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People's
Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former
vice president and Luo elder. The KPU was banned and its leader detained
after political unrest related to Kenyatta's visit to Nyanza Province.
No new opposition parties were formed after 1969, and KANU became the sole
political party. At Kenyatta's death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel
arap Moi became interim President. On October 14, Moi became President
formally after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee.
In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making
Kenya officially a one-party state, and parliamentary elections were held
in September 1983. The 1988 elections reinforced the one-party system.
However, in December 1991, Parliament repealed the one-party section of
the Constitution. By early 1992, several new parties had formed, and multiparty
elections were held in December 1992.
Moi was reelected for another 5-year term. Opposition parties won about
45% of the parliamentary seats, but Moi's KANU Party retained a majority
of the legislature. Parliamentary reforms in November 1997 expanded political
rights in Kenya, and the number of political parties grew rapidly. Moi
won re-election as President in the December 1997 elections, and his KANU
Party narrowly retained its parliamentary majority, with 109 out of 122
In December 2002, the people of Kenya elected Mwai Kibaki as the country’s
third president. President Kibaki received 62 percent of the vote, and
his 15-party group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), also won 59
percent of the parliamentary seats.