Kenya has been sometimes described as “the cradle of humanity” – the Great Rift Valley has yielded some of the earliest evidence of humans, and provided insight into how man has evolved over time across the continent. According to some sources, early settlers in Kenya were the Cushitic-speaking people from what is now Sudan and Ethiopia moved into the area that is now Kenya beginning around 2000 BC.
Due to its strategically important position, many other groups of traders sought to impose their dominance on the town, and it was continually fought over by various trading nations all through its history. The Arab influence on Mombasa has been significant, and prominent at various times in the town’s history. Arab traders were known to sail down around to the Kenya coast from the first century AD onwards, and this gave rise to heightened trade along the coast. The Arabs continued to build trade linkages along the Kenyan coast, and Mombasa and Lamu still exhibit the remnants of the dominance of Arab culture during this era.
The dominance of Arab influence on Mombasa was suppressed for about 150 years when the Portuguese arrived. In 1498, a Portuguese explorer called Vasco De Gama landed on the shores of Mombasa. The purpose of his exploration was to spread the Christian faith and to further expand Portugal’s trading area. His arrival to Mombasa was met which much hostility among the local people. However, he made a very important ally, the King of Malindi. The Portuguese knew that Mombasa was essential in order to successfully trade their goods; hence in 1592 they used their power to make the King of Malindi the Sultan of Mombasa. In doing so the locals consequently had no choice but to obey the orders of the Sultan, which in turn came from the Portuguese Government.
Mombasa became Portugal’s main trading centre along the East Coast of Africa. This led to the construction of a monumental fort that still stands today known as Fort Jesus. The Fort served as the main hub for trading goods, a prison for slaves, and most importantly protecting the Portuguese from conflicts with locals and threatening foreign battalions. Slavery was the major activity that took place at that time, where local slaves were exchanged for goods from visiting ships that often came from European countries. The trading of spices, cotton and coffee, which were cultivated and grown in the rich fertile soils of the town’s farms, is one if the reasons Mombasa was a popular destination for seafarers at the time. Captured slaves were forced to work on these farms in extremely harsh and inhumane conditions.
Portugal’s reign over Mombasa lasted for approximately 200 years, after which they were overthrown by the Omani Arabs, who themselves would be forced to give up Mombasa to its final captors: the British. The British took control of Mombasa in 1895, after the sultan of Zanzibar leased the town to the British. The British East African Protectorate was established, and promoted European colonization of Kenya lands and resources. The British took strides to establish control of the strategically important port, and completed a railway line in the early 1900’s from Mombasa to Uganda.
The British rule on Kenya officially ended when Kenya finally gained its hard-fought independence on the 12th December 1963. The first president of Kenya was Jomo Kenyatta, who was an instrumental figure in the fight to gain independence from the British. His appointment as president led to the creation of a political party known as KANU (Kenya Africa National Union). President Kenyatta died in the August of 1978, and was succeeded by his vice president Daniel Arap Moi who ruled as president until 2002. President Moi stepped down in December of 2002 following fair and peaceful elections. For the first time since 1992 when Kenya’s first multiparty elections were first held, there was a new leader. Mwai Kibaki, running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), defeated KANU candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform.
During President Kibaki’s tenure, there were significant political shifts until the lead up to the December 2007 election. The official opposition, led by Raila Odinga, challenged strongly for the presidency. Elections were held on December 27, 2007, with many international observers casting doubt on the outcomes of the election process. When the incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, violence erupted in different parts of the country, with hundreds of Kenyan lives lost, and thousands more displaced. Under pressure from the international and African community, the leaders were able to come to a power-sharing agreement which eased the country out of its political crisis point.
Although Kenya experienced a few political jitters after its independence, it has finally settled down on the road to a stable and promising future for the people of Kenya. It is still widely regarded as one of Africa’s bright beacons, and continues to be a thriving economic hub for the region. All over the world, Kenya continues to be renown for their hospitality, and the local people are extremely helpful and courteous and gladly welcome foreigners who come to visit their country. Kenya is by far the most visited destination along Eastern Africa, and remains a magnet for visitors because of the exquisite quality of its wildlife and beaches.