History of Kenya
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History of Kenya

Kenya 's Rift Valley is synonymous with the evolutionary ascent of man. It was in the African savannah that the first humans emerged and there is evidence of humanoid habitation in Kenya dating back 2.5 million years. It was not until three thousand years ago that the first human settlements became established. Kenya 's first inhabitants are referred to as the Stone Bowl People and probably originated in Ethiopia. These early settlers survived by farming and livestock cultivation, though many resisted sedentary life and remained nomadic. The main settlement of Kenya took place over the thousand years between 500 BC and 500 AD as Bantu people came from the west and south and Nilotic tribes from the north-west.

The history of Kenya from this stage takes two distinct paths, with the coastal region developing independently to the interior. Inland the various tribal groups that migrated into Kenya continued to roam the land, establishing small communities, but never forming a centralized state.

Coastal civilisation
Along the East African coast a separate Bantu language and culture, known as Swahili, developed. The exposure to the Indian Ocean and the mingling of Arab traders with the Bantus created a distinct civilization. Towns grew up to allow trade and by the 9th century a number of these, including Mombasa, Lamu and Pate, had become important trading centres. Most of the commerce centered on ivory, slaves and timber to be exported to Persia, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent. The traders brought with them Islam and by the 12 th century many of the Bantus had converted.

European contact
The equilibrium established between Arabic traders and Swahili settlements was soon to be disrupted by European expansion, fuelled by a desire to develop the slave trade. In 1593 the Portuguese constructed Fort Jesus in Mombasa, to use as a centre for slave trafficking. This led the Swahili city-states to form an alliance with the Omani Arabs, and they drove out the Portuguese in 1720. The Kenyan coastline then fell under the influence of the Omani's.

The Omanis wealth and power grew as the slave trade expanded to supply the Spanish New World and British and American plantations in the United States and the Caribbean. Countless millions of Africans were taken from the interior and shipped across the Atlantic to die as slaves.

British expansion
By the time the British arrived to suppress the slave trade in 1810 it had spread disorder inland giving the British the excuse to expand their authority along the coast and later into the interior. Their decision to build a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria led them deep into the Kenyan interior and to the subjugation of the Massai people.

In 1896 and 1900 the British reached agreement with Germany about their zones of influence and were given the green light in Kenya. Through a gradual process of expansion and alliances, playing off different tribal groups against each other, the British had taken over most of southern Kenya by 1908, and the entire country by 1918.

Colonial Kenya
The British encouraged European settlement to support their rail expansion. These settlers stole the local tribal lands, forcing the indigenous peoples to survive as farm laborers, or to move to the cities. The protectorate became a colony in 1920, given the name Kenya, and presided over by a British governor. The native tribes were made to live in specific areas, enabling the British to further use the 'divide and rule' approach that had won the territory in the first place. By the 1950's there were 80,000 white settlers in Kenya.

The native Kenyans began to resent European domination and set about their struggle for independence. The Kenya Africa Union(banned in 1922) emerged as the main mouthpiece for their demands. The Kikuyu Central Association(KCA) was formed in 1924 attempting to restore stolen lands. Their leader Jomo Kenyetta would later become the country's first President.

The Mau Mau movement arose out of the Kikuyu tribe, whose failed rebellion in 1956 a cost in lives of 13,500 Africans and only 100 Europeans. The Kenya Africa National Union(KANU) was formed under the leadership of Jomo Kenyetta in 1961 to unite all the disparate African opposition groups. After winning elections in May 1963 he led the country to independence on 12 December 1963.

Kenyatta's Kenya
In December 1964 Kenya became a republic and under Kenyetta's leadership the country began to enjoy stability and prosperity. Kenyetta nurtured a pro West, pro-capitalist capitalist approach while trying to balance tribal equality. Divisions, particularly with the Luo tribe's leadership, encouraged repression and increasingly he allowed the Kikuyu tribe to dominate. His death in 1978 made way for the current President Daniel arap Moi, a member of the Tugen tribe.

Since 1978 Moi has ruled Kenya with increasing repression. In 1982 he made Kenya a one-party state, but economic problems have since undermined his authoritarian rule. Droughts and a fall in coffee prices have damaged the economy leading to debt, unemployment and public disorder. The Kenyan Air

Force unsuccessfully attempted to stage a coup in 1982, but did bring the country's problems into the international spotlight. In 1991 Moi was forced to legalize opposition parties but division in the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy allowed him to win the 1993 elections. In 1997 more unrest led to the repeal of other repressive legislation. Continued opposition incompetence and governmental coercion ensured another victory in the 1997 elections.

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