By the first century a.d., Kenya’s coast was an established stop along the trade route to the Arabian Peninsula. Arab traders settled in coastal cities like Mombasa, and it was not until Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, arrived in the late 1400s, that the Arabs lost control of the land. For the next hundred years or so, the Portuguese and Arabs fought for power in the coastal region; by the 1600s, the imam of Oman had retaken control and Arabs were once again the rulers of the land. In the mid-1800s, though, the British began to gain mastery and extended their interests beyond the coast.
During the Berlin Conference of 1885, European powers partitioned East Africa into separate sections, and Kenya was placed under British authority. That led to the construction of a railroad from Mombasa to Uganda, leading to the establishment of Nairobi as a storage depot, transition point for trains, and encampment for railroad worke
rs in 1899. White settlers displaced many Africans from their land and set up a cash economy, which forced many of the native Africans to become laborers.
Protests by Africans began in the 1920s and heated up in the 1950s, when an armed resistance called the Mau Mau Rebellion was waged against the British colonial powers. Many of the insurrection’s leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, were imprisoned for years. Following the revolt, more Africans were allowed to participate in the colony’s legislative council, and by 1961 Africans constituted the majority of the government. On December 12, 1963, independence was declared, and Kenyatta was elected the first president of independent Kenya.
Since independence, Kenya has endured many political ups and downs, including the 24-year rule of Danial arap Moi and the consequent political infighting between various parties, which led to some violence among ethnic groups. Today, while Kenya’s economy grows and cities expand, the government is constantly working toward a unified sense of nationhood.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Kenya has eight provinces: Central, Coast, Eastern, Nairobi, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western. The largest province is Rift Valley, and the most populous is Nairobi. The second-tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kenya, is located in Eastern Province.
2. The Kenyan currency is the shilling. Informally, it is referred to as the bob.
3. The Daily Nation
and The Standard
are two of the better-known publications in Kenya and are the largest newspapers in East Africa. Other notable newspapers include the Kenya Times
and the East African Standard
4. The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English. There are seven different dialects of Swahili, as well as about 62 other languages spoken within the country by various African tribes and communities of Asian and Middle Eastern descent. The African languages can be traced back to three language families—the Cushitic languages (which originated in the northeast), the Bantu languages (from the center and southeastern portions of the country), and the Nilotic languages (from the west). Jambo
is a familiar Swahili greeting heard in Kenya.
5. In Kenya, a smoking ban prohibits lighting up in any public area, including streets, parks, bars, markets, theaters, and restaurants. Take note: it also forbids smoking in private homes and cars. Managers of hotels and bars, however, are allowed to set up designated smoking zones; be on the lookout for those.