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 like Homo habilis and Homo erectus lived in Kenya 2.6 million years ago.
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 the 16th century of the Portuguese, whose domination gave way in turn to that of Oman in 1698. The United Kingdom established its influence in the 19th century.
The colonial history of Kenya dates from the establishment of a German protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal possessions in 1885, followed by the arrival of the British East Africa Company in 1888. Incipient imperial rivalry was forestalled when Germany handed its coastal holdings to Britain in 1890.
In 1895, the British government established the East African Protectorate, subsequently opening (1902) the fertile highlands to white settlers. The settlers were allowed a voice in government even before it was officially made a Crown colony in 1920, but Africans were excluded 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. African participation in the political process developed rapidly during the latter part of the period as British policy-makers sought to isolate the insurgents and their supporters. The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957.
Despite British hopes of handing power to more "moderate" African rivals, it was the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the large Kikuyu tribe and former prisoner under the emergency, which formed a government shortly before Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963. A year later, Kenyatta became Kenya's first president on the establishment of a republic.
The minority party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), representing a coalition of small tribes that had feared dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself voluntarily in 1964 and joined KANU.
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 (August 22, 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, but in December 1991, parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution. Multiparty elections in December 1992, gave the President's KANU Party a majority of seats, and Moi was re-elected for another five-year term, although opposition parties won about 45% of the parliamentary seats.
Further liberalisation in November 1997 allowed the expansion of political parties from 11 to 26. President Moi won re-election as President in the December 1997 elections, and his KANU Party narrowly retained its parliamentary majority.
Constitutionally barred from running in the December 2002 presidential elections, Moi unsuccessfully promoted Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first President, as his successor. A rainbow coalition of opposition parties routed the ruling KANU party, and its leader, Moi's former vice-president Mwai Kibaki, was elected President by a large majority.
- See also : Kenya