Named after its most prominent geographical feature, Mount Kenya, Kenya stretches from well populated tropical coastal lowlands and densely settled temperate highlands, to sparsely populated northern deserts. Initially cobbled together by the British in 1895, it became an independent nation in 1963. It consists of forty-two main indigenous communities, each of whom had their own cultures and institutions, and had long inhabited the area. Arabs had also traded with East Africa for a long time and some of them had settled along the East African coast. At the height of the scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th century, it was briefly placed under the control of the Imperial British East Africa Company, chartered in 1888. Its mandate was to take care of British interests in what later became Kenya and Uganda, but in establishing a nascent administration, it faced formidable difficulties. It was undercapitalized, local people revolted against their intrusion, the area was too large for effective control, transport facilities were nonexistent, and most of its officials had little or no administrative experience. As a result the company went bankrupt, and the British government was forced to take control in 1895. For strategic reasons, Britain decided to build a railway line between the port of Mombasa and Kisumu, undertaken between 1897 and 1902. The labor force was mainly drawn from the Indian subcontinent, and on its completion, some Asians chose to remain in the new country, where they assisted the British administrators or became shopkeepers. The railway had cost just over five million British pounds, and it was hoped that it would pay for its running cost, but experience proved otherwise. Consequently, the government encouraged Europeans to settle in the cool and fertile highlands. Thus Kenya became the home of Africans, Asians, and Europeans, and this mosaic of races led to racial antagonisms characteristic of white settlement colonies throughout Africa. The colonial conquest was brutal, Africans lost both their land and sovereignty, and following the establishment of colonial rule, African societies were further disrupted by the imposition of new taxes and controls, missions and mission schools, migrant labor, and urbanization. Over time, political opposition grew, breaking out eventually in the Mau Mau uprising in 1952 and culminating in political independence in 1963. Following independence, Africans have largely displaced Europeans in the government, economic development has been rapid, and elections have continued to be held, but problems remain regarding persistent poverty and political corruption.
General Overviews And Textbooks
There are few general textbooks for Kenya, and most are now quite dated. Ogot 1973 is still the best of these texts, while Oliver, et al. 1963–1976 is the sole scholarly compilation specifically for East Africa. Ehret 1998 is a synthesis of early history employing linguistic and archaeological data. Abour 1979, Ochieng’ 1989, and Ogot and Ochieng’ 2000 all focus on modern Kenyan history from 1895.
Abour, C. Ojwando. A Modern Political History of Kenya: White Highlands No More. Nairobi: Pan African Researchers, 1979.
A survey of the British colonial rule in Kenya and the development of nationalism and struggle for independence. Contains excerpts from valuable historical documents.
Ehret, Christopher. An African Classical Age: Eastern and Southern Africa in World History, 1000 B.C. to A.D. 400. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
A history of the languages and peoples of eastern and southern Africa based largely on historical linguistic analysis. A broad synthetic history that has generated some debate for its reconstructions and correlations of linguistic and archaeological data and chronology.
Ochieng’, William R., ed. A Modern History of Kenya 1895–1980. Nairobi: Evans Brothers, 1989.
A collection of essays covering Kenya from the colonial period to the end of Kenyatta era.
Ogot, B. A., ed. Zamani: A Survey of East African History. 2d ed. Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1973.
An authoritative text covering precolonial and colonial history. Now somewhat dated, but nothing else has yet supplanted it.
Ogot, Bethwell A., and W. R. Ochieng’, eds. Kenya: The Making of a Nation: A Hundred Years of Kenya’s History, 1895–1995. Maseno, Kenya: Institute of Research and Postgraduate Studies, Maseno University, 2000.
A collection of studies on the occasion of Kenya’s centennial.
Oliver, Roland, Gervaise Mathew, Vincent Harlow, E. M. Chilver, Alison Smith, and D. A. Low, eds. History of East Africa. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963–1976.
Comprehensive scholarly collection covering East African history from the Stone Age to the present that represented the state of scholarship in the 1960s, but is now quite dated. Volume 1 covers precolonial history, Volume 2 the colonial period, and Volume 3 the postcolonial era.
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- Achebe, Chinua
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