Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kenya - History

Kenya is positioned in the region of what is called East Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia, and Sudan to the North, Somalia to the northeast, Tanzania is to the south, Uganda to the west and the Indian Ocean lies all along its eastern border.

The capital of Kenya is Nairobi; government is a republic; official language is English as well as Kiswahili and there are, get this, 72 indigenous languages(can you say hi, how are you today 72 different ways? Didn't think so. How's that for perspective); currency is the schilling; population is close to 40 million people; religion is 45% Protestant, 33% Roman Catholic, 10% indigenous, and 10% muslim.

Prehistoric findings conclude that hominids(Homo Habilis) roamed Kenya about 2.6 million years ago. Homo Erectus roamed Africa around 1.8 million years ago. Both are believed to be direct ancestors of Homo Sapien that arrived in Africa during the Pleistocene epoch. The Great Rift Valley spans almost all the way across Kenya. It was here that the oldest known Homo Sapien(Lucy) was found.

The Khiosan were the first civilized people known to inhabit Kenya followed by the Bantu people who migrated from central Kenya. The melting pot of ethnicities that make up Kenya today are the result of waves of migration as early as 2000 B.C. from every corner of the African continent. The Kiswahili language is a mixture of mainly African and Arabic words. The Arabic influence is due mainly from the thriving trading ports on the east coast that developed over the centuries due to constant trade with mostly Arabia and Persia as early as the 1st century A.D. The Portugese arrived in the 16th century on their way to India in their attempt to gain ownership of the rich trade route around the Indian Ocean. They battled with the Omani Sultans for dominance of the coast and built Fort Jesus in Mombasa to defend their garrison. But as fate would have it, in 1698 the fort was retaken by the sultans who ruled it until the colonial european countries made their mark in the 19th century.

By the mid 18th century, european missionaries began to invade central Africa from the eastern coastlines. It was the Germans who first reached inner Kenya and reported seeing such grand sites such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. In 1885 German gunboats arrived on the island of Zanzibar demanding that the Sultan of Zanzibar relinquish the administration of east africa to them in order to put an end to the slave trading market. The Sultan finally gave in and relinquished his hold putting an end to the slave trade and effectively creating what was called Tanganyika( which became known as German East Africa.) The British were awarded with Kenya and in 1894 were also awarded with governance of Uganda. During the early years of colonization the British encouraged settlers to establish farms in the temperate highlands which were then dubbed the "White Highlands". As a result of the British invasion of settlers and colonization most Africans lost their land and were forced onto inferior land or worse into the labor market. The Kikuku tribe suffered the most because unlike the Masai tribe they were traditionally farmers. The British brought indentured labor from India to construct the Mombasa-Uganda railway. As a consequence, by 1920 there was also a sizeable Indian population in Kenya. One of the most famous Kenyan stories about the railway is the one about two lions that went on a rampage and killed and ate 135 Indian and African railway workers in the Tsavo region. For those more interested, this true story was dramatized in the 1996 movie "The Ghost and the Darkness".

The British protectorate formed a legislative counsel not long after they took over. They specifically excluded Africans from any political chair effectively leaving them voiceless. This ofcourse was not to be tolerated long as so the inevitable resistance groups and rebellions would soon evolve. From 1952 to 1956 the Mau Mau rebellion swept through Kenya's White Highlands. The underground African Kikuyu rebels sabotaged farms and attacked and killed white farmers and african workers loyal to their employers. The rebellion claims over 12,000 african lives while only a little over 100 settlers were killed. If you are wondering why there was such a desparity in the number of casualties it is because the Africans did not have any guns. The violence was suppressed in 1956 when 50,000 British troops were ordered to storm every village and farm and bomb and burn down everything in their way. Thousands of rebels were placed in detention camps. Though violent the rebellion may have been it did pave the way for political reform so all was not lost in the end. Kenya won its independence in 1964 under a new constitution and became a republic. Kenya made great strides in the ensueing years and opened up its doors to free market economies and tourism and began to grow and thrive until a bad guy got elected in 1978. Daniel Moi ammended the constitution in 1981 to ban political parties and make Kenya a one party state . His goal : to make Kenya a completely autocratic led country. In his infinite wisdom he attempted to stop political resistance by increasing the used of guns in demonstrations, sending political critics to prison for dubious charges and closing down universities(as they were believed to be the place where the political nuturing for oppostion and rebellion was fostered) - what a genius!

The Kenyan Airforce staged a political coup in 1982 to oust Moi but failed. Throughout his term, Moi and his cabinet were accused of corruption at the highest levels. In 1990, Kenyan foreign minister Robert Ouko who had threatened to reveal the names of the many corrupt ministers was mysteriously assasinated. The incident sparked the withdrawal of international aid. Moi relented and legalized opposition parties so they could take part in the 1992 elections. His party still won and he was re-elected due to the fragmented nature of the new parties and a very criticized electoral process(i.e. sham!) which basically made it impossible for these groups to form in time and vote properly. To make matters worse, Moi ammended the constitution in 1996 so that he could run for a 5th term and he won again due to the same issues as the prior election. In his vicious rule over Kenya Moi became one of the richest men in all of Africa due to corruption of government at the highest peak. Moi was not allowed to run for office in 2002 despite constitutional ammendments that he put in place during his 5th term. The people and the government finally stood up to him and put an end to his crooked ways.

Today Kenya is a politically stable yet frustrated nation. Sadly, even though Moi's totalitarian government is gone his successors have unfortunately proven to be corrupt as well, only not to the extent that Moi was. This is one of the main reasons why Kenya has stagnated and has not developed as fast as it should have compared to some of its African neighbors. Various grass roots campaigns have been put together to expose corrupt government officials and finally put an end to all the lying, cheating and stealing they have done. But it has been a long and very slow uphill battle. To add insult to injury, Kenya has also been plagued with recent droughts that have made it even harder for them to make a formidable comeback. Yet, through all of this they are still in high spirits and are determined to break away and become a great nation.


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