When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.
Quote attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first Prime Minister (1963–1964) and President (1964–1978)
Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first Prime Minister when the country gained its political independence from Britain on December 12, 1963. Kenyatta, born Kamau wa Ngengi to parents Muigai and Wambui who were members of the Kikuyu ethnic group in central Kenya changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta as an adult.
The first Europeans entering Kenya in 1844 were German missionaries. These missionaries had more on their minds than converting Africans to Christianity. They made numerous exploratory journeys into the interior of the country where they carefully mapped and wrote about their findings. Their detailed maps and cataloguing of the land, which they published, showed huge inland lakes, speculations about the source of the Nile and their sightings of the snow-covered peaks of Mountains Kilimanjaro and Kenya. The findings of the missionaries published in 1860: Travels, Researches, and Missionary Labours During an Eighteen Years' Residence in Eastern Africa led to British adventurers descending on the country. Not surprisingly, the missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf dedicated the book to “The Prince Consort Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel etc.,” the German husband of then reigning British monarch, Victoria.
The history of Kenya however began long before the advent of Europeans to the area in the 1840s. In the 1981 published book Kenya’s Past: An Introduction to Historical Method in Africa, Thomas Spear writes “The history of eastern and central Kenya stretches more than two million years from the initial emergence of mankind itself to the present. The archaeological record of mankind in Kenya is the oldest in the world, stretching back some four to five million years to the earliest men and women and their immediate forebears living on the shores of Lake Turkana.”
The communities in the area included, farmers, fishers, hunters and ironworkers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with other countries. Mombasa (Kenya’s capital) was the major port city of Kenya in the Middle Ages from where large and small ships left to trade with other countries. In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa a Portuguese writer and trader visited several countries bordering the Indian Ocean and documented his findings in The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants which was published in 1518. Of his visit to Mombasa, Barbosa wrote, “This is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of those which come from Sofala and those which go thither, and others which come from the great kingdom Cambaya and from Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar.”
Kenya’s history was re-written by white colonizers who swiftly followed the German missionaries and British adventurers. The lives of the Africans changed considerably after this large scale occupation of the land by white men and women. The Germans and British were jostling each other for space in East Africa. The covetous Europeans had occupied other areas of Africa and by 1884 felt that they needed to have some rules since they were tripping over each other in their greedy stampede to occupy African land. In 1884 at the request of Portugal, German chancellor Otto von Bismark organized a meeting (Berlin Conference) of the major white controlled nations of the world to negotiate and end the confusion over who would occupy which portion of Africa. Fourteen countries were represented when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884; Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the United States of America. The feeding frenzy lasted three months until February 26, 1885. This group of white men in Europe haggled over haphazardly drawn boundaries on the African continent, disregarding the centuries old established communities, cultures and order of the Africans.
The British moved into Kenya, occupied the most fertile land and forced the Africans off the land. They passed laws that disenfranchised Africans, even forbidding them to own land in certain parts of the country. With the white interlopers occupying what they dubbed the "White Highlands" of Kenya, the Maasai and the Kikuyu were displaced and some were forced unto reserves. With the fertile land in Kenya reserved for white people and Africans forced to subsist on mostly infertile land, the white settlers became increasingly wealthy while the Africans lived in poverty. The large scale farming that enriched the white farmers needed cheap labour but the Africans refused to work on the farms. To ensure that Africans were a cheap source of labour for the white population of Kenya, the British government passed laws which forced the Africans to work for the white people who now occupied their land. The British army was on hand to ensure that white farmers and the stolen African land they occupied was protected. The Masters and Servants Act (1906) ensured that a caste system of all white people as masters and all Africans as servants was firmly in place.
Even after carving up the African continent and exploiting the natural resources and the people, the Europeans continued to fight each other over territory until everything came to a head in 1914 with an all out European armed tribal conflict. Following that armed conflict, Germany lost the African land it had coveted to other Europeans. The second European tribal conflict which lasted from 1939 to 1945 was a turning point for Africans across the continent. Africans from the various colonized nations were forced into both wars as fighting men and when they returned home were not satisfied to continue living as third class citizens. Returning to Kenya after the second war in Europe the African ex-servicemen found that the British colonial government had reneged on its promise to provide them with land and other benefits and instead their taxes had been increased. According to authors Esther and Joseph Oppong (Kenya published 2004) Harry Thuku (co-founder of the Kikuyu Central Association) acting for a group of disgruntled Kenyan ex-servicemen wrote to the government saying: "When we went to do war work we were told by His Excellency the governor that we should be rewarded, but it is our reward to have our tax raised and to have registration papers given to us for our ownership of land to be called into question; to be told today that we are to receive title deeds and tomorrow for it to appear that we are not to receive them.”
The British government ignored the repeated requests to honour the promises made to the men. The continued disrespect and mistreatment of the Africans by the British government and the white occupiers of the land led to the independence movement with Kenyatta as its eventual leader. The British resisted the Kenyan call for independence, imprisoning, torturing and killing the freedom fighters. After decades of fighting the British for their independence during which Kenyatta and other leaders were imprisoned, some tortured and killed, with thousands of African civilians killed by British troops, Kenyans gained their independence on December 12, 1963.