Mombasa had long been known to Europeans, the Portugese had used it as a trading base for many years. The Sultan of Zanzibar extended his rule over the East African mainland throughout the nineteenth century. The African tribes in East Africa resented this Arab rule but could do little to resist it. The Arab control was tied up very much with the ivory and slave trades.
It was this attachment to slavery that brought the area to the attention of the British public. David Livingstone used Zanzibar as a starting point for his explorations of the interior. He was to be joined by explorers interested in discovering the source of the Nile. They would send reports back to Britain publicising the evils of the East African slave trade. These would allow powerful lobbies back in Britain to put pressure on the Sultan of Zanzibar to banish slavery in his lands which he reluctantly agreed to in 1873. Technically, this ban included the East African coast although the policing of this ban was difficult to say the least.
The British were generally content with their informal control over the area through their influence over the Sultan of Zanzibar. However, in the 1880s they were to find that their influence under the area would be severely challenged by the Germans. In November 1884 three deck passengers disguised as mechanics arrived in East Africa. This trio was armed with German flags and blank treaty documents. They quietly set about getting local African tribal leaders to agree to the Kaiser being their overlord rather than the Sultan of Zanzibar. These leaders probably assumed that an overlord further away would be less onerous than one on their doorsteps. They would be wrong on this calculation.
Peters kept his secret well. He carried his documents to Berlin where a conference was discussing colonial spheres of influence. Not even Bismarck had been aware of these developments. The Kaiser eagerly granted Peters an incorporated German East Africa Company covering the lands of his treaties - From Tanganyika up to Witu. This new colony would be called Tanganyika. It's creation would shock the British in East Africa into action.
The British set up their own British East Africa Company in reaction to the German one. Pressure was put on the Sultan of Zanzibar to hand over control of his remaining East African lands to this British Company under William MacKinnon. A temporary agreement with the Germans to respect each others' spheres of influence was agreed in 1886 and a more comprehensive agreement was signed in 1890 which basically gave Britain primacy over Zanzibar and a line stretching from the island of Pemba to Lake Victoria and then the Nile watershed whilst Germany was free to create its colony of Tanganyika between Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika.
The Company found that the administration of the colony was far more expensive than they had anticipated. There was some resistance to the British moving into the area, notably when the Kikuyu destroyed Fort Lugard. The Company also had little in the way of income. The area had been ravaged by intensive slave raiding and trading and there was little obvious income available to the company. By 1895 it was clear that the British East Africa Company could not continue as a viable concern and so sold its lands and buildings to the British Government.
With more resources at its disposal, the British government could finance a railway with a view to opening up the highlands to white settlement. The highlands combined a pleasant climate with good quality land. It was thought that the area would be suitable for a variety of cash crops. The railway was completed by 1906 by which time, white settlers had discovered that tea, coffee and tobacco could be grown in the highlands. However the new farms and plantations would prove to be harder to turn into profitable enterprises than at first realised as diseases and exhaustion of soils took their toll.
The settlers were partly allowed in 1907 a voice in government through the allocation of some of the seats on the Legislative Council. However, the governor still had the right to appoint the majority of the seats on the Council.
Kenya was to become an active theatre of war during World War One as the German Tanganyika commander Paul von Lettow Vorbeck fought a highly effective guerilla campaign throughout Eastern and Central Africa for the entire duration of the war. Many settlers and Africans would be called up to help fight this German force which was to prove to be a serious drain on resources.
After the war there were further calls by the British white settler community to convert Kenya into a Crown Colony with more rights for the settlers. The British government was keen to reduce its expenditures at the end of the First World War and so granted this right in 1920. However, it was made clear by the British Government that "Kenya is an African territory and the African natives must be paramount". The British therefore resisted turning Kenya into a full self-governing colony. It also limited white settlement to the highlands. having said this, it still gave the lion's share of representation to the white settlers. In fact, the black Africans did not get any representation at all until 1944.
The 1930s were to prove to be a difficult time for the colony as the world wide depression hit commodity prices across the board. The white community was hit particularly hard as the African producers very often grew more appropriate local crops for the local markets. There was to be growing economic and political tension between these groups even after the depression finally ended and the world moved into yet another World War.
Nationalist and independence movements were full of anticipation at the end of World War Two. The sudden granting of independence to India in 1947 motivated subject peoples across the empire and made them hopeful that they would receive this right in the near future also. The British government was generally content to hand over independence to viable political units although they were wary of being left holding the uneconomic colonies at the end of this process. They therefore proposed the creation of large federated political units. They created the British East Africa Federation in the 1950s combining Kenya with Tanganyika and Uganda. However before the ink had even dried on this deal, Kenya was to suffer from one of the deadliest insurgency rebellions of the Post-War period. This Mau Mau rebellion would effectively wreck the federation as regular British army forces had to be called in to quell the situation.
The Mau Mau rebellion was a result of the tension between the white settlers and the African Kikuyu tribe in particular. Most of the other African tribes stayed neutral and quiet throughout the emergency. It should be noted that the Kikuyu had historically been based around the highland areas that had been reserved for the white settlers. It is therefore not surprising that they felt more marginalised and bitter towards the white settlers than the other African tribes would. Their economic plight was to be joined with powerful religious forces to convince many Kikuyu of the rightness of their cause and that they had little to fear from British retribution.
The choosing of isolated farms and the killing of family members including women and children shocked the white settler community to its core. The insurgents also targetted those Kikuyu who worked for the British in an official capacity. The murders made dramatic headlines back in Britain and spurred the authorities to action. This rebellion occurred during the premiership of Winston Churchill who still felt a powerful connection to the concept of Empire. His administration was determined to make a stand and defend what he regarded as the lawful government of the colony.
The British brought in 20,000 extra soldiers to try and quell the situation. They made extensive use of intelligence and turn coats to infiltrate the Mau Mau groups. It was fortunate for the authorities that the rebellion was confined to the one ethnic group. This allowed the authorities to gain intelligence and support from the other groups and it also allowed them to target the Kikuyu for relocation. Mombasa and Nairobi were virtually emptied of Kikuyu as they were forcibly moved to giant reserves. This unsubtle approach undoubtedly removed far more innocent than guilty parties, but the sheer size and efficiency of the operation saw the Mau Mau organisation fall apart as it was moved along with the population to these reserves. Over a million Kikuyu were relocated. A series of political carrots was also offered by the British to entice the more moderate Mau Mau to cease fighting. Africans were given permission to grow coffee for the first time, more land was allocated to them and their representation at the government level was to be increased.
This variety of tactics was to see the threat be effectively removed by 1957 although the emergency powers stayed in place until 1960. Despite the victory of the British forces, the sheer cost involved help convince the British government of speeding up demands for independence. In 1960, the British accepted the principle of one person one vote. This would effectively end the privileged political position of the white settlers for good. By 1963, a black majority government was elected for the first time. It declared independence on December 12th 1963.