Timeline of Kenya’s first five decades

This article originally appeared in the Financial Times, November 25 2013


December 12 1963

Kenya gains its independence from the UK, with Jomo Kenyatta becoming its first prime minister. A year later, the Republic of Kenya is formed, with Kenyatta as president and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga becoming vice-president.


The Shifta war, a secessionist conflict involving ethnic Somalis in the Northern Frontier District of the country, begins. It is called Shifta after the Somali word for ‘bandit’. The war ends officially in 1967, although violent episodes continue occasionally.

July 5 1969

Tom Mboya, who had been groomed by Kenyatta as a potential successor, is assassinated by a Kikuyu tribesman. This results in ethnic unrest, and Kenyatta bans the Kenya People’s Union opposition party and arrests its leader, Oginga Odinga.


August 22 1978

President Jomo Kenyatta, considered the country’s founding father – and also father of the fourth and current president, Uhuru Kenyatta – dies. His successor is vice-president Daniel arap Moi, popularly known as ‘Nyayo’, Swahili for ‘footsteps’, as he often said he was following in his predecessor’s footsteps.

November 1980

Three thousand people die in the Garissa massacre, as Kenyan forces slaughter ethnic Somali residents in the Garissa district of North Eastern Province. The government forces say they are retaliating for the murder of several civil servants by a notorious bandit known as Abdi Madobe.

June 1982

The National Assembly amends the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state. Two months later, the army suppresses a coup attempt by elements in the air force. Private Hezekiah Ochuka rules for six hours before fleeing. He is hanged in 1987.


February 1998

The mlongo system, a new way to select Kenya African National Union candidates in primary elections, is introduced. It entails party members queueing behind photographs of their favoured candidate. There are accusations that the system intimidates voters and is fraudulent.

June 1989

President Moi releases the Kenyans who have been detained under the country’s Public Security Act in the aftermath of the attempted coup of 1982. They had been held without trial. Dissidents living in exile are also granted amnesty.

August 1991

The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, comprising six opposition leaders, is formed. Moi arrests its leaders and clamps down on activists. International aid is suspended. Four months later, Kenya reintroduces a multi-party political system.



Mass demonstrations call for democratic reform. The World Bank withholds $5bn in structural adjustment credit. In December, Moi wins a further term as president in a widely criticised election. His main opponents are former vice-president Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, son of Oginga Odinga.

August 1998

Al-Qaeda bombs the US embassy in Nairobi, killing 224 people and injuring thousands more. Four years later, the terrorist group orchestrates an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa, killing 10 Kenyans and injuring three Israelis.

December 27 2002

Opposition parties unite as the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) backing presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki, who wins with 62 per cent of the vote, ending nearly 40 years of Kanu rule. The election was the most peaceful in Kenya’s history.


December 2007-January 2008

Kenya is plunged into chaos as Mwai Kibaki is re-elected president despite evidence of vote rigging. Violence ensues between rival ethnic groups, and more than 1,600 people are killed. Three months later, the government and opposition reach a power-sharing agreement.

August 2010

A new constitution is ratified, after being debated for decades. Thousands watch President Kibaki sign the document into law in Nairobi. The constitution adds checks and balances to the centres of power, and aims to weaken the influence of tribal politics.

March 2013

Kenya’s supreme court rejects challenges to the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo, in this year’s presidential election, despite evidence of some irregularities. Mr Kenyatta had gained 0.07 per cent beyond the threshold needed to avoid a run-off.

September 2013

Somali al-Shabaab militants seize the Westgate mall in Nairobi, killing up to 94 people, many of whom were reportedly tortured. More than 200 are injured. Al-Shabaab claims it is retribution for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia.


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