Before the 1st century most of the east African community interacted with one another through intermarriage and trade.

However between the 1st and the 19th century they interacted with people from other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.

This contact was first at the coast and later to the interior.

The contacts were between the African, Arabs, Greeks, Chinese, Romans, Portuguese, Persians, British and Dutch.

The dominant among these were the Arabs (introduced Islam) and the Portuguese (introduced Christianity)

They settled at the cost and conquered the local people at deferent periods hence creating a profound influence on the coast and the interior of east Africa.

The east African coast.

Historical information about east African coast before the 7th century is scanty due to inadequate written evidence.

The documentary, archaeological, authropogical, linguistical and oral traditions have appointed to the presence of early visistors at the coast.

Other sources include periplus of the Erythrean Sea which involved sailing around the Indian Ocean. It was written by a Greek commercial agent in 120AD in Egypt.

The cloudius Ptolemy.

He wrote a book “geography’’ which talked about trade in the east African coast.

The book also had documents by Arab merchant’s e.g ibu batuta, ali masudi, al edvis.

The Christian topography.

Written in the 1st half of the 6th century and talked about the Persian dominant of the Indian Ocean trade.

Greco- roman documentary.

Early visitors to the east African coast up the 15th century.

Factors that enabled the early visitors to come and settle at the east African coast.

  • Contact between east Africa and the  early visitors was possible because of the accessibility of the coast by the sea from sofala(Mozambique) to Mogadishu(Somali)
  • The area had big harbour where ships could anchor.
  • Availability of islands e.g. Mombasa and Zanzibar which divided the mainland by a narrow channel.
  • There were moon soon winds which blew between November to April hence enhancing the most of ships.
  • The earliest visitors were Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians and Portuguese.


They came to the east African coast after 326BC, after the death of Alexander the great.

The Greek empire had controlled the Middle East, North Africa and India.

Egypt in North Africa was under the dynasty of Ptolemy and Syria was under the dynasty of Seleucids who were both Greek generals.

Both Egyptians and Syrians got ivory from India via the Syrian route.

The Greek generals blocked the route to India forcing the Greek ptolemies of Egypt to get an alternative route and alternative source of ivory.

Hence they travelled via the red sea and down along the east Africa.

Therefore Egyptian ptolemies and east African coast developed and stretched as far as dar-es-salaam.


The Romans like the Greek had greater demand for goods such as ivory, species, gold, precious stones, rhino horns and slaves.

The Romans therefore wanted to break the Arab monopoly over trade.

In 45AD the roman sailor called hippaplus sailed via the red sea to the Indian Ocean during the reign of Augustus ceaser.

He had the knowledge of the moonson winds, hence the Romans sailed directly to India via the Indian ocean and exchange their goods with glass, wine and wheat hence bringing them into Africa by the Indian ocean.

The Roman Empire collapsed in 15AD


Persia was ruled by shirazi dynasty form 224-636 AD.

They wanted to rebuild their empire after its destruction by the Macedonian Greek.

By the 6th century the Persians were trading with India and china.

They controlled the red sea, part of Egypt and Arabia; latter the Persians came to east Africa coast and established their ruling dynasty.

They intermarried with local people and introduced Islamic civilization which included trade, architecture, religion and culture.

They traded with local people in items like bowls, glass, pots and swords.

They build towns e.g Zanzibar and lamu.

They called the coast of Zanzibar zenj (black), bar(coast) i.e. zenj bar –black coast.

They called the land between Mogadishu and cape Delgado the land of zenj( land of black people).


They visited the east African coast in large fleets of sheep around 1430 AD.

Chinese authors during the dynast of sung (960-1279AD) and ming (1368-1644AD) were familiar with the east African coast.

The Chinese coins dating 700AD have been found at the east African coast.

Through y=trade the Chinese silk cloths, porcelain bowls and plates in return they acquired ivory, gold, leopard skins, rhino horns and tortoise shells.


The Arabs came to the east African coast for trade by 650AD.

The earliest Arab settlement was at pemba and later kilwa, lamu, maunda, Mombasa and later to 37 other towns to the east African coast.

The east African coast was attractive to the Arabs due to:-

  • Its offshore islands which were well watered had cool climate compared to hot Arabia.
  • Fertile soils for crop growing for the Arab population.

Factors that facilitated coming of the Arabs.

  • Presence of moonson winds. I.e. the north east and the south west winds which blew the Arab ship from Arabia via the Indian Ocean.
  • The ports of southern Arabia were good sailing places on the journey to east African coast.
  • East African also deep harbours for ships to anchor.
  • Arabs were skilled in marine technology i.e. boat making, map reading and use of compass.

Reasons for the coming of the early visitors on the east African coast.

  • They wanted to trade and control the commercial activity along the coast.
  • Some Arabs came as refuge fleeing religious and political persecutions in Arabia.
  • Some came to explore the east African coast.
  • Some came to spread their religion.
  • Some came to establish settlement along the east African coast.
  • Accessibility of east African coast to the outside world made some of them to come because of the cool climate and fertile soils found at the coast.

Trade between the east African coast and the outside world.

Historically the east coast of Africa has had contact with the Middle Eastern and far eastern countries for long. It was established through Indian Ocean trade with the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenician, Chinese, Persians, Indians and Arabs.

Development of trade.

  • Availability of items of trade like ivory and slaves.
  • Demanding for the trade items in the outside world.
  • Presence of merchants at the coast willing to finance the trade.
  • Availability of long distance trader in the interior like akamba and mijikenda.
  • Accessibility of east African coast by sea.
  • There were good natural harbours.
  • Presence of moonson wind system which propelled the dhows.
  • Relative peace and stability along the coast.
  • Technological advancement in dhow and ship building.

Organisation of trade.

The coastal people organised themselves into caravans which moved along established trade routes.  They took interior guns, glass, beads, swords and porcelain bowls. Slaves were obtained either by raiding or through exchange with other goods.

The major markets for this trade were at the coast like Mombasa, Zanzibar and sofala.

Impact of the Indian Ocean trade on the people of east Africa.

  • Trade contributed to the emergence and growth of settlements which developed into towns and eventually stone built cities.
  • It leads to the settlement of Arabs at the coast.
  • There were inter-city conflicts over trade and taxes.
  • There emerged new structures of administration controlled by sultans.
  • There was emergence of classes of wealthy merchants.
  • Trade contacts between the coast and the interior were expanded.
  • Islam spread into the region.
  • Arab and Persian architectural designs were introduced.
  • A new system of government based on sharia law was introduced.
  • There was the emergence of Swahili people a product of intermarriages between the coastal Bantu and Arabs.
  • There were new crops introduced like rice, cloves, coconuts and spices.
  • Indigenous trades such as weaving, ironworking declined due to importation of foreign goods.
  • Slave raids led to wars among African communities.

The coming of the Portuguese.

It was the 1st European country to explore east African coast at 15th century supported by Prince Henry the navigator. The 1st appearance of the Portuguese to the east African coast was in 1498 by vasco d agama.

Reasons for the coming of the Portuguese to east Africa coast.

  • They were interested in establishing a trading empire in the east.
  • They wanted to convert the people of east Africa to Christianity.
  • They had skilled navigators who were ready to carry out exploration voyages at the sea.
  • They had for a long time been challenged by the Arabs and Turks over the eastern trade. To stop them, they had to control the east African coast.
  • The east African coast was a mid-way between India and Europe. It could provide a base for the supply of fresh food and water.
  • They were looking for a sea route to India.
  • They wanted to revenge their earlier defeat by the Muslims who had conquered the Iberian Peninsula.
  • The east African coastline had good natural harbours.
  • The spirit of adventure was developed in Europe after the renaissance and the emergency of various geographical societies.

Portuguese conquest and rule of the east coast of Africa.

In 1498 vasco da gama was the 1st sailor to reach east African coast with the aim to explore the coast.

He landed of the coast of Mozambique on March 1, 1498. The sultan of Mozambique was hostile to vasco d agama. He later sailed to Mombasa where he and his companions met a lot of hostility.

He left for malindi where he was warmly welcomed by seyyid ali, the sultan of malindi.

He was accorded all the assistance he needed including a gujerati pilot known as ahmed bin majid, to guide the crew to India.

The decisions to conquer the east coast of Africa was taken by the Portuguese after vasco d agama’s return to Portugal in 1499.he informed the king of Portugal about the lucrative trade between the coastal people and those from the middle and Far East.

In 1500 pedro alveres ras cabral led an expedition with the intention of capturing sofala but failed.

Vasco d agama led the next expedition against kilwa, which he conquered in 1502.

In 1503 ruy lourenco ravasco defeated Zanzibar and forced its sultan to pay tributes to the king of Portugal.

In 1505 a large expedition of 20 ships and 1500 men under Francisco de almeida was sent to east African coast. It conquered sofala, kilwa and Mombasa.

Reasons for Portuguese success.

  • They had superior weapons and well trained soldiers compared to the coastal traders.
  • They had better naval power like ships and dhows.
  • There was disunity among the coastal city states.
  • The Turkish and Persian navies in the Indian Ocean were too weak to offer any help to the coastal towns against the Portuguese.
  • The Portuguese made alliances with some local rulers who sent soldiers to fight alongside the Portuguese.
  • They were able to receive military assistance from their headquarters at goa in India.
  • There was lack of resistance from some towns like sofala.

Portuguese rule.

They established their rule which lasted for 200 years and in 1507 they made Mozambique their headquarters.

It was under a captain who took orders from the Portuguese viceroy stationed at goa in southern India, later they divided the area into two and another captain was in Mombasa.

The duties of the captains were to collect tributes from the local rulers, impose custom duties on import and exports and to suppress resistance or opposition to their rule. They also supervised the ruling families in the city.

Factors that led to the decline of Portuguese rule.

  • Inadequate personnel as compared to the vast east African coast.
  • Portuguese officials were greedy and corrupt who amassed personal wealth at the expense of administration.
  • Lack of systematic form of government.
  • Portuguese faced hostility and rebellions from the coastal people.
  • Decline in trade mad e them lose revenue for administration.
  • Distance between Portugal and east Africa coast slowed reinforcement.
  • Portuguese were attacked by tropical diseases.
  • They were challenge by the Britain, Dutch, France and the Turks.
  • At home, Portugal suffered annexation by Spain (1590 and 1640).
  • In 1588, the coast was invaded by the zimba warriors from Mozambique which undermined their position in east African coast.

Impact of the Portuguese rule.


  • Coastal towns and their people were exposed to heavy taxation.
  • They discouraged other trading powers from visiting the city due to their presence.
  • Some coastal towns declined due to people moving away to escape taxation and other interior traders avoided them.
  • The Portuguese demand for slaves on their plantations abroad increased raids, which were perfected with the use of new more powerful ammunition.
  • There was segregation of the local people.
  • The corrupt, ruthless Portuguese officials misruled the cities leading to misery and suffering.


  • There was introduction of new crops like maize, groundnuts, cassava, pineapples, pawpaw and guavas.
  • They introduced new word which enriched Kiswahili like meza(table) and mvinyo (wine).
  • They built historical monuments like fort Jesus and vasco da gama pillar.
  • Closer links were established between the east African coast and goa in India.
  • They also introduced Christianity.

The establishment and impact of Oman rule in east Africa coast.

In 1698, the Portuguese’s were driven out of the coastal region and taken over by the Oman Arabs. The imam became the ruler of the east African coast.

At the initial stages of their rule, the imams could not come from the Oman to enforce their rule on the coastal due to civil wars in their homeland. So they were ruled by local Arab family the mazurui rule Mombasa and nabahan family ruled lamu.

The mazurui family were troublesome to the imams for they wanted to be independent as they forced towns like Malinda, pate and Pemba to pay allegiance to them.

Seyyid said’s reign 1804-1856.

He wanted to the master of the whole Indian Ocean trade. To consolidate his power and protect his east Africa interests, he transferred his capital to Zanzibar in 1846.

Reasons for choosing Zanzibar were.

  • Zanzibar was loyal to him.
  • Zanzibar was a green and pleasant island with a good climate compared to Muscat which was hot and dry.
  • Had good harbours in which ships could anchor.
  • Had good and clean water.
  • Its position was convenient for trade with the mainland and also with Mombasa to the north.
  • Its climate and fertile soils were good for cultivating cloves.

Seyyid controlled the whole of the coast and developed trade links with the interior and some communities in Kenya like akamba and mijikenda got involved in it.

The main exports were slaves, ivory and cloves, caravans were sent out into the interior to collect slaves and ivory.

Effects of Oman rule.

  • Growth of slave trade.
  • Growth of towns like Zanzibar.
  • Local, long distance and international trade grew.
  • Linked east Africa coast to the rest of the world.
  • Spread of Islamic religion.
  • Growth of plantation agriculture.
  • Missionaries came to east Africa coast in an attempt to stop slave trade.

Development of plantation agriculture.

It was the major cause of increased slave trade in the 19th century who became labourers in agricultural plantations. By 1840 clove plantations in Zanzibar and pemba had attracted slave labour and slaves were heavily overworked.

In 1840’s the Arabs and Swahili started growing grain on the mainland and this continued up to the beginning of colonial period. In Malinda several planters had acquired land of over 400 hectares where hundreds of slaves were used to plant millet and sesame. The success of plantations depended on the long working of slaves.

In Mombasa it was cultivation of coconut because their farms were small and required less labourers and more yield compared to grains per hectare.

On the mainland, the Swahili also became major planters. The mijikenda sub-tribe did not participate in plantation agriculture; they traded with the Arabs and sold ivory, cattle and grain.

Often slaves attempted to escape from plantations. There were efforts to improve their conditions; some of them who ran away were employed by rich Arabs and Swahili in their armies to fight against the sultan’s government.

Factors that facilitated plantations agriculture by seyyid said in east Africa coast.

  • Existence of slave labour.
  • Fertile soils that favoured farming.
  • Presence of large tracts of land for plantation farming in the mainland and the coast.
  • The coast had suitable climate and abundant rainfall.
  • There was high demand for grains at the coast and overseas.
  • Large number of Oman settlers who settled in Malinda, lamu, Mombasa acquired land for crop growing.

Effects of plantation agriculture on the east Africa coast.

  • Need for slave labour increased slave trade.
  • Growth of cash crops for export led to international trade.
  • Introduction of new crops at the coast.
  • Agro-based industries emerged.
  • Increased Omani Arabs settlement at the east Africa coast to do agriculture.
  • There was suffering and misery by the slaves who worked for long hours.

Development, organization and consequences of trade.

By the 19th century, trade connections among the Kenya communities and also between Kenya and other countries had already been established.

Development of long distance trade.

It connected the interior of east Africa with the coastal in Kenya with commodities like ivory and slave with exchange with clothes, utensils, ironware and beads.

The akamba and the mijikenda acted middlemen between the interior communities and the coast; they travelled to Mount Kenya region looking for slaves and ivory and all the way to baringo and Lake Victoria.

They tried to keep good relation with the communities they passed through and discouraged other communities from participating in long distance trade by spreading malicious tales.

The Arabs and Swahili in 1860s took control of the interior and used caravans into the interior as far as Uganda.

Organization of the trade.

The people involved were the akamba, yao, nyamwezi and routes went all the way to kilomanjaro, m.t. Kenya and lake Victoria region but they did avoid maasai region due to hostility.

They gathered in the coast and moved in caravans to the interior. The goods were carried to and from the coast by porters who were either free men or slaves.

Items of trade included guns, cotton, cloth, beads, glass, swords, porcelain vessels, bracelets and bangles. From the interior the traders obtained ivory, rhino horns, slaves, hides and skins.

The trade was financed by the Arabs and Swahili, it was a barter trade but cowrie’s shells were introduced as currency.

Effects of long distance trade.

  • There were increased contacts among the people of the interior like akamba and agikuyu.
  • New items were introduced like guns, cotton, cloth and glasses.
  • The presence of the Swahili and Arabs in the interior exposed it to foreigners who reached as far inland mumias.
  • Emergence of powerful chiefs and kingdoms like wanga kingdom and chief kivoi of ukambani.
  • There was spread of Islam into the interior.
  • There was introduction of new crop like maize, bananas, rice, sugarcane and mangoes.
  • Decline of indigenous industries due to many foreign goods which were cheap.
  • Promoted slavery and slave trade.

International trade.

These was achieved through the opening up of the interior by seyyid said  who took control of the east Africa mainland and encouraged foreign traders to trade with Zanzibar.

He encouraged Indian merchants (banyans) to come add settle in Zanzibar since they were traders and money lenders.

He did sign treaties with the United States of America (1844), Britain (1839) and France (1844).

He also opened up to trading links with Germany.

Exports from east Africa included ivory, slaves, coconuts and gum-copal which were exchanged for guns, American clothes, beads and hardware.

Impact of international trade.

  • It linked east Africa to the outside world that later to result to colonization.
  • Emergence of strong leaders who welcomed foreigner from whom they gained guns.
  • The coming of Europeans in the scene ended Arab dominance in the trade.
  • The existence of slave trade and Islam made missionaries come to abolish slave trade and spread Christianity.
  • There were new crops introduced.
  • New items were introduced.
  • Intensification of warfare during slave raids, which caused suffering and destructions.

 The Spread of Christianity.

It was introduced by the Portuguese at the coastal region and won converts in Mombasa and malindi.

As soon as they were driven out by the Arabs who established the Islamic culture and religion overwhelmed the Christians effort.

In the late 19th century there was a Christian revival in Britain and Western Europe. This movement was also known as the evangelical revival. This movement provided the inspiration for the missionaries to go out into other parts of the world.

Reasons for coming of Christians missionaries.

  • They came to spread Christianity to the Africans.
  • They came to spread western civilization.
  • They came to abolish slave trade.
  • They wanted to introduce legitimate trade.
  • There was formation of missionary society in Western Europe which competed to send their members out to Africa.
  • The missionaries wanted to counter the spread of Islam.
  • Missionaries were also interested in the geographical knowledge of Africa.

Missionary activities and challenges in Kenya.

It began in 1844 when a Germany missionary Ludwig krapf arrived in Zanzibar.

He was sent by church missionary society of England who obtains a letter from seyyid said asking the local people go give him any assistance he required. He was later joined by johann rebmann from Germany.

They started work at rabai, near Mombasa where they established a mission station in 1846.

In 1849, they were accompanied by jakob erhardt.

Krapf encouraged members of other Christian societies to help in spreading Christianity.

In 1862, members of united Methodist church arrived from Britain and settled at ribe, under the leadership of Thomas wakefield and open a mission at jomvu and lamu.

In the interior church missionary society opened stations at sagala in taita and at taveta.

There were challenges like the akamba were unfriendly to the missionaries when chief kivoi was killed while travelling with krapf.

In the 19th and early 20th century saw the spread of Christianity into the interior of Kenya. In 1891, the Church of Scotland mission began to work at kibwezi in machakos. After several missionaries died there, the mission moved to kikuyu in central Kenya.

The second group in ukambani was African inland mission from the United States of America. They open a mission station at nzaui, in machakos district later expanded to kijabe, nandi, kabarnet and nyakach.

After the Kenya-uganda railway reached Nairobi in 1899, some french catholic missionaries opened s mission station, st. Austin’s, near Nairobi.

In 1903 the consolata fathers from Italy opened a station in nyeri.

By 1914, several Christian societies-churches of God mission, the seventh Day Adventist and the Friends mission-were all working in western Kenya.

Factors that facilitated spread of Christianity in Kenya.

  • Some African communities were friendly to the missionaries.
  • The early missionaries enjoyed the support of seyyid said.
  • Missionaries were quick to realize the importance of studying the languages of the people among whom they worked.
  • Most of the missionaries at first used Kiswahili in their work.
  • African converts were used to spread the gospel.
  • Other activities like education, health influenced Africans into conversion.
  • Building of Kenya- Uganda railway facilitated movement.
  • Discovery of quinine enabled missionaries fight diseases.

Challenges faced by missionaries.

  • They were attacked by tropical diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness.
  • There was poor means of transport no roads or railways or vehicles.
  • Missionaries lacked adequate supplies of food, medicine, money and other necessary materials.
  • Hostility from some communities.
  • There was insecurity in some areas.
  • In areas were Islam was prevalent like the coast, missionary work was impossible.
  • The missionary were few and could not cover their regions effectively for they were too big.
  • The missionaries were from different denominations and had to compete for followers, this lead to hatred.
  • Slave traders were hostile to the missionaries because from their activities, business was adversely affected.

Effects of missionary activities.

  • They spread Christianity to the interior of Kenya.
  • Africans gave up their culture practices like female circumcision and burial rites.
  • Introduction of western education.
  • They build up rehabilitation centres where they taught vocational skills, reading and Christianity.
  • They built health centres where western medicine was administered to cure and control diseases.
  • They introduced new crops like coffee and new farming methods.
  • They pioneered the construction of roads to their missions.
  • They translated the bible into Kiswahili and local languages.
  • Africans who had received missionary education and trained formed a new elite social class which was a new creation in the African set-up.
  • Some missionaries combined evangelisation with exploration activities, naming mountains and rivers.
  • Missionaries became pioneers of colonialism as they appealed to their home countries to offer them protection as they carried out their work.
  • There rose independent churches and schools.
  • During colonialism missionaries represented African interest in the legislative council. Like Dr. John Arthur was appointed to represent Africans in the legislative council.
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