The earliest remains resembling those of human being have been found in East Africa on the shores of Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya – popularly referred to as the “Cradle of Mankind”. This discovery has almost confirmed that modern man’s existence can be traced back to 2.6 million years ago. It would also appear from John Milton’s book “Paradise Lost” that the towns of Mombasa and Malindi existed as early as 4000 B.C. when they were referred to as the “utmost ports” by the angel Michael in his revelation of the World to Adam. All this strenghtens the view that perhaps the region now known as East Africa was once a thriving civilization of mankind stretching beyond ancient history and that the Chinese, Phoenicians, Romans, Persians, Greeks and Arabs were following in the traditions of their forefathers who maintained trading links with the region. The first known guidebook to this region “the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea”, written by Diogenes, the Greek merchant who made exploration southwards from Egypt about A.D. 110, described places, rivers, islands and towns for sailors in the Indian Ocean waters recording the sailing time from one place to another. He also mentioned that he travelled inland as far as the vicinity of the great lakes and the snowy mountains from where the Nile River drew its sources. Those features were later included in the “World Map” drawn by Ptolemy about A.D. 150.
The early visitors to East Africa traded in grain, oil ghee, glass, beads, cloth, metal tools, cooper, tin and weapons which they exchanged for palm oil, rhinoceros horns, ivory, slaves, cinnamon, frankincense, gum arabic, tortoise shells and live animals from the East African natives. In 1415, the ruler of Malindi sent a giraffe to the Chinese emperor as a gift, accompanied by a caretaker to look after the animal. Two years later, the caretaker was escorted back home by a large fleet of ships and sailors as a sign of appreciation by the Emperor.
By fifteen century, Portuguese explorers like Bartholomew Diaz, (1486) and Vasco da Gama (1498) reached the Cape of Good Hope, Mombasa and Malindi. Their objectives were to spread the Gospel, gain Portuguese influence over the area and open up trade between the region and their country. The Portuguese Empire on the East African Coast began in 1502 when Vasco da Gama made a second voyage to the region though against the wishes of the Sultans who were bullied into accepting the Portuguese rule.
Except in Malindi where Vasco da Gama found a friendly Sultan, the arrival of the Portuguese on the East African Coast met a hostile reception from the Arabs who detested European interference with their position and influence in the area. Between 1500 and 1528, Mombasa was constantly attacked and finally subdued by the Portuguese who built Fort Jesus on the eastern shore of the island in 1539 as a stronghold and indication of their power in the region. They continued to rule the Coast against bitter opposition from the Arabs which culminated in the bombardment and siege of the Fort Jesus in 1696. The struggle continued for over twenty years. The Portuguese were finally driven out of Mombasa in 1720. Their departure left the Imam of Oman the sole ruler of the Coast until the arrival of the British and the Germans at the end of the 19th Century.
The arrival of the British and the Germans opened up trade between the East African Coast and the rest of the World, and began the process to abolish the dreadful slave trade.
Whatever their aims in coming to East Africa, those early western explorers, traders and missionaries opened a gate to one of the countries that was to become a shining star of modern tourism in Africa – Kenya.