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.