Probably the oldest remains of mankind have been found in Kenya; the remains of Orrorin Tugenensis go back some six million years.

Whilst mankind has been around a long time in East Africa, the first recorded trade with outsiders was conducted with the Arabs and Greeks in the years following the 1st Century A.D. From 500 A.D trade crossed the Persian Gulf and as far as south India and into Indonesia. It was at this time that the Swahili language is believed to have developed as a trading language.

By 1498 the first Europeans in the form of the Portuguese Vasco da Gama reached the coastal port of Mombasa. By 1593 the Portuguese had established a naval base at Fort Jesus, Mombasa, which controlled trade across the Indian Ocean.

The British, Dutch and Omani Arabs objected to this control, but it was the Arabs who took on the Portuguese and, with the exception of Mozambique, had driven them out of East Africa by 1730. By the mid-1800s German missionaries were penetrating the inner areas and Zanzibar (in neighbouring Tanzania) became a centre for shipping and trade, including ivory, cloves and gold.

The British and Germans started to rival each other and in 1887 the British East Africa Company established a base in Kenya. By 1895 the British government was involved and the East Africa Protectorate was established.

By World War One Kenya was a military base for the British in their attempts to counter the Germans in their bases to the south. After World War One, in 1920, the Kenyan Crown Colony was formed at the request of white settlers, but this also fuelled local political parties seeking greater representation on the Legislative Council and often these parties were based on tribal loyalties especially amongst the Kikuyu and Luo.

The inter-war years saw many young rich army officers buy up land and establish coffee plantations and by World War Two Kenya was the British base for attacking the Italians in Somaliland and Ethiopia. The Second World War also stirred up African Nationalism in the country, although this had started back as long ago as 1921 when the Young Kikuyu Association (YKA) was formed. This was soon banned and replaced by the more aggressive Kikuyu Central Association (KAU) which was subsequently led by Jomo Kenyatta in 1947.

By 1952 the opposition to the colonial government and white settlers had grown into an armed movement, the Mau-Mau. For the next four years the British struggled to contain the uprising and many thousands of people died. But the period did bring dialogue and by 1957 there were elections for African Kenyan representatives to the legislative Council.

In 1960 a new political party called the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was founded and in 1961 they took 19 of 65 seats whilst the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) took 11 seats. Jomo Kenyatta, who had been gaoled for his role in the Mau-Mau uprising was released in the August and became president of KANU in the October.

In 1962 the two parties, KANU and KADU formed a coalition government and a new constitution created a bicameral parliament with a 129 seat House of Representatives and a 38 seat Senate. Fresh election in May 1963 saw KANU take 83 of the 129 seats and KADU took 33 seats.

Kenya attained independence on 12th December 1963 with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State and Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first Prime Minister. A year later, in 1964 Kenya became a republic and further changes to the constitution saw greater centralisation of government whilst Kenyatta became President.

In 1964 KADU formally dissolved itself and joined KANU leaving KANU as the sole party between 1964 and 1966. The Kenya People’s Union (KPU) was founded in 1966 by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga but was banned soon after and by 1969 there were no opposition parties. The elections of 1969, 1974, 1979, 1983 and 1988 were all one party elections and in June 1982 amendments to the constitution made the country officially a one-party state. When Kenyatta died in August 1978 his Vice-President Daniel arap Moi became president.

In 1991 parliament decided to repeal the one party section of the constitution and a number of new parties were formed. As a result the elections of 1992 were multi-party elections, the first since independence. A divided opposition left KANU with 100 of the 188 seats in the National Assembly and Moi was re-elected as president with 36.4% of the vote.

Political rights were expanded in 1997 and more parties were formed. Again a divided opposition gave Moi the presidency in 1997 with 40.6% of the vote and KANU took 113 of the 222 seats. However, defections led KANU, for the first time, to enter into a coalition with some minor parties.

In October 2002 a coalition of opposition parties joined forces to create the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and their presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, won with 61.3% of the vote. NARC also won 132 of the 224 seats in the National Assembly whilst KANU won just 68 seats.

By 2007 the economy had performed well but social inequality had increased, partly because of the paternalistic nature of the government towards its own supporters. The election was an increasingly angry affair between incumbent Mwai Kibaki of the now Party of National Unity (PNU) and Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). After the election Kibaki was declared the winner despite some suggestions that Odinga had a lead of 6%. Violence ensued and more than 1,200 people lost their lives along with many more injured in largely tribal battles.

Eventually the two sides agreed on a power-sharing agreement which left Kibaki as president and which gave Odinga the new post of Prime Minister; the number of Cabinet Ministers was also evenly divided. In August 2010 a referendum was held on a new constitution which, it was hoped, would prevent a repeat of the 2007 violence and alleged election rigging, with 66.9% voting in favour.

The 2010 constitution of Kenya with changes to create a new bicameral Parliament and reduced powers of the Executive as well as decentralisation came into force after the 4th March 2013 general election.

The President is the Head of State and is supported by a directly elected Vice-President; both are elected for a period of five years.

The bicameral parliament has an upper house, the Senate, and the lower house or National Assembly.

The Senate has a total of 68 Members composed of forty-seven members each elected by the registered voters of the counties, each county constituting a single member constituency; sixteen women members nominated by political parties according to their proportion of members of the Senate, two members, being one man and one woman, representing the youth; two members, being one man and one woman, representing persons with disabilities; and the Speaker, who is an ex officio member.

The National Assembly has a total of 350 Members composed of two hundred and ninety members, each elected by the registered voters of single member constituencies; forty-seven women, each elected by the registered voters of the counties, each county constituting a single member constituency; twelve members nominated by parliamentary political parties according to their proportion of members of the National Assembly to represent special interests including the youth, persons with disabilities and workers and the Speaker, who is an ex officio member.

Parliament is elected for a term of five years.

In Kenya there are two Levels of Government: National and County Governments. The Parliament of Kenya is the National Parliament and makes Laws for the State. There are 47 County Governments. County Assemblies make laws for the Counties.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Kenya at joint 145th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 25 (where 100 is least corrupt).