A swirl of contextual events in/on/related to Kenyan (tech) research


  • 1884-85: Berlin Conference where European imperialist powers met to “regulate the ‘scramble’ for Africa 
  • 1888: Imperial British East Africa Company given a royal charter to administer the area allocated to Britain
  • 1890: The British East Africa Company began the Mackinnon-Sclater road, a 600 mile ox-cart track from Mombasa to Busia in Kenya, in 1890. [Ogonda, Richard T. (1992). "Transport and Communications in the Colonial Economy". In Ochieng', W. R.; Maxon, R. M. (eds.). An Economic History of Kenya. Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers. pp. 129–146. ISBN 978-9966-46-963-2.]
  • 1895: East African Protectorate formed and officially named British East Africa
  • 1896-1901: British build the Uganda Railway running from Mombasa to Kisumu (it was in Kenya but named Uganda Railway because that was its destination)
  • 1899: The first settler publication, The Weekly Mail, began to appear in Nairobi and was devoted to settler colonial interests. (Durrani 2006: v).
  • 1900: The city of Nairobi is founded as the railway reaches halfway through Kenya.
  • 1904: Colonial treaty dispossessed many original residents from using land (e.g. Masaai in Aberdares).
  • 1907: The British colonial administration moves from Mombasa to Nairobi.
  • 1919: First bilingual (Gujarati-English) paper published in Nairobi by Manilal Desai, who published articles and pamphlets of African nationalist leader, Harry Thuku.  (Durrani 2006: v).
  • 1920: Kenya as former East Africa Protectorate was transformed into a British Crown colony
  • 1921: Population census showed that settler population had reached almost 10,000 (Durrani 2006: 27).
  • 1921: Formation of Young Kavirondo and Young Kikuyu Association marks the beginning of African nationalism in Kenya (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xv)
  • 1922: African protest against the kipande (identification document) system takes place outside the Norfolk Hotel. African nationalist Harry Thuku sent into exile (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xv)
  • 1931: McMillan Memorial Library established by the wife of US-born philanthropist, Sir William Northrup McMillan, in his memory. McMillan library was the second library to be built in the country and is the only building in Kenya protected by an Act of Parliament (passed in 1938)
  • 1945: Return of disenchanted African soldiers from World War II leads to the emergence of radical nationalism (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xv; Durrani 2006: 99).
  • 1948: Kenya Land and Freedom Army (“Mau Mau”) formed (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xv)
  • 1948: First government general census. (Prior to this, a 1921 census had reported less than 10,000 Europeans, of whom only 3500 were farmers. Indians were 22,822 and Arabs 10,102, while two and a half million Africans were recorded (Kyle 2008).
  • 1952: Mau Mau begins violent campaign against white settlers and black collaborators. British declared state of emergency in response. Tens of thousands put in detention camps. Kenyatta arrested. (Over 60 years later, a digital heritage project would attempt to recreate these camps: https://africandigitalheritage.com/reconstructing-mau-mau-camps/
  • 1954: Swynnerton Plan published as a report which detailed change to colonial agricultural policy that allowed African farmers to farm cash crops (which had previously been reserved for white settlers only) and offered land tenure. Plan emerged as a result of Mau Mau Uprising but reforms were seen as falling short of public demands.
  • 1956: Arrest and execution of Dedan Kimathi. Mau Mau rebellion finally put down. (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xv).
  • 1956: Royal Technical College of East Africa (now University of Nairobi) admitted its first students who were exclusively from white colonial settler families.
  • 1960s: British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA) established and moved its headquarters to Nairobi, Kenya.
  • 1960: Small industrial loans to encourage African businessmen initiated with a fund of 50,000 GBP from USAID (Harris 1972: 11).
  • 1960: State of emergency ended. First Lancaster House Cnoference provides for an interim constitution.
  • 1963 - 1970: University of East Africa (UEA) established between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in order to “realize economies of scale in its operations” (Muyia 1996)
  • 1963: The Kenya National Archives (KNA) in its current form was established on the eve of Kenyan independence in 1963 and was formalized through an Act of Parliament in 1965.
  • December 12, 1963: Kenya gains independence
  • 1964: Republic of Kenya formed with Jomo Kenyatta as president and Oginga Odinga as vice president (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xvi)
  • 1966: Odinga leaves KANU and forms Kenya People’s Union (KPU) (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xvi)
  • 1966: UNDP office established in Nairobi (https://www.ke.undp.org/
  • 1969: Assasination of popular minister Tom Mboya sparks ethnic unrest. KPU banned and Odinga arrested. (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xvi)
  • 1970: University of East Africa dismantled and three colleges assumed more national outlooks. University of Nairobi becomes growing center of political organizing in the 1970s with the growing muzzling of dissent (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 2003)
  • 1970s: Mwakenya Movement (Muungano wa Wazalendo wa Kenya/ Union of Patriotic Kenyans)
  • 1973: Pan-African research organization, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), established in Dakar, Senegal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_for_the_Development_of_Social_Science_Research_in_Africa
  • 1975: Market research companies began to be established in Kenya/Africa
  • 1977: Ngugi wa Thiong’o detained without trial for publishing Petals of Blood and staging a play which was performed not by professional elites but by and among the workers and peasants in the village. Play as critical pedagogy.
  • 1977: Kenya’s telecommunications sector regulated under Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) Act (Cap 411). Under the Act, KPTC was exclusive monopoly provider of telecommunications services.
  • 1978: Kenyatta dies in office, succeeded by Vice President Daniel arap Moi  (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xvii)
  • 1982: Kenya officially declared a one-party state by the National Assembly (Gikandi and Mwangi 2007: xvii)
  • 1982: ITU Plenipotentiary Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, decided to set up the Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunications Development. Chaired by Donald Maitland, the Commission was mandated to identify the obstacles hindering communications infrastructure development, and to recommend ways in which the expansion of telecommunications across the world could be stimulated. The Commission submitted its report in January 1985. The Report of the Maitland Commission drew international attention to the huge imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries and concluded that this imbalance was intolerable. It underlined the direct correlation between the availability of, and access to, telecommunication infrastructure and a country's economic growth, and it proposed concrete solutions to fix the missing link. The report is considered to be a core document in the founding literature of modern telecommunications development activity. (https://www.itu.int/en/history/Pages/MaitlandReport.aspx)
  • August 1982: Air Force of Kenya made an attempt to overthrow the Moi government. Coup attempt provided justification for Moi to arrest hundreds of student who were part of a movement fighting for greater democratic rights for Kenyans. The Nairobi and Kenyatta Universities were closed for one year and on reopening in 1983, they were divided into several faculty administrative units. Student welfare units formed under geographic/ethnic groupings and loyalist academics were promoted. These became known as “Nyayo” professors in the university, what Dr. Casper Odegi Awuondo described as “the rise of the cheering crowd” (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2003: 17). “Special branch police invaded the university libraries and removed all books by or on Vladimir Illyich Lenin, Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Malcom X, Franz Fanon, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Maina wa Kinyatti and Fidel Castro were removed from the shelves “where they lurked in wait to ambush young innocent Kenyan minds with their subversive foreign ideology” (18).
  • 1983: Antiquities and Monuments Act passed that provides the legislative authority that governs all the moveable and immovable relics of historical, archeological, and paleontological significance in the country.
  • July 1, 1990: Nazmi Durani, founder of underground library under Dec 12th movement in 1980s, dies tragically. His books (of the Mwakenya Movement) go underground as increased state terrorism against the movement (Source: Abungu 1999).
  • July 7, 1990: Saba Saba Day (“Second Liberation”) with multi-parties in Kenya. https://moderatekenyan.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/saba-saba/; https://nation.africa/kenya/blogs-opinion/opinion/saba-saba-day-kenyan-story-african-moment-1447374 
  • 1990: With the ending of the Cold War, the US no longer supported Moi. Smith Hampston, US ambassador at the time, speaks out against Moi. Opposition against the government intensifies. In response to international censure and suspension of financial aid, Moi government agrees to the introduction of multiparty politics.
  • 1991/92: With the rationale that Kenyan university education was unsustainable if continued to grow at prevailing rate, World Bank required that the government limit university enrollment and institute cost-sharing schemes so that individuals partly pay for the cost of their own education. University fees for public education including Pay As You Eat (PAYE) cafeteria system was introduced.
  • 1992: Famine when Kenyans first started eating yellow ugali b/c US donated corn. 
  • December 1992: Moi reelected in multiparty elections with a large majority.
  • 1994: Netscape goes public; the World Wide Web comes to the masses (https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1y5lOvQQNzKe_wv1CaPgDoOQTjTNw9Ym-V-e-nq84U6U&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=1&height=1000
  • 1995: Milestone workshop organized by the Telecommunications Foundation of Africa. Immediately after the workshop, the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (state-owned) declared that Internet services were an illegal use of leased lines (Mureithi 2015: 29). In October, leased line connection provided Internet to Kenya for the first time.
  • 1994/95: The African Regional Centre for Computing launched a full Internet system with financial support from the British Government’s Overseas Development Agency to pay for an international leased line. (Mureithi 2015: 29)
  • 1997 - Free software became more publicly recognized in the US (Kelty 2008)
  • 1997: Moi wins further term in new elections.
  • 1998: Google launches (https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1y5lOvQQNzKe_wv1CaPgDoOQTjTNw9Ym-V-e-nq84U6U&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=1&height=1000
  • 1999: National census. Final results never released.
  • 1999/2000: Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC), a government company that provided telecommunication and postal services across Kenya, separated into three separate entities - Telkom Kenya, Kenya Postal Corporation and the Communication Commission of Kenya, (CCK) the licensing and regulatory authority of the government. Government begins to describe the Internet as a tool for development. (Mureithi 2015: 30).
  • May 2000: Mobile Network Operator Safaricom, which today is the largest telecommunications provider in Kenya, was formed as a fully owned subsidiary of the government company, Telkom Kenya. Subsequently, Vodafone Group PLC of the United Kingdom acquired a 40% stake and management responsibility for Safaricom. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • 2002: Handover of power from Moi to Kibaki
  • 2004: Facebook launches (https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1y5lOvQQNzKe_wv1CaPgDoOQTjTNw9Ym-V-e-nq84U6U&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=1&height=1000
  • 2007: Google opened a development office in Nairobi (see here and here)
  • 2008: Underseas Internet cables installed
  • 2008: The Kenyan government offered 25% of its shares in Safaricom to the public through the Nairobi Securities Exchange. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • 2008: Synovate acquired the Steadman Group to make it the largest market research company in Africa. 12 fully owned, full-service offices across Sub-Saharan Africa, of which the first opened in 1976.
  • Dec 2008: Post Election Violence after Kibaki took second term presidency
  • 2009: census conducted.
  • March 2010: iHub was launched.
  • 2011: Synovate (leading global market research company with more than 100 offices in 62 countries) was acquired by Ipsos in 2011, which combined to be the third largest in the world. (https://www.ipsos.com/en-ke)
  • February 2011, Google launched its Google Art Project, now known as Google Arts and Culture (GA&C), with an objective to “make culture more accessible”. (SOURCE: https://melissaterras.org/2021/01/18/new-paper-digital-cultural-colonialism-measuring-bias-in-aggregated-digitized-content-held-in-google-arts-and-culture/
  • 2012: iHub’s growing prominence in media as a “nerve center” for “Silicon Savannah” (e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/30/kenya-silicon-savannah-digital-technology
  • 2012: Thoughtworks, a design research consultancy firm, opens Uganda office to serve as its base in East Africa (https://globaltelconews.com/thoughtworks-helps-amnesty-international-and-ihub-ux-lab-tackle-tech-challenge-in-sub-saharan-africa/). 
  • 2012: Heavy investments in “keeping the peace” in the country in the months running up to the elections to avoid another post election violence. Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president, wins presidency.
  • 2013: Google Chairman Eric Shmidt visits the iHub calls Nairobi a “serious tech hub” (https://www.infodev.org/highlights/google-chairman-eric-schmidt-calls-nairobi-serious-tech-hub
  • September 2013: Al-Shabaab terrorist on Westgate Mall in Nairobi kills 68 people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westgate_shopping_mall_attack#cite_note-5 
  • 2014: IBM Research Lab’s public launch in Nairobi. Keynote address by Chief Technical Officer of Watson product notes that “Africa represents to us an incredible, very exciting set of opportunities. And that's for many reasons, okay, not the least of which is the African economy is expected to be about two and a half trillion dollars by next year.” (Full transcript of keynote talk here).
  • 2015: Thoughtworks closes Uganda (and South Africa) offices. (https://techjaja.com/the-truth-behind-the-closure-of-thoughworks-kampala-office/
  • 2015: Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced, “one of the most well-funded philanthropies in human history” (https://www.vox.com/2017/7/10/15771676/priscilla-chan-facebook-philanthropy-mark-zuckerberg-initiative-cure-diseases)
  • 2015: Westgate Mall rebuilt on top of the former site of terrorist attack. https://www.independent.ie/world-news/africa/kenyan-westgate-mall-to-re-open-two-years-after-al-shabab-attack-31376629.html 
  • 2017:  Shiraz Durrani and Kimani Waweru, among others, establish Ukombozi library which houses many of the Mwakenya underground books kept safe in personal libraries for over 30 years following death of Nazmi Durrani in 1990. (https://nation.africa/kenya/news/mwakenya-leaders-regroup-to-tell-their-experiences-240084
  • 2017: The Nairobi City authority entered into partnership with Book Bunk to allow the organization to fundraise, manage and restore the main McMillan library building and two more in the eastern part of Nairobi (Madaraka and Kaloleni).
  • 2017: Results of 2017 elections nullified by Courts, but Uhuru Kenyatta wins second election for his second term.
  • 2018: EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect (https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1y5lOvQQNzKe_wv1CaPgDoOQTjTNw9Ym-V-e-nq84U6U&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=1&height=1000
  • 2018: Facebook launches a tech community hub in Nigeria (https://innovation-village.com/facebook-in-partnership-with-cchub-launches-ng_hub-in-lagos/
  • 2018: Safeboda - an “uber” for motorbikes arrives to Nairobi (https://digestafrica.com/safeboda-live-kenya-nairobi/
  • 2018/19: Introduction of Competency Based Curriculum (CBC). Public critiques by Wandia Njoya where she points out that this is a system that has already been critiqued around the world (e.g. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00091383.2014.969177). 
  • September 2019: iHub acquired by Nigerian CCHub. https://cchubnigeria.com/cchub-acquires-ihub/ 
  • 2019: Google digitizes Kenyan National Museum exhibits to join its “Google Arts and Culture” site (https://nairobinews.nation.co.ke/general/google-to-digitize-and-promote-collections-from-kenyan-museums
  • January 2019: Al-Shabaab terrorist attack on Dusit2 office compound in Nairobi. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-46880375 
  • 2019: Huduma Namba
  • 2019: National census. Critiques that it should have been merged with Huduma Namba exercise.
  • 2020: Book Bunk launch publication arm and translate and produce books in African languages such as Sulwe (by Lupita Nyong’o)
  • July 2020: Google launches Loon - balloon-powered Internet for rural Kenya (https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/08/africa/google-kenya-balloons/index.html
  • November 2020: Safeboda shuts down in Kenya (https://www.techinafrica.com/safeboda-to-close-down-kenya-operations/
  • January 2021: Google shuts down Loon (https://www.kenyans.co.ke/news/61380-google-shuts-down-uhuru-project


Creative Commons Licence


Created Date

June 9, 2021 - 7:45pm


Contributed date

June 9, 2021 - 7:53pm

Critical Commentary

This is not meant to be an authoritative source but rather to provide a sense of the swirl of events that have transpired that somehow influence(d) Kenyan research and technology development. This is not meant as a comprehensive history but as a curated history. Sources vary and I have tried to include a reference or link where I can but for those that have no sources listed, they may either be from my own personal memory or other informants' memories. Again, this is not meant to be an authoritative source of Kenyan history, please consult with appropriate sources as needed.

This text timeline is embedded within and part of this PECE timeline here.

Cite as

Angela Okune, 9 June 2021, "A swirl of contextual events in/on/related to Kenyan (tech) research", contributed by Angela Okune, Research Data Share, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 9 June 2021, accessed 23 June 2024. https://www.researchdatashare.org/content/swirl-contextual-events-inonrelated-kenyan-tech-research