The Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, commonly known as British Kenya or British East Africa, was part of the British Empire in Africa from 1920 until 1963. It was established when the former East Africa Protectorate was transformed into a British Crown colony in 1920. Technically, the "Colony of Kenya" referred to the interior lands, while a 16 km (10 mi) coastal strip, nominally on lease from the Sultan of Zanzibar, was the "Protectorate of Kenya", but the two were controlled as a single administrative unit. The colony came to an end in 1963 when an ethnic Kenyan majority government was elected for the first time and eventually declared independence.

Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
Flag of Kenya
Ensign of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
Badge of Kenya
Anthem: God Save the King (1920–1952)
God Save the Queen (1952–1963)
Map of British East Africa in 1909
Map of British East Africa in 1909
StatusBritish colony
Common languagesEnglish (official)
Swahili, Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya, Luo, Gusii, Meru, Nandi–Markweta also spoken
GovernmentColonial administration
• 1920–1936
George V
• 1936
Edward VIII
• 1936–1952
George VI
• 1952–1963
Elizabeth II
Commissioner or Governor 
• 1920–1922 (first)
Edward Northey
• 1963 (last)
Malcolm MacDonald
LegislatureLegislative council
• Colony established
23 July 1920
• Protectorate established[1]
29 November 1920
• Self-rule
1 June 1963
• Independent as Kenya
12 December 1963
1924[2]639,200 km2 (246,800 sq mi)
• 1924[2]
• 1931[3]
• 1955[4]
• 1960[4]
CurrencyEast African florin (1920–21)
East African shilling (1921–60)
ISO 3166 codeKE
Preceded by
Succeeded by
East Africa
of Kenya
Today part ofKenya



The Colony and Protectorate of Kenya was established on 23 July 1920 when the territories of the former East Africa Protectorate (except those parts of that Protectorate over which His Majesty the Sultan of Zanzibar had sovereignty) were annexed by the UK.[5] The Kenya Protectorate was established on 29th November 1920 when the territories of the former East Africa Protectorate which were not annexed by the UK were established as a British Protectorate.[1] The Protectorate of Kenya was governed as part of the Colony of Kenya by virtue of an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Sultan dated 14 December 1895.[1][6][7][8]

In the 1920s, natives objected to the reservation of the White Highlands for Europeans, especially British war veterans. Bitterness grew between the natives and the Europeans.[9] Describing the period in 1925, the African–American historian and Pan-Africanist W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in an article which would be incorporated into the pivotal Harlem Renaissance text The New Negro,[10][11]

Here was a land largely untainted by the fevers of the tropics and here England proposed to send her sick and impoverished soldiers of the war. Following the lead of South Africa, Britain took usurped five million acres of the best lands from the 3,000,000 native inhabitants, herded them towards the swamps giving them nothing as compensation, even there, no sure title; then by taxation the British forced sixty percent of the black adults into slavery for the ten thousand white owners for the lowest wage. Here was opportunity not simply for the great landholder and slave-driver but also for the small trader, and twenty-four thousand Indians came. These Indians claimed the rights of free subjects of the empire—a right to buy land, a right to exploit labor, a right to a voice in the government now confined to the handful of whites.

Suddenly a great race conflict swept East Africa—orient and occident, white, brown and black, landlord, trader and landless serf. When the Indians asked rights, the whites replied that this would injure the rights of the natives. Immediately the natives began to awake. Few of them were educated but they began to form societies and formulate grievances. A black political consciousness arose for the first time in Kenya. Immediately the Indians made a bid for the support of this new force and asked rights and privileges for all British subjects—white, brown and black. As the Indian pressed his case, white South Africa rose in alarm. If the Indian became a recognized man, landholder and voter in Kenya, what of Natal?

The British Government speculated and procrastinated and then announced its decision: East Africa was primarily a "trusteeship" for the Africans and not for the Indians. The Indians, then, must be satisfied with limited industrial and political rights, while for the black native—the white Englishman spoke! A conservative Indian leader speaking in England after this decision said that if the Indian problem in South Africa were allowed to fester much longer it would pass beyond the bounds of domestic issue and would become a question of foreign policy upon which the unity of the Empire might founder irretrievably. The Empire could never keep its colored races within it by force, he said, but only by preserving and safeguarding their sentiments.

The population in 1921 was estimated at 2,376,000, of whom 9,651 were Europeans, 22,822 Indians and 10,102 Arabs.[12][13] Mombasa, the largest city in 1921, had a population of 32,000 at that time.

The Mau Mau rebellion, that was a revolt against British colonial rule in Kenya, lasted from 1952 to 1960. The rebellion was marked by war crimes and massacres committed by both sides.[14][15] Caroline Elkins's 2005 book, "Britain's Gulag", uncovered that the UK ran concentration camps and "enclosed villages" in Kenya during the 1950s, where nearly the entire Kikuyu population was confined. Many thousands were tortured, murdered, or died from hunger and disease. The British government systematically destroyed almost all records of these crimes, burning them or dumping them at sea in weighted crates, and replaced them with fake files. However, Elkins's book later served as a foundation for successful legal claims by former Mau Mau detainees against the British government for crimes committed in the camps.[16][17]

The Colony and the Protectorate each came to an end on 12 December 1963. The United Kingdom ceded sovereignty over the Colony of Kenya under an agreement dated 8 October 1963. The Sultan agreed that simultaneous with independence for Kenya, the Sultan would cease to have sovereignty over the Protectorate of Kenya.[6] In this way, Kenya became an independent country under the Kenya Independence Act 1963, which established the independent Commonwealth realm of Kenya, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was the first prime minister.[18] On 26th May 1963, Kenya had its first elections and a new red, green, black and white flag was introduced.[19] Exactly 12 months after independence, on 12 December 1964, Kenya became a republic under the name "Republic of Kenya".[6]

Cover of a Colony and Protectorate of Kenya passport, 1955.



In 1948, the Kenyan government consisted of the Governor, the Executive Council advising him and the Legislative Council. The Executive Council consisted of seven ex-officio members, two appointed Europeans, one appointed European representing African interests, and one appointed Asian (Indian). The Legislative Council consisted of 16 appointed officials and 22 elected unofficial members.[20]

In 1954, the government was reformed to create a Council of Ministers as "the principal instrument of government". This council consisted of six official members from the civil service, two nominated members appointed by the governor, and six unofficial members appointed by the governor from among the members of the Legislative Council. Of the unofficial members, three were Europeans, two were Asian, and one was African.[21]

The Executive Council continued in existence with all the members of the Council of Ministers also being members of the Executive Council. In addition, the Executive Council also included one Arab and two appointed Africans. The full Executive council retained certain prerogatives, including approving death sentences and reviewing draft legislation.[21]

The Legislative Council in 1956 consisted of the Governor as president, a Speaker as vice-president and 56 members. Of the 56, eight sat ex-officio, 18 were appointed by the Governor and took the government whip, 14 were elected Europeans, six were elected Asians, one was an elected Arab, and eight were appointed Africans sitting on the non-government side. There was one appointed Arab sitting on the non-government side.[21]

Military forces formed in the Colony and Protectorate from the 1880s included the East African Regiment which became the King's African Rifles; the East African Military Labour Service 1915–1918; the East African Mounted Rifles during the First World War 1914–17;[22] the East African Ordnance Corps;[23] the East African Pay Corps; the East African Pioneer Corps;[24] three East African Reconnaissance Regiments; the East African Artillery[25][26] the East African Road Construction Corps; the East African Scouts from March 1943, which served as 81st (West Africa) Division's reconnaissance unit in Burma;[27] the East African Signal Corps; the East African Army Service Corps, expanded quickly at the start of the campaign against Italy in 1941 from 300 to 4,600;[28] the East African Transport Corps; the Kenya Armoured Car Regiment; the Kenya Regiment of white settlers; the Kenya Defence Force, and the Kikuyu Guard during the Mau Mau Uprising.[29][full citation needed].Throughout the post colonial period, Kenya transitioned to a republic that consisted of two legislative chambers that was outlined in their Constitution created in the mid-1960s. Since its implementation, it has been amended to give the region a unicameral assembly that consists of ministers who sit in on the assembly.[30]

Corporal punishment, such as flogging, caning, and birching, was the primary legal punishment for many crimes used in colonial Kenya, particularly against young offenders. Though the metropolitan Colonial Office was sceptical of the use of such punishments, its unease did little to hinder their application by local authorities. Prisons were eschewed by most judges, due to the belief that it would erode the morality of convicts and consign them to a positive feedback loop of criminality. Corporal punishment was also used by government authorities against disobedient tribal chiefs, an example of this being the flogging of a Kikuyu chief by Colonel Algernon E. Capell after the latter was lied to by the former.[31]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Kenya Protectorate Order in Council 1920 (SR&O 1920/2343), dated 13 August 1920, S.R.O. & S.I. Rev. VIII, 258, State Pp., Vol. 87, p. 968
  2. ^ a b "The British Empire in 1924". The British Empire. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  3. ^ "Annual Report of the Colonies, Kenya, 1931" (PDF). University of Illinois. 1931. p. 13. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Kenya Population". Worldometers. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  5. ^ Kenya (Annexation) Order in Council 1920 (SR&O 1920/2342), dated 11 June 1920
  6. ^ a b c "Commonwealth and Colonial Law" by Kenneth Roberts-Wray, London, Stevens, 1966. p. 762
  7. ^ "Kenya Annexation Order, Kenya Gazette 7 Sep 1921". 7 September 1921. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  8. ^ Brennan, James R. "Lowering the Sultan's Flag: Sovereignty and Decolonization in Coastal Kenya." Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, no. 4 (2008): 831–61.
  9. ^ Morgan, W. T. W. "The'white highlands' of Kenya." Geographical Journal (1963): 140–155. in JSTOR
  10. ^ Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt (1 April 1925). "Worlds of Color". Foreign Affairs. Vol. 3, no. 3. ISSN 0015-7120.
  11. ^ DuBois, W. E. B. (1925). "The Negro Mind Reaches Out". In Locke, Alain LeRoy (ed.). The New Negro: An Interpretation (1927 ed.). Albert and Charles Boni. pp. 404–405. LCCN 25025228. OCLC 639696145.
  12. ^ shilling, Flag of the Colony of Kenya Anthem God save the King/Queen Capital Nairobi Languages English Government Colonial administration Monarch-1920–1936 George V.- 1936 Edward VIII- 1936–1952 George VI- 1952–1963 Elizabeth II Commissioner or Governor- 1920–1922Maj-Gen Sir Edward Northey- 1937–1939 ACM Sir Robert Brooke-Popham- 1963Malcolm John MacDonald Historical era 20th century- Established 23 July 1920– Independent as Kenya 12 December 1963 Currency East African. "Historic Mombasa – British Empire in East Africa". Retrieved 23 May 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Kenyans247. "Kenya Colony – Kenyans247". Retrieved 25 May 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ "In Africa, the queen's death renews a debate about the legacy of the British Empire". The New York Times. 9 September 2022.
  15. ^ "Cloud of colonialism hangs over Queen Elizabeth's legacy in Africa". CNN. 10 September 2022.
  16. ^ Monbiot, George (30 March 2022). "Putin exploits the lie machine but didn't invent it. British history is also full of untruths". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 July 2024.
  17. ^ Parry, Marc (18 August 2016). "Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 July 2024.
  18. ^ History of Kenya government webpage. Archived 26 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  19. ^ kedibone (23 November 2011). "Kenya is granted independence". South African History Online. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  20. ^ Government of Kenya. Annual Report Kenya, 1948 (London: H.M.S.O.), 1, 93.
  21. ^ a b c Government of Kenya. Annual Report Kenya, 1956 (London: H.M.S.O.), 135–140.
  22. ^ Wilson, Dr C.J. (1938). The Story of the East African Mounted Rifles. East Africa Standard Ltd. Reissued by Leonaur Limited, 2006, ISBN 1846770599, 9781846770593.
  23. ^ The London Gazette, "No. 40020". The London Gazette. 17 November 1953. p. 6254.
  24. ^ Owino, Meshack. "The impact of Kenya African soldiers on the creation and evolution of the Pioneer Corps during the Second World War." Journal of Third World Studies 32, no. 1 (2015): 103-131.
  25. ^ Page 2011, p. 269-70.
  26. ^ National Archives East African Artillery
  27. ^ Page 2011.
  28. ^ Platt, General Sir William (February 1948). "The East African Forces in the War and their Future". RUSI Journal. 93: 404. ProQuest 1305561924.
  29. ^ T.F. Mills,, archived copies via Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ Evans-Smith,”Kenya a country study,”183-193
  31. ^ Ocobock, Paul (2012). "Spare the Rod, Spoil the Colony: Corporal Punishment, Colonial Violence, and Generational Authority in Kenya, 1897—1952". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 45 (1): 29–56. JSTOR 23267170. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  • Page, Malcolm (2011). King's African Rifles: A History. Pen and Sword (reprint). ISBN 9781473815780.

Further reading

  • Kitching, Gavin N. Class and economic change in Kenya: The making of an African petite bourgeoisie 1905–1970 (Yale University Press, 1980)
  • Lonsdale, John, and Bruce Berman. "Coping with the contradictions: the development of the colonial state in Kenya, 1895–1914." Journal of African History 20#04 (1979): 487–505.
  • Mungeam, Gordon Hudson. British rule in Kenya, 1895–1912 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1966)
  • Ochieng, William Robert. A history of Kenya (Macmillan Kenya, 1985)
  • Ochieng, William Robert, and Robert M. Maxon, eds. An economic history of Kenya (East African Publishers, 1992)
  • Wolff, Richard D. Britain and Kenya, 1870–1930: The Economics of Colonialism (Transafrica Publishers, 1974)