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1Portuguese Rule

2 Omani Rule

3 Zanzibari Rule

4 British Rule

5 Independence

6 Armed Forces




Until the beginning of the twentieth century the history of Kenya is largely the history of the city-sultanate of Mombasa.

The founding of Mombasa is associated with two rulers: Mwana Mkisi (female) and Shehe Mvita. According to oral history and medieval commentaries (also based on oral history), Shehe Mvita superseded the dynasty of Mwana Mkisi and established his own town on Mombasa Island.

The exact founding date of the city is unknown, but it has a long history. It must have been already a prosperous trading town in the 12th century, as the Arab geographer Al Idrisi mentions it in 1151. The Moroccan scholar and traveller Ibn Battuta did visit Mombasa in 1331 on his travels on the eastern coast of Africa and made some mention of the city. He noted that the people of Mombasa were Shãfi'i Muslims, “a religious people, trustworthy and righteous. Their mosques are made of wood, expertly built.”

Vasco da Gama was the first known European to visit Mombasa in 1498. In 1500 the town was sacked by the Portuguese.

In 1502 the sultanate became independent from Kilwa Kisiwani as Mvita (in Swahili) or Manbasa (Arabic).

From the beginning of the 16th century the city changed from Portuguese to Omani hands and vice versa with a  period of sovereignty from 1746 until 1826. Only from the Berlin Conference when Africa was divided between the colonial powers and the forming of British East Africa in 1895, we may speak of modern Kenya.



About 1885, the British East Africa Association was founded by William Mackinnon with encouragement from the British government. This led to the creation of the Imperial British East Africa Company, incorporated in London on 18 April 1888 and by Queen Victoria chartered on 6 September 1888, and given the original grant to administer the dependency. From 1890 it  also administered Uganda. The administration was transferred to the Foreign Office on 1 July 1895, and to the Colonial Office in 1905. Nairobi was the administrative headquarters of the then founded East Africa Protectorate extending from the Indian Ocean inland to Uganda. In 1906, an order in council constituted the administrator a governor and provided for legislative and executive councils. Lieutenant Colonel J. Hayes Sadler was the first governor and commander in chief.

On 23 July 1920, the East Africa Protectorate became a crown colony known as Kenya Colony.


Nationalist stirrings began in the 1940s, and in 1952 the Mau Mau movement, made up of Kikuyu militants, rebelled against the government. The fighting lasted until 1956.

On Dec. 12, 1963, Kenya achieved full independence. Jomo Kenyatta, a nationalist leader during the independence struggle who had been jailed by the British, was its first president.

By constitution of 12 December 1964 Kenya is a republic within the Commonwealth with the name of “Republic of Kenya”.




As usual in this parts of the world, nothing whatsoever is known about the symbols of power of the rulers, nor of its military, from the time of Mvita sultanate. Modern heraldry in Mombasa and Kenya begins with the settlement of the Portuguese in the beginning of the 16th century.


Portuguese Rule 1528/’93 - 1698


Portugal attacked Mombasa in 1528, and built Fort Jesus in 1593 in an attempt to colonise, from which time it was governed by a Captain-major. In 1638 it formally became a Portuguese colony (subordinated to Goa, as a stronghold on the route to Portuguese India).



Diogo Homem, on his map of the Indian Ocean (1555) gives for Mombasa a flag: Argent, the cross of the Order of Christ between eight quinas-escutcheons 1, 3, 1, 1 2 (ill.) This is a symbol that is specific for the Mombasa settlement in the 16th century because in this time different flags were flown in Sofala (Moçambique) and Oman.

Later Portuguese heraldry of Mombasa is the heraldry of the Portuguese Seaborne Empire and, from 1638, the heraldry of Goa.


Omani Rule 1698 - 1728 / 1729 - 1746

Interrupted by Portuguese rule 1728 - ‘29


In 1698, Mombasa came under suzerainty of the Sultanate of Oman, but it became subordinate to Zanzibar.


Flags from this first period of Omani rule are known from Dutch flag charts of the beginning of the 18th century.


Independent Sultanate 1746 - 1826


In this period the sultanate was ruled by six sultans of the House of Mazru’i:


`Ali ibn Uthman al-Mazru`i


Masud ibn Naisr al-Mazru`i


Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mazru`i


Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Mazru`i


`Abd Allah ibn Ahmad al-Mazru`i


Sulayman ibn `Ali al-Mazru`i



From these six rulers no heraldic or sigillographic information is available. Nevertheless we may be sure that they flew flags, probably red, and sealed or signed with their tughra’s.

From 9 February 1824 to 25 July 1826 there was a British protectorate over Mombasa, represented by Governors.


Omani Rule 1826 - 1837


Omani rule was restored in 1826. On 24 June 1837 it was nominally annexed by the sultan of Zanzibar and Muscat, Sayyid Saeed bin Sultan with the assistance of Shaikh Isa bin Tarif with his tribe Original Utub Al bin Ali.


Zanzibari Rule and Suzerainty 1837 - 1887 / 1963


In this period heraldry in the western sense slowly developed in Zanzibar. Some orders of chivalry were founded, a flag was flown and tughra’s were used. At the end of the nineteenth century a heraldic achievement of British design was adopted, with the sultans’tughra as the central symbol.



British Rule of Mombasa, East Africa and Uganda

1887 - 1963


Imperial British East Africa Company  

6 IX 1888 - 1 VII 1895



The symbol of  the IBEAC consisted of a sun radiant crowned with the St. Edward’s crown and the motto LIGHT AND LIBERTY. This emblem was printed on coins and stamps.











East Africa Protectorate

Crown Colony of Kenya

1 VII 1895 - 23 VII 1920

23 VII 1920 - XII 1963


No warrant assigning arms to the Protectorate has been issued but the following arms have been in general use:

Azure, a sun in splendour and in chief an Imperial crown all Or.[1]



A badge for the Protectorate was introduced about 1902, the same year as the foundation of the King’s African Rifles,  and it consists of a lion rampant guardant Gules on a white disc. It was surrounded by a garland of laurel when the Union Jack was used. On the blue ensign the lion appears without the white background. The use of this badge was continued in the era of the Crown Colony of Kenya. [2]


Republic of Kenya / Jamhuri ya Kenya

12 December 1964 - present


Even before the granting of independence on 12 December 1963 an achievement was adopted on 15 October 1963. In an offcial publication about this achievement it is described as follows:



Arms: Per fess sable and vert, on a fess gules fimbriated argent a cock grasping in the dexter claw an axe also argent.

Supporters: On either side a lion or, grasping in the interior forepaw a spear of estate, the hafts of the spears crsooses in saltire behind the shield.

The whole upon a compartment representing Mount Kenya proper.

Motto: Harambee.



The shield contains the national colours, of which black reperesents the people of Kenya; green the agriculture and natural resources; red the struggle for freedom and white stands for unity and peace.

The middle red strip bears a cockerel holding an axe, which according to local customs, heralds a new and prosperous life.

The supporters of the shield are two Kenya lions – symbol of protection, resting on a backgroundsilhouette of Mount Kenya containing in the foreground examples of Kenya agricultural produce – coffee, pyrethrum, sisal, tea, maize and pineapples.

The scroll containing the National Motto – Harambee – supports the coat of arms.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay



Shield axis to have a 2 : 1 proportion.

Colours to be as those of the Kenya Flag: -

Red (gules), shade reference B.S. 0-006, to be used in middle panel of shield, spears, lions’tongues and claws, and coffee berries.

Green (vert), shade reference B.S. 0-010, to be used in lower panel of shield and foliage of Kenya agricultural produce

Golden yellow (or), shade reference B.S. 0-003, to be used in lions, maize cobs, pyrethrum, stigma and pineapple.

Brown, shade reference B.S. 3-045, to be used in scroll.


Mount Kenya (5200 m.) played an important role in Kikuyu religion and the rituals of Mau Mau, the insurrectional guerrilla organisation of Kenya in the fifties of the 20th century.

The Mau Mau guerillas were organised in the Kenya Land Freedom Army (KFLA). Jomo Kenyatta (1889-1978) was regarded to be leader of the “Mau Mau”. In 1963 he became the first president of the republic.

Kikuyu religion centered around Ngai, the all highest father figure, the anthropomorphic god.  Ngai lived on the mountain tops, expecially Mount Kenya.  Ngai created the land, and he created the tribe itself through the creation of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the Kikuyu equivalents of Adam and Eve.  Ngai gave the land to Gikuyu and Mumbi, and to all their descendants, a belief which tied the people irrevocably to the land.  This steadfast belief disavowed European claims of landownership, and caused those claims to remain a contested issue for decades.  Ngai was an ubiquitous, invisible spirit from which there could be no hiding, and an angry god requiring sacrifices and elaborate rituals. There was an amazing similarity between this level and Old Testament Hebrew theology. [3]




In colonial times the British King’s African Rifles were active in Kenya:



The King's African Rifles (KAR) was a multi-battalion British colonial regiment raised from the various British possessions in East Africa from 1902 until independence in the 1960s. It performed both military and internal security functions within the East African colonies as well as external service as recorded below. Rank and file were Africans called askaris, while most officers were seconded from British Army regiments. When raised there were some Sudanese officers in the Uganda raised battalions and towards the end of British colonial rule African officers were commissioned in the various battalions.


Its badge consisted of a crowned horn and the title THE KING’S AFRICAN RIFLES.


Today’s Kenyan military consists, according to the Constitution, of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Its main mission is defence of the country's borders.


The emblem of the Joint Service of the Kenyan Armed Forces consists of an anchor per pale, charged with two rifles in saltire and an eagle, wings spread in chief. Below is the title KENYA ARMED FORCES on a listel. This emblem is displayed on the flag of the Joint Service, consisting of three stripes red, light blue and dark blue and a canton of the Kenya national flag.

The coats of arms of the Army, Navy and Air Force are as follows: [4]


Arms: A Kikuyu shield per fess Sable, Gules and Vert, separated by barrulets Argent. And over all, two rifles in saltire, proper.

Garland: Branches of laurel Or.



Arms: A Kikuyu shield Gules, in chief and in base a lentil Argent charged with a pale Gules, in nombril point a boss Argent, two flaunches Sable, and over all an anchor per pale Or.

Supporters: Two spears in saltire on a compart-ment Vert.



Arms: A Kikuyu shield Gules, in chief and in base a lentil Argent charged with a pale Gules, in nombril point a boss Argent,  two flaunches Sable, and over all an eagle wings spread Or.

Supporters: Two spears in saltire on a compart-ment Vert.



© Hubert de Vries 2008.12.18

Updated 2010-08-17

[1] ) Fox-Davies, A.C.: The Book of Public Arms, 1915. P. 258-259.

[2] ) Gordon, W.J.: A Manual of Flags. Incorporating Flags of the World. Frederick Warner & Co. Ltd. London/New York, 1933.

[3] ) Hughes, Roger D.: Emergency in Kenya:  Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Insurrection. 1984.

[4] ) Coats of arms of the army and the navy reconstructed by the author, the coat of arms of the air force retrieved from the website of the KAF.

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