History of Mombasa : Mombasa is a coastal city, one of East Africa’s oldest settlements and second largest city in Kenya located in southeastern Kenya along the Indian Ocean, Mombasa is a fascinating city known as the white and the blue city in Kenya. Mombasa Island is situated in the Indian Ocean and because of its strategic location it became a historical trading centre.

Mombasa Town on Mombasa Island was once situated between the present Old Town and Nyali Bridge for about 700 years, Mombasa owes its history to circa 900 AD.

 Early tales

The history of Mombasa before the arrival of the Portuguese is still hard to determine, the know part of the past of Mombasa is that Ibn Battuta – the roving 14th century Moroccan spent a quiet night on the coast of Mombasa in 1332. During his stay, he declared the people of the town devout, chaste and virtuous. The people of Mombasa were Islamic believers with mosques strongly constructed of wood and their diet greatly comprised of bananas and diet.

Another travelers who visited Mombasa about hundred years later found Mombasa a less ordered society, he wrote that “Monkeys have become the rulers of Mombasa since about 800 AH (1397 AD)”, he continued to stay that “they even come and take the food from dishes, attack men in their own homes and take away what they can find”. When the monkeys enter a house and find a woman, they hold congress with her. The people of Mombasa have much to put up with, these were his last remarks about Mombasa.

Early Portuguese visitors

After Vasco da Gama’s expedition, Mombasa experienced considerably worse devastations. Vasco Da Gama dropped anchor to mark his arrival in Mombasa on Easter Saturday 1498 full of mercenary zeal, after exchanging courtesy gifts with the local people on the coast. The relationship between Vasco da Gama and the locals soured and as a result his fleet was prevented from entering the port, a few days later Vasco Da Gama richer by only one sheep and large quantities of oranges, lemons and sugar cane went to try his crude diplomacy at Malindi. In Malindi, he found his first and lasting ally on the coast.

History of Mombasa
vasco da gama

 In 1505, a fleet of 14 strong Portuguese visited Mombasa. In this time, the king of Mombasa had enlisted 1500 archers from the mainland and people stored arsenals of stone missiles on the rooftops in preparation for the expected invasion through the town’s narrow valley. The attack of firearms against spears  and poisoned arrows was very brutal and overwhelming and as a result the king’s palace which has no trace remains was seized by the Portuguese.

The King and most of his surviving subjects slipped out of Mombasa Town into the palm groves which then covered most of Mombasa Island, the attack resulted into death of 1513 Mombasa people (Mombasans) and 5 Portuguese.

The King and most of the survivors of the attack attempted to save Mombasa Island by offering to become a vassal of Portugal, unfortunately the request was turned down as the Portuguese were unwilling to lose the chance to loot Mombasa Town. Bodies of the killed mombasans were picked from the courtyards, strongroom doors were broken down until the ships at the anchor were almost overladen. As a parting shot, they (the Portuguese)   fired the town, Mombasa was razed to the grounds as the narrow streets and cattle stalls between thatched houses acted as catalyst.


In 1528, the Portuguese return to Mombasa Island once again with the intentions of wrecking and plundering the new city that had been built on the ashes of the old city. In 1580s, the city was destroyed twice more. in the last noted occasion happened in 1589, there was a frenzied Massacre at the hands of the Portuguese on one side and coincidentally a marauding tribe of cannibal nomads from the interior called the Zimba on the other hand. The Zimba had an unholy alliance with the Europeans which came to a treacherous end at Malindi shortly afterwards, this happened when the Portuguese together with the townsfolk and 3 thousand Seguju archers wiped them out.

After two years of the last remarkable catastrophe, Mombasa launched a major land expedition of its own against its old enemy the Malindi. The town was ambushed by the Malindi’s Segeju allies who themselves stormed and took over Mombasa, they later handed over Mombasa Town to the Portuguese at Malindi. As a result the Malindi corps transferred to Mombasa, the then Malindi sheikh was grandly installed as the sultan of the whole region and the Portuguese started to work on Fort Jesus, dedicated in 1593.

 Once Fort Jesus was completed, it became the focus of everything that mattered in Mombasa, between the early 17th century and 1875 the fort kept changing hands in total of 9 times. The first takeover happened in 1631 in a popular revolt which resulted in the killing of every last Portuguese. The sultan lacked support from other towns under Portuguese dominated and eventually had to desert the fort, the waiting Portuguese in Zanzibar occupied the Fort. They held the control of the Fort for the rest of the 17th century and use it as a base to consolidate their control of the Indian Ocean trade.

History of Mombasa
History of Mombasa


As the Dutch, English and French ships started to arrive on the coast, time was running out for the Portuguese trading monopoly, mean while the Omani Arabs were increasing becoming powerful. The efforts of the Portuguese to bring settlers to their East Africa possessions failed thus retreating more and more behind the massive walls of Fort Jesus, between 1696 and 1698, with support from Pate and Lamu the control of Fort Jesus was taken over by the Omanis. They had also taken the rest of the town.

After 33 months almost all the defenders (the Portuguese corps and some 1500 Swahili loyalists had died of starvation or plague), the rapid disenchantment with the new Arab rulers spilled over in 1728 into a mutiny among the Fort’s African soldiers. The Portuguese were invited back for a year, the fort was again besieged and this time the Portuguese gave up quickly. The Portuguese were allowed their freedom and a number were said to have married and stayed in the town, regardless the Portuguese had lost their control over the coast forever.

The new Omani rulers of the Mombasa Coast were the Mazrui family, soon declared themselves independent of Oman, outlawing slave-trading in Mombasa. They directly challenged the Busaidi family who had just seized the power I the Arabian homeland.


The interest in the Lamu Archipelago led to the Battle of Shela and Lamu’s unwittingly disastrous invitation to the Sultan of Oman Seyyid Said to occupy its own fort, with the backing of the British, the sultan and the Busaidis went on to attack Mazrui Mombasa repeatedly in the 1820s.

In 1824, there was a hiccup when a British officer Captain Owen fired with enthusiasm for defeating the slave trade, extended British protection to Mombasa on his own account. Despite official British support for the slave trading the Busaidis, Captain Owen’s  diplomatic embarrassment did not last long. The Busaidi government was only installed when the Swahili 12 tribes of Mombasa fell into a dispute over the Mazrui successions and called in the Busaid leader Seyyid Said.

In 1840, Seyyid Said moved his capital from Oman to Zanzibar with Mombasa firmly garrisoned, most of the coast was soon in his domain. The surviving members of the Mazrui family relocated to Takaungu near Kilifi and Gazi in South of Mombasa.

 The British influence was sharpened after their guns quelled the mutiny in 1875 of al-Akida “an ambitious unbalanced and not over-clever” commandant of Fort Jesus, once British hegemony was established on the coast, they leased the coastal strip from the Sultan of Zanzibar and Fort Jesus became Mombasa’s prison. This prison remained in operations until 1958 and it was opened as a museum in 1962.

Independence on the coast

Mombasa played a major role in the independence of Kenya and the first 50 years of Kenya’s independence as the second city in Kenya and Central Africa’s most important port. Before the independence of Kenya granted December 12 1963, Mombasa Coast had been leased by the British from the Sultan Zanzibar, however the possibility of a federal union with the former Kenya Colony was buried soon by Jomo Kenyatta and the upcountry political elite of the 1960s and thus History of Mombasa.

Since 1999, the Mombasa Republican Council a group claiming “Pwani si Kenya” translated as “The Coast is not Kenya” campaigned for the independence of the coast and against the marginalization of the coastal interests by Nairobi. Their movement was however tainted by its linkage to the Islamic extremism which also had some appeal in poorer areas.

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