Kenya is a republic in East Africa, bordering Somalia in the northeast, Ethiopia in the north, South Sudan in the northwest, Uganda in the west, and Tanzania in the south. The country faces the Indian Ocean to the east and Lake Victoria to the west.
Giraffes on the savanna. Kenya has a very species and individual wildlife, and several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks have been established to preserve diversity.
Kenya is known as a relatively stable country in a troubled region, but struggles with corruption, poverty and ethnic contradictions. The country became self-governing in 1963 and established as a republic independent from the UK in 1964 with Jomo Kenyatta as president. Kenya’s history is influenced by major non-African empires such as the United Kingdom, Qatar, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal and Hadhramaut. Some of the oldest finds after the first humans have been made in Kenya.
Kenya is currently headed by the Jubilee Party, originally an electoral alliance formed prior to the 2013 election – 50 years after the establishment of internal autonomy, hence the name. There is essentially a broad collaboration between two of Kenya’s largest peoples, the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. The election alliance was registered as a political party in 2016 under the leadership of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who are currently the country’s president and vice-president respectively.
Kenya’s national anthem is “Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu” in Swahili, which means “God you are our strength”.
Elephants on the savanna. Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, in the background. The picture is taken from Kenyan side.
Geography and environment
Kenya is part of the great Rift Valley stretching from the Afar region of Ethiopia to Mozambique. The area is still volcanically active, which provides the basis for geothermal energy production. Along the edge of the Rift Valley are several of Africa’s highest mountains such as Mount Kenya (5199 meters above sea level), Kenya’s highest peak.
Kenya controls large sea areas, since unlike the neighboring countries along the coast, the country has established a 200 nautical mile economic zone, which is generally internationally accepted. The exception is the border with Somalia where a gray zone is disputed.
The coastal climate is tropical: warm and relatively humid. The port city of Mombasa has an annual average temperature of about 26 degrees, with July and August being the coolest months. The southern part of the coast has many coral reefs, further north sandy beaches are common. Here, the plain goes far inland, interrupted by the Tana River’s delta. North of the delta there are also sandy beaches, all the way to the Lamu area with many small islands and rich vegetation.
The coast has two rainy seasons, usually in April – May and October – November, influenced by the intertropical convergence zone. Inland has a more varied climate, but also mainly with two rainy seasons. The Rift Valley and the Central Highlands have average temperatures between 10 and 28 degrees, with the period June to August being the coolest. Night temperature is affected by the elevation above sea level.
The rain is particularly intense in the areas around Mount Kenya, where Kenya’s remaining rainforests and other forest areas are found. Wildlife is rich with lions, elephants, giraffes, hyenas and jackals.
Kenya’s climate is drier in the north and northeast, where the landscape can become desert-rich with an annual rainfall of between 100 and 200 millimeters. Here lies Lake Turkana , a desert lake and the world’s largest soda lake.
Global warming and climate change also affect Kenya’s climate and appear to change the established patterns and rainy seasons. Dramatic weather phenomena such as drought and flood have become more frequent and more severe. This creates major adjustment problems.
People and society
Kenya had a population of 44.6 million in 2016 according to the World Bank.
The majority of the population belong to various Bantu people. The number of ethnic groups is between 40 and 70, depending on which definition is used.
The main groups are relatively clear. The largest ethnic group is the Kikuyu, who make up about 22 percent of the population. Then followed the Luhya by 14 per cent, the Luo by 13 per cent, the Kalenjin by 12 per cent and the Kamba by 11 per cent.
Some of the peoples’ culture and behavior are relatively Westernized, such as the Kikuyu and other large peoples. Other groups, such as the Masai, hold more to their traditional customs.
Swahili is considered the national language, but English is also considered the official language. Of African languages, the bantu languages are widespread in the central, southeastern and western parts of the country. Nilotic languages are predominantly spoken in the west and northwest, while Cushitic languages are spoken in the northeast.
The majority of the population (about 85 percent) are Christians, of which various Protestant churches make up 47 percent, while 23 percent are Catholics and 12 percent are affiliated with other Christian faiths, especially in Pentecostal. About 11 percent are Muslims, with Sunni Islam as the dominant direction. But there are also Shia based missions in the coastal areas.
State and politics
Kenya is a democracy with marked political divides. The 2007 election led to riots where hundreds were killed and hundreds of thousands internally displaced. International mediation helped to settle the mainly ethnic conflict and the country gained a broad coalition government. In 2013, current President Uhuru Kenyatta won the election through the Jubilee Alliance. The election of Kenyatta was controversial because he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for his participation in the violence following the 2007 elections.
Following the reorganization of the state in line with the new constitution of 2010, Kenya now has 47 counties. From being a centralized unitary state, the country was decentralized with more power and larger budgets delegated to the counties. Each county has an elected governor and elected county assemblies.
The Kenyan parliament has two chambers – a Senate of 67 members, which mainly represents the country’s counties and special quotas, with special responsibility for the interests of the counties. The National Assembly, which is the second chamber, consists of a total of 349 members, of whom 290 are directly elected from constituencies with one representative each, as well as 47 women, and 12 members nominated by the parliamentary parties in proportion to their strength in the national assembly.
The executive includes the president, the vice president, the government and the government. There is a direct election of president and vice president every five years. Between elections, they can only be removed through national law.
The courts are largely independent. The upper level consists of the Supreme Court, an appeal court and a court of law. The lower level of law consists of magistrate courts, kadhi (sharia) courts for Muslims on family matters, a separate labor law, and a court for environmental issues. There is a long wait in civil cases, and Kenyan courts have a bad reputation associated with corruption.
Kenya has several of East Africa’s best newspapers, such as The Standard and The Nation, which often criticize the government and take up corruption cases.
Kenya is a member of the UN and most of the UN’s special organizations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, Commonwealth of Nations, the African Union, the East African Community, and the Cotonou Agreement with the EU.
Some of the oldest human remains are found in Kenya. Kenya’s written history is much shorter, with a great difference between the coast and inland. The written sources about the coast cover early periods, while the history of the inland is largely based on written sources in the archives of the colonial period.
Today’s peoples have immigrated to Kenya in pools, Cushitic groups arrived first, as early as the first millennium before our era.
In pre-colonial Kenya’s interior, the political organization was based on the village level. In the years before colonization, the Masai had gained an important position, but this was weakened by mutual wars. Kikuyu’s and Kalinians used the masai’s weakness to expand.
Inland groups were also affected by Arab trade along the coast, and some areas had strong ties to Oman and Hadhramaut ( Yemen ). The Ottoman Empire expanded for a short period across the coastal provinces of Kenya, mostly in response to Portuguese expansion, helping to expel the Portuguese. However, it was Oman who set the most lasting track. Cities like Mombasa and Lamu were controlled by Oman for long periods.
In the late 1800s, Britain began to take an interest in the area. At the Berlin Conference of 1884, when the European colonial powers divided Africa between them, Britain secured Kenya. In 1894 an East African Protectorate was established, and in 1920 the colony of Kenya was formally established.
The British displaced several peoples groups with their settler policy, which encouraged the British and other Europeans to settle in Kenya. This created conflicts regarding the distribution of land property that today characterizes Kenya. But the British also trained Kenyan leaders and built infrastructure.
The British colonial era is best remembered in Kenya for hard-handed handling of the Mau Mau rebellion in the period 1952–1956. The British detained a large number of Kenyans in prison camps in very poor conditions, in response to the Kenyan uprising, especially from the Kikuyu. An alleged leader of the uprising, Jomo Kenyatta, was jailed, brought to justice along with several other leaders, and sentenced. He later became Kenya’s first president and is the father of today’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta. Another of the anti-colonial leaders, Oginga Odinga, became the country’s first vice-president and later a central opposition politician. He is the father of Raila Odinga, who is today the country’s leading opposition leader.
Kenya gained internal autonomy in 1963 and became a republic the following year. In the period up to 1982, Kenya had a kind of multi-party system, but in reality one party dominated: Kenya African National Union (KANU). Under the leadership of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta (1963–1978) and Daniel Arap Moi(1978–2002) the opposition was subjected to massive pressure and extensive repression. Oginga Odinga’s opposition party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), was banned in 1969. Prior to that, another party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), had entered into cooperation with Kenyatta’s KANU. Both presidents – Kenyatta and Moi – actively used ethnic loyalty to secure their own positions. It was almost a formality when Kenya was declared a one-party state in 1982 following a coup attempt that gave President Moi the pretext to crack down on opposition and change the constitution.
After the end of the Cold War, a number of one-party regimes fell around the world. The regime in Kenya was having trouble staying in power as demands for democratization from Western aid donors were linked to the continued transfer of funding. At the same time, there were growing protests internally in Kenya. In December 1991, the Kenyan constitution was amended and the country was again given a multi-party system. But only in 2002 did a rallying opposition candidate challenge President Moi and emerge victorious from the election. After the 2007 elections, there were extensive riots, while the 2013 elections were held relatively quietly.
Kenya intervened in the war in Somalia in 2011, and has since then faced a drastic increase in terror in its own territory. The terrorist attacks have been concentrated around the border areas with Somalia, Nairobi and the coast. This has led to dissatisfaction among the opposition and declining tourist figures.
Economy and business
Kenya has one of East Africa’s strongest economies, and several Kenyan companies are established in neighboring countries. The economy in the country is among the most market friendly in the East African Community, the cooperative organization in the region.
The service sector, including tourism with a dominant share, accounts for over 60 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product ( GDP ). The foreign tourists are attracted to the sun and sandy beaches on the coast and safaris to see the rich wildlife in several national parks. The share of agriculture is about 25 percent. Exports of tea, coffee, vegetables and flowers provide significant currency revenues in addition to tourism. The industry’s share of GDP is about 15 per cent, mostly processing of agricultural products and production of lightweight finished goods.
Telecommunications and information technology is a growing industry. Oil revenues are expected to become more important as the recovery of new oil deposits in Turkana accelerates.
Knowledge and culture
Kenya has a relatively well-developed school system with eight-year free primary school. Higher education, normally four years, however, is not free. The country has a number of private schools. At university level, Kenya has some of East Africa’s best universities, including the University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Egerton University, Moi University and Maseno University. In addition, there are several private universities.
Culturally, Kenya is diverse with distinctive features from the various ethnic groups. Swahili culture along the coast is influenced by contact with the Arab states and is known for wood products, especially the amazing wooden doors. Domestically, the Masai are known for their traditional dance.