All About Kenya



A country in East Africa, the Republic of Kenya borders the Indian Ocean to the southeast, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, Sudan to the northwest, Ethiopia to the north, and Somalia to the northeast. Lake Victoria is shared between Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. The capital is Nairobi. The total area is 58,000 sq. km and the population is estimated to be 51,903,301 million (2018). There are over 40 different ethnic groups in Kenya. Mount Kenya is the second highest in Africa and the country take its name from the mountain.


The country’s name comes from the Kamba, Embu, and Kikuyu names for Mount Kenya. Translated, this means, “place with Ostriches” in all three languages.

A German explorer, Ludwig Krapf, recorded the name as Kenia and Kegnia in the 19th century. Former pronunciation during colonial times has been largely abandoned in favor of the African version.

Geography and Climate

Kenya is the 47th-largest country in the world, with an area of 582,644 km². The coast on the Indian Ocean rises to the central highlands. The Great Rift Valley bisects the highlands. A fertile plateau is in the east. The highlands are one of Africa’s most productive agricultural areas. Mount Kenya is the second highest African mountain at 17,057 ft.

There is tropical climate on the coast but this becomes arid in Kenya’s interior. Between March and May, there is a lot of rain. In October and November rainfall is moderate, but high temperature remains.

There is much sunshine in Kenya all year. It is cool at night and in the morning. From April to June, the long rainy season takes place. The short is from October to December. The coolest period is from July to August and the hottest from February to March.

Kenya’s wild life habitat is considerable and includes the Masai Mara, an area of animal migration. Africa’s “Big Five” animals are found in the country, which are the leopard, rhinoceros, lion, elephant, and buffalo. The national parks and reserves are also home to numerous other animals as well as reptiles and birds. The annual migration between June and September is a popular event for filmmakers.


Fossils of giant crocodiles have been found in Kenya that date to over 200 million years ago in the Mesozoic Era. Other findings show primates were present in Kenya more than 20 million years ago. Hominids such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus, descendants of modern Homo sapiens, lived in Kenya during the Pleistocene epoch. Some of the most famous archeological findings were located in Kenya.

Pre-Colonial History

Cushitic-speaking people moved into the area from northern Africa around 2,000 BCE. Arab traders became frequent visitors by the 1st century AD. Due to Kenya’s location near the Arabian Peninsula, Persian and Arab settlement began near the coast in the 8th century. Bantu and Nilotic-speaking people moved into the area in the first millennium AD. Today, descendants of these people are three-fourths of Kenya’s population.

Kenya switched to a maritime-based economy with specialties in shipbuilding in the 6th or 9th century AD. Mombasa was a major port city in the region. In the 15th century, Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese voyager, described Mombasa as a port with great traffic with different sizes of ships moving to a number of far away locations.

Prior to colonization, the Kenyan coast traded with the Arab world and India mostly for slaves and ivory. In addition to coming from mostly Arab nations, they also came from Zanzibar. Estimates show 90 percent of the people on the coast were slaves.

Swahili became a language of trade between different groups.

Kenya’s Luo descended from herding and agricultural tribes from western Kenya. They are associated with the Nilotic language group. The Nilotes originated in northeastern Africa and may have moved south because of wars in Egypt and Kush. The Nilotes in Kenya were primarily the Kalenjin, Turkana, Luo, and Maasi.

Among Kenyan coastal cities is Malindi. It has been an important Swahili settlement since the 14th century. It has typically been friendly to foreign powers, including the Chinese Ming Dynasty and the Portuguese.

Colonial History

Kenya’s colonial period dates to the German protectorate in 1885 and the British East Africa Company’s arrival in 1888. In 1890, Germany gave its coastal holdings to Britain. The Kenya-Uganda railway was built to pass through the area. Some tribes, mainly the Nandi led by Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei, resisted the construction of the railway from 1895 to 1905. It was eventually finished. Indians arrived in Kenya in large numbers as skilled workers for the construction.

During construction in Tsavo, two lions, known as the Tsavo man eaters, attached the railway workers. The descendants of the workers formed the core of Kenyan Ismaili Muslim and Sikh communities.

When World War I began in 1914, British East Africa’s governors and those in German East Africa agreed to a truce to keep the colonies out of the fighting. One German commander, Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, was cut off from Germany and decided to tie British forces down in the area. His campaign was effective but eleven days after the Armistice in 1918 he surrendered in Zambia.

The British and other European farmers settled the interior highlands in the early 20th century. 30,000 lived there by the 1930s. One million members of the Kikuyu tribe already lived there as itinerant farmers. The settlers protected their positions by banning coffee production by the locals and granted less and less land in exchange for their labor. Many fled to the cities when they could not make a living from the land.

Due to the Mau Mau rebellion against the British, Kenya was placed under a state of emergency from 1952 to 1959. The British then began counter-insurgency operations.

Warũhiũ Itote’s capture on January 15, 1954 allowed the British to learn more about the rebel command structure. After weeks of planning Operation Anvil began on April 24, 1954, effectively placing the capital under military siege. Mau Mau supporters were moved to detention camps. Composed of loyalist Africans, the Home Guard was the main part of the government’s strategy. By the conflict’s end, the Home Guard had killed 4,686 of the Mau Mau’s forces, accounting for 42 percent of its fighters. On October 21, 1956, Dedan Kimathi was captured, effectively ending the rebellion. Changes took place in the government to reward loyalists and punish the Mau Mau supporters

Post-Colonial History

In 1957, the first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative council occurred. The Kenya African National Union (KANU) formed a government before independence was granted on December 12, 1963. This was the same day a constitution was formed. That year the Kenyan army fought ethnic Somalis in the Shifta War. Kenya defeated the Shiftas in 1967.

Ethiopia and Kenya signed a defensive pact in 1969.

Jomo Kenyatta became the first president of the newly proclaimed Republic of Kenya on December 12, 1964. In 1978, Daniel arap Moi became president after Kenyatta died. Moi remained president in unopposed elections in 1979, 1983, and 1988. President Moi ruled as the second president of Kenya for 24 years from 1978 to 2002.

In 1983, a threatened military coup caused elections a year early.A low-ranked serviceman in the Air Force, Hezekiag Ochuka, planned the coup along with other enlisted Air Force personnel. The regular army quickly suppressed the rebellion. The Air Force was disbanded after the attempt and a number of its members were court-martialed or dismissed outright.

Elections in 1988 began a system of queuing, where voters were supposed to line up behind favored candidates as opposed to a secret ballot. This was seen as undemocratic and led for calls to reform the constitution. This led to changes and the institution of a multi-party system. The first multi-party elections occurred in 1992 and 1997. Moi still won reelection. In 2002, the constitution barred him from running again and an opposition candidate from the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), Mwai Kibaki, became president. The elections were judged free and fair, marking a turning point in Kenya’s history.


In Kenya, the president is the head of state and the head of government. The country is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. The government exercises executive power and the government and National Assembly exercise legislative power. There is an independent judiciary.

Despite its political system and problems in neighboring countries, Kenya has been stable. Some law that limited freedom of assembly and speech were revised in 1997. This produced credible national elections in 1997.

Kenya also held open, free, and fair elections in 2002. The peaceful transfer of power from the KANI to the Narc was a turning point in the country’s history.

The new ruling coalition under president Kibaki focused on economic growth, lessening corruption, and rewriting the constitution. Some of these promises have been kept.

In the 2007 general elections, President Kibaki ran for reelection under the Party of National Unity against the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). International observers found these elections flawed. Kibaki won but the vote tabulation process caused his opponent, Raila Odinga, to declare himself the “people president” and call for a recount.

Almost 1,000 were killed in the violence following the election and 600,000 were displaced. Eminent Africans, including Kofi Annan, negotiated a peaceful solution. The two sides signed an agreement on February 28, 2008 to form a coalition government in which Odinga would become the prime minister. The president agreed to appoint cabinet members from both the PNU and ODM.

The new prime minister was given authority to supervise certain government functions. The lawmakers in Kenya approved the agreement on March 18, 2008.

President Uhuru KENYATTA and Deputy President William RUTO were elected on the same ticket by popular vote for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); in addition to receiving a simple majority of votes, the presidential candidate must also win 25% or more of the votes cast in each of more than half of the 47 counties to avoid a runoff. Note – the president is both chief of state and head of government.

On 13 September 2022, William Kipchirchir Samoei arap Ruto was elected as the 5th president. Prior to becoming president, he served as the first elected deputy president of Kenya from 2013 to 2022.

Grand Coalition

Kibaki named a coalition cabinet pursuant to the Grand Coalition agreement. There was a proposal to eliminate the prime minister’s position and reduce the president’s power.  A referendum was held and the issue passed. The new constitutional provisions also provided for more local government power and a bill of rights. These changes brought about Kenya’s Second Republic.

Provinces, Districts, and Divisions

There are eight provinces in Kenya that are each headed by a Provincial Commissioner. These are then subdivided into districts, then into divisions. The eight provinces are Central, Coast, Eastern, Nairobi, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western.

There are also local governments including city, municipal, and town councils. In rural areas, these are known as county councils. Local officials are elected when general elections occur.

Nairobi is the most populous city with 2,940,911 people followed by Mombasa with 707,400 and Nakuru with 337,200.


With a GDP growth at 4.8 percent in 2022, economic performance softened after the strong rebound from the COVID-19 crisis at 7.5 percent in 2021. The growth rate, however, has remained in line with Kenya’s long-term growth trajectory, even though the economy faced challenging global financial conditions, fuel, and food price shocks, and a historic drought that affected the economy, especially in the second half of 2022.

The growth momentum was driven by the service sector which contributed about 80 percent of the increase in total GDP. Financial services, tourism, and transport sectors performed especially strongly. According to the latest Kenya Economic Update (KEU), Kenya’s GDP growth outpaced that of Sub-Saharan Africa which is estimated to have grown at 3.6 percent in 2022.

Finance and Investment

Kenya is the hub for East and Central African financial services and the Nairobi Stock Exchange ranked as Africa’s fourth in terms of market capitalization.

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) supervises the banking system. Currently, there are 28 domestic and 14 foreign commercial banks with branches, agencies, and other outlets throughout the country; one mortgage finance company; eight representative offices of foreign banks; eleven licensed deposit-taking microfinance institutions; 49 insurance companies.


The services sector contributes 63 percent of the country’s GDP and is dominated by tourism. Tourism has grown steadily since independence. Most tourists come from the U.K. and Germany to the game reserves and beaches. Tsavo National Park in the southeast is a well-known reserve. Tourism is the largest earner of foreign exchanges.


After the service sector, agriculture is the largest contributor to GDP, accounting for 24 percent. The main products are horticulture produce, tea, and coffee. Corn production is subject to fluctuations due to the weather. When production downturns occur, food aid is needed.

In the fertile highlands, coffee, corn, tea, sisal, pyrethrum, and wheat are grown. This is one of Africa’s most successful agricultural regions. In lower-lying areas, nuts, pineapples, cotton, sisal, sugarcane, corn, and coconuts are also cultivated.

Despite being the most industrial country in East Africa, manufacturing is only 14 percent of GDP. The activity is centered in the major cities and mostly involves food processing. Cement production is a growing industry. There is also an oil refinery to process petroleum for domestic use.

Manufacturing has been boosted by Kenya’s inclusion in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Since it took effect, sales of clothing to the U.S. has increased from $44 million to $270 million.


Hydropower stations at Tana River dams and the Trurkwel Dam provide most of Kenya’s electricity. There is an oil-fired plant near Nairobi. Kenya also imports Ugandan electricity. The government owned Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) handles electrical generation while the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) controls transmission and distribution. KPLC is set to be privatized in the near future.

Despite exploration, Kenya has not located hydrocarbon reserves and must import its oil requirements. This accounts for as high as 25 percent of the country’s imports.
Other industries in Kenya

Fishing, forestry, and mining also occur in Kenya. Mining is a small part of the economy because there are few minerals.

Natural Gas Discovery in Kenya

A Chinese company discovered significant quantities of natural gas in Kenya. It is not known if this is commercially viable.

Donor Relations

Since Kenya is nonaligned, it has seen significant investment from the West as well as China and Russia. China has been taking a more prominent role in recent years.

Criticism and Challenges

70 percent of the population is employed directly or indirectly in agriculture. Half of the output is subsistence farming. Agriculture and tourism, the two sectors on which Kenya relies, are vulnerable to boom and bust cycles.

Growth has been hampered by corruption and poor governance. There have been improvements recently but it is still expensive to conduct business in Kenya.

HIV/AIDS is still a problem and poses and economic risk in the long term. Government sponsored awareness programs exist and medications are available at subsidized rates.

Western donors have criticized Kenyan economic policies. The economy has still expanded broadly based on tourism and telecommunications. In 2007, Kenya’s economy grew over 7 percent and its foreign debt lessened.


Over the last several decades, Kenya’s population has increased to about 53.01 million (2021). The percentage of those under 30 is 73 percent.

Kenya is ethnically diverse with most Kenyans speaking both English and Swahili. Many others also speak ethnic languages. Major ethnic groups include the Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, and other African and non-African groups.


Most Kenyans follow Christianity. 45 percent declare themselves Protestant and 33 percent Roman Catholic. Kenya also has a large Hindu population as well as many Muslims and followers of indigenous beliefs. Most of the Muslims live in Coast Province.


Average life expectancy has been estimated between 47 and 55 years. Each woman also averages 3-5 births. There are a large number of HIV positive people in Kenya. Female genital mutilation occurs and is partially to blame for a high maternal mortality rate.


The education system has four parts, early childhood education (3 years), primary (8 years), secondary (4 years), and college (4-6 years). In addition to public schools, there are also a number of private schools in the urban areas.

The current education system began in 1985 and placed more emphasis on vocational subjects. Free primary education was introduced in 2003. This increased primary school enrollment 70 percent. Since payment is still required for later levels, enrollment has not increased as it did with primary school.


Kenya is culturally diverse and its major groups include pastoralist communities in the north, other communities in the east, and Swahili communities on the coast. Despite being a small percentage of the population, the Maasi are well known to tourists.


One of Kenya’s best-known writers is Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Weep Not, Child, his book, illustrates Kenyan life during British occupation. The 2003 novel The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, by M.G. Vassanji, won the Giller Prize.


While Kenya is active in many sports, the country is best known for its distance running dominance. Kenya consistently produces championship runners and continues to dominate the distance running world.

Kenya was Africa’s most successful nation in the 2008 Olympics with 5 gold medals, 5 silver, and 4 bronze medals.

Some Kenyan athletes have defected to represent other countries despite the Kenyan Ministry of Sports’ objection. Some runners that cannot qualify in Kenya find it easier to do so in other countries. Other runners defect due to economic and social factors.

Within Africa, Kenya has dominated women’s volleyball. The team has not seen international success.

Cricket is Kenya’s most successful team sport and has competed in the World Cup since 1996. In 2003, the team reached the semi-finals.

Kenya is becoming more known for its rugby union team. It was ranked 9th in IRB Sevens World Series in 2006.

While the country was a regional football power, fights within the Kenya Football Federation have lessened it. FIFA suspended the country but this was lifted in 2007.

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