On 12 December 1963, Kenya gained independence from Britain, ending decades of oppression and unjust rule. As the British Union Jack was replaced by the black, red, and green flag, a new nation was born, carved out of the fiery furnace of the liberation war.
The country boasts one of the strongest economies on the continent, inarguably leading the pack in the East African region. It has also established itself as the continent’s ultimate tech hub, and remains a top tourism destination.
Here are ten facts to know about the East African nation.
HOW THE COUNTRY GOT ITS NAME
The country was named after Mount Kenya, a significant landmark and the second highest mountain in Africa. The Kikuyu peoples who lived near the mountain referred to it as Kirinyanga, which means a bright place. This name was inspired by the mountain’s snow-capped peaks. The British reportedly mispronounced Kerinyanga and called the mountain “Mount Kenya” – and so the country got its name.
Before independence, Kenya was known as East Africa Protectorate.
The Kenyan flag is symbolic of the different elements that are intrinsic to the history, birth, and existence of the country. It features four symbolic colours: black, red, green, and white. Black represents the indigenous Kenyan population, while red symbolises the blood shed during the liberation struggle. Green and white stand for the country’s rich vegetation and land, while white symbolizes peace and unity. The Maasai warrior’ shield and two crossed spears serve as symbols of the defence of freedom.
THE RICH CULTURE
With over 40 ethnic tribes, Kenya is one of Africa’s most culturally diverse countries. Kenyan tribes are known for their unique culture, lifestyle, languages, and religion. The main groups include the Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin, and Kamba – who collectively make up about 70% of the country’s population. The country is also home to the famous Maasai group.
THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES
While Kenya is a linguistically diverse place, the East African nation has two official languages: Swahili and English. The former is a Bantu language spoken by nearly everyone in the country, while the latter was inherited from the country’s colonial past. English is the language of choice in business and academic circles. Swahili is one of the most common African languages, spoken in several other countries, including Tanzania, Burundi, and Uganda.
The different languages in Kenya are classified into three groups: Bantu, Nilo-Saharan, and Cushitic. The Bantu languages are spoken by over 65% of the population, while the Nilo-Saharan languages – also common in Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia – are spoken by more than 30% of the Kenyan people. The Cushitic languages are an offshoot of the Afro-Asian language family, spoken by around 3% of the population.
THE PAST AND PRESENT LEADERS
The country has been under the leadership of four presidents since independence. Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta led the nation from 1964 until his death in 1978, first serving as Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964. The legendary revolutionist and pan-Africanist was succeeded by Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, who ran the country from 1978 to 2002. Mwai Kibaki served as the country’s third president, occupying office from 2002 to 2013. The current president Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, took reigns in 2013 after a much-contested election against long-time opposition leader Raila Odinga. The then 52-year-old Kenyatta became Kenya’s youngest president in history.
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES
Kenya is a treasure trove of hominid fossils, with at least seven hominid remains having been discovered in the country. Some of the country’s top fossil finds include Kenyanthropus platyops, a 3.2 million-year-old hominin fossil discovered in 1999, and Australopithecus anamensis, a species that lived in East Africa approximately 4 million years ago. The first fossil of this species was discovered in Kenya in 1965.
THE WILD, WILDLIFE
Kenya is the wildlife capital of the world, where visitors descend in droves to see the rich abundance of wild animals and birds. As Africa’s ultimate safari destination, the country is one place where the Big Five are always readily available for viewing. Some of the famous animals found in the country include the rhino, giraffe, zebra, crocodiles, and an assortment of bird species.
The East African nation is the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world, making up approximately 35% of all sales in Europe. Kenya’s ability to produce an abundance of flowers is attributed to its sunny climate, which keeps the follower industry flourishing all year round.
THE HERITAGE SITES
With a rich culture and history, the country is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These places, treasured for their cultural and historical significance, include Lamu Old Town, Fort Jesus, Kenya Lake Systems, Lake Turkana National Parks, Mount Kenya National Park, and Mijikenda Kaya Forests.