KENYAKenya's location on the eastern coast of Africa and its central highlands that proved ideal for agriculture have largely dominated its modern history. The Portuguese and then Omani Arabs were the first to establish trading rights along the coast, with slaves among their key exports. British control was initially exerted to stem the slave trade, but the British extended their control to the inland areas, where they overturned the system under which land was held in common by the tribes in order to establish vast plantations. The displaced flocked to the cities, but eventually formed a political movement that led to independence. Though the government has had periods of one-party rule and been marked by corruption, Kenya has been a relatively stable democracy, with only one coup attempt since its founding.


The Republic of Kenya, located in Eastern Africa, is bordered by Ethiopia to the north, Somalia to the east, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, and Sudan to the northwest, with the Indian Ocean forming the southeast border.

Kenya covers an area of 224,961 sq mi (582,646 sq km). From the coast on the Indian Ocean, the low plains rise to central highlands, which are bisected by the Great Rift Valley; a fertile plateau lies in the west. The Kenyan highlands comprise one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. The highest point in Kenya, Mount Kenya, which reaches 17,057 ft (5,199 m) and features glaciers, is found here.

Kenya has considerable land area for wildlife habitat, including much of the Serengeti plain, where Blue Wildebeest and other bovids participate in a large-scale annual migration. The "Big Five" animals of Africa—the lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant—can be found in Kenya.

Kenya enjoys a tropical climate. The climate varies from tropical along the coast to arid in the interior. It is hot and humid in the region around Mombassa, with temperatures ranging from 88 °F (31 °C) in the hottest months (January and February) to 80 °F (27 °C) in the cooler months (July through September). The climate is more temperate in the inlands regions around Nairobi, with temperatures from 78 °F (25 °C) to 70 °F (21 °C). Rainfall amounts vary widely, with about 47 inches (1200 mm) annually near the coast, and ten to 20 inches (500 to 600 mm) inland. The long rainy season lasts from April to June and the short rainy season, from October to December.



Fossils found in East Africa suggest that protohumans roamed the area more than twenty million years ago. Recent finds near Kenya's Lake Turkana indicate that hominids such as homo habilis and homo erectus are possible direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens and lived in Kenya during the Pleistocene era.

Colonial history

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore Kenya. Vasco da Gama visited Mombasa in 1498, initiating a period of Portuguese rule centered mainly on the coastal strip ranging from Malindi to Mombasa. The western Indian Ocean became a safe haven for Portuguese commercial interests, and all the city-states along the East African coast paid tribute to the Portuguese crown. This policy of extracting tribute was only partially successful, as local East African rulers rebelled frequently against the Portuguese.

However, Portuguese naval vessels disrupted commerce within the western Indian Ocean and were able to demand high tariffs on items transported through the sea due to their strategic control of ports and shipping lanes. But Portugal's influence was undercut by British, Dutch, and Omani Arab incursions into the region during the seventeenth century. The Omani Arabs besieged Portuguese fortresses, openly attacked naval vessels, and had completely expelled the Portuguese from the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts by 1730.

Omani Arab colonization of the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts brought the once independent city-states under closer foreign domination than during the Portuguese period. Like their predecessors, the Omani Arabs were primarily able to control only the coastal areas, not the interior. However, the creation of clove plantations, intensification of the slave trade, and relocation of the Omani capital to Zanzibar in 1839 had the effect of consolidating Omani power. Arab governance of all the major ports along the East African coast continued until British interests, aimed at ending the slave trade and creating a wage-labor system, began to put pressure on Omani rule.

By the late nineteenth century, the slave trade on the open seas had been completely outlawed by the British, and the Omani Arabs were too weak to resist the British navy’s ability to enforce the directive. The Omani presence continued in Zanzibar and Pemba Island (part of the former Zanzibar Sultanate) until the 1964 revolution, but the official Omani Arab presence in Kenya was checked by German and British seizure of key ports and creation of crucial trade alliances with influential local leaders in the 1880s. However, the Omani Arab legacy in East Africa can be seen in their numerous descendants along the coast, who are typically the wealthiest and most politically influential members of the Kenyan coastal community.

Germany established a protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal possessions in 1885. This was followed by the arrival of the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888. Incipient imperial rivalry was forestalled when Germany handed its coastal holdings to Britain in 1890 after the Kenya-Uganda railway was built. It is believed that the Nandi were the first tribe to be put in a native reserve to stop their attempts to disrupt the building of that railway.

During the early part of the twentieth century, the interior central highlands were settled by British and other European farmers, who became wealthy by farming coffee. By the 1930s, approximately thirty thousand settlers lived in the area and exerted undue political power because of their dominance of the economy. The area was already home to over a million members of the Kĩkũyũ tribe, most of whom had no land claims in European terms (the land belonged to the ethnic group) and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee by the natives, introduced a hut tax, and granted the landless less and less land in exchange for their labor. A massive exodus to the cities ensued.

From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule. The governor requested and obtained British and African troops. The Home Guard, recognized as a branch of the Security Forces, formed the core of the government's anti-Mau Mau strategy as it was composed of loyalist Africans. By the end of the emergency the Home Guard had killed no fewer than 4,686 Mau Mau, amounting to 42 percent of the total insurgents. The capture of Dedan Kimathi in 1956 signified the ultimate defeat of the Mau Mau and essentially ended the military offensive.

Post-colonial history

The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Despite British hopes of handing power to "moderate" African rivals, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta formed a government shortly before Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963. A year later, Kenyatta became Kenya's first president.

Kenyatta instituted a relatively peaceful land reform; on the other hand, his land policies resulted in deeply entrenched corruption, with choice parcels of land given to his relatives and friends and Kenyatta becoming the nation's largest landowner. Some complained that he favored his tribe, the Kikuyu, to the detriment of the others. He pursued a pro-Western, anti-communist foreign policy. The ensuing stability attracted foreign investment, although Kenyatta's authoritarian policies caused dissent.

At Kenyatta's death in 1978, he was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, who ran unopposed in one-party elections held in 1979, 1983, and 1988. The 1983 elections were a direct result of an abortive military coup attempt on August 1, 1982. The election held in 1988 saw the advent of a system in which voters lined up behind their favored candidates, instead of a secret ballot. This led to widespread agitation for constitutional reform. Several contentious clauses, including the one allowing only one political party, were changed in the following years. In democratic but flawed multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997, Daniel arap Moi won re-election. In 2002, Moi was constitutionally barred from running, and Mwai Kibaki, running for the opposition coalition National Rainbow Coalition, was elected president. The elections, judged free and fair by local and international observers, marked a turning point in Kenya's democratic evolution.


Kenya has a presidential system and is a representative democratic republic.The President of Kenya is both head of state and head of government in a multiparty system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly of Kenya. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.


Kenya's main economic strengths include tourism and agriculture. The economy is only now beginning to show some growth after years of stagnation. Some argue that this slow economic growth is because of poor management and uneven commitment to reform; others insist that it is due to falling commodity prices and poor access to Western markets.

In 1993, the government of Kenya implemented a program of economic liberalization and reform that included the removal of import licensing, price controls, and foreign exchange controls. With the support of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other donors, the reforms led to a brief turnaround in economic performance following a period of negative economic growth in the early 1990s. One of the unintended consequences of freeing foreign exchange control was that it allowed a gold-and-diamond export scam, in which the Kenyan government lost over 600 million US dollars. This resulted in a weak currency that hindered economic improvement.

Kenya's Gross domestic product grew five percent in 1995 and four percent in 1996, and inflation remained under control. Growth slowed in 1997 through 1999. Political violence—specifically, the bombing of the United States Embassy by Al Qaeda in 1998; damaged the tourist industry, and Kenya's Enhanced Structural Adjustment Program lapsed. A new economic team was put in place in 1999 to revitalize the reform effort, strengthen the civil service, and curb corruption, but wary donors continue to question the government's commitment to Western ideas of sound economic policy.

Electricity shortages are considered by some to be long-term barriers to development, together with the government's continued and allegedly inefficient dominance of key sectors, corruption, the foreign debt burden, unstable international commodity prices, a poor communication infrastructure, and the impact of HIV/AIDS. The effect of HIV/AIDS, which is particularly hitting the most productive sector of the population, has largely offset the previous gains in population growth resulting from a high birthrate and reduced infant mortality due to better health care.

Chief among Kenya's exports are flowers (horticulture), fruits and vegetables, tea, and coffee. Another key foreign exchange earner is tourism, which has grown tremendously since 2003.


Kenya is a country of great ethnic diversity. Tension between the various groups accounts for many of Kenya's problems. During the early 1990s, politically instigated tribal clashes killed thousands and left tens of thousands homeless. The KANU regime at the time, headed by Daniel arap Moi, was blamed for inciting the violence as a way to discourage multiparty politics and cling to power.

The ethnic groups represented in Kenya are: Kĩkũyũ (22 percent), Luhya (14 percent), Luo (13 percent), Kalenjin (12 percent), Kamba (11 percent), Kisii (six percent), Ameru (six percent), other African identities (15 percent), non-African (Asian/Desi, European, and Arab) (one percent).

The dominant religious affiliationsof the Kenyan people are: various Protestant churches (45 percent), Roman Catholic (33 percent), Muslim (ten percent), Traditional Religions (ten percent). Others religions followed include Hinduism, Jainism and the Bahá'í Faith.


Kenya is a diverse country, with many different cultures represented. Notable cultures include the Swahili on the coast and the pastoralist communities in the north. The Maasai culture is the best known.

National dress

In an effort to unify the country, political leaders are attempting to implement a national dress code. However, due to the great cultural diversity, many groups have had no role in the planning or implementation of this proposal, and therefore feel disenfranchised. Some common dress pieces include the Kanga (traditionally from the coastal regions of the country) and the Kitenge, loose fitting tunics worn by men and women. The Kanga is a piece of cloth that is screen printed with beautiful sayings in Kiswahili (or English) and largely worn by women around the waist and torso. Kangas are used in many ways, such as aprons, child-carrying slings, picnic blankets, and swimwear.


Kenya is home to a diverse range of music styles, ranging from imported popular music to traditional folk songs. The guitar is the most popular instrument in Kenyan music, and songs often feature intricate guitar rhythms. The most famous guitarist of the early twentieth century was Fundi Konde.

Modern popular music can be divided into two genres: the Swahili sound and the Congolese sound. There are varying regional styles, and performers often create tourist-oriented "hotel pop" that is similar to western music.


Several sports are widely popular in Kenya, among them football (soccer), cricket and boxing. But Kenya is known chiefly for its dominance in cross country and the marathon, middle and long-distance running. Kenya has regularly produced champions in various distance events. Lately, there has been controversy in Kenyan athletic circles, with the defection of a number of Kenyan athletes to represent other countries, chiefly Bahrain and Qatar. The Kenyan Ministry of Sports has tried to stop the defections, but they have continued, with Bernard Lagat, for example, choosing to represent the United States. Kenya is now also beginning to be a force to reckon with in rugby.

Film and theater

The country offers spectacular scenery and can only be compared to South Africa in regard to producing some of the most talented actors and actresses on the African continent. Due to the government's nonchalant attitude, the film industry has remained dormant. One exception was the award-winning The Constant Gardener. Television has proved popular with the Kenyan audience and has been around since the 1960s. Serious television drama was witnessed for the first time in the early 1990s.

A new genre in the form of stand-up comedy followed with the entry of the group, 'Redikyulas' comprised of a trio of young comedians who specialized in political satire. They poked fun not only at the establishment but also at the then Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi. This was hitherto unheard of and could have led to prosecution of the artists had it occurred a few years earlier.
Capital: Nairobi
Population: 34,707,817 note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this
Ethnic Groups: Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%
Religions: Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, indigenous beliefs 10%, Muslim 10%, other 2% note: a large majority of Kenyans are Christian, but estimates for the percentage of the population that adheres to Islam or indigenous beliefs vary widely
Languages: English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
Chief of State: President Mwai KIBAKI (since 30 December 2002)
GDP (per capita): $1100
Population below poverty line: 50% (2000 est.)

Famous Kenyans

  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (born January 5, 1938) is a Kenyan author, formerly working in English and now working in Gĩkũyũ. His work includes novels, plays, short stories, essays and scholarship, criticism and children's literature. He is the founder and editor of the Gikuyu-language journal, Mutiiri.
  • Moyez G. Vassanji, C.M. (who writes as M. G. Vassanji) is a Kenyan/Canadian novelist.
  • Moses Kiptanui (born October 1, 1970 in Marakwet, Kenya) is a middle and long distance athlete mostly famous for 3,000 m steeplechase in which he was the number one ranked athlete from 1991 to 1995 and three time IAAF World Champion. Kiptanui was also the first man ever to run 3000 m steeplechase in under eight minutes.
  • Wilson Kipketer (born December 12, 1972) is a Kenyan former middle distance runner. He has set world records at both the 800 and 1000 metre distances. While dominating the 800 m distance for a decade, remaining undefeated for a three-year period and running 8 of the 11 currently all-time fastest times, he never won an Olympic gold medal.
  • Joyce Chepchumba (born November 6, 1970 in Kericho) is a Kenyan Long distance athlete. Has 8 Marathon titles since 1997.
  • Margaret Okayo (b. 1977) is a successful marathon runner from Kenya. She has won a number of major marathons. She set a new world record over the marathon distance on 4 November 2001 in New York, a record she no longer holds.
  • Catherine Ndereba (born July 31, 1972) is a world class Kenyan marathon runner. She broke the women's marathon world record in 2001, running 2h18:47 at the Chicago Marathon. She was the first woman to run under the 2 hour and 19 minute barrier.
  • Paul Kibii Tergat is regarded by many as one of the most astounding long distance runners of the last decade. Tergat achieved his most recent victory on November 6, 2005, when he won his New York City Marathon debut in a thrilling sprint finish through Central Park. He currently holds the marathon world record of 2:04:55, which was set September 28, 2003 in Berlin, Germany.

Source: New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards.

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