Background on Kenya

Area: 224,080 mi2; or slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Nairobi (pop. 3.375 million). Other major cities--Nakuru (1.3 million), Mombasa (828,500), Kisumu (650,846), Meru (240,900), and Eldoret (193,830).

Kenya lies acro
ss the equator on the east of the African continent. Neighboring countries are Ethiopia to the north, Somalia to east, Tanzania to south, Uganda to west and Sudan to north-west. Land rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean in a series of mountain ridges and plateaus rising above 9,000 in the center of the country.


Topography is a study of contrasts. Features range from deserts to snow capped mountains, sandy coastlines to freshwater lakes, savannah grasslands to fertile agricultural plantations, extinct volcanoes to coral reefs.The Great Rift Valley bisects the country; a geological feature that can be seen from outer space. The country has three main geographic regions, each characterized by its own unique climate and vegetation. Kenya's climates range from semi-arid to tropical, temperate to alpine, and also include arctic. 

Kenya recently conducted a population census (2010), estimates say they have almost 39 million people. Kenya is an extremely diverse country composed of 43 different tribes.
  •           Almost 60% of the population is under the age of 35, the median age of the population is 18.9.
  •           Note that (in 2011) 42.2% of the population is under 14 years of age.  This has significant implications for education.  
    • Infant mortality rate stands at 52.3 per 1,000 births.
    • Life expectancy is only 59.5 yrs.  Only 2.7% of the population is over 65 years of age.
  •           Over 40% of the nation is unemployed.  
  •           Of those employed:  labor force by occupation is 75% agricultural and 25% service and industry
  •           50% of the population live below the poverty line
The main tribes based on population are Kikuyu 20%, Luo 14%, Luhya 13%, Kalenjin 11%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Mijikenda 5% and Maasai 1%. Each tribe has distinct cultural practices and a unique language, sharing similar origins from Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushitic cultures. The Languages in Kenya are as diverse as the population. The new constitution recognizes three languages as official: English, Swahili, and Kenyan Sign-Language. Over 40 other languages from the Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushitic linguistic groups are also represented. A typical Kenyan speaks at least three languages: their tribal "mother tongue," Kiswahili and English.

Religion is integrated into almost every aspect of life. Christianity is most prevalent with 82.6% claiming affiliation. Islam comprises 11.2% of the population and is growing very rapidly with immigration of many Somalians. (
Kenya is host to about 400,000 refugees, most of whom are from Somalia with the remainder primarily from Sudan and Ethiopia.) Traditional African religions still exist, but only 5% actively participate. Hindu/Sikh/Baha'i/Jewish faiths account for the last 1% of the population
The Adult literacy rate is around 74%. 

    Believed by Anthropologist to be the "Cradle of Humanity," Kenya has a human history stretching back nearly 5 million years. Kenya's recorded history, however, begins around 2000 BC when Cushitic-speaking people migrated from northern Africa. The land was dominated by the wild animals still visible in the numerous game reserves and National Parks. Tribal groups survived in this harsh environment by adapting their lifestyles to the ecosystem; these adaptations ranged from small scale subsistence farming to pastoralist groups herding various ungulates and gathering seasonally available flora.
    Around 1000AD, Arab traders from the Arabian Peninsula arrived in the coastal regions and quickly established their dominance in the region. The Arabs were followed by Persians, Indians, South-East Asian, and there is some evidence of Greek contact as well. The influence of these traders is still visible in the architecture of areas along the coast. A large majority of the Muslim population of Kenya lives along the coast. 

    In 1488, the first modern Europeans, the Portuguese, arrived. Their goal was not only trade, but also domination of the Indian Ocean. The Arabs overcame the strong Portuguese navy and maintained control. It wasn't until the mid-19th Century that Europeans made a greater impact in the region. German were the first explorers to conduct extensive mapping of the interior. This lead to greater interest on the part of other European Empires. Europeans rapidly "claimed" large swaths of land with complete lack of respect for any tribal history or claim. Development of the interior followed the rapidly expanding railway system from Mombasa to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. The Europeans were quick to carve up large portions of Africa as Colonies. These colonies were to designed to supply cheap materials to support the burgeoning Industrial economies of Europe. White ownership of Kenyan land was backed by the British colonial government, frequently without fair compensation to the tribes who owned the land. 
    The mid-20th Century was a time of great upheaval throughout Africa. Political participation of Kenyans under British rule was greatly repressed. Unrest and mobilization began with the Kikuyu, the largest tribal group, in the 1920s. Mass protest and rebellion began in earnest in the early 1950s. Distraught by oppression, many Kikuyus formed the "Mau Mau," an armed, violent movement focused on removing the British.
    Jomo Kenyatta became the first President of Independent Kenya. The Constitution of Kenya was written in England at the Lancaster House by British. It was set up a government similar to the British Parliamentary system.

Jomo Kenyatta reigned as "President" from 1963 until 1978. Daniel rap Moi inherited the Office of President upon Kenyatta's death in 1978. Moi ruled until 2002 when he was defeated by a coalition of opposition parties headed by Mwai Kibaki in democratic elections.  Under Kibaki, Kenya has experienced rapid economic growth, increased international status, and public contentment.  In 2008 after disputed Presidential elections, violence erupted between supporters of the opposition party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and supporters of Kibaki's People's National Union (PNU).   Kibaki resumed Presidential duties. In circumstances still unclear and under investigation by the International Criminal Court, groups loyal to each party clashed, resulting in nearly 2000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Reconciliation and healing for these events are currently underway. As part of the healing process a power-sharing coalition of ODM and PNU was formed: Kibaki remains President but shares executive powers with ODM front man Raila Odigna as Prime Minister.
    In August 2010 Kenyans overwhelmingly voted yes for a new constitution. The first attempt to approve a new constitution occurred in 2006, but the referendum failed to pass national approval. This constitution is written by Kenyans and should repair many disparaging gaps in representation and governance. This new constitution will become effective after the 2012 elections.

The current government is a Parliamentary Republic. The President is the Head of State and the Prime Minister is the Head of Government. The President is advised by a cabinet of 31 Ministries. There is one legislative body consisting of 262 Members of Parliament. The Judiciary consists a Court of Appeals, High Court, Magistrates Court and a Kadhis' Court for Islamic legal issues.
The country is divided into 7 provinces which are further divided into districts, locations, and finally sub-locations. When the new constitution comes into effect there will be 9 counties

The links below are to sites that provide more detail about Kenyan History, Government and Culture.
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