Eastern Africa,
total: 580,367 sq km
land: 569,140 sq km
water: 11,227 sq km
Capital City;
Land boundaries:
Total: 3,457 km
border countries (5):
Ethiopia 867 km,
Somalia 684 km,
South Sudan 317 km,  
Tanzania 775 km,
Uganda 814 km, 
Coastline: 536 km
Total: 3993 km



The climate along the coast is tropical;
rainfall and temperatures are higher throughout the year in coastal area;
the air changes from cool to hot, almost every day
hot and dry in north.
low plains rise to central highlands bisected by Great Rift Valley; fertile plateau in west.
Mean elevation: 190 m
Lowest point:Indian Ocean 0 m
Highest point: Mount Kenya 5,199 m
Natural resources:
limestone, soda ash, salt, gemstones, fluorspar, zinc, 
diatomite, gypsum, wildlife, hydropower.
Land use:
Agricultural land: 48.1%
      arable land 9.8%; permanent crops 0.9%; permanent pasture 37.4%
Forest: 6.1%
Other: 45.8% (2011 est.)
Irrigated land:
1,030 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
population heavily concentrated in the west along the shore of Lake Victoria; 
other areas of high density include the capital of Nairobi, and in the southeast along the Indian Ocean coast.
Natural hazards:
recurring drought; flooding during rainy seasons,
limited volcanic activity; the Barrier (1,032 m) last erupted in 1921;
 South Island is the only other historically active volcano.

People and Society 

Kenya has experienced dramatic population growth since the mid-20th century as a result of its high birth rate and its declining mortality rate. More than 40% of Kenyans are under the age of 15 because of sustained high fertility, early marriage and childbearing, and an unmet need for family planning. Kenya’s persistent rapid population growth strains the labor market, social services, arable land, and natural resources. Although Kenya in 1967 was the first sub-Saharan country to launch a nationwide family planning program, progress in reducing the birth rate has largely stalled since the late 1990s, when the government decreased its support for family planning to focus on the HIV epidemic. Government commitment and international technical support spurred Kenyan contraceptive use, decreasing the fertility rate (children per woman) from about 8 in the late 1970s to less than 5 children twenty years later, but it has plateaued at just over 3 children today.

Kenya was the first sub-Saharan African country to adopt a national family planning program and one of a small handful to undergo a demographic transition to much lower fertility. Since the late 1970s, contraceptive prevalence has doubled, and the total fertility rate in Kenya has fallen from 8.0 children per woman to about half that number. Current estimates on fertility range from 3.1 to 5 births per woman. Kenya now has a birthrate that is among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, at between 28 and 39 per 1,000 population (2007 estimate).  At the same time, according to various 2005 to 2007 estimates, life expectancy at birth has fallen to between 47 and 55 years. Current estimates place the death rate at between 11 and 16 deaths per 1,000 population and infant mortality rate at 57 to 74 per 1,000 live births. The mortality rate among children under five was 120 per 1,000 births in 2004, up from 96 per 1,000 in 1970. The age structure of the population is very young, with 42 percent of the population under age 15 and only 2.6 percent 65 or older. The median age is 18.6 years.

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%
English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
Christian 83% (Protestant 47.7%, Catholic 23.4%, other Christian 11.9%), Muslim 11.2%, Traditionalists 1.7%, other 1.6%, none 2.4%, unspecified 0.2% (2009 est.)

People of African descent make up about 97 percent of the population; they are divided into about 40 ethnic groups belonging to three linguistic families: Bantu, Cushitic, and Nilotic. Bantu-speaking Kenyans comprise three groups: western (Luhya), highlands (including the Kikuyu and the Kamba), and coastal (Mijikenda) Bantu. The major groups of Nilotic speakers are the river–lake (Luo), highlands (Kalenjin), and plains or eastern (Masai). The Cushitic-speaking groups include the Oromo and Somali. The Kikuyu, who make up 22 percent of the population, constitute Kenya’s largest ethnic group. The next largest groups are the Luhya (14 percent), Luo (13 percent), Kalenjin (12 percent), and Kamba (11 percent). Additional groups include the Kisii (6 percent), Meru (6 percent), and other African (15 percent).  Small numbers of people of Indian, Pakistani, and European descent live in the interior, and there are some Arabs along the coast. The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English; any indigenous languages from the three language families also are spoken.
About three-quarters of Kenyans profess some form of Christianity, although fewer are affiliated with a church. About 40 to 45 percent of Kenyans are Protestant, while 30 percent are Roman Catholic. Estimates for the percentage of the population that adheres to indigenous beliefs and to Islam vary widely, ranging from 10 to 25 percent for the former and 7 to 20 percent for Muslims. One percent are Hindus and Sikhs. The population includes very few professed atheists.
Kenya is a source of emigrants and a host country for refugees. In the 1960s and 1970s, Kenyans pursued higher education in the UK because of colonial ties, but as British immigration rules tightened, the US, the then Soviet Union, and Canada became attractive study destinations. Kenya’s stagnant economy and political problems during the 1980s and 1990s led to an outpouring of Kenyan students and professionals seeking permanent opportunities in the West and southern Africa. Nevertheless, Kenya’s relative stability since its independence in 1963 has attracted hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping violent conflicts in neighboring countries; Kenya shelters more than 300,000 Somali refugees as of April 2017.



Historical records shows that Kenyans had access to education as far back as 1728 with  Swahili manuscript Utendi wa Tambuka (Book of Heraclius) attesting to the fact. The Christians missionaries interacted with locals in the coastal town of Mombasa and set up one of the earliest mission schools in the country at Rabai in 1846. With the expansion of the railway from Mombasa to Uganda, the missionaries expanded their work into Kenya’s interior. The first school in western Kenya was established at Kaimosi in 1902. During the colonial era, the number of Kenyans with exposure to education steadily increased and a good number of them were privileged to proceed abroad for further education.

Estimates of the Kenyan literacy rate range between 75 and 85 percent, with the female rate about 10 points lower than the male. The education system, beset by non-enrollment and low completion rates, offers eight years of compulsory primary education, beginning at age six, four years of secondary school, and four years of university education. The language of instruction from the secondary stage onward is English. Primary enrollment since 2002 has included about 75 percent of children. This enrollment rate remains below the nearly 100 percent rate in the 1980s prior to the introduction, under donor pressure, of user fees. The primary school completion rate in 2002 was less than one-half. Primary school enrollment has increased under the Kibaki government, which immediately fulfilled its campaign pledge to abolish user charges and special fees. The government now offers universal free primary education, a change from earlier cost-sharing arrangements between the government and parents. Secondary school enrollment in 2002 included only about 23 percent of the relevant age group and remains low.

The government of Kenya recognizes education as the primary means of sustainable economic development, social mobility, national cohesion, and social development. This has led to the implementation of programs that rapidly expanded the education sector. Challenges and gaps in the education sector include lack of comprehensive strategies for teacher development and provision of holistic early childhood care and education. Ineffective and uncoordinated monitoring and evaluation of education outcomes and programs has exacerbated weaknesses. To solve these issues the Kenyan government came up with a plan called The National Education Sector Plan 2013-2018 (NESP), which has four goals:

1. An education administration structure that: 

  • Provides equitable access to education for all children,
    Enables central, county, and local authorities and schools access to information,
    Has agencies and processes in place to provide quality assurance of learning.

2. A schooling system delivering the compulsory core curriculum in a safe environment in order to meet each individual’s academic, professional, and technical needs and national, social and economic goals.

3. An integrated curriculum framework for basic education that:

  • Enables creativity, practicability, and productivity
    Is based on pedagogies that stimulate intellectual and practical qualities of all learners,
    Supports a culture of democracy, tolerance, social, and environmental awareness.

4. A structure of tertiary education that fosters academic quality, rigor, and research necessary for knowledge based society and expands the learning pathways for young people.

Kenya has five public universities and about twice that many private institutions of higher education. Since the 1980s, there has been a tremendous expansion in universities in response to high demand. The public universities are the University of Nairobi (founded in 1956); Kenyatta University (1972), in Nairobi; the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (1981), near Nairobi; Egerton University (1939), near Nakuru; and Moi University (1984), outside Eldoret. The government also provides opportunities for higher education through several polytechnic institutes and several dozen teacher-training colleges.



Since independence was achieved in 1963, Kenya’s economy has contained both privately owned and state-run enterprises. Most of the country’s business is in private hands (with a large amount of foreign investment), but the government also shapes the country’s economic development through various regulatory powers and “parastatals,” or enterprises that it partly or wholly owns. The aim of this policy is to achieve economic growth and stability, generate employment, and maximize foreign earnings by achieving high levels of agricultural exports while substituting domestically produced goods for those that have been imported. For a decade after independence this policy showed great promise as rising wages, employment, and government revenue provided the means for expanding health services, education, transportation, and communication. But problems that arose with the rise of global oil prices in 1973 have been aggravated by periodic drought and accelerating population growth, and Kenya’s economy has been unable to maintain a favorable balance of trade while addressing the problems of chronic poverty and growing unemployment. 

Since 2014, Kenya has been ranked as a lower middle income country because its per capita GDP crossed a World Bank threshold. While Kenya has a growing entrepreneurial middle class and steady growth, its economic and development trajectory could be impaired by weak governance and corruption. Although reliable numbers are hard to find, unemployment and under-employment are extremely high, and could be near 40% of the population. Agriculture remains the backbone of the Kenyan economy, contributing one-third of GDP. About 75% of Kenya’s population of roughly 44.2 million work at least part-time in the agricultural sector, including livestock and pastoral activities. Over 75% of agricultural output is from small-scale, rain-fed farming or livestock production.

Successfully raised capital in the global bond market. Kenya issued its first sovereign bond offering in mid-2014. Nairobi has contracted with a Chinese company to construct a new standard gauge railway connecting Mombasa and Nairobi, with completion expected in June 2017. In 2013, the country adopted a devolved system of government with the creation of 47 counties, and is in the process of devolving state revenues and responsibilities to the counties. Inflationary pressures and sharp currency depreciation peaked in early 2012 but have since abated following low global food and fuel prices and monetary interventions by the Central Bank. Drought-like conditions in parts of the country have pushed 2017 inflation above 8%. Chronic budget deficits, including a shortage of funds in mid-2015, hampered the government’s ability to implement proposed development programs, but the economy is back in balance with many indicators, including foreign exchange reserves, interest rates, and FDI moving in the right direction. Underlying weaknesses were exposed in the banking sector in 2016 when the government was forced to take over three small and under capitalized banks. In 2016, the government enacted legislation that limits interest rates banks can charge on loans and set a rate that banks must pay their depositors. This measure led to a sharp shrinkage of credit in the economy. Tourism holds a significant place in Kenya’s economy.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$163.4 billion (2017 est.)
$155.6 billion (2016 est.)
$147 billion (2015 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate):
$78.4 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
5% (2017 est.)
5.8% (2016 est.)
5.7% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$3,500 (2017 est.)
$3,400 (2016 est.)
$3,300 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
15.4% of GDP (2017 est.)
15.5% of GDP (2016 est.)
10.9% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 35%
industry: 17.6%
services: 47.7% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
tea, coffee, corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruit, vegetables; dairy products, beef, fish, pork, poultry, eggs
small-scale consumer goods (plastic, furniture, batteries, textiles, clothing, soap, cigarettes, flour), agricultural products, horticulture, oil refining; aluminum, steel, lead; cement, commercial ship repair, tourism, information technology
Population below poverty line:
43.4% (2012 est.)
revenues: $15.37 billion
expenditures: $20.18 billion (2017 est.)


The agriculture sector continues to play a vital role in the rural economy. The sector was one of the first to fully devolve the function of service provision to the county governments underscoring the importance of County Governments’ role in ensuring food security. Agriculture is key to Kenya’s economy, contributing 26 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and another 27 per cent of GDP indirectly through linkages with other sectors. The sector employs more than 40 per cent of the total population and more than 70 per cent of Kenya’s rural people. Agriculture in Kenya is large and complex, with a multitude of public, parastatal, non-governmental and private sectors.

The sector accounts for 65 per cent of the export earnings, and provides the livelihood (employment, income and food security needs) for more than 80 per cent of the Kenyan population and contributes to improving nutrition through production of safe, diverse and nutrient dense foods. The sector is also the min driver of the non-agricultural economy including manufacturing, providing inputs and markets for non-agricultural operations such as building/construction, transportation, tourism, education and other social services.

The dynamics of poverty within Kenya are changing and directly influence the country’s agricultural sector. Currently 46 per cent of the population live on less than 1 USD a day, 36.5 per cent are food insecure and 35 per cent of children under five are stunted (chronically malnourished) in Kenya. The country’s population has increased significantly (growing from 11 million in 1970 to 39.5 million in 2011) and at the current rate of growth, it will be double in the next 27 years, reaching 81 million in 2039. As a result of this rapid increase, land parcels in the areas of high agricultural potential are decreasing in size, affecting food production. 

Tea, coffee, sisal, pyre-thrum, corn, and wheat are grown in the fertile highlands, one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. Production is mainly on small African owned farms formed from the division of formerly European-owned estates. Livestock predominates in the semi-arid savanna to the north and east. Coconuts, pineapples, cashew nuts, cotton, sugarcane, sisal, and corn are grown in the lower-lying areas. 

Despite the importance of agriculture to the economic well-being of the country, the lack of water, infrastructure, and arable land (less than one-tenth of Kenya can be used for agriculture) seriously constrains further expansion. Although the government has made efforts to increase irrigation, it is estimated that only one-fifth to one-fourth of potentially irrigable area has been developed.

Electricity access:
population without electricity: 35,400,000
electrification – total population: 20%
electrification – urban areas: 60%
electrification – rural areas: 7% (2013)
Electricity – production:
9.548 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
7.666 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
45 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
67 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
2.839 million kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
31.9% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 72,801
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
total: 38,982,188
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 82 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
Internet users:
percent of population: 26% (July 2016 est.)


Although Kenya is the most industrially developed country in East Africa, manufacturing still accounts for only 14 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). This level of manufacturing GDP represents only a slight increase since independence. Expansion of the sector after independence, initially rapid, has stagnated since the 1980s,
hampered by shortages in hydroelectric power, high energy costs, dilapidated transport infrastructure, endemic corruption, and the dumping of cheap imports. Industrial activity, concentrated around the three largest urban centers, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu, is dominated by food-processing industries such as grain milling, beer production, and sugarcane crushing, and the fabrication of consumer goods. In addition, a substantial and expanding informal sector engages in small-scale manufacturing of household goods, motor-vehicle parts, and farm implements. About half of the investment in the industrial sector is foreign, with the United Kingdom providing half. The United States is the second largest investor.

Manufacturing is based largely on processing imported goods, although the government supports the development of export-oriented industries. Major industries include agricultural processing, publishing and printing, and the manufacture of textiles and clothing, cement, tires, batteries, paper, ceramics, and leather goods. Assembly plants, which utilize imported parts, produce various kinds of commercial and passenger vehicles and even export a small quantity to other African countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. Steel processing for reexport and for the construction industry is a growing sector, with about a dozen steel mills in operation. The petroleum industry, which was deregulated in 1994, produces diesel and jet fuel from imported crude oil at a refinery near Mombasa and provides a major source of foreign exchange.

Wages in Asia are continuing to rise, and in China’s coastal factories notable increases in wages have occurred over the past 10 years. This has made the country a less attractive manufacturing hub. As a result, factories may relocate; some may move to inland China, Bangladesh or Cambodia but Africa has also appeared on the radar as a
viable option. The World Bank reports that Ethiopian factory wages for unskilled labor are a quarter of Chinese wages. Indeed, East Africa in general is increasingly becoming a focus of attention for the development of manufacturing in Africa; interest in textiles and apparel is particularly high. A report by McKinsey notes that, within sub-Saharan Africa, East African countries, especially Ethiopia and Kenya, are of interest to international apparel buyers. Indeed, for the first time, an Africa country, Ethiopia, has appeared on the list of countries expected to play a more important role in apparel manufacturing. Kenya and Ethiopia are the top two countries in Africa where global apparel buyers expect to start or increase apparel sourcing. Kenya should thus focus on how to manage labor costs and increase productivity because the country currently performs worse than both Uganda and Ethiopia on these metrics.



Mining and Energy

Kenya’s economic development has been tied to its ability to improve energy resources. The emphasis since independence has been on producing hydroelectricity, but access to energy is limited in rural areas, since the bulk of electricity is consumed by the two major urban centers of Nairobi and Mombasa. The largest share of Kenya’s electricity supply comes from hydroelectric stations at dams along the upper Tana River, as well as the Turkwel Gorge Dam in the west. A petroleum fired plant on the coast, geothermal facilities at Olkaria (near Nairobi), and electricity imported from Uganda make up the rest of the supply.

Kenya’s installed capacity stood at 2,142 megawatts a year between 2001 and 2003. The state-owned Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), established in 1997 under the name of Kenya Power Company, handles the generation of electricity, while the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC), which is slated for privatization, handles transmission and distribution. Shortfalls of electricity occur periodically, when drought reduces water flow. The government  openen two new power stations in 2010, Sondu Miriu (hydroelectric) and Olkaria IV (geothermal), but power demand growth is strong, and demand is still expected to outpace supply during periods of drought. 

In order to accommodate this demand, Kenya is building the largest wind farm in Africa, which will produce wind power on a grand scale. The Lake Turkana Wind Power project is a 12-hour drive from Nairobi and, once operational, is set to provide 310 megawatts (MW) of renewable power to the Kenyan national grid. The potential of wind power in terms of reducing carbon emissions is significant. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, in 2016 wind power helped the planet avoid more than 637 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Petroleum fuels constitute the main source of commercial energy in Kenya. Kenya is a net importer of petroleum products and has a refinery owned and managed by the Kenya Petroleum Refineries Ltd (KPRL), an 800 km cross country oil pipeline from Mombasa to Nairobi and Western Kenya with terminals in Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kisumu, run by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC). The sector also boasts of over 30 oil importing and marketing companies comprising of five major companies namely Shell, Total, Kenol/Kobil, Oil Libya, Chevron, and other emerging oil companies which include the Government owned National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK). Petroleum exploration activities have never been as vibrant (upbeat, during the last 13 years) in Kenya as they are at present. To date, a total of fifty six wells have so far been drilled in the country. 



Kenya is the lone acacia silhouetted on the Savannah against a horizon stretching into eternity. It’s the snow-capped mountain almost on the equator and within sight of harsh deserts. It’s the lush, palm-fringed coastline of the Indian Ocean, it’s the Great Rift Valley that once threatened to tear the continent asunder, and it’s the dense forests reminiscent of the continent’s heart. In short, Kenya is a country of epic landforms that stir our deepest longings for this very special continent. 

The tourism sector has exhibited steady growth in most years since independence and by the late 1980s had become the country’s principal source of foreign exchange. Tourists, the largest number from Germany and the United Kingdom, are attracted mainly to the coastal beaches and the game parks, notably, the expansive Tsavo National Park (20,808 square kilometers) in the southeast. Kenya, June 2007 tourist industry organizations have taken steps to address the security problem and to reverse negative publicity. Such steps include establishing a tourist police and launching marketing campaigns in key tourist origin markets. Tourism has seen a substantial revival over the past several years and is the major contributor to the pick-up in the country’s economic growth.

Filling the country’s landscape, adding depth and resonance to Kenya’s age-old story, are some of Africa’s best-known peoples. The Maasai, the Samburu, the Turkana, the Swahili, the Kikuyu: these are the peoples whose histories and daily struggles tell the story of a country as well as the continent. Kenya is the land of the Masai Mara, of wildebeest and zebras migrating in their millions with the great predators of Africa following in their wake, of endangered species like black rhinos managing to maintain their precarious foothold. But Kenya is also home to the red elephants of Tsavo, to Amboseli elephant families in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro and to the massed millions of pink flamingos stepping daintily through lake shallows. Africa is the last great wilderness where these creatures survive. And Kenya is the perfect place to answer Africa’s call of the wild.

The abundance of Kenya’s wildlife owes everything to one of Africa’s most innovative and successful conservation communities. Through some pretty tough love – Kenya pioneered using armed rangers to protect rhinos and elephants – Kenya stopped the emptying of its wilderness and brought its wildlife back from the brink after the poaching holocaust of the 1970s and 1980s. More than that, in places like Laikipia and the Masai Mara, private and community conservancies fuse tourism with community development and wildlife conservation to impressive effect. In other words, if you want your visit to make a difference, you’ve come to the right place.

Banking and Finance

The financial sector includes the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) the primary regulator of the banking industry; 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 Post Office Savings Bank with a large network of branches around the country; 79 foreign exchange (forex) bureaus; three licensed credit reference bureaus, 14 money remittance providers and about 200 deposit-taking licensed savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs) with a membership of over 3 million Kenyans. However, the banking sector is essentially dominated by four major commercial banks, namely Equity Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank, Barclays Bank of Kenya and Standard Chartered. In addition smaller banks have emerged and experienced tremendous growth in recent years.
More than 10 Kenyan banks—including Kenya Commercial Bank, Commercial Bank of Africa, Equity Bank and Bank of Africa—have subsidiaries operating in the East Africa Community and South Sudan. Increasing access to finance has been abridged with the use of innovation such as agent banking, which allows commercial banks and Deposit-Taking Microfinance (DTM) institutions to engage the services of third party outlets to deliver specified financial services on their behalf.


  • Early History

    It is known that human history in Kenya dates back millions of years, because it is there that some of the earliest fossilized remains of hominids have been discovered. Among the best-known finds are those by anthropologist Richard Leakey and others in the Koobi Fora area along the shore of Lake Rudolf that have included portions of Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis skeletons. The first inhabitants of present-day Kenya were hunter-gatherer groups, akin to the modern Khoisan speakers.  These people were later replaced by agro pastoralist Cushitic speakers from the Horn of Africa. During the early Holocene, the regional climate shifted from dry to wetter climatic conditions, providing an opportunity for the development of cultural traditions, such as agriculture and herding, in a more favorable environment.

    Around 500 BC, Nilotic-speaking pastoralists (ancestral to Kenya’s Nilotic speakers) started migrating from present-day Southern Sudan into Kenya. Nilotic groups in Kenya include the Samburu, Luo, Turkana, Maasai. By the first millennium AD, Bantu-speaking farmers had moved into the region.[25] The Bantus originated in West Africa along the Benue River in what is now eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon.[26] The Bantu migration brought new developments in agriculture and iron working to the region.[26] Bantu groups in Kenya include the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, Kuria, Aembu, Ambeere, Wadawida-Watuweta, Wapokomo and Mijikenda among others.

    The coast of East Africa was mentioned in the first and second centuries A.D. Greek writings as a trading place for items like ivory, tortoiseshell, and spices. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Arab and Persian merchants founded settlements along the coast. These towns, stretching from the coasts of Somalia to the coasts of Mozambique, became links in an extensive commercial network between East Africa, Southwest Asia, and
    the Indies. Settlements in Mombassa, Malindi, Lamu, and Pate in present-day Kenya exported slaves and ivory that had been exchanged by Africans from the interior of the country for salt, cloth, beads, and metal goods.
    The larger Arab towns developed into autonomous sultanates, competing with each other.

    During the 15th century, the Coast is rich and the cities are great in this period. It becomes the first center of trade out of Africa. The African groups on the coast gradually forms the Swahili culture adapting Islam as their religion. The common religion makes way for better understanding and business with the Arabs. Religious beliefs (Islam and later Christianity) also gives status in society (this can still be seen in the pride of many religious people in Africa). Some Africans may have turned to Islam simply to avoid being sold as slaves. The Swahili were mainly black Africans and it were these people who build the great cities along the coast.

    Arab families continued to migrate to East Africa, and due to intermarriages between indigenous Bantu-speaking Africans and Arab settlers, a distinctive Islamic culture emerged. This also led to the development of the Swahili (Arabic for “coastal”) language, serving as the main language on the East African coast, and as the native tongue of the mixed population. By the end of the fifteenth century, Malindi was the most prosperous trading center on the Kenyan coast, surpassing Mombasa.

  • The Swahilis and Arrival of the Portuguese

    The Kenyan coast had served host to communities of iron workers and communities of Bantu subsistence farmers, hunters and fishers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with foreign countries. These communities formed the earliest city states in the region which were collectively known as Azania. By the 1st century CE, many of the city-states such as Mombasa, Malindi,  and Zanzibar began to establish trade relations with Arabs. This led to the increase economic growth of the Swahili states, introduction of Islam, Arabic influences on the Swahili Bantu language, cultural diffusion, as well as the Swahili city-states becoming a member of a larger trade network.

    Arabian and Persian traders are the first to visits the East Africa 8th century AD are made. Some Arab traders stays in the region and brings a Muslim influence to the culture. Most areas of Kenya are inhabited at this time, but most trade and development takes place in the coastal region. Trade with ivory, rhino horn, gold, shells and slaves makes Mombasa, Malindi and the Islands Lamu, and Pate into important centers of trade. Evolving from a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, the Swahili language then developed as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples.

    The Swahili built Mombasa into a major port city and established trade links with other nearby city-states, as well as commercial centers in Persia, Arabia, and even India. During the 15th century, the Coast is rich and the cities are great in this period. It becomes the first center of trade out of Africa. The African groups on the coast gradually forms the Swahili culture adapting Islam as their religion. The common religion makes way for better understanding and business with the Arabs. Religious beliefs (Islam and later Christianity) also gives status in society (this can still be seen in the pride of many religious people in Africa). Some Africans may have turned to Islam simply to avoid being sold as slaves. The Swahili were mainly black Africans and it were these people who build the great cities along the coast.

    When the Portuguese arrived in 1498 in Mombasa and Malindi under Vasco da Gama, the Arab dominance on the coast was clipped, as the Port of Mombasa became an important resupply stop for ships bound for the Far East. While the sultanate of Malindi established friendly relations with the Portuguese, the leaders of Mombasa reacted with hostility. After several attacks on the town, they were forced to recognize the rule of the Europeans and pay an annual tribute. In order to strengthen their power on this stretch of the East African coast, the Portuguese constructed a massive defense fort, Fort Jesus, at the entrance to Mombasa harbor in 1593. Their dominance went unchallenged for the next few decades, until the imam of Oman gained power. Fort Jesus fell in 1699 after a three-year siege.  The Portuguese gave way in turn to Islamic control under the Imam of Oman in the 1600s until another European influence came along, this time from the United Kingdom during the 19th century.

  • Colonial British 

    On 7 August 1885 five German warships steam into the lagoon of Zanzibar and train their guns on the sultan’s palace. They have arrived with a demand from Bismarck that Sultan Barghash cede to the German emperor his mainland territories or face the consequences. This crisis is immediately on desks in London. Britain, eager not to offend Germany, suggests a compromise. The two nations should mutually agree spheres of interest over the territory stretching inland to the Great Lakes. In September a joint Anglo-German boundary commission starts work in the interior.  By November 1886 the task is done and the result is agreed with the other main colonial power, France. The sultan is left a strip ten miles wide along the coast. The British sphere of influence is to be to the north, the German to the south. The line remains to this day the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

    As with the areas being colonized by Rhodes at this same period in southern Africa, the British government is reluctant to take active responsibility for the region of east Africa which is now its acknowledged sphere of interest. Instead it assigns to a commercial company the right to administer and develop the territory. The Imperial British East Africa Company is set up for the purpose in 1888, a year ahead of Rhodes’s British South Africa Company. The Imperial British East Africa Company opened the fertile highlands to white settlers. Even before it was officially declared a British colony in 1920, these settlers were allowed a voice in government, while the Africans and the Asians were banned from direct political participation until 1944. During this period thousands of Indians were brought into Kenya to work on building the Kenya Uganda Railway Line and subsequently settled there, whilst inviting many of their kith and kin who were mainly traders from India to join them.

    It is evident to all that the development of this region depends on the construction of a railway from the coast to Lake Victoria, but circumstances conspire to make this task far beyond the abilities of the East Africa Company. However,the British were highly interested in controlling the rich resources of Uganda. In order to facilitate this, they built a railroad between Mombasa and Kampala, using Indian laborers. Many of them remained in the country and became today‟s merchant class. The climate and fertility of the Kenya Highlands made this region ideal for European settlement and for plantations producing export crops. Vast stretches of the country‟s best land were reserved for the white minority, with restrictions of African and Asian land use. Many Africans lost their land during this process and were forced onto inferior land or into the labor market as a result of the hut taxes imposed by the colonial administration.

    During the early part of the 20th century, the interior central highlands were settled by British and other European farmers, who became wealthy farming coffee and tea. By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in the area and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy.

  • Resistance to Colonialism and  Mau Mau Uprising

    The establishment of the colony of Kenya brings in its train racial hostilities. New legislation on land tenure shamelessly favors the settlers. In many areas Africans are now formally dispossessed of their land and are confined in reservations (the Kikuyu, the largest tribe, being the main losers), while the ‘white highlands’ policy restricts the ownership of the best farming land to Europeans. These and other tensions are reflected in the developing political scene.  From 1919 the white settlers are allowed to elect members to the legislative council. The other two communities of the colony demand similar rights. However, the Indians, enjoying a greater economic strength than their African Peers. As early as 1920 they turn down the offer of two seats on the legislative council, since this is not representative of the size of their community. Tension remains high until 1927, when the Indians win the right to five seats on the council. The Africans are almost as prompt in asserting their claims. As early as 1921 the Young Kikuyu Association (also known as the East Africa Association) is established to assert African rights and, more specifically, to recover appropriated Kikuyu land.

    The central highlands were already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu people, most of whom had no land claims in European terms and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax, and the landless were granted less and less land in exchange for their labor. A massive exodus to the cities ensued as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled. There were 80,000 white settlers living in Kenya in the 1950s. In October 1952 there is a sudden outbreak of sabotage and assassination in Kenya. The perpetrators using terrorist tactics are Kikuyu, and their ritual oaths of loyalty to their secret organization reflect the customs of Jomo Kenyatta’s political group, the Kikuyu Central Association. 

    The meaning of their name for themselves, Mau Mau, is at the time and remains today a mystery. The colonial government reacts rapidly, declaring a state of emergency and arresting Jomo Kenyatta. Charged with planning the Mau Mau uprising, he is sentenced in March 1953 to seven years’ imprisonment. But his absence in British custody does nothing to lessen the campaign of terror. During this period, African participation in the political process increased rapidly and in 1954 all three races (European, Asian and African) were admitted into the Kenya Legislative Council on a representative basis.

    The capture of Warũhiũ Itote (also known as General China) on 15 January 1954 and the subsequent interrogation led to a better understanding of the Mau Mau command structure. Operation Anvil opened on 24 April 1954; The operation effectively placed Nairobi under military siege. Nairobi’s occupants were screened and the Mau Mau supporters moved to detention camps. The Home Guard formed the core of the government’s strategy as it was composed of loyalist Africans, not foreign forces such as the British Army and King’s African Rifles. By the end of the emergency, the Home Guard had killed 4,686 Mau Mau, amounting to 42% of the total insurgents. The capture of Dedan Kimathi on 21 October 1956 in Nyeri signified the ultimate defeat of the Mau Mau and essentially ended the military offensive. During this period, substantial governmental changes to land tenure occurred. The most important of these was the Swynnerton Plan, which was used to both reward loyalists and punish Mau Mau.

  • Jomo Kenyatta

    Jomo Kenyatta was born Kamau to parents Moigoi and Wamboi, his father was the chief of a small agricultural village in Gatundu Division, Kiambu District, one of five administrative districts in the Central Highlands of British East Africa. Moigoi died when Kamau was very young and he was, as custom dictated, adopted by his uncle Ngengi to become Kamau wa Ngengi.   In 1912, having completed his mission school education, Kamau became an apprentice carpenter. The following year he underwent initiation ceremonies. In August 1914 Kamau was baptized at the Church of Scotland mission, initially taking the name John Peter Kamau, but swiftly changing it to Johnson Kamau. He then departed the mission for Nairobi to seek employment.

    In 1919 he met and married his first wife Grace Wahu, according to Kikuyu tradition. When it became apparent that Grace was pregnant, his church elders ordered him to get married before a European magistrate, and undertake the appropriate church rites. Amongst other jobs he undertook during this period, Kamau served as an interpreter in the Nairobi High Court, and ran a store out of his Dagoretti home. In 1922 Kamau adopted the name Jomo (a Kikuyu name meaning ‘burning spear’) Kenyatta, and began working for the Nairobi Municipal Council Public Works Department  as a store clerk and water-meter reader. It was also the start of his political career the previous year Harry Thuku, a well educated and respected Kikuyu, had formed the East African Association (EAA) to campaign for the return of Kikuyu lands given over to white settlers when the country became the British Crown Colony of Kenya in 1920. Kenyatta joined the EAA in 1922.

    In 1925 the EAA disbanded under governmental pressure, but its members came together again as the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), formed by James Beauttah and Joseph Kangethe. In May 1928 Kenyatta launched a monthly Kikuyu-language newspaper called Mwigwithania (Kikuyu word meaning ‘he who brings together’) which was intended to draw all sections of the Kikuyu together. The Kenyan Crown Colony was still dominated by white settler interests, and the dangerous explosion he had predicted in The Times in 1930 became a reality — the Mau Mau Rebellion. Seen as a subversive from his call for independence and support for nationalism, Kenyatta was implicated in the Mau Mau movement by the British authorities, and on 21 October 1952 he was arrested. The trial, which lasted several months, was a travesty ”” witnesses perjured themselves, and the judge was openly hostile to Kenyatta. The trial achieved worldwide publicity; despite the colonial authorities trying to claim is was simply a ‘criminal’ matter.

    On 8 April 1953 Kenyatta was sentenced to seven for Managing the Mau Mau, the trial achieved worldwide publicity; despite the colonial authorities trying to claim is was simply a ‘criminal’ matter. On 8 April 1953 Kenyatta was sentenced to seven-years hard labour for “managing the Mau Mau terrorist organization”. He spent the next six years at Lokitaung before being moved to ‘permanent restriction’ at Lodwar (a particularly remote desert army post) on 14 April 1959. The Mau Mau Rebellion had been crushed by the British Army, and the State of Emergency was lifted on 10 November. By 1960 the British government had conceded the principle of one man-one vote for Kenya, and in 1962 Kenyatta went to the Lancaster Conference in London to negotiate the terms of Kenya’s independence. In May 1963 KANU won the pre-independence election and formed a provisional government. When independence was achieved on 12 December that year, Kenyatta was prime minister. Exactly one year later, with the proclamation of a republic, Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.

  • Independent Kenya

    Jomo Kenyatta is still in detention in 1960, but his colleagues elect him president of their newly formed political party KANU (Kenya African National Union). He is released by the British in 1961. In London in 1962 he leads Kenya’s delegation in the negotiations for independence. The new nation is to include the coastal strip which until this time has been leased from the sultan of Zanzibar. In elections in May 1963 KANU wins the majority of the seats. Independence is achieved in December 1963, with Kenyatta as prime minister. A year later, under a new constitution, Kenya becomes a republic (soon to be a one-party republic, when opposition leaders agree to end party faction and cooperate with KANU). In 1964 Kenyatta is elected president. 

    To many in the white community it seems a terrifying prospect that almost unfettered power is now in the hands of a politician widely held responsible for Kikuyu violence in the Mau Mau period.  But Kenyatta confounds his critics. He rules even-handedly in relation to the African, Asian and European communities. He carefully involves ministers from tribes other than the Kikuyu in his administration. And he develops a successful free-market economy open to foreign investment. When he dies, in 1978, Kenya ranks high among African countries both in terms of political stability and economic growth.   Kenyatta is succeeded peacefully from within the ranks of KANU by his deputy, Daniel arap Moi (not himself a Kikuyu, but from one of the smaller Kalenjin tribes). Moi continues Kenyatta’s pro-western policies and his one-party rule, with little tolerance of any form of opposition. But in the early 1990s, as in most other African countries, there is strong pressure for multi party elections. These are held in December 1992. Moi is elected president and KANU wins the majority of seats in the national assembly, victory in both cases being eased by the fragmented nature of the opposition.

    The 1990s prove a difficult time; Kenya flounders economically, there are ominous outbreaks of ethnic conflict between Kalenjin and Kikuyu, and the nation’s troubles are compounded by evidence of widespread corruption. In 1997, with little sign of Moi taking effective measures to curb these abuses, the IMF suspends its promised programme of loans. At the same time the international community presses unsuccessfully for constitutional reform to give opposition parties a fair chance against KANU. Elections in December 1997 confirm Moi in the presidency and KANU as the ruling party.

    Moi announced in 2002 that he would not run again for the presidency, and Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, was chosen to be KANU’s presidential candidate. Kibaki, this time representing a coalition of opposition groups (the National Rainbow Coalition [NARC]), soundly defeated Kenyatta in the 2002 presidential elections, thus ending KANU’s long period of uninterrupted rule. In August 2010 Kenyan voters passed a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution, one rewritten to deactivate the country’s long-standing patterns of political tension and corruption. The referendum, which was conducted relatively peacefully, passed with a significant majority of the vote. The new constitution limited the power of the presidency and passed more control into the hands of the country’s local governments. In addition to restructuring the distribution of power, the constitution provided for a bill of rights and land reform.

East Africa

RSS AllAfrica News: East Africa

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  • Sudan: Trial of Youths Accused of Policeman's Murder to Resume on February 12 February 1, 2023
    [Dabanga] Khartoum -- The trial of Mohamed Adam (better known by his nickname Tupac) and three other young men who were detained in January last year on charges of killing a police brigadier during anti-junta demonstrations in Khartoum, will resume next month.


RSS AllAfrica News: Kenya