map of Kenya


Country Information

(Kenya National Anthem)


Kenya's Name

Kenya - a wonderful sounding word is named after a mountain of the same name. It was given by the Kikuyu people who lived around present day Mt. Kenya which they referred to  as Kirinyaga or Kerenyaga, meaning ‘mountain of whiteness’ because of its snow capped peak (yes, Africa does have snow capped peaks). Mt Kirinyaga which was the main landmark became synonymous with the territory the British  later claimed as their colony. However, the name Kenya arose out of the inability of the British and others to pronounce Kirinyaga correctly.

When one hears the name "Kenya," there are images of the savannahs, animals, safari trips, the Rift Valley, the Indian Ocean coastline and Lake Victoria but Kenya is over (2003 estimate) 30 million people of various ethnic groups (47) and backgrounds and without having met the people of Kenya, one has not seen the real, living Kenya.

Early Visitors and Settlers

The first people to settle in Kenya were indigenous African communities who migrated from various parts of the continent (Kenya is made up of various people groupings). Other visitors included traders, explorers, missionaries, slave-traders and travelers who came in from various parts of the world such as Portugal, Arabia, Roman empire, India, Greece and as far as China. They visited mainly the East African Coast from as early as the first century A.D. While the majority of the visitors went back to their countries, some settled, and intermarried with the local populations giving rise to a new Swahili culture along the Coast which has a strong Arabian flavor.

The civilization base of craft industries, farming, fishing and international trade  gave rise to both Coastal city states such as Siu, Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Gede, Mombasa and Vanga . Islam and Kiswahili language were also introduced . The traders from overseas brought such items as clothes, beads, wines, iron weapons, porcelain and handicrafts. These were exchanged for ivory, timber, gold, copper, rhinoceros horns, animal skins and slaves. (Slaves from Kenya were taken to Zanzibar and shipped from there to various parts of the Arabian peninsula and there is evidence of slaves as far away as China and India.)

The first major European presence in East Africa started with the arrival of the Portuguese in the East African waters in 1498 when Vasco Da Gama’s fleet made its initial forays on its way to the East Indies. On the first voyage his only negotiations were with the ruler of Malindi and, indeed, for the next hundred years this alliance was the foundation of the Portuguese network in the region. Their quest to control and dominate the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, the conquest of several city-states along the coast, and the establishment of their dominance, lasted 200 years. (The Portuguese forts can still be seen in various states of decay on the coast of Kenya.)

But their presence was hated and resisted and there were many insurrections against them. For example, on the 16th August 1631, the Arab Sultan of Mombasa called Dom Jeronimo Chingulia entered the Portuguese Citadel of Fort Jesus with a band of followers through the passage of the Arches. He killed the Portuguese Captain, Pedro Leitao de Gamboa, and then gave the signal to his followers outside the Fort to set fire to the Portuguese houses in the town. There was no marked resistance and in the course of the next two weeks all the Portuguese were killed. The Portuguese were finally kicked out of the Coastal towns through a combination of local nationalisms, aided by the Omani Arabs. To ensure the Portuguese did not return, Sultan Seyyid Said of Oman moved his capital to Zanzibar and ruled the entire East African Coastline until the establishment of British rule.


Colonial Rule

The scramble for colonies in Africa among European countries reached fever pitch in 1884, when the Berlin Conference was convened to partition Africa amongst European colonial rivals. Among British acquisitions was the land we today call Kenya. A British trading company, Imperial British East Africa Company, was set up and posted to administer Kenya under the name British East Africa Protectorate. When it was realized that the company could not contain Kenya’s hostile communities the British declared the country a colony and Protectorate on 1st July 1895 and posted the first Governor, Sir Arthur Hardinge, to establish a formal British administration.

The seventy years of colonial rule in Kenya were characterized by punitive economic, social and political policies. Most outstanding among these policies was racial discrimination. Huge fertile land was alienated for white settlement, and harsh labor laws were enacted to force the Africans to work at low wages on settler farms and public works. In addition, African political participation was confined to local government.

It was against this scenario that African protest movements began in earnest from the early 1920s. Several political associations, including the Young Kikuyu Association, East African Association, Young Kavirondo Association, North Kavirondo Central Association and Taita Hills Association, were formed to articulate African grievances against forced labor, low wages, heavy taxation, continuing land alienation, and racial discrimination.

Between 1944 and 1960 African political activity and pressure were intensified. In 1944, the first countrywide nationalist party, Kenya African Union (KAU) was formed. And in the same year the first African, Eliud Mathu, was nominated to the settler dominated Legislative Council. Unhappiness with the slow political and economic change led to the breakdown of law and order in the early 1950s, and in 1952 Governor, Sir Everlyn Baring declared a state of emergency following the outbreak of the Mau Mau rebellion, whose major grievances included land alienations, racial discrimination and lack of political progress.

The state of emergency, however, intensified political resolve for independence, forcing the colonial government to come up with constitutional proposals. Under the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 Africans were allowed to directly elect their representatives to the Legislative Council. The elections were held in 1957, and eight African leaders - Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya, Daniel arap Moi, Mate, Muimi, Oginga Odinga, Oguda and Muliro, were elected. They stepped up agitation for widened representation and independence. After considerable discussion, it was decided to form a mass organization to mobilize the people for the final assault on colonialism, hence the birth of Kenya African National Union, (KANU). KANU was formed in March 1960, at Kiambu town, and on 11 June 1960, it was registered as a mass political society. But as the objective of freedom became evident, many of the smaller communities feared domination by the larger ethnic groups, and on June 25, 1960 they formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The first election on a broad electoral register was held in 1961, and was won by KANU. In another election in May 1963, KANU captured 83 of the 124 seats in the House of Representatives and formed the Madaraka Administration on 1st June 1963, and the independence Government on 12th December 1963, under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. y

Kenyan Independence

The first Government of independent Kenya immediately had to deal with some pressing economic and political problems. The priorities were acceleration of growth, Kenyanisation of the economy and redistribution of incomes. None of this, however, could be achieved without political stability, and it was first felt necessary to neutralize those elements in the country who supported extreme policies and who were undermining, rather than building confidence in the new nation. Thus, Kenya embarked on the road to peace and stability, which has made it possible for the country to realize great strides in development.

The country has had three Presidents since independence. Upon Jomo Kenyatta’s death on 22nd August 1978, Daniel arap Moi took over the leadership. He retired on 30th December 2002 in line with a constitutional Provision which limits the Presidential term to a maximum 10 years of 5 years each. This provision took effect in 1991 following the re-introduction of multipartism. Previously kenya was a single party state.

Mwai Kibaki took over from Moi on 30th December 2002 to become Kenya's third President. Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) won with a landslide in the December 27 2002 general elections, thus ending KANU's forty year stranglehold.

Kenya has played a leading role in the quest for peace and stability in the turbulent East African region, because of her stability and general neutrality. The country has held regular elections every five years since independence. The last election held in December 2002 and which was largely hailed as peaceful paved the way for a smooth transfer of power.


Kenya is bordered to the north by Sudan and Ethiopia, to the east by Somalia, to the west by Uganda, to the south by Tanzania, and to the southeast by the Indian Ocean. Much of the country, especially in the north and east, is arid or semi-arid. From the Indian Ocean the land rises gradually through dry bush to the fine arable land of the highlands.



Kenya covers an area of approximately 224,960 square miles and lies almost exactly astride the equator. The equator passes through the middle of the country in an east-west direction. Kenya’s maximum length from east to west is about 890 km (about 550 mi); from north to south it is about 1,030 km (about 640 mi)



Although Kenya sits on the Equator, not all of the country is hot. Some parts are actually quite cold. Elevation is the major determinate of temperature. Elevation ranges from sea level to 15,600 feet. Temperature, rainfall and humidity variations are extreme. There are basically three climatic regions in Kenya: the tropical coast, the dry plains, and the fertile highlands. The coast is tropically warm and humid with cool ocean breezes. The dry plains dominate much of northern Kenya and some other parts. The plains are characterized by savannah grasslands. Temperatures are hot, and humidity is low. The fertile highlands include most of the Rift Valley and make up about a fourth of Kenya's total land area. The sun is strong everywhere, and dust is often a problem.

Kenya experiences wide seasonal changes. There are two rainy seasons. The long rains occur from late March to early June and short rains from October to November or early December. Temperatures are coolest in June and July, coinciding with the animal migration form the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara. The rains settle the dust and stimulate another migration of animals to drier areas, now green with life. December, January, and February are the warmest months. Daytime temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees F; evening temperatures are much cooler. It is generally dry and clear during these months, and animals concentrate around waterholes. Extreme temperatures in Nairobi range from 50 degrees to 90 degrees.


According to the national population and housing census report of August 1999, there are an estimated 28,808,658 Kenyans dispersed around the country. In the semi arid north and northeast regions, population density hardly reaches 2 per sq km, whereas in the rich and fertile western, population density rises to 120 persons per sq km. In the well endowed Rift Valley, population density varies from one area to another with an average of 13 inhabitants per sq km.

Nearly 25% of the total is concentrated in the large cities of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu including large towns such as Nakuru. Women account for 50.48% of the total population. The annual growth rate is over 3%.

Ethnic Composition

Cushites: This group includes the Somali, Orma, Rendille, and Borana.
Bantu: This includes the Kikuyu (Gikuyu), Luhya, Kamba, Embu, Meru, and Kisii.
Nilotes: Includes the Luo, Kalenjin, Maasai, Teso and Samburu.

The largest group is Kikuyu, with 21 percent of the population, followed by Luo with 15 percent, Luhya (14 percent), Kalenjin (11 percent), Kamba (11 percent), Kisii (6 percent), and Meru (6 percent). Smaller groups include the Embu, Maasai, Mijikenda, Samburu, Somali, Taita, Teso, Turkana, and others. About one percent of the population consists of Europeans, Asians, and Arabs. The capital, Nairobi, has a population of about 1.5 million, but more than three-fourths of the country live in rural areas. Most of the population is concentrated in the southern two-thirds of the country.  There are tribal areas where people of one ethnic group will live but in Nairobi there is a blend of various tribes and since Nairobi was established by the British and was not a town prior  to their coming it has a sort of universal, blended flavor.


Protestants: 38%
Catholics : 28%
Indigenous religions : 26%
Muslims : 7%
Others : 1%

Nearly 70 percent of Kenya’s population is Christian, with Protestants outnumbering Roman Catholics. Muslims make up about 7 percent of the population. The remainder of Kenya’s people are mainly followers of traditional African religions. There are also a small number of Hindus and Sikhs.


Kenya’s official language is English and Swahili is the national language; both are widely used for communication between members of different ethnic groups, education, business, government. Nearly all of the African ethnic groups in Kenya also have their own languages, making for considerable linguistic diversity within the country. Many Kenyans thus speak three languages: the language of their particular ethnic group, Swahili, and English.

Major Cities

Nairobi is the capital city and a commercial center. It is situated 300 miles from the Coast and lies midway between the capitals of Uganda and Tanzania. It is the largest city in east Africa and houses two UN agencies, UNEP and Habitat.

The city’s name is derived from a Maasai word meaning "place of cool waters." One of the largest and fastest growing cities in Africa, Nairobi is Kenya’s principal economic and cultural center.

Mombasa is Kenya’s main port and popular holiday city. It is situated on an island in a natural sheltered inlet. It is the only port that serves not only Kenya but land locked countries like Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan.

The city includes Old Mombasa, located on a small offshore island (16 sq km/6 sq mi), and a larger, more modern mainland metropolitan area, which is connected to the island by causeway, bridge, and ferries. Kilindini, a modern deepwater harbor on the western side of the island, has extensive docks, shipyards, and sugar and petroleum refineries. Old Mombasa Harbor, on the eastern side of the island, handles mainly dhows and other small coastal trading vessels. Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in the 1590s, is maintained as a museum. Mombasa Polytechnic (1948) is in the city.

Mombasa was founded about the 8th century by Arab traders. It was visited in the 1330s by the noted Arab traveler Ibn Batuta and in 1498 by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Mombasa later changed hands several times before coming under the control of the sultan of Zanzibar in 1840. It passed to the British in 1895 and was the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate until 1907. It was made the capital of the coastal Protectorate of Kenya in 1920, and in 1963 it became part of newly independent Kenya (which includes the former protectorate and colony of Kenya).

Kisumu is the Chief Port city on the shores of lake Victoria. It serves western Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.  It is a transportation, commercial, and manufacturing center for a rich agricultural area. Textiles and processed foods are major products. Formerly called Port Florence, the community began its modern development when linked by rail in 1901 with Mombasa, a port on the Indian Ocean.

Nakuru is located in west central Kenya, capital of Rift Valley Province. It is an important transportation, commercial, and manufacturing center for the highland region; products include processed food and textiles. Menengai Crater, just north of the city, and Lake Nakuru and Lake Nakuru National Park, to the south, are nearby points of interest. The city of Nakuru was founded by European settlers in the early 20th century.

Eldoret lies on the main road and rail route to Uganda. It is mainly an agricultural town that serves wheat and Maize farmers from the North Rift.

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