Kenya facts for kids

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Republic of Kenya

Jamhuri ya Kenya
Flag of Kenya
Flag
{{{coat_alt}}}
Coat of arms
Motto: "Harambee"  (Swahili)
"Let us all pull together"
Anthem: Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu
"O God of All Creation"
Location of Kenya
Capital Nairobi
Official languages Swahili, English
Demonym(s) Kenyan
Government Devolved Republic
Uhuru Kenyatta
• Deputy President
William Ruto
• National Assembly Speaker
Justin Muturi
Independence
• from the United Kingdom
12 December 1963
• Republic declared
12 December 1964
Area
• Total
580,367 km2 (224,081 sq mi) (47th)
• Water (%)
2.3
Population
• 2011 estimate
41,070,934 (33rd)
• 2009 census
38,610,097
• Density
67.2/km2 (174.0/sq mi) (140th)
Currency Kenyan shilling (KES)
Time zone UTC+3 (EAT)
• Summer (DST)
UTC+3 (not observed)
Date format dd/mm/yy(AD)
Driving side left
Calling code +254
ISO 3166 code KE
Internet TLD .ke

Kenya is a country in East Africa, about half way down, near the horn of Africa. It has the Indian Ocean to its east and Lake Victoria to its west. Kenya borders the nations of Somalia (east), Ethiopia (north), South Sudan (north-west), Uganda (west), and Tanzania (south). Kenya is about the size of France, and almost as large as Texas (U.S.).

The capital city of Kenya is Nairobi, which is the 14th largest city in Africa (after Accra Ghana). Some cities on the seaside are Mombasa and Malindi on the Indian Ocean, Nyeri, Nanyuki, Naivasha, and Thika in the Kenyan Highlands, and Kisumu on Lake Victoria.

Kenya had a population of approximately 48 million people in January 2017. Kenya has a young population, with 73% of residents aged below 30 years because of rapid population growth; from 2.9 million to 40 million inhabitants over the last century.

The first humans may have lived near the lakes of Kenya along the Great Rift Valley, which cuts Kenya from north to south.

Early History

Turkana Boy
The Turkana boy, a 1.6-million-year-old hominid fossil belonging to Homo erectus

Fossils found in Kenya suggest that primates roamed the area more than 20 million years ago. Recent findings near Lake Turkana indicate that hominids such as Homo habilis (1.8 and 2.5 million years ago) and Homo erectus (1.9 million to 350,000 years ago) are possible direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens, and lived in Kenya in the Pleistocene period.

During excavations at Lake Turkana in 1984, Richard Leakey assisted by Kamoya Kimeu discovered the Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old fossil belonging to Homo erectus. Remarkable prehistoric sites in the interior of Kenya include the archaeoastronomical (study of ancient or traditional astronomies) site Namoratunga on the west side of Lake Turkana and the walled settlement of ThimLich Ohinga in Migori County.

The first inhabitants of present-day Kenya were hunter-gatherer groups. These people were later replaced by agropastoralist 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 favourable environment.

Around 500 BC pastoralists started migrating from present-day Southern Sudan into Kenya. These groups in Kenya include the Samburu, Luo, Turkana, Maasai.

By the first millennium AD, Bantu-speaking farmers had moved into the region. The Bantus originated in West Africa along the Benue River in what is now eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon. The Bantu migration brought new developments in agriculture and iron working to the region. The Kenyan coast had served host to communities of ironworkers 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.

Kurve bei Mombasa
The Kenya–Uganda Railway near Mombasa about 1899

Bantu groups in Kenya include the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, Kuria, Aembu, Ambeere, Wadawida-Watuweta, Wapokomo and Mijikenda among others.

Throughout the centuries, the Kenyan Coast has played host to many merchants and explorers. Among the cities that line the Kenyan coast is the City of Malindi. It has remained an important Swahili settlement since the 14th century and once rivalled Mombasa for dominance in the African Great Lakes region. Malindi has traditionally been a friendly port city for foreign powers. In 1414, the Chinese trader and explorer Zheng He representing the Ming Dynasty visited the East African coast on one of his last 'treasure voyages'. Malindi authorities welcomed the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498.

British Kenya (1888–1962)

Africa 1909 16a
British East Africa in 1909

The colonial history of Kenya dates from the establishment of a German protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal possessions in 1885, followed by the arrival of the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888. Imperial rivalry was prevented when Germany handed its coastal holdings to Britain in 1890. This was followed by the building of the Kenya–Uganda railway passing through the country.

The building of the railway was resisted by some ethnic groups—notably the Nandi led by Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei for ten years from 1890 to 1900—however the British eventually built the railway. The Nandi were the first ethnic group to be put in a native reserve to stop them from disrupting the building of the railway.

Kurve bei Mombasa
The Kenya–Uganda Railway near Mombasa about 1899

During the railway construction era, there was a significant inflow of Indian people, who provided the bulk of the skilled manpower required for construction. They and most of their descendants later remained in Kenya and formed the core of several distinct Indian communities such as the Ismaili Muslim and Sikh communities.

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the governors of British East Africa and German East Africa agreed a truce in an attempt to keep the young colonies out of direct hostilities. Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck took command of the German military forces, determined to tie down as many British resources as possible.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R05765, Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, nicknamed as the Lion of Africa

Completely cut off from Germany, von Lettow conducted an effective guerrilla warfare campaign, living off the land, capturing British supplies, and remaining undefeated. He eventually surrendered in Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia) fourteen days after the Armistice was signed in 1918.

To chase von Lettow, the British deployed the British Indian Army troops from India but needed large numbers of porters to overcome the problems of transporting supplies far into the interior on foot. The Carrier Corps was formed and ultimately mobilised over 400,000 Africans, contributing to their long-term politicisation.

Mount Kenya
Mount Kenya

In 1920, the East Africa Protectorate was turned into a colony and renamed Kenya for its highest mountain. 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.

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 labour. A massive move to the cities began as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled. There were 80,000 white settlers living in Kenya in the 1950s.

Kikyuyu-woman
A Kikuyu woman

Throughout World War II, Kenya was an important source of manpower and agriculture for the United Kingdom. Kenya itself was the site of fighting between Allied forces and Italian troops in 1940–41 when Italian forces invaded. Wajir and Malindi were bombed as well.

In 1952, Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip were on holiday at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya when her father, King George VI, died in his sleep. The young princess cut short her trip and returned home immediately to take her throne. She was crowned Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953 and as British hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett (who accompanied the royal couple) put it, she went up a tree in Africa a princess and came down a queen.

Mau Mau Uprising

Statue of Dedan Kimathi Nairobi, Kenya
A statue of Dedan Kimathi, a Kenyan rebel leader with the Mau Mau who fought against the British colonial system in the 1950s

From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was in a state of emergency arising from the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule. The Mau Mau, also known as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, were primarily members of the Kikuyu Group.

The governor requested and obtained British and African troops, including the King's African Rifles. The British began counter-insurgency operations. In May 1953, General Sir George Erskine took charge as commander-in-chief of the colony's armed forces, with the personal backing of Winston Churchill.

The capture of Warũhiũ Itote (also known as General China) on 15 January 1954 and his interrogation led to a better understanding of the Mau Mau command structure for the British. Operation Anvil opened on 24 April 1954, after weeks of planning by the army with the approval of the War Council. The operation effectively placed Nairobi under military siege.

KAR Mau Mau
Troops of the King's African Rifles carry supplies on horseback. They are escorted by armed soldiers on watch for Mau Mau fighters

Nairobi's occupants were screened and the Mau Mau supporters moved to detention camps. By the end of the emergency 4,686 Mau Mau, amounting to 42% of the total insurgents had been killed.

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 ownership occurred. The most important of these was the Swynnerton Plan, which was used to both reward loyalists and punish Mau Mau.

Independence

The first direct elections for native Kenyans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Despite British hopes of handing power to "moderate" local rivals, it was the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta that formed a government. The Colony of Kenya and the Protectorate of Kenya each came to an end on 12 December 1963 with independence being conferred on all of Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta (6549756469)
Jomo Kenyatta plaque

The United Kingdom ceded sovereignty over the Colony of Kenya. Kenya became an independent country under the Kenya Independence Act 1963 of the United Kingdom. Exactly 12 months later on 12 December 1964, Kenya became a republic under the name "Republic of Kenya".

Concurrently, the Kenyan army fought the Shifta War against ethnic Somali rebels inhabiting the Northern Frontier District, who wanted to join their kin in the Somali Republic to the north. A ceasefire was eventually reached with the signature of the Arusha Memorandum in October 1967, but relative insecurity prevailed through 1969. To discourage further invasions, Kenya signed a defence pact with Ethiopia in 1969, which is still in effect.

The first president of Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta
Jomo Kenyatta

On 12 December 1964 the Republic of Kenya was proclaimed, and Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya's first president. Under Kenyatta, corruption became widespread throughout the government, civil service, and business community. Kenyatta and his family were tied up with this corruption as they enriched themselves through the mass purchase of property after 1963. Their acquisitions in the Central, Rift Valley, and Coast Provinces aroused great anger among landless Kenyans. His family used his presidential position to acquire property. The Kenyatta family also heavily invested in the coastal hotel business, with Kenyatta personally owning the Leonard Beach Hotel. He ruled until his death on 22 August 1978.

Government

JUDICIARY
The Supreme Court of Kenya building

Since the independence of Kenya in 1963, Kenya has usually had a one-party government and has been a member of the British Commonwealth. The people are, like the Congo, divided into many tribes that often fight. However, Kenya's government is trying to get the people to work together and has encouraged them to run businesses and factories. Kenya is a developing country, slowly growing more modern.

Following general elections held in 1997, the Constitution of Kenya Review Act designed to pave the way for more comprehensive amendments to the Kenyan constitution was passed by the national parliament.

In December 2002, Kenya held democratic and open elections, which were judged free and fair by most international observers. The 2002 elections marked an important turning point in Kenya's democratic evolution in that power was transferred peacefully from the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which had ruled the country since independence to the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), a coalition of political parties.

Under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki, the new ruling coalition promised to focus its efforts on generating economic growth, combating corruption, improving education, and rewriting its constitution. A few of these promises have been met. There is free primary education. In 2007, the government issued a statement declaring that from 2008, secondary education would be heavily subsidised, with the government footing all tuition fees.

Education

Community work in Kenya DVIDS342488
Kenyan school children

Many different languages are spoken in Kenya. There are 67 living languages and 1 extinct language that is not spoken any more. English and Kiswahili are the official languages. Kiswahili is the national Language. All school-going Kenyans are required to learn English. English is the language of instruction in the schools and institutions of higher learning. 38.5 percent of the Kenyan adult population is illiterate.

The National Archives UK - CO 1069-166-109
Kenyan children

All Kenyans of school-going age are required to attend Primary School. However, school fees and required uniforms often keep students away from school. The Kenyan school system consists of 8 years of primary school, 4 years of high school and 4 years of university.

At the end of primary school, all students sit for a standardized exam called Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). The grades attained in this exam determine which high school the student will attend.

In Form 4 (this is the last year in high school), students sit for another exam called Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). The highest achieving students are granted admission into the 5 national universities.

Geography and climate

Un-kenya
A map of Kenya

At 580,367 km2 (224,081 sq mi), Kenya is the world's forty-seventh largest country (after Madagascar). From the coast on the Indian Ocean, the low plains rise to central highlands. The highlands are bisected by the Great Rift Valley, with a fertile plateau lying to the east.

The Kenyan Highlands are one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. The highlands are the site of the highest point in Kenya and the second highest peak on the continent: Mount Kenya, which reaches 5,199 m (17,057 ft) and is the site of glaciers. Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m or 19,341 ft) can be seen from Kenya to the south of the Tanzanian border.

Kenya's climate varies from tropical along the coast to temperate inland to arid in the north and northeast parts of the country. The area receives a great deal of sunshine every month, and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. It is usually cool at night and early in the morning inland at higher elevations.

The "long rains" season occurs from March/April to May/June. The "short rains" season occurs from October to November/December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The temperature remains high throughout these months of tropical rain. The hottest period is February and March, leading into the season of the long rains, and the coldest is in July, until mid August.

Wildlife

Elephants at Amboseli national park against Mount Kilimanjaro
Elephants at Amboseli National Park against Mount Kilimanjaro

Kenya has considerable land area devoted to wildlife habitats, including the Masai Mara, where blue wildebeest and other bovids participate in a large scale annual migration. More than 1 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras participate in the migration across the Mara River.

The "Big Five" game animals of Africa, that is the lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros, and elephant, can be found in Kenya and in the Masai Mara in particular. A significant population of other wild animals, reptiles and birds can be found in the national parks and game reserves in the country.

2012-wildebeest-fight
Two Blue wildebeest males in duel

The annual animal migration occurs between June and September with millions of animals taking part, attracting valuable foreign tourism. Two million wildebeest migrate a distance of 2,900 kilometres (1,802 mi) from the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya, in a constant clockwise fashion, searching for food and water supplies. This Serengeti Migration of the wildebeest is a curious spectacle listed among the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.

Economy

Kenya Export Treemap
A representation of Kenya's exports

The economy has seen much expansion, seen by strong performance in tourism, higher education and telecommunications, and acceptable post-drought results in agriculture, especially the vital tea sector. Kenya's economy grew by more than 7% in 2007, and its foreign debt was greatly reduced. But this changed immediately after the presidential election of December 2007, following the chaos which engulfed the country.

Telecommunication and financial activity over the last decade now comprises 62% of all domestic products, 22% of domestic product still comes from the unreliable agricultural sector which employs 75% of the labour force. A small portion of the population relies on food aid. Industry and manufacturing is the smallest contributor to the economy. The service industry and manufacturing sectors only employ 25% of the labour force but contribute to 75% of gross domestic product (GDP). Kenya also exports textiles worth over $400 million under Agoa. (The African Growth and Opportunity Act)

Kencom house
The Kenya Commercial Bank headquarters at KENCOM House in Nairobi

Privatisation of state corporations like the Kenya Post and Telecommunications Company, which resulted in East Africa's most profitable company—Safaricom, has led to their revival because of massive private investment.

In March 1996, the presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda re-established the East African Community (EAC). The EAC's objectives include, free movement of people, and improving regional infrastructures. In March 2004, the three East African countries signed a Customs Union Agreement.

Kenya is East and Central Africa's hub for financial services. As of late July 2004, the system consisted of 43 commercial banks (down from 48 in 2001).

Tourism

Tsavo east panorama
Tsavo East National Park

Tourism in Kenya is the second-largest source of foreign exchange revenue following agriculture. The Kenya Tourism Board is responsible for maintaining information pertaining to tourism in Kenya. The main tourist attractions are photo safaris through the 60 national parks and game reserves. Other attractions include the wildebeest migration at the Masaai Mara which is considered the 7th wonder of the world.

Kenya-Tealand-Near-Kericho-2012
Tea plantation in the Kenyan highlands

Historical mosques and colonial-era forts at Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu; the renowned vast scenery like the snow white capped Mount Kenya, the Great Rift Valley; the tea plantations at Kericho; the coffee plantations at Thika; a splendid view of Mt. Kilimanjaro across the border into Tanzania; and the beaches along the Swahili Coast, in the Indian Ocean.

Tourists, the largest number being from Germany and the United Kingdom, are attracted mainly to the coastal beaches and the game reserves, notably, the expansive East and Tsavo West National Park.

Agriculture

2DU Kenya 86 (5367322642)
A Kenyan farmer at work in the Mount Kenya region

The principal cash crops are tea, horticultural produce, and coffee. Horticultural produce and tea are the main growth sectors and the two most valuable of all of Kenya's exports. The production of major food staples such as corn is subject to weather conditions, often due to this crop production periodically needs food aid — for example, in 2004 aid for 1.8 million people was required because of one of Kenya's droughts.

Ficelle de Sisal - 2
Sisal twine

A group led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has had some success in helping farmers grow new pigeon pea varieties, instead of maize, in particularly dry areas. Pigeon peas are very drought resistant. The commercialisation of the pigeon pea is now enabling some farmers to buy assets, ranging from mobile phones to productive land and livestock, and is opening pathways for them to move out of poverty.

Tea, coffee, sisal, pyrethrum, corn, and wheat are grown in the fertile highlands, one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. 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.

Kapsowar1
Agricultural countryside in Kenya

Kenya does not have the level of investment and efficiency in agriculture that can guarantee food security and with resulting poverty (53% of the population lives below the poverty line), a significant portion of the population regularly starves and is heavily dependent on food aid. Poor roads, an inadequate railway network, under-used water transport and expensive air transport have isolated mostly arid and semi-arid areas and farmers in other regions often leave food to rot in the fields because they cannot access markets.

Large-scale private commercial farms cover 45,000 hectares. They utilize high technology and produce high-value crops for the export market, especially flowers and vegetables. Kenya is the world's 3rd largest exporter of cut flowers. Roughly half of Kenya's 127 flower farms are concentrated around Lake Naivasha. To speed their export, Nairobi airport has a terminal dedicated to the transport of flowers and vegetables.

Industry and manufacturing

Mombasa-MarketHall
A market hall in Mombasa

Kenya is the most industrially developed country in the African Great Lakes region. Industrial activity, concentrated around the three largest urban centres, 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, e.g., vehicles from kits.

Kenya Investment Conference (7683306002)
Kenya Investment Conference in London 2012

There is a cement production industry. Kenya has an oil refinery that processes imported crude petroleum into petroleum products, mainly for the domestic market. In addition, a substantial and expanding informal sector commonly referred to as jua kali engages in small-scale manufacturing of household goods, auto parts, and farm implements.

Kenya's inclusion among the beneficiaries of the US Government's African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has given a boost to manufacturing in recent years. Since AGOA took effect in 2000, Kenya's clothing sales to the United States increased from US$44 million to US$270 million (2006). Other initiatives to strengthen manufacturing have been the new government's favourable tax measures.

Culture

Kenyan dancers
Kenyan boys and girls performing a traditional dance

The culture of Kenya consists of multiple traditions. Kenya has no single prominent culture that identifies it. It instead consists of the various cultures of the country's different communities.

Notable populations include the Swahili on the coast, several other Bantu communities in the central and western regions, and Nilotic communities in the northwest. The Maasai culture is well known to tourism, despite constituting a relatively small part of Kenya's population. They are renowned for their elaborate upper body adornment and jewellery.

Additionally, Kenya has an extensive music, television and theater scene.

Music

Juacali 2
Popular Kenyan musician Jua Cali

Kenya has a diverse assortment of popular music forms, in addition to multiple types of folk music based on the variety over 40 regional languages. The drums are the most dominant instrument in popular Kenyan music. Drum beats are very complex and include both native rhythm and imported ones.

Lyrics are most often in Kiswahili or English. Lyrics are also written in local languages. Urban radio generally only plays English music, though there also exist a number of local radio stations. Zilizopendwa is a genre of local urban music that was recorded in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and is particularly enjoyed by older people.

Sauti-Sol
Sauti Sol is a Kenyan afro-pop band formed in Nairobi

The Isukuti is a vigorous dance performed by the Luhya sub-tribes to the beat of a traditional drum called the Isukuti during many occasions such as the birth of a child, marriage and funerals. Other traditional dances include the Ohangla among the Luo, Nzele among the Mijikenda, Mugithi among the Kikuyu and Taarab among the Swahili.

Additionally, Kenya has a growing Christian gospel music scene. Prominent local gospel musicians include the Kenyan Boys Choir.

Benga music has been popular since the late 1960s, especially in the area around Lake Victoria. The word benga is occasionally used to refer to any kind of pop music. Bass, guitar and percussion are the usual instruments.

Sports

2012 Olympics - Womens 5000m start 4
Jepkosgei Kipyego and Jepkemoi Cheruiyot at London 2012 Olympics

Kenya is active in several sports, among them cricket, rallying, football, rugby union, field hockey and boxing. The country is known chiefly for its dominance in middle-distance and long-distance athletics, having consistently produced Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions in various distance events.

Kenyan athletes continue to dominate the world of distance running. Kenya's best-known athletes included the four-time women's Boston Marathon winner and two-time world champion Catherine Ndereba, 800m world record holder David Rudisha, former Marathon world record-holder Paul Tergat, and John Ngugi.

Kenya won several medals during the Beijing Olympics, six gold, four silver and four bronze, making it Africa's most successful nation in the 2008 Olympics.

Cuisine

Ugali & Sukuma Wiki
Ugali and sukuma wiki, staples of Kenyan cuisine

Kenyans generally have three meals in a day, breakfast in the morning (kiamsha kinywa), lunch in the afternoon (chakula cha mchana) and supper in the evening (chakula cha jioni or known simply as "chajio"). In between, they have the 10 o'clock tea (chai ya saa nne) and 4 p.m. tea (chai ya saa kumi). Breakfast is usually tea or porridge with bread, chapati, mahamri, boiled sweet potatoes or yams.

Githeri is a common lunch time dish in many households while Ugali with vegetables, sour milk (Mursik), meat, fish or any other stew is generally eaten by much of the population for lunch or supper. Regional variations and dishes also exist.

In western Kenya: among the Luo, fish is a common dish; among the Kalenjin who dominate much of the Rift Valley Region, mursik—sour milk—is a major drink. In cities such as Nairobi, there are fast food restaurants, including Steers, KFC, and Subway. There are also many fish and chip shops.

David Rudisha Daegu 2011
Kenyan Olympic and world record holder in the 800 meters, David Rudisha

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