History of Kenya
Kenya is a country in the African Great Lakes region of East Africa. Kenya lies on the equator with the Indian Ocean to the south-east, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, South Sudan to the north-west, Ethiopia to the north and Somalia to the north-east. Kenya covers 581,309 sq km (224,445 sq mi).
Kenya's capital and largest city is Nairobi. English and Swahili are the official languages of Kenya. The predominant religion in Kenya is Christianity, which stayed by about four-fifths of the population. Other faiths practiced in Kenya are Baha'i, Hinduism, Islam, and traditional religions. The shilling (divisible into 100 cents) is the currency of Kenya.
Founding president and liberation struggle icon Jomo KENYATTA led Kenya from independence until his death in 1978, when President Daniel Toroitich arap MOI took power in a constitutional succession. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982 when the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) made itself the sole legal party in Kenya. MOI acceded to internal and external pressure for political liberalization in late 1991.
The ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud, but are viewed as having generally reflected the will of the Kenyan people. President MOI stepped down in December of 2002 following fair and peaceful elections. Mwai KIBAKI, running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition, defeated KANU candidate Uhuru KENYATTA and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform.
Kenya served as an important mediator in brokering Sudan's north-south separation in February 2005; Kenya provides shelter to approximately a quarter of a million refugees including Ugandans who flee across the border periodically to seek protection from Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels; Kenya's administrative limits extend beyond the treaty border into the Sudan, creating the Ilemi Triangle.
Excavations in Kenya suggest that the region is the cradle of humanity, the home some 3.25 million years ago of Homo habilis, from whom Homo sapiens descended. What is certain is that, in more recent times, Kenya was the settling place of a huge number of tribes from all over Africa, with a long history of migration, settlement and conflict. During the following centuries, the region became prosperous on the profits of trade, and also as an entrepôt for commerce from the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese arrived in the early 16th century, and having wrested control of the area's trade from the Arabs, absorbed Kenya into their commercial empire.
By 1720 they had been driven out by the Arabs, and for the next two centuries the region was largely ruled by Omani Dynasties from Arabia. During the 1820s, a local power struggle led to the British being invited into the region by the Mazrui Dynasty, and, by the middle of the century, both the British and the Germans were competing for control of the coast and its hinterland during the second great colonial period. By the 1890s the threat of the Masai tribesmen had, by a mixture of diplomacy and war, largely been neutralised, and the British were able to penetrate into the highlands. The Mombasa to Uganda railway line was constructed at this time, and Nairobi owes its present importance to the fact that it was a convenient staging point on the edge of the highlands. It soon became the headquarters of the British administration.
By the early 20th century, the fertile lands to the north were attracting a large number of white settlers led by Lord Delamere who came into conflict with the local population. Many tribes, such as the Masai and the Kikuyu, were displaced. The movement for territorial, economic and political rights soon found an able leader in Jomo Kenyatta, who spent much of the 1930s and 1940s in Europe pressing the case for his cause. After World War II, this gathered pace. The fight for independence was a difficult and sometimes bloody affair, particularly the three-year guerrilla war mounted during the 1950s by the nationalist Land Freedom Army (better known as the Mau Mau) against the British colonial authorities.
Kenya was nonetheless an early beneficiary of Harold Macmillan's 'winds of change' policy towards Africa. The main nationalist party, the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), led by Kenyatta, took power on Independence Day in December 1963, despite British efforts to sponsor an alternative. Kenyan politics were subsequently dominated by the struggle between moderate and radical factions within the ruling KANU party. The moderates, led by Tom Mboya (assassinated in 1969) and Kenyatta's eventual successor, Daniel Arap Moi, consistently held the upper hand. Opposition parties were banned outright in 1982 after an attempted coup which showed signs of having been contrived by the government in order to justify the ban.
Island groups of Kenya
|Kenya Map - Click for larger view|
At 580,367 km2 (224,081 sq mi), Kenya is the world's forty-seventh largest country (after Madagascar). It lies between latitudes 5°N and 5°S, and longitudes 34° and 42°E. 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 comprise 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.
Kenya has a coastline on the Indian Ocean, which contains swamps of East African mangroves. Inland are broad plains and numerous hills. Central and Western Kenya is characterised by the Kenyan Rift Valley home to two of Africa's highest mountains, Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon.The Kakamega Forest in western Kenya is relic of an East African rainforest. Much larger is Mau Forest, the largest forest complex in East Africa.
People & Culture
The culture of Kenya consists of multiple traditions. Kenya has no single prominent culture that identifies it. It instead consists of various cultures practised by 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.
There is no singular dish that represents all of Kenya. Different communities have their own native foods. Staples are maize and other cereals depending on the region, including millet and sorghum eaten with various meats and vegetables. The foods that are universally eaten in Kenya are ugali, sukuma wiki, and nyama choma.
Sukuma wiki, a Swahili phrase which literally means "to push the week," is a simple dish made with greens similar to kale or collards that can also be made with cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, or pumpkin leaves. Its Swahili name comes from the fact that it is typically eaten to "get through the week" or "stretch the week." Nyama choma is grilled meat usually goat or sheep. It is grilled over an open fire. It is usually eaten with ugali and kachumbari.
Among the Luhyas residing in the western region of the country, ingokho (chicken) and ugali is a favourite meal. Other than these, they also eat tsisaka, miroo, managu and other dishes. Also among the Kikuyu of Central Kenya, a lot of tubers, including ngwaci (sweet potatoes), ndũma (taro root, known in Kenya as arrowroot), ikwa (yams), and mianga (cassava) are eaten, as well as legumes like beans and a Kikuyu bean known as njahi. Among the Luos residing on the western region around Lake Victoria, "kuon" (Ugali) and fish is a favourite, as well as "gweno" (chicken), "Aliya" (sun dried meat) and green vegetables such as "Osuga", "Akeyo", "Muto" and "Bo", all consumed with Ugali.
As you travel around the country distinct differences are noted mainly based on what foods are locally available around such areas. Grains are a staple food for groups that grow grains (e.g. Kikuyu, Embu, Meru, Kisii, etc.). Other communities such as the Luo and the Coastal community have fish and seafood for their staple food as available in such areas. In semi-arid areas like Turkana, foods made from sorghum are more common staple foods. As you move towards the city food eaten by working families vary according to preference and ethnicity. Rice and stew is more common with working families, and other dishes like chapati (parantha), chicken stew, etc.
Apart from its national flag, Kenya does not have national dress that transcends its diverse ethnic divisions. With more than 42 ethnic communities having their own traditional practices and symbols unique to them, this is a task that has proved elusive. However, several attempts have been made to design an outfit that can be worn as a national dress, much like the Kente cloth of Ghana.
Kitenge is a cotton fabric made into colours and design through tie-and-dye and heavy embroidery. It is commonly worn by a number of Kenya's populations. Though also worn in many other African countries, Kitenge is yet to be accepted in Kenya as an official dress as it is only worn during ceremonies and non-official functions. The Maasai wear dark red garments to symbolise their love for the earth and their dependence on it. It also stands for courage and blood that is given to them by nature.
The Kanga (Khanga, Lesso) is another cloth that is in common use in practically every Kenyan home. The Kanga is a piece of clothing about 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) by 1 metre (3 ft 3 in), screen printed with beautiful sayings in Swahili (or English) and is largely worn by women around the waist and torso.
Kenya is home to a diverse range of music styles, ranging from imported popular music, afro-fusion and benga music to traditional folk songs. The guitar is the most popular instrument in Kenyan music, and songs often feature intricate guitar rhythms. The most famous guitarist of the early 20th century was Bonie Makie. Other notable musicians of the 60s era include Fadhili Williams, recognised by many as the author of the hit song "Grace Phillips" that was later re-done by Miriam Makeba, Boney M and Daudi Kabaka.
Popular music in the 1980s and 90s in Kenya could be divided into two genres: the Swahili sound and the Congolese sound. There are varying regional styles, and some performers create tourist-oriented "hotel pop" that is similar to western music. Them Mushrooms, later renamed Uyoga, was one of the popular groups in this era.
In the recent past, newer varieties of modern popular music have arisen which are mostly local derivatives of western hip-hop. Two sub-genres have emerged: "Genge" and "Kapuka" beats. This has revolutionised popular Kenyan music and created an industry dominated by the youth. There is also underground Kenyan hip hop that gets less radio play than Kapuka or Genge because it is less club oriented and more focussed on social commentary. Early pioneers include Poxi Presha, Kalamashaka, and K-South. In Nairobi, hip-hop is viewed as more of a style than as a musical culture. There is a great correlation between the youth who listen to rap music and their economical status in the country with the majority of them coming from wealthy economic backgrounds. Since hip-hop is portrayed through clothing, magazines, and CDs, all of which are expensive, only the wealthier individuals are able to enjoy these luxuries.
Kenya is active in several sports, among them cricket, rallying, football, rugby union and boxing. But the country is known chiefly for its dominance in Middle-distance and long-distance athletics. Kenya has consistently produced Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions in various distance events, especially in 800 m, 1,500 m, 3,000 m steeplechase, 5,000 m, 10,000 m and the marathon. Kenyan athletes (particularly Kalenjin) continue to dominate the world of distance running, although competition from Morocco and Ethiopia has reduced this supremacy. Kenya's best-known athletes included the four-time women's Boston Marathon winner and two-time world champion Catherine Ndereba, 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. New athletes gained attention, such as Pamela Jelimo, the women's 800m gold medalist who went ahead to win the IAAF Golden League jackpot, and Samuel Wanjiru who won the men's marathon. Retired Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Kipchoge Keino helped usher in Kenya's ongoing distance dynasty in the 1970s and was followed by Commonwealth Champion Henry Rono's spectacular string of world record performances. Lately, there has been controversy in Kenyan athletics circles, with the defection of a number of Kenyan athletes to represent other countries, chiefly Bahrain and Qatar. The Kenyan Ministry of Sports has tried to stop the defections, but they have continued anyway, with Bernard Lagat the latest, choosing to represent the United States. Most of these defections occur because of economic or financial factors. Some elite Kenyan runners who cannot qualify for their country's strong national team find it easier to qualify by running for other countries.
Weather and Climate
The coastal areas are tropical, but tempered by monsoon winds. The lowlands are hot but mainly dry, while the highlands are more temperate with four seasons. Nairobi has a very pleasant climate throughout the year due to its altitude. Near Lake Victoria, the temperatures are much higher and rainfall can be heavy.
Lightweight cottons and linens with rainwear are advised for the coast and lakeside. Warmer clothing is needed in June and July and for the cooler mornings on the coast. Lightweights are needed for much of the year in the highlands. Rainwear is advisable between March and June and October and December.
Kenya Public Holidays
|New Year’s Day||January 01|
|Good Friday||April 03|
|Easter Monday||April 06|
|Labour Day||May 01|
|Madaraka Day||June 01|
|Eid Al Fitr||July 17|
|Feast of the Sacrifice||September 23|
|Mashujaa Day||October 20|
|Jamhuri Day||December 12|
|Christmas Day||December 25|
|Boxing Day||December 26|
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Kenya, exercise normal security precautions.