by Chris Walker Bush
September 1, 2015

About Kenya

The Republic of Kenya, or just Kenya as it is more commonly known, is a country located in Eastern Africa that straddles the equator. It is bordered to the south by Tanzania, to the west by Uganda, and to South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia in its north.

The nation takes its name from Mt. Kenya, its highest mountain and the second highest mountain in Africa after Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The capital of Kenya is Nairobi, a cosmopolitan and thriving city that has the largest GDP in all of East & Central Africa.

History of Kenya

Pre-Colonial Kenya

Kenyan history dates back as far as 20 million years ago, when early primates roamed the area. More recent fossil evidence of Homo habilis and Homo erectus activity in the region has lead to many people dubbing Kenya 'The Cradle of Mankind'.

Kenya's first inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who were later replaced by agriculturally minded people from the Horn of Africa. Over the centuries, other farming and pastoral people migrated into the region including the Nilotic speakers from the South Sudan and Bantu-speaking people from West Africa.

The Kenyan Coast's proximity to prominent Arabic trade routes from the 1st century AD onwards meant constant exposure to the Arabic world. Arabic settlements such as Malindi, Mombasa, and Zanzibar in Kenya greatly increased this influence over the local culture, and gave rise to the Swahili culture - a fusion of Arabic and African beliefs and behaviours.

In the 17th century, the Omani Sultanate (based in Zanzibar at the time) introduced slavery into the region and raided the interior of the country for slaves to work the plantations in Oman and Zanzibar. This would all come to an end with the British Empire's increasing pressure against slave-trading nations.

British Kenya

Kenya's colonial history started in 1885 when Germany took over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal holdings as a German protectorate.

This situation was short-lived, with Germany handing over their Kenyan holdings to the British Commonwealth in 1890. One of the Imperial British East Africa Company's first moves was to begin construction of a railway connecting Kenya and Uganda, a move that was met with stiff resistance by native groups such as the Nandi.

The construction of the railway took over a decade due to this interference, and the work necessitated the introduction of Indian workers who would go on to form the foundations of Kenya's modern-day Indian population.

In addition to the labour demands and the ongoing hostilities with the Nandi, the workers also had to contend with the infamous Tsavo maneaters, a pair of lions who were later immortalised in the film, The Ghost and the Darkness.

The railway's construction steadied Britain's influence in the area, but the onset of World War I would hinder progress. Despite having agreed to leave British East Africa and German East Africa (modern day Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda) out of the war, skirmishes and guerilla war did take place until the German's surrendered in 1918.

In the years following the world, an increasing number of wealthy Europeans resettled in the region and became successful managing coffee and tea plantations. This influx of wealthy landowners would displace the traditional land-holders and force them to move away from their ancestral homes and into the cities.

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) was holidaying in Kenya's Treetops Lodge when her father, King George passed away. She would immediately return to Britain for her coronation, prompting prominent British hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett to say, "She went up a tree in Africa a princess and came down a queen".

1952 would also mark the beginning of the end for British rule, as the Mau Mau uprising would begin that same year.

The Mau Mau Uprising

While there had been previous uprisings (including the Nandi Revolt, the Giriama Uprising, the women's revolt, and the Kalloa Affray), the Mau Mau Uprising of 1952-1959 can be seen as a culmination of years of frustration at colonial rule.

Despite this frustration, the Mau Mau Uprising was not necessarily a popular movement with all native Kenyans, and was predominantly an uprising from the Kikukyu people. The Mau Mau claimed their first European victim by stabbing a woman to death in October, 1952 and would continue for the next seven years before the capture of Dedan Kimathi brought the uprising to an end.

Independent Kenya

While the May Mau Uprising ultimately did not succeed, it did prompt great change in Kenya at a governmental level. The first Kenyan elections were held in 1963,w ith the Kenya African Union Party of Jomo Kenyatta forming government.

At the same time, the Sultan of Zanzibar would also cede sovereignty of his claims to Kenya's coast, allowing the nation to be unified under its new government.

Geography & Climate of Kenya

Kenya is the 47th largest country in the world, but boasts some of the richest agricultural production regions in all of Africa. Indeed, it was this rich agricultural soil that first drew the British to the country.

Starting from the Indian Ocean coast, Kenya rises slowly to the central highlands. Dominated by towering Mt. Kenya and bisected by the Great Rift Valley, these highlands tend to be cooler than the subtropical coast.

Being an equatorial country, Kenya enjoys higher than average temperatures throughout the year and experiences alternating wet and dry seasons rather than the more traditional 'four seasons'.

Kenya experience both long and short wet and dry seasons.

  • Long Rain: March/April to May/June.
  • Long Dry: July to October.
  • Short Wet: October to November/December.
  • Short Dry: December to March.

Demographics

Population

Kenya has a population of 45 million, with 73% of these aged under 30. Like Tanzania, Kenya is an ethnically diverse country comprised of people from a great many tribes and ethnic groups.

The Kikuyu make up 22% of the population, the Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, and non-African just 1%.

Religion

The majority (83%) of Kenyans identify as Christian, with 47.7% of these Protestant and 23.5% Catholic. Other Christian churches also have a presence in Kenya, with the country being unique in having the largest number of members of the Quaker faith in the world.

Muslim (11.2%), indigenous beliefs (1.7%), and nonreligious (2.4%) make up the rest of the religious tapestry. The nation is also home to approximately 300,000 Hindus, many of whom are descendants of the people brought over to construct the Kenya-Uganda railway in the 1800s-1900s.

Language

Like Tanzania, Kenya's two national languages are English and Swahili. While some 69 distinct languages are still spoke in Kenya today, it is in English (British English rather than US English) that the majority of commerce, business, and schooling is conducted.

Major Cities

Nairobi

 

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Both the capital and largest city of Kenya, Nairobi is far more than a simple transit destination. A tourist attraction in its own right, Nairobi has Nairobi National Park on its doorstep as well as a number of other attractions such as the Daphine Shelldrick Elephant Orphanage, the world-famous Giraffe Manor, and many more.

Malindi

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Once a rival to Mombasa as the most important port city in Kenya, Malindi's role in history included visits from such famous historical figures and explorers as Portugal's Vasco de Gama and China's Zheng He.

From 1498 until 1593, Malindi was a bustling Portuguese trade centre, but with the transfer of Portuguese interests from Malindi to Mombasa, the city very nearly disappeared completely. Resurrected as a slave trade centre by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1861, Malindi would return to its status as a port town under British Administration less than fifty years later.

Today, Malindi is most famous as a tourist destination, with nearby Watamu regularly descirbed as one of the top ten beaches in the world and the historic Gedi Ruins drawing visitors from around the world.

Mombasa

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Kenya's second largest city, Mombasa's long history as a crucial trade port has been surpassed in recent years by its emerging status as a tourism destination.

Alternatively controlled by the British, the Portuguese, and the Sultanate of Oman, Mombasa has long been a vital port for both Indian Ocean trade and during the age of exploration.

While the city remains an important port and transit centre, it is also one of Kenya's most popular tourist destinations now - rivalling Tanzania's Zanzibar archipelago in both beauty and amenities.

This entry was posted in Kenya, Kenya Attractions.
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