Country Profiles:
Kenya

Kenya has been described as “the cradle of humanity” due to fossil discovery in 1924 revolutionized the search for human ancestors. The name Kenya is derived from various dialects and means “Gods Resting Place.” Situated on the equator on the east coast, overlying the East African Rift Valley along the largest lake in the continent Lake Vitoria and the Indian Ocean to the east. The coast provided historically important ports by which goods from Arabian and Asian traders have entered the continent for many centuries. Kenya is known for its rich deserts, mountains, reefs, beaches, tribal culture and a great wildlife. Kenya is home to one of the largest desert lakes and freshwater and alkaline volcanic lakes due to its serenity in the world, Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf). This makes Kenya a volcanic zone, however, most volcanos are extinct. The last volcanic eruption occurred in 1910, the “Emuruangogolak.” As a result of the volcanic activity, was the formation of the second largest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kenya. Close to Mt. Kenya lies one of the longest rivers, Tana River  which empties into the Indian Ocean. Another mountain is Mt. Longonot. The capital of Kenya is Nairobi.

UNESCO Heritage site in Kenya includes:

1. Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests

The site comprises eleven forests spread 200 km (120 mi) along the coast of Kenya. They hold the remains of villages built during the 16th century by the Mijikenda, and are now considered sacred sites.

2. Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest

Established in 1949 to protect Mount Kenya, the wildlife and surrounding environment, which forms a habitat for wild animals, as well as acting as an area for the catchment of water, to supply Kenya‘s water. Initially, it was a forest reserve, before being announced as a national park. Currently, the national park is encircled by the forest reserve.

3. Lamu Old Town

The town is the oldest Swahili settlement, and is built in coral stone and mangrove timber. It features inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborate wooden doors.

4. Lake Turkana National Parks

Turkana, as Africa’s largest saline lake, is an important area for the study of fauna and flora. It is a breeding ground for the Nile crocodilehippopotamus and several venomous snakes.

5. Great Rift Valley

The site features three lakes: Lake BogoriaLake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita. A highly diverse population of birds, including thirteen threatened species, frequent the area.

6. Fort Jesus, Mombasa

Fort Jesus was the only fort maintained by the Portuguese on the Swahili Coast, and is recognised as a testament to the first successful attempt by a Western power to establish influence over the Indian Ocean trade. Designed by Italian Giovanni Battista Cairati, it was built between 1593 and 1596, by order of King Philip I of Portugal, to guard the Old Port of Mombasa.

A Persian Prince of Shiraz, Ali ibn al-Hassan Shirazi, founded the medieval Kilwa Sultanate during 10th century, which at its peak spanned the entire length of the Swahili Coast, including Kenya.

Arab migrants soon began settling the coast, and established autonomous city-states. Eventually, elaborate mosques were built and Islam was introduced to the region. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company arrived, and built the Kenya-Uganda railway. After decades of colonial rule the country gained its independence from Great Britain in December, 1963 and on December 12 1964, the Republic of Kenya was proclaimed. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta became its first president and remained in office until his death in 1978. Daniel arap Moi became president following Kenyatta’s death and retained that office until 1988. Daniel arap Moi was reelected in multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997. He was constitutionally barred from running in 2002 and Mwai Kibaki won and was then re-elected in 2007. Violence erupted following the 2007 election with the Kikuyu people being targeted, and Kibaki’s opponent, Raila Odinga, accusing the government of fraud. His supporters carried out attacks for months, until UN Secretary General Kofi Annan brought both sides together and negotiations were ultimately reached. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta is the fourth and current President of Kenya, in office since  April 9th 2013.

Agriculture is also the largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP). Kenya is a leading producer of tea and coffee, as well as the third-leading exporter of fresh produce, such as cabbages, onions and mangoes. It is the third largest tea producer in the world. Soda ash (used in glassmaking) is Kenya’s most valuable mineral export and is quarried at Lake Magadi in the Rift Valley. There is also Limestone deposits, vermiculite, gold, rubies, topazes, and salt. Kenya is currently known as the financial hub of Central Africa and is laying foundations to dominate the entire African continent since the introduction of the  proposed Nairobi International Financial Center Bill, 2016. The Nairobi Stock Exchange was founded in 1954, is one of the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently home to the digital industry since the introduction of M-Pesa, a mobile payment service.

Kenya’s population is entirely African, and is divided into three language groups: BantuNilo-Saharan, and Afro-Asiatic. The Bantu group is the largest.  The largest people are KikuyuKambaMeru, the LuhyaGusii and Nyika peoples. There are two official languages; English and Kiswahili, Kiswahili being the only African language in the African Union.

Kenya cuisine is a mix of traditional food as mixed and diverse as it’s tribe’s, history and landscapes. Each tribal area has its own specialties. Common dishes includes: Ugali combined with Sukuma Wiki (ugali is made from cornmeal and Sukuma wiki is collard greens or a form of kale); Nyama choma (is roasted or grilled meat); Irio (boiled green peas and mashed  and whole kernels of maize (corn) are added to give the mash some extra starch and texture.); Pilau and biryani (Pilau is rice cooked with flavor bursting spices like cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves and Biriyani is another form of spiced rice);  Wali wa nazi (White rice is cooked with grated coconut milk, best enjoyed with a serving of fish or chicken curry, some vegetables, or even bean stew); Samosas  (small triangular pockets of spiced meat or vegetables put in a pastry wrapper and deep fried).

The music of Kenya is very diverse, with multiple types of folk music based on the variety of regional languages. The guitar is the most dominant instrument in Kenyan popular music. The Luhya of Western Kenya developed a very distinctive dance style called Sikuti after the local name for a drum. This extremely energetic dance is usually performed by paired male and female dancers, and accompanied by several drums, bells, long horns and whistles.

Kenya’s rich wild life is a prime tourist sight with more than 50 national parks and reserves. Most popular ones include Maasai Mara (lies along the border of Tanzania basically part of the “Serengeti.” Coined with the term “The Great Migration,” the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world making it among the seven wonders of the continent.

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