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Updated on January 12, 2012

Kenya is bordered in the north by the Sudan and Ethiopia, in the west by Uganda, in the south by Tanzania, and by Somalia and the Indian Ocean to the east. Since achieving independence in 1963 Kenya has become one of the more stable and prosperous countries of Black Africa. The republic was formerly a British colony and protectorate which had been developed from the narrow coastal strip leased to the British by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1887.

Arab traders had been established along the coast for more than 1,000 years, but the vast interior of what is now Kenya was peopled by nomadic, tribal African pastoralists. In 1895 the British East Africa Protectorate was proclaimed, and by 1901 the interior has been opened up by the construction of a railroad from Mombasa to Lake Victoria.

Many of the Indians brought in to build the railroad remained in Kenya after its completion. White settlement of the Kenyan highlands was encouraged and in 1920 the country became a British Crown colony, the coastal territories forming the Kenya Protectorate.

After World War II, the rapidly expanding African population looked increasingly to nationalist political organizations like the Kenya African Union, whose leader from 1947 was Jomo Kenyatta.

Resistance to colonial rule came to a violent climax in Mau Mau (1952), a Kikuyu terrorist organization which murdered a number of Europeans and thousands of Africans accused of being supporters of the colonial government. In 1953 Kenyatta was convicted of leading Mau Mau, and he remained in prison or detention until 1961. He led Kenya to independence within the Commonwealth of Nations, and when the republic was proclaimed (1964) became its President. Kenya owes much to this charismatic leader; his most remarkable achievement has been political stability. The Kenyan nation consists of more than 40 tribes, but though tribal rivalries remain strong, the principle of Harambee (working together) has so far prevailed. During the first decade of independence, Kenya has also made great economic progress.

The People

Kenya has an estimated population of 41,070,934. The largest of the many tribal and ethnic groups is the Kikuyu, who number more than 9 million and dominate the political scene; Kenyatta is a Kikuyu. The second-largest tribe is the Luo, numbering over 5,300,000. Other major tribes are the Lubya, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, Mijikenda and Kipsigis.

Because so much of Kenya is arid, about 75% of the population is concentrated on only 10% of the land, mainly in the southwest. Less than 10% of the population live in the cities and towns, though there is currently a disturbing drift to Nairobi, the capital and largest city (3,138,295). The second largest city is Mombasa (939,370).


Though more than 50% of the population are animists, Christianity is well represented by the Roman Catholic Church, and the various Protestant Churches whose missions have helped advance education and medical services in the republic.

The Arabs of the coast are Muslims, and many of the Asians are Hindus.

English was until recently the official language (and is still in general use) but it has been replaced by Swahili. Many tribal languages and dialects are spoken. Education is not yet compulsory and more than 50% of the population are illiterate.

Primary Industry

The main crops are tea, coffee, wattle (used in tanning), sisal and sugar cane, most being for export. Crops for local consumption include rice, cotton, sweet potatoes, pyrethrum, coconuts, millet, bananas and vegetables. Cereals are also grown in the highlands. Livestock products provide a third of the revenue from primary industry.

Secondary industry

Industry, much of it for the local market, includes the processing of food stuffs, leather goods, textiles, cement, chemicals, metal products, oil refining, tobacco and beer. Minerals found in the country include sodium carbonate, kyanite, gold, copper, silver, iron, diatomite, zinc and lead.

Trade and Communications

Kenya imports crude oil, motor vehicles, machinery, ferrous metals, paper, foodstuffs and chemicals. Exports include tea, coffee, sisal, meat, vegetables, fruit, animal hides and petroleum products. The country's main trading partners are Britain, West Germany, other African countries, Japan, the United States and Europe.

The port of Mombasa handles 90 per cent of the freight. Other ports are Lamu and Malindi.

There is an international airport at Nairobi, which is serviced by 20 foreign airlines and which is linked to smaller airports at Malindi, Mombasa, Kitale and Kisumu.


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