About Kenya

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National Institutions
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Government of Kenya
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East African Web Directory
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Information on Kenyans, their culture and traditions
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Kenya -- Geography --

Official Name: Republic of Kenya
Capital City: Nairobi
Languages: Swahili (official), English
Official Currency: Kenyan shilling (KES)
Religions: free, Christianity dominant
Population: 37,953,840
Land Area: 580,367 square km
Landforms: Kenya's landforms consist of Lake Turkana, The Great Rift Valley, Lake Victoria, and Mt. Kenya.
Land Divisions: 8 provinces, 247 devisions

Kenya -- History --

Paleontologists believe people may first have inhabited Kenya about 2 million years ago. In the 700s, Arab seafarers established settlements along the coast, and the Portuguese took control of the area in the early 1500s. More than 40 ethnic groups reside in Kenya. Its largest group, the Kikuyu, migrated to the region at the beginning of the 18th century. The land became a British protectorate in 1890 and a Crown colony in 1920, when it went by the name British East Africa. Nationalist stirrings began in the 1940s, and in 1952 the Mau Mau movement, made up of Kikuyu militants, rebelled against the government. The fighting lasted until 1956. On Dec. 12, 1963, Kenya achieved full independence. Jomo Kenyatta, a nationalist leader during the independence struggle who had been jailed by the British, was its first president. From 1964 to 1992, the country was ruled as a one-party state by the Kenya African National Union (KANU), first under Kenyatta and then under Daniel arap Moi. Demonstrations and riots pressured Moi to allow for multiparty elections in 1992. The economy did not flourish under Moi's rule. In the 1990s, Kenya's infrastructure began disintegrating and official graft was rampant, contributing to the withdrawal of much foreign aid. In early 1995, President Moi moved against the opposition and ordered the arrest of anyone who insulted him. A series of disasters plagued Kenya in 1997 and 1998: severe flooding destroyed roads, bridges, and crops; epidemics of malaria and cholera overwhelmed the ineffectual health care system; and ethnic clashes erupted between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups in the Rift Valley. On Aug. 7, 1998, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed by terrorists, killing 243 and injuring more than 1,000. The embassy in neighboring Tanzania was bombed the same day, killing 10. In a successful effort to win back IMF and World Bank funding, which had been suspended because of Kenya's corruption and poor economic practices, President Moi appointed his high-profile critic and political opponent, Richard Leakey, as head of the civil service in 1999. A third-generation white Kenyan, son of paleontologists Louis and Mary Leakey, he had been a highly effective reformer as head of the Kenya Wildlife Service. But after 20 months during which he made a promising start at cleaning up Kenya's corrupt bureaucracy, Leakey was sacked by Moi. Kenya is regularly ranked among the ten most corrupt countries in the world, according to the watchdog group Transparency International. In August 2000 UN aid workers estimated 3.3 million Kenyans were at risk of starvation due to a devastating East African drought. An anticorruption law, sponsored by the ruling party, failed to pass in parliament in Aug. 2001 and imperiled Kenya's chances for international aid. Opposition leaders called the law a cynical ploy meant to give the appearance of reform; the proposed law, they contended, was in fact too weak and full of loopholes to make a dent in corruption. Opposition leader Mwai Kibaki won the Dec. 2002 presidential election, defeating Moi's prot?g?, Uhuru Kenyatta (term limits prevented Moi, in power for 24 years, from running again). Kibaki promised to put an end to the country's rampant corruption. In his first few months, Kibaki did initiate a number of reforms—ordering a crackdown on corrupt judges and police and instituting free primary school education—and international donors opened their coffers again. But by 2004, disappointment in Kibaki set in when little further progress was evident, and a long-awaited new constitution, meant to limit the president's power, still had not been delivered. Kibaki made no real progress on his mandate to stem corruption, which became glaringly evident when his anticorruption minister, John Githongo, resigned in Feb. 2005, frustrated that he was prevented from investigating a number of scandals. In July 2005, parliament finally approved a draft of a constitution, but in Dec. 2005 voters rejected it because it expanded the president's powers. A drought ravaged Kenya, and by Jan. 2006, 2.5 million Kenyans faced starvation. Kenya descended into violence and chaos following December 2007's presidential election. Preliminary results had opposition candidate Raila Odinga, of the Orange Democratic Movement, defeating incumbent Kibaki, 57% to 39%. In the days after the election, however, Odinga's lead dwindled and Kenya's electoral commission declared Kibaki the winner, 46% to 44%. International observers said the vote was rigged. Odinga, a champion of the poor, had promised to eliminate corruption and tribalism. After the announcement of the official results, violence broke out among members of the Luo and Kikuyu tribes. Odinga is Luo, and Kibaki is Kikuyu. The fighting between the tribes intensified in January 2008, with more than 800 people dying in violence across the country. Odinga refused Kibaki's invitation to discuss the political crisis after Kibaki appointed his cabinet, which did not include any members of Odinga's Orange Democratic Party. Parliament, however, elected Kenneth Marende, of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, speaker over an ally of Kibaki. The deployment of the Kenyan military did little to stem the brutal ethnic fighting. In late January, Melitus Mugabe Were, a member of Parliament who has worked to mend the ethnic strife in Kenya and help the poor, was dragged from his car and shot. Members of the opposition said the killing was a political assassination. By February 2008, more than 1,000 people had died in the ethnic violence. Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan met with representatives from the government and the opposition in an attempt to resolve the crisis. After protracted negotiations that left Annan frustrated, the government and the opposition agreed in late February on a power-sharing deal that has Odinga filling the newly created position as prime minister and the two rivals dividing cabinet positions. Parliament met in March, a much-needed first step toward restoring peace to the battered country. Kibaki announced an enormous national unity cabinet in April that includes 94 ministers. His supporters head powerful minsitries, such as finance and foreign relations. As expected, Odinga is named prime minister.

Kenya -- Economy --

About 75% of Kenyans are engaged in farming, largely of the subsistence type. Coffee, tea, corn, wheat, sisal, and pyrethrum are grown in the highlands, mainly on small African-owned farms formed by dividing some of the large, formerly European-owned estates. Coconuts, pineapples, cashew nuts, cotton, and sugarcane are grown in the lower-lying areas. Much of the country is savanna, where large numbers of cattle are pastured. Kenya also produces dairy goods, pork, poultry, and eggs. The country's industries include food processing, flour milling, horticulture, and the manufacture of consumer goods such as plastic, furniture, batteries, clothing, and cigarettes. Petroleum is refined and aluminum, steel, and building materials are produced. Industrial development has been hampered by shortages in hydroelectric power and by inefficiency and corruption in the public sector, but steps have been taken to privatize some state-owned companies. The chief minerals produced are limestone, soda ash, gemstones, salt, and fluorospar. Kenya attracts many tourists, largely lured by its coastal beaches and varied wildlife, which is protected in the expansive Tsavo National Park (8,034 sq mi/20,808 sq km) in the southeast. Kenya's chief exports are tea and coffee; fluctuations in their world prices and periodic droughts have tremendous economic impact. Petroleum products, flowers, and fish are also exported. The leading imports are machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, motor vehicles, iron and steel, and plastics. Major trading partners are the United States, Great Britain, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates. Kenya's population growth continually exceeds the rate of economic growth, resulting in large budget deficits and high unemployment. The country's well-developed transportation system has suffered from neglect in recent years.

Kenya -- Culture --

The population of Kenya is about 32 million. Almost all are of African descent with the largest minorities being Asians, Europeans and Arabs, although these three minority groups together represent less than 1% of the population. There are numerous tribes found in Kenya. The majority of the tribes are descendants of just two language groups, the Bantu of Western Africa, and the Nilotic from the Nile Valley. As the larger cities attract more people, and as Kenya becomes more like the West, fewer and fewer Kenyans live a traditional tribal life. English and Swahili are the languages taught throughout the country, but there are many other tribal languages. These include Kikuyu, Luhia, Luo and Kikamba as well as a plethora of minor tribal tongues. It's useful for the traveler to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country. Another language you'll come across is Sheng, spoken almost exclusively by the younger members of society. A fairly recent development, Sheng is a mixture of Swahili and English along with a fair sprinkling of other languages. Most Kenyans outside the coastal and eastern provinces are Christians of one sort or another, while most of those on the coast and in the eastern part of the country are Muslim. Muslims make up some 30% of the population. In the more remote tribal areas you'll find a mixture of Muslims, Christians and those who follow their ancestral tribal beliefs. Kenyans love music and the style known as benga is the contemporary dance music that rules. It originated among the Luo people of western Kenya and became popular in the area in the 1950s. Some well-known exponents of benga include Shirati Jazz, Victoria Kings, Globestyle and the Ambira Boys. Kenyan cuisine generally consists of stodge filler with beans or a meat sauce. It's really just survival fodder for the locals maximum filling-up potential at minimum cost. If you had to name a national dish in Kenya, nyama choma (barbecued meat, usually goat), would probably be it. Kenyan food is not exactly designed for gourmet or vegetarians. Beer drinkers, on the other hand, are well supplied. Kenyans love their beer almost as much as their dancing and there's a thriving local brewing industry, and the Tusker beer is excellent. Kenya coffees are internationally renowned, and a major export. Local white wines from Naivasha are good. Local produce includes delicious mango and pawpaw, often served at breakfast. The Kenya coast has coral formations protected by law. Fishing for sport is highly popular, as is diving for pearls and lobster, sailing, and dhow voyages by moonlight. Kenya, a country of diverse and rich cultural traditions, seeks to cultivate and develop those traditions to ensure that its valuable cultural assets are not irretrievably lost and that social cohesion is not undermined in the process of change to newer ways. A National Archive Service has been established, and it is saving an increasing number of documents. A national library service board has also been established to equip, maintain, and develop libraries in Kenya, including a branch library service. Kenya's national museum contains collections of wildlife, archaeological remains, and objects of material culture. The Kenya National Theatre is incorporated in the Kenya Cultural Centre. The National Theatre School was founded in 1968 to provide professional training in theatrical techniques, which include the writing of plays by Kenyan authors and the performance of traditional music and dance. Music and dance play an integral role in social and religious life. Rhythm, all-important, is largely provided by the drum, supplemented by wind and stringed instruments. Swahili literature, both oral and written, is traditional in form and content. Contemporary novelists, including Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Mugo Gatheru, deal with the social frictions between traditional and modern society. Visual arts are largely confined to the mass production of wood sculpture for the tourist trade. Elimo Njau and Ronal Rankin are popular Kenyan painters.

Kenya -- Political system, law and government --

President: Mwai Kibaki Prime Minister: Raila Odinga The legislative branch of the Kenyan government consists of a unicameral National Assembly (bunge), whose representatives are elected by popular vote to serve 5-year terms. The executive branch consists of a chief of state who is both president and head of government. The president is elected by popular vote by members of the National Assembly. The president, in turn, selects a cabinet. The judicial branch comprises a Court of Appeal, a chief justice appointed by the president, and a High Court. The legal system is a complex hybrid of English common law, tribal law, and Islamic law. The military is more or less apolitical, and Kenya boasts one of the most stable political histories in all of east Africa. This record was slightly marred in the early 1990s, when serious ethnic clashes killed thousands and left tens of thousands homeless. Although KANU, dominated mostly by the Kikuyu and Luo ethnic groups, initially claimed to be socialist, it has long since abandoned this pretense. Indeed, according to Vincent B. Khapoya, author of the African Experience, even in the earliest years of Kenyan independence, KANU promoted capitalist policies. During this period, KANU, which replaced the ethnic federalism of the original post-independence constitution with centralization, banned its major opposition party, the Kenya People's Union (KPU), thereby creating a de facto (in practice) one-party state. In 1982, KANU constitutionally declared a de jure (on paper) one-party state, claiming that this was needed to decisively avoid the effects of "tribalism" (ethnic conflict), supposedly engendered by multiparty politics. Despite the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992, the government of Kenya has been headed by the KANU leader, Daniel arap Moi, since the death of Kenyatta in 1978. Moi is currently serving his last constitutional term in office, which is scheduled to end in January 2009. Some of the other major political parties represented in the National Assembly include the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the National Development Party (NDP), Forum for the Restoration Democracy-Kenya (FORD-K), and SAFINA. The CIA World Factbook 2000 states that most opposition parties in Kenya are divided along ethnic lines, a factor which enabled KANU to win the 1997 elections despite its failure to garner the majority of votes.Tax revenue, which accounted for 86.6 percent (KSh129,230) of government revenue in 1997, is the largest source of government income. The 3 largest sources of tax revenue, in turn, are taxes on goods and services, taxes on income and profits, and taxes on international trade. Each respectively accounted for 37 percent (KSh55,279), 33 percent (KSh49,266), and 15.3 percent (KSh22,773) of government revenue in 1997. Non-tax revenue only accounted for 13.4 percent of government income in the same year. Taxes on companies in Kenya are set at the relatively high rate of 32.5 percent for resident companies and 40 percent for nonresident companies, though certain deductions and exemptions do apply. The income tax system is based on an annual pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) scheme in which a person is taxed progressively on sums of KSh90,240, beginning at 10 percent on the first KSh90,240, and ending at 32.5 percent on the sixth sum of KSh451,200. Those that make less than KSh90,240 are effectively exempted from income taxation. Moreover, a second pro-poor taxation policy includes the exemption of unprocessed agricultural products and processed foodstuffs from the standard value-added tax (VAT) rate of 17 percent on all goods. Some excise tax rates, however, such as the rate of 135 percent on cigarettes and tobacco products, and the 95 percent rate on light beer, are set at extremely high rates. Consequently, these commodities are confined to the enjoyment of the wealthy.

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