Cushitic-speaking people from northern Africa moved into the area that is now Kenya beginning around 2000 B.C. Arab traders began frequenting the Kenyan coast around the first century. Kenya's proximity to the Arabian Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian settlements developed along the coast by the eighth century. During the first millennium, Nilotic and Bantu peoples moved into the region and Bantu now comprise three-quarters of Kenya's population.
The Swahili language, a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, developed as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. Arab dominance on the coast was eclipsed by the arrival in 1498 of the Portuguese, who gave way in turn to Islamic control under the Imam of Oman in the 1600s. The United Kingdom established its influence in the 19th century.
The colonial history of Kenya dates from the Berlin Conference of 1885, when the European powers first partitioned East Africa into spheres of influence. In 1895, the U.K. government established the East African Protectorate and soon after opened the fertile highlands to white settlers. The settlers were allowed a voice in government even before it was officially made a U.K. colony in 1920, but Africans were prohibited from direct political participation until 1944.
From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the "Mau Mau" rebellion against British colonial rule. During this period, African participation in the political process grew rapidly.
Kenya became independent on Dec. 12, 1963, and the next year joined the Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the large Kikuyu ethnic group and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became Kenya's first president. The minority party, Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), representing a coalition of small ethnic groups that had feared dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself voluntarily in 1964 and joined KANU.
After the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, President Daniel Arap Moi took the reins of power and for the next 24 years presided over a regime that was generally characterized by corruption, massive poverty and repression of democratic rights.
In October 2002, a coalition of opposition parties joined forces with a faction that broke away from KANU to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). In December 2002, the NARC candidate, Mwai Kibaki, was elected the country's third president.
Kibaki's NARC coalition splintered in 2005 over a constitutional review process. Government defectors joined with KANU to form an opposition coalition, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which defeated the government's draft constitution in a popular referendum in November 2005. Kibaki's reelection in December 2007 brought charges of vote rigging and unleashed two months of violence in which as many as 1,500 people died.
In August 2010, Kenyans overwhelmingly adopted a new constitution, which introduced additional checks and balances to executive power and significant devolution of power and resources to 47 newly created counties. It also eliminated the position of prime minister following the first presidential election under the new constitution, which occurred in March 2013.
Kenya’s government continues to face huge challenges in tackling poverty, massive unemployment, corruption and poor infrastructure - legacies of misrule in previous regimes. The HIV and AIDS pandemic is a serious threat to nation rebuilding efforts. Kenya also faces periodic droughts.
Kenya is the regional strategic player and has brokered peace efforts in Southern Sudan, Somalia and around the Great Lakes. Developments in all these countries give a reason to hope that peace will hold.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
The typical school year runs from January to late November. Kenyans place an extraordinary value on education, which is seen as the key to personal and communal success. Villagers often contribute funds through a self-help system known as Harambee (meaning, "Let us pull together") to send youth to a university, whether local or abroad -- particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Malaysia and South Africa.
Since 2003, the Kenyan government introduced Universal Primary Education, which added upward of 1.5 million pupils into the country's primary schools. The education system has eight years of primary education, four years of secondary education, and four years of university education.
Education in Kenya is fairly expensive and is a big strain to most families, many of whom live below the universal poverty line of U.S.$1.25 a day. The education system is also burdened by lack of adequate facilities and teachers.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government does not tolerate its abuse. However, Muslim and Christian groups remain engaged in a long-standing debate over whether special Islamic courts should be recognized in the country's constitution.
The government generally has permitted several missionary groups to assist those living in poverty and to operate schools and hospitals. The missionaries openly promote their religious beliefs and have encountered little resistance.
Morning prayers in public schools are said in areas of the country that are largely Christian. All children participate in the assembly but may remain silent.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Holidays and Festivals
Kenyan art includes statues, jewelry and traditional dances (contests).
Out of all the African countries, Kenya has perhaps the most diverse assortment of popular music forms, in addition to multiple types of folk music. Zanzibari taarab music has also become popular, as has imported hip hop, reggae, soul, soukous, rock and roll, funk and Europop. The guitar is the most dominant instrument in Kenyan popular music.
Lyrics are most often in Swahili or Lingala but are also sometimes in one of the indigenous languages, though national radio will generally not play music in one of the "tribal" languages. Such "tribal" music is played by regional radio.
Sports and Games
New Year's Day, Jan. 1
Labor Day, May 1
Madaraka Day (Self-Government Day), June 1
Moi Day, Oct. 10
Kenyatta Day, Oct. 20
Independence Day, Dec. 12
Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Christmas in Kenya is a time for families to get together. Many Kenyans travel great distances to be together. Kenyans celebrate with food, caroling, exchanging gifts and attending church services.
Idd Ul Fitre, date varies depending on the lunar calendar: A Muslim holiday celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan
Visit the Compassion blog to read about Easter in Kenya.
Kenyans are famous for their runners. They also enjoy football (soccer) and dance.
Typical Kenyan foods include ugali (porridge made from corn meal or millet flour), rice, chapatti (bread), maize and beans.
Sukuma Wiki Recipe
2 Tb. oil
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 Tb. tomato paste
3 bunches collard greens
Sauté onions in oil until tender. Add tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste and salt. Strip leaves from stems of collard greens. Wad the leaves tightly in your hand and begin slicing off thinly with a sharp knife. Scrape into sink of cold water for rinsing. Remove from water and put directly into tomato/onion mixture. Cook over medium heat for 40 minutes. You may need to add a little water. Serve with chapattis; use the bread to pick up the sukuma. Serves 6.
Compassion in Kenya
Swahili is Kenya's second official language, after English. Here are some phrases:
Habari yako? (How are you?)
Mzuri! (All is well!)
Je, waitwaje? (What is your name?)
Jina langu ni ... (My name is ...)
The Kikuyu are Kenya's largest ethnic group. Here are some phrases in their language:
Wi mwega? (How are you?)
Di mwega. (I am fine.)
Witagwo atia? (What is your name?)
Jitagwo ... (My name is ...)
Kenya Facts and Figures
Compassion began its ministry in Kenya in 1980, when the Child Sponsorship Program was started. In 2001, the Leadership Development Program began, followed by the Child Survival Program in 2004.
Child Sponsorship Program
Child development center meeting times:
- 3-to-5-year-olds: 8 hours on Saturday; during school holidays, 8 hours a day, Monday to Saturday. School holidays are in August (4 weeks), December (6 weeks) and April (4 weeks).
- 6-to-11-year olds: 6 hours a week, and 8 hours on Saturdays during school holidays.
- 12-to-18-year-olds: 4 hours a week, and 8 hours on Saturdays during school holidays.
- 19 +: 4 hours on Saturdays during holidays
Each child receives a snack and lunch during every Saturday program. A typical snack consists of a cup of porridge or a cup of tea, a slice of bread and fruit, and, in some cases, an egg. A typical lunch consists of rice or ugali, beef stew, bean stew or legumes, and green leafy vegetables such as kale or cabbage.
Children are offered a variety of extracurricular activities, including an annual soccer competition; quarterly displays of items children have made, such as beadwork, carpentry and leatherwork; talent days where children perform music, drama or poems; and teen camps held during holidays. Children participate in community service as well by visiting and helping sick caregivers in their community, helping to clean their homes, and by participating in tree-planting activities. Adolescents are involved in skills training, such as computer training, carpentry, motor vehicle repair, dressmaking, cooking, hairdressing, driving, life skills and tree planting. They also participate in Christian preaching and Bible studies. There are several topics that are introduced to boys as part of a specialty curriculum, such as hunting, which is taught during "Rites of Passage" sessions for teenagers. Others such as motherhood, child care, hospitality, Girls' Brigades and scouting clubs are set up by churches to enhance talent development, life skills and leadership.
Adult literacy classes are offered at child development centers, Monday through Friday in the afternoons, along with health education, spiritual education, education on farming practices, training on child protection and prevention of abuse, and the parents' role in child development.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Kenya.
Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS, which results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and lower population growth rates than otherwise expected.
||English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
Christian 82.5% (Protestant 47.4%, Roman Catholic 23.3%, other 11.8%), Traditionalists 1.6%, other or unspecified 4.8% (2009 census)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Female: 84.2% (2011 estimate)
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Varies; tropical along coast to arid in interior
|Percentage of population urbanized
||Male: 62.06 years
Female: 65.01 years (2014 estimate)
|Under-5 mortality rate
||73/1,000 (2012 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$1,800 (2012 estimate)
||Kenyan shilling (KES)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||1.646 million (2012 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014