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. The KANU party ruled from June 1982 to December 1992. Due to divisions in the opposition parties, KANU won the 1992 and 1997 general elections, though by 1997 the opposition parties had made significant gains to necessitate KANU dependency on minor parties to forge a working majority.
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.
President Kibaki's government is faced with huge challenges in tackling poverty, massive unemployment, corruption and poor infrastructure - legacies of misrule in previous regimes. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is also 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. Recent developments in all these countries give a reason to hope that peace will hold in these countries.
The typical school year runs from January to late November. According to UNICEF, 88 percent of children reach fifth grade.
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, adding an extra 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, the majority of whom live below the universal poverty line of U.S. $1 a day.
The education system in Kenya is also burdened by lack of adequate facilities and teachers. Of the approximately 600,000 pupils who take the national grade eight exams, less than half get into secondary schools due to a facilities shortage. Less than 60,000 go on to attend universities or colleges, mainly due to lack of facilities and the cost of education.
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 is currently involved in this dispute in its efforts to write a new constitution.
The government generally has permitted several missionary groups to assist the poor 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 are not punished if they remain silent during prayers.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor updated November 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51478.htm.
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
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.
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 three-four 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 six.
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 & Figures
Compassion's work in Kenya began in 1980. More than 74,900 children participate in more than 285 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Kenyan children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Kenya.
(July 2010 estimate)
Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS.
|307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
||English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous languages
||English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Christian 78% (Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%), indigenous beliefs 10%, Muslim 10%, other 2%
Note: A majority of Kenyans are Christian but estimates for the percentage of the population that adheres to Islam or indigenous beliefs vary widely.
|Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, other Christian 2.3%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Female: 79.7% (2003 estimate)
Female: 99% (2003 estimate)
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Varies; tropical along coast to arid in interior
Mostly temperate but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by Chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
|Percentage of population urbanized
|82% (2008 estimate)
||Male: 57.49 years
Female: 58.24 years (2010 estimate)
|Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years (2010 estimate)
|Under-5 mortality rate
||128/1,000 (2008 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$1,600 (2009 estimate)
||$46,000 (2009 estimate)
||Kenyan shilling (KES)
||U.S. dollar (USD)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||1.2 million (2003 estimate)
||1.2 million (2007 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
||Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2010; The State of the World's Children, 2009