General information about Kenya
General information about Kenya
Islamic InfluenceWell known as excellent traders, Muslims came to East Africa (from the 8th century onwards) for what they knew best – commerce. They sailed with their dhows from the Arabian Peninsula to settle on the coast, on the virgin soil of what is now known as Kenya. They eventually intermarried with the Africans, resulting in relatively affluent and Islamic – influenced towns, which acted as entry points for the crossing Indian Ocean trade. Even today, Kenya’s richest history can be felt in the coastal towns.
Portuguese InvadersThe Portuguese decided that they would back expeditions to this part of Africa, in the hope that they would break the Ottoman Turks’ grip on trade with the Far East. The rule of the Portuguese was combination of economic exploitation and drives to convert the local population to Catholicism. Nevertheless, by the 1720’s their bitter hand was no longer felt and their rule came to an end.
British Colonialism (19th and 20th centuries)With the whole of Africa being combed by the European explorers, Kenya wasn’t going to escape the fate of its neighbours. There was internal strife, and the British were able to negotiate a treaty with their former warrior enemies, the Maasai, and construct the Mombasa to Uganda railway through the heart of the Masai grazing lands.
IndependenceOn the 12th December 1963, Kenya finally became an independent state, free from British hands, and chose Jomo Kenyatta as the first elected President.
Equator and the Great Rift ValleyKenya straddles the equator on the eastern coast of Africa; covering an area of about 586,600km sq. of which 10,700km sq. consists of water bodies. It lies on the Equator and is bisected lengthwise by the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Jordan in the north to Mozambique in the south.
Bordering NationsKenya shares borders with five other nations. It is bordered by Somalia and Ethiopia to the north the Indian Ocean to the east, Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south. It has a 550km long coastline.
Mountains, Rivers and LakesKenya is home to Mount Kenya (5,199) the second largest peak in the African continent, and it is traversed by a number of rivers, notably Tana and Athi rivers, and the Galana River and the notorious Mara River, which run through the Maasai Mara Reserve.
Kenya also houses some incredible lakes such as the wild Lake Turkana (home of the cradle of humankind), Lake Turkana (home of more than 1 million flamingoes) and the Lake Baringo/Naivasha (home to the notorious “happy valley set”) to mention only a few.
LandscapeThe country is mostly known for its flat, vast and wild savannah country, but its terrain ranges wildly from deserts in the north, to bush land in the South, coastal areas in the east, and the fertile lands west, while central Kenya houses luscious highlands.
VEGETATIONKenya's natural vegetation is equally diverse.
Afro – alpine moorlandAfro-alpine moorland occurs above c. 3,000 m, on Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon, the Cherangani and the Aberdares Mountains. Highland grassland occurs above c.2, 400 m on either side of the central Rift Valley. Highland moist forests are found between c.1, 500 m and 3,000m in areas that receive rainfall of more than 1,200 mm per year.
RainforestRelicts of Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once extended across equatorial Africa occur in western Kenya, in and around Kakamega Forest. Typical tree species include Celtis, Aningeria, croton, Fagara and Manikara. The North and South Nandi Forests are transitional between the Guinea-Congolian and Montane forest types.
Bush land and woodlandCoastal evergreen bushland also occurs, in a mosaic with cultivated land. Coastal palmstands, often in tall grassland, are a rare vegetation type covering less than 3.1% of the land area. Thorn bushland and woodland are the most extensive vegetation types in Kenya, running from Amboseli in the south through the Tsavo parks to north-east and north-west Kenya. Characteristic tree species are Acacia, Commiphora ssp., while grasses include species of Hyparrhenia, Digitaria and Themeda.
OtherPapyrus swamps, consisting largely of stands of cyperus papyrus, are found patchily around the shores of Lake Victoria, mainly along river inflows.
On sandy shorelines are often beds of sea grass (some twelve species are recorded), beyond the littoral zone or in deeper channels within it. Coral reefs and islands make up some 59,000 ha, or 0.1% of the land area. Human-modified habitats, created at the expense of the natural vegetation, occur throughout the country but especially in the highlands. These include cultivated land under a wide variety of crops, plantations of exotic trees, secondary thicket and scrub, eroded and de-vegetated woodland and bush land, and overgrazed pastureland.
CLIMATEThe variations in altitude and terrain in Kenya create sharp contrasts in climate. The coast (Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu) is hot and often humid.
Mornings and evening in the central highlands (around Mount Kenya) can be cool, verging on cold, during Kenya’s winter (July – August), while in the north and northeast (close to the Sudanese border) the days are dry and very hot.
As it is on the equator, day and night are almost equal in Kenya the whole year around; sunrise is 6 – 6.30 a.m. and sun downs 6.30 – 7 pm. Even though the climate is beginning during the day, it is wise to use a pullover in the evenings since temperatures drop considerably at night.
Over most of the country there are two major rainy seasons. The short rains normally occur from late October to November and the long rains from the late March to early June. July and August are the coolest months; November to February are the hottest.
PEOPLE AND LANGUAGESKenya has a melting pot of different nationalities, tribes and ethnic groups, making it tolerant, accepting and colourful country. It currently has a population of 38 million people (based on 2009 Census count), which include over 40 tribal groups.
Main GroupThe main tribal groups are the Bantu, Cushites and Nilotes and the main ethnic composition of the tribes of Kenya is formed from these groups:
The Bantu GroupThe Bantu-group include the Kikuyu, Meru, Gusii, Embu, Akamba, Luhya (or Luyia) and Mijikenda.
The Nilote GroupThe Nilote group include the Maasai, Luo, Turkana, Teso, Samburu and Kalenjin people
The Cushite GroupThe Cushite group include the Borana, Somali, Orma and Rendile
Each group has its own language and some 45 languages (not dialects) are spoken in Kenya. Most Kenyans speak three languages: their tribal language, also called their mother tongue, Kiswahili (national language) and English (official language).