Kenya has a warm and humid tropical climate on its Indian Ocean coastline. The climate is cooler in the savannah grasslands around the capital city, Nairobi, and especially closer to Mount Kenya, which has snow permanently on its peaks. Further inland are highlands in Central and Rift Valley regions where tea and coffee are grown as cash crops which are major foreign revenue earners. In the West are Nyanza and Western regions, there is an equatorial, hot and dry climate which becomes humid around Lake Victoria, the largest tropical fresh-water lake in the world. This gives way to temperate and forested hilly areas in the neighbouring western region. The north-eastern regions along the border with Somalia and Ethiopia are arid and semi-arid areas with near-desert landscapes. Kenya is known for its world class athletes in track and field and rugby. Thanks to its diverse climate and geography, expansive wildlife reserves and national parks such as the East and West Tsavo National Park, Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru National Park, Aberdares National Park and white sand beaches at the Coastal region, Kenya is home to the modern safari and has several world heritage sites such as Lamu and numerous beaches, including in Diani, Bamburi and Kilifi, where international yachting competitions are held every year.
The African Great Lakes region, which Kenya is a part of, has been inhabited by humans since the Lower Paleolithic period. By the first millennium AD, the Bantu expansion had reached the area from West-Central Africa. The borders of the modern state consequently comprise the crossroads of the Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic areas of the continent, representing most major ethnolinguistic groups found in Africa. Bantu and Nilotic populations together constitute around 97% of the nation's residents. European and Arab presence in coastal Mombasa dates to the Early Modern period; European exploration of the interior began in the 19th century. The British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895, which starting in 1920 gave way to the Kenya Colony. Kenya obtained independence in December 1963. Following a referendum in August 2010 and adoption of a new constitution, Kenya is now divided into 47 semi-autonomous counties, governed by elected governors.
The capital, Nairobi, is a regional commercial hub. The economy of Kenya is the largest by GDP in East and Central Africa. Agriculture is a major employer; the country traditionally exports tea and coffee and has more recently begun to export fresh flowers to Europe. The service industry is also a major economic driver. Additionally, Kenya is a member of the East African Community trade bloc.
The Republic of Kenya is named after Mount Kenya. The origin of the name Kenya is not clear, but perhaps linked to the Kikuyu, Embu and Kamba words Kirinyaga, Kirenyaa, and Kiinyaa which mean "God's resting place" in all three languages. If so, then the British may not so much have mispronounced it ('Keenya'), as misspelled it. Prehistoric volcanic eruptions of Mount Kenya (now extinct) may have resulted in its association with divinity and creation among the indigenous Bantu ethnic groups, who are the native inhabitants of the agricultural land surrounding Mount Kenya.
In the 19th century, the German explorer Johann Ludwig Krapf was staying with the Bantu Kamba people when he first spotted the mountain. On asking for the name of the mountain, he was told "Kĩ-Nyaa" or "Kĩĩma- Kĩĩnyaa" probably because the pattern of black rock and white snow on its peaks reminded them of the feathers of the cock ostrich. The Agikuyu, who inhabit the slopes of Mt. Kenya, call it Kĩrĩma Kĩrĩnyaga in Kikuyu, which is quite similar to the Kamba name.
Ludwig Krapf recorded the name as both Kenia and Kegnia believed by most to be a corruption of the Kamba version. Others say that this was—on the contrary—a very precise notation of a correct African pronunciation /. An 1882 map drawn by Joseph Thompsons, a Scottish geologist and naturalist, indicated Mt. Kenya as Mt. Kenia, 1862. Controversy over the actual meaning of the word Kenya notwithstanding, it is clear that the mountain's name became widely accepted, pars pro toto, as the name of the country.
Fossils found in Kenya suggest that primates roamed the area more than 20 million years ago. Recent findings near Lake Turkana indicate that hominids such as Homo habilis (1.8 and 2.5 million years ago) and Homo erectus (1.9 million to 350,000 years ago) are possible direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens, and lived in Kenya in the Pleistocene epoch.
During excavations at Lake Turkana in 1984, paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey assisted by Kamoya Kimeu discovered the Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old fossil belonging to Homo erectus. Previous research on early hominids is particularly identified with Mary Leakey and Louis Leakey, who were responsible for the preliminary archaeological research at Olorgesailie and Hyrax Hill. Later work at the former site was undertaken by Glynn Isaac.
The first inhabitants of present-day Kenya were hunter-gatherer groups, akin to the modern Khoisan speakers. These people were later replaced by agropastoralist Cushitic speakers from the Horn of Africa. During the early Holocene, the regional climate shifted from dry to wetter climatic conditions, providing an opportunity for the development of cultural traditions, such as agriculture and herding, in a more favourable environment.
Around 500 BC, Nilotic-speaking pastoralists (ancestral to Kenya's Nilotic speakers) started migrating from present-day Southern Sudan into Kenya. Nilotic groups in Kenya include the Samburu, Luo, Turkana, Maasai.
By the first millennium AD, Bantu-speaking farmers had moved into the region. The Bantus originated in West Africa along the Benue River in what is now eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon. The Bantu migration brought new developments in agriculture and iron working to the region. Bantu groups in Kenya include the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, Kuria, Aembu, Ambeere, Wadawida-Watuweta, Wapokomo and Mijikenda among others.
Remarkable prehistoric sites in the interior of Kenya include the archaeoastronomical site Namoratunga on the west side of Lake Turkana and the walled settlement of ThimLich Ohinga in Migori County.
The Kenyan coast had served host to communities of ironworkers and communities of Bantu subsistence farmers, hunters and fishers who supported the economy with agriculture, fishing, metal production and trade with foreign countries. These communities formed the earliest city states in the region which were collectively known as Azania.
By the 1st century CE, many of the city-states such as Mombasa, Malindi, and Zanzibar began to establish trade relations with Arabs. This led to the increase economic growth of the Swahili states, introduction of Islam, Arabic influences on the Swahili Bantu language, cultural diffusion, as well as the Swahili city-states becoming a member of a larger trade network. Many historians had long believed that the city states were established by Arab or Persian traders, but archeological evidence has led scholars to recognize the city states as an indigenous development which, though subjected to foreign influence due to trade, retained a Bantu cultural core.
The Kilwa Sultanate was a medieval sultanate, centred at Kilwa in modern-day Tanzania. At its height, its authority stretched over the entire length of the Swahili Coast, including Kenya. It was said to be founded in the 10th century by Ali ibn al-Hassan Shirazi, a Persian Sultan from Shiraz in southern Iran. However, scholars have suggested that claims of Arab or Persian origin of city-states were attempts by the Swahili to legitimize themselves both locally and internationally. Since the 10 century, rulers of Kilwa would go on to build elaborate coral mosques and introduce copper coinage.
The Swahili built Mombasa into a major port city and established trade links with other nearby city-states, as well as commercial centres in Persia, Arabia, and even India. By the 15th-century, Portuguese voyager Duarte Barbosa claimed that "Mombasa is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of which are bound from Sofala and others which come from Cambay and Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar."
Later on in the 17th century, once the Swahili coast was conquered and came under direct rule of Omani Arabs, the slave trade was expanded by the Omani Arabs to meet the demands of plantations in Oman and Zanzibar. Initially these traders came mainly from Oman, but later many came from Zanzibar (such as Tippu Tip). In addition, the Portuguese started buying slaves from the Omani and Zanzibari traders in response to the interruption of the transatlantic slave trade by British abolitionists.
Swahili, a Bantu language with Arabic, Persian, and other Middle Eastern and South Asian loanwords, later developed as a lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. Swahili now also has loan words from English.
Throughout the centuries, the Kenyan Coast has played host to many merchants and explorers. Among the cities that line the Kenyan coast is the City of Malindi. It has remained an important Swahili settlement since the 14th century and once rivalled Mombasa for dominance in the African Great Lakes region. Malindi has traditionally been a friendly port city for foreign powers. In 1414, the Chinese trader and explorer Zheng He representing the Ming Dynasty visited the East African coast on one of his last 'treasure voyages'. Malindi authorities welcomed the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498.
The colonial history of Kenya dates from the establishment of a German protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar's coastal possessions in 1885, followed by the arrival of the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888. Incipient imperial rivalry was forestalled when Germany handed its coastal holdings to Britain in 1890. This was followed by the building of the Kenya–Uganda railway passing through the country.
This was resisted by some ethnic groups—notably the Nandi led by Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei for ten years from 1890 to 1900—however the British eventually built the railway. The Nandi were the first ethnic group to be put in a native reserve to stop them from disrupting the building of the railway. In 1920, the East Africa Protectorate was turned into a colony and renamed Kenya for its highest mountain.
During the railway construction era, there was a significant inflow of Indian people, who provided the bulk of the skilled manpower required for construction. They and most of their descendants later remained in Kenya and formed the core of several distinct Indian communities such as the Ismaili Muslim and Sikh communities.
While building the railway through Tsavo, a number of the Indian railway workers and local African labourers were attacked by two lions known as the Tsavo maneaters.
At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the governors of British East Africa (as the protectorate was generally known) and German East Africa agreed a truce in an attempt to keep the young colonies out of direct hostilities. Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck took command of the German military forces, determined to tie down as many British resources as possible. Completely cut off from Germany, von Lettow conducted an effective guerrilla warfare campaign, living off the land, capturing British supplies, and remaining undefeated. He eventually surrendered in Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia) fourteen days after the Armistice was signed in 1918.
To chase von Lettow, the British deployed the British Indian Army troops from India but needed large numbers of porters to overcome the formidable logistics of transporting supplies far into the interior on foot. The Carrier Corps was formed and ultimately mobilised over 400,000 Africans, contributing to their long-term politicisation.
Throughout World War II, Kenya was an important source of manpower and agriculture for the United Kingdom. Kenya itself was the site of fighting between Allied forces and Italian troops in 1940–41 when Italian forces invaded. Wajir and Malindi were bombed as well.
During the early part of the 20th century, the interior central highlands were settled by British and other European farmers, who became wealthy farming coffee and tea. (One depiction of this period of change from one colonist's perspective is found in the memoir Out of Africa by Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, published in 1937.) By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in the area and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy.
The central highlands were already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu people, most of whom had no land claims in European terms and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax, and the landless were granted less and less land in exchange for their labour. A massive exodus to the cities ensued as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled. There were 80,000 white settlers living in Kenya in the 1950s.
In 1952, Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip were on holiday at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya when her father, King George VI, died in his sleep. The young princess cut short her trip and returned home immediately to take her throne. She was crowned Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953 and as British hunter and conservationist Jim Corbett (who accompanied the royal couple) put it, she went up a tree in Africa a princess and came down a queen.
From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was in a state of emergency arising from the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule. The governor requested and obtained British and African troops, including the King's African Rifles. The British began counter-insurgency operations. In May 1953, General Sir George Erskine took charge as commander-in-chief of the colony's armed forces, with the personal backing of Winston Churchill.
The capture of Warũhiũ Itote (aka General China) on 15 January 1954 and the subsequent interrogation led to a better understanding of the Mau Mau command structure. Operation Anvil opened on 24 April 1954, after weeks of planning by the army with the approval of the War Council. The operation effectively placed Nairobi under military siege. Nairobi's occupants were screened and the Mau Mau supporters moved to detention camps. The Home Guard formed the core of the government's strategy as it was composed of loyalist Africans, not foreign forces such as the British Army and King's African Rifles. By the end of the emergency, the Home Guard had killed 4,686 Mau Mau, amounting to 42% of the total insurgents. The capture of Dedan Kimathi on 21 October 1956 in Nyeri signified the ultimate defeat of the Mau Mau and essentially ended the military offensive. During this period, substantial governmental changes to land tenure occurred. The most important of these was the Swynnerton Plan, which was used to both reward loyalists and punish Mau Mau.
The first direct elections for native Kenyans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Despite British hopes of handing power to "moderate" local rivals, it was the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta that formed a government. The Colony of Kenya and the Protectorate of Kenya each came to an end on 12 December 1963 with independence being conferred on all of Kenya. The United Kingdom ceded sovereignty over the Colony of Kenya. The Sultan of Zanzibar agreed that simultaneous with independence for the Colony of Kenya, the Sultan would cease to have sovereignty over the Protectorate of Kenya so that all of Kenya would be one sovereign, independent state. In this way, Kenya became an independent country under the Kenya Independence Act 1963 of the United Kingdom. Exactly 12 months later on 12 December 1964, Kenya became a republic under the name "Republic of Kenya".
Concurrently, the Kenyan army fought the Shifta War against ethnic Somali rebels inhabiting the Northern Frontier District, who wanted to join their kin in the Somali Republic to the north. A cease fire was eventually reached with the signature of the Arusha Memorandum in October 1967, but relative insecurity prevailed through 1969. To discourage further invasions, Kenya signed a defence pact with Ethiopia in 1969, which is still in effect.
On 12 December 1964 the Republic of Kenya was proclaimed, and Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya's first president.
At Kenyatta's death in 1978, Daniel arap Moi became President. Daniel arap Moi retained the Presidency, being unopposed in elections held in 1979, 1983 (snap elections) and 1988, all of which were held under the single party constitution. The 1983 elections were held a year early, and were a direct result of an abortive military coup attempt on 2 August 1982.
The abortive coup was masterminded by a low ranked Air Force serviceman, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka, and was staged mainly by enlisted men in the Air Force. The putsch was quickly suppressed by forces commanded by Chief of General Staff Mahamoud Mohamed, a veteran Somali military official. They included the General Service Unit (GSU)—a paramilitary wing of the police—and later the regular police.
On the heels of the Garissa Massacre of 1980, Kenyan troops committed the Wagalla massacre in 1984 against thousands of civilians in Wajir County. An official probe into the atrocities was later ordered in 2011.
The election held in 1988 saw the advent of the mlolongo (queuing) system, where voters were supposed to line up behind their favoured candidates instead of a secret ballot. This was seen as the climax of a very undemocratic regime and it led to widespread agitation for constitutional reform. Several contentious clauses, including one that allowed for only one political party, were changed in the following years. In democratic, multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997, Daniel arap Moi won re-election.
In 2002, Moi was constitutionally barred from running, and Mwai Kibaki, running for the opposition coalition "National Rainbow Coalition" (NARC), was elected President. Anderson (2003) reports the elections were judged free and fair by local and international observers, and seemed to mark a turning point in Kenya's democratic evolution.
In 2005, Kenyans rejected a plan to replace the 1963 independence constitution with a new one.
The toll of the 2007 Post-election violence included approximately 1,500 deaths and up to 600,000 people left internally displaced.
In mid-2011, two consecutive missed rainy seasons precipitated the worst drought in East Africa seen in 60 years. The northwestern Turkana region was especially affected, with local schools shut down as a result. The crisis was reportedly over by early 2012 because of coordinated relief efforts. Aid agencies subsequently shifted their emphasis to recovery initiatives, including digging irrigation canals and distributing plant seeds.
At 580,367 km2 (224,081 sq mi), Kenya is the world's forty-seventh largest country (after Madagascar). It lies between latitudes 5°N and 5°S, and longitudes 34° and 42°E. From the coast on the Indian Ocean, the low plains rise to central highlands. The highlands are bisected by the Great Rift Valley, with a fertile plateau lying to the east.
The Kenyan Highlands are one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. The highlands are the site of the highest point in Kenya and the second highest peak on the continent: Mount Kenya, which reaches 5,199 m (17,057 ft) and is the site of glaciers. Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m or 19,341 ft) can be seen from Kenya to the south of the Tanzanian border.
Kenya's climate varies from tropical along the coast to temperate inland to arid in the north and northeast parts of the country. The area receives a great deal of sunshine every month, and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. It is usually cool at night and early in the morning inland at higher elevations.
The "long rains" season occurs from March/April to May/June. The "short rains" season occurs from October to November/December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The temperature remains high throughout these months of tropical rain. The hottest period is February and March, leading into the season of the long rains, and the coldest is in July, until mid August.
Kenya has considerable land area devoted to wildlife habitats, including the Masai Mara, where blue wildebeest and other bovids participate in a large scale annual migration. More than 1 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras participate in the migration across the Mara River.
The "Big Five" game animals of Africa, that is the lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros, and elephant, can be found in Kenya and in the Masai Mara in particular. A significant population of other wild animals, reptiles and birds can be found in the national parks and game reserves in the country. The annual animal migration occurs between June and September with millions of animals taking part, attracting valuable foreign tourism. Two million wildebeest migrate a distance of 2,900 kilometres (1,802 mi) from the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya, in a constant clockwise fashion, searching for food and water supplies. This Serengeti Migration of the wildebeest is a curious spectacle listed among the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
Kenya is a presidential representative democratic republic. The President is both the head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly and the Senate. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. There was growing concern especially during former president Daniel arap Moi's tenure that the executive was increasingly meddling with the affairs of the judiciary.
Kenya ranks low on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a metric which attempts to gauge the prevalence of public sector corruption in various countries. In 2012, the nation placed 139th out of 176 total countries in the CPI, with a score of 27/100. However, there are several rather significant developments with regards to curbing corruption from the Kenyan government, for instance, the establishment of a new and independent Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).
Following general elections held in 1997, the Constitution of Kenya Review Act designed to pave the way for more comprehensive amendments to the Kenyan constitution was passed by the national parliament.
In December 2002, Kenyans held democratic and open elections, most of which were judged free and fair by international observers. The 2002 elections marked an important turning point in Kenya's democratic evolution in that power was transferred peacefully from the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which had ruled the country since independence to the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), a coalition of political parties.
Under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki, the new ruling coalition promised to focus its efforts on generating economic growth, combating corruption, improving education, and rewriting its constitution. A few of these promises have been met. There is free primary education. In 2007, the government issued a statement declaring that from 2008, secondary education would be heavily subsidised, with the government footing all tuition fees.
Under the new constitution and with President Kibaki prohibited by term limits from running for a third term, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta ran for office. He won with 50.51% of the vote in March 2013.
In December 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a Security Laws Amendment Bill, which supporters of the law suggested was necessary to guard against armed groups. Opposition politicians, human rights groups, and nine Western countries criticised the security bill, arguing that it infringed on democratic freedoms. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France also collectively issued a press statement cautioning about the law's potential impact. Through the Jubilee Coalition, the Bill was later passed on 19 December in the National Assembly under acrimonious circumstances.
Kenya has close ties with its fellow Swahili-speaking neighbours in the African Great Lakes region. Relations with Uganda and Tanzania are generally strong, as the three nations work toward economic and social integration through common membership in the East African Community.
Relations with Somalia have historically been tense, although there has been some military co-ordination against Islamist insurgents. Kenya has good relations with the United Kingdom. Kenya is one of the most pro-American nations in Africa, and the wider world.
With International Criminal Court trial dates scheduled in 2013 for both President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto related to the 2007 election aftermath, US President Barack Obama chose not to visit the country during his mid-2013 African trip. Later in the summer, Kenyatta visited China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping after a stop in Russia and not having visited the United States as president. In July 2015 Obama visited Kenya, the first American president to visit the country while in office.
The Kenya Defence Forces are the armed forces of the Republic of Kenya. The Kenya Army, Kenya Navy and Kenya Air Force compose the National Defence Forces. The current Kenya Defence Forces were established, and its composition laid out, in Article 241 of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya; the KDF is governed by the Kenya Defence Forces Act of 2012. The President of Kenya is the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces.
The armed forces are regularly deployed in peacekeeping missions around the world. Further, in the aftermath of the national elections of December 2007 and the violence that subsequently engulfed the country, a commission of inquiry, the Waki Commission, commended its readiness and adjudged it to "have performed its duty well." Nevertheless, there have been serious allegations of human rights violations, most recently while conducting counter-insurgency operations in the Mt Elgon area and also in the district of Mandera central.
Kenya's armed forces, like many government institutions in the country, have been tainted by corruption allegations. Because the operations of the armed forces have been traditionally cloaked by the ubiquitous blanket of "state security", the corruption has been hidden from public view, and thus less subject to public scrutiny and notoriety. This has changed recently. In what are by Kenyan standards unprecedented revelations, in 2010, credible claims of corruption were made with regard to recruitment and procurement of Armoured Personnel Carriers. Further, the wisdom and prudence of certain decisions of procurement have been publicly questioned.
Kenya is divided into 47 semi-autonomous counties that are headed by governors. These 47 counties now form the first-order divisions of Kenya.
The smallest administrative units in Kenya are called locations. Locations often coincide with electoral wards. Locations are usually named after their central villages/towns. Many larger towns consist of several locations. Each location has a chief, appointed by the state.
Constituencies are an electoral subdivision, with each county comprising a whole number of constituencies. An Interim Boundaries commission was formed in year 2010 to review the constituencies and in its report, it recommended creation of an additional 80 constituencies. Previous to the 2013 elections, there were 210 constituencies in Kenya.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Kenya and punishable by up to 14 years in prison though the state often turns a blind eye on prosecuting homosexuals. According to 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 90% of Kenyans believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. While addressing a joint press conference together with President Barack Obama in 2015, President Kenyatta declined to assure Kenya's commitment to gay rights saying that "the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue." "But there are some things that we must admit we don't share. Our culture, our societies don't accept."
In November 2008, WikiLeaks brought wide international attention to The Cry of Blood report. In the report, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) reported these in their key finding "e)", stating that the forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings appeared to be official policy sanctioned by the political leadership, the Police. The police often shoot suspected gangsters in public as a new "strategy" to fight the rising levels of crime in the country in total disregard of the laws.
Although Kenya is the biggest and most advanced economy in east and central Africa, and has an affluent urban minority, it has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.519, ranked 145 out of 186 in the world. As of 2005, 17.7% of Kenyans lived on less than $1.25 a day. In 2017, Kenya ranked 92nd in the World Bank ease of doing business rating from 113rd in 2016 (of 190 countries). The important agricultural sector is one of the least developed and largely inefficient, employing 75% of the workforce compared to less than 3% in the food secure developed countries. Kenya is usually classified as a frontier market or occasionally an emerging market, but it is not one of the least developed countries.
The economy has seen much expansion, seen by strong performance in tourism, higher education and telecommunications, and acceptable post-drought results in agriculture, especially the vital tea sector. Kenya's economy grew by more than 7% in 2007, and its foreign debt was greatly reduced. But this changed immediately after the disputed presidential election of December 2007, following the chaos which engulfed the country.
East and Central Africa's biggest economy has posted tremendous growth in the service sector, boosted by rapid expansion in telecommunication and financial activity over the last decade, and now contributes 62% of GDP. 22% of GDP still comes from the unreliable agricultural sector which employs 75% of the labour force (a consistent characteristic of under-developed economies that have not attained food security—an important catalyst of economic growth) A small portion of the population relies on food aid. Industry and manufacturing is the smallest sector, accounting for 16% of GDP. The service, industry and manufacturing sectors only employ 25% of the labour force but contribute 75% of GDP.
Privatisation of state corporations like the defunct Kenya Post and Telecommunications Company, which resulted in East Africa's most profitable company—Safaricom, has led to their revival because of massive private investment.
As of May 2011, economic prospects are positive with 4–5% GDP growth expected, largely because of expansions in tourism, telecommunications, transport, construction and a recovery in agriculture. The World Bank estimated growth of 4.3% in 2012.
In March 1996, the presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda re-established the East African Community (EAC). The EAC's objectives include harmonising tariffs and customs regimes, free movement of people, and improving regional infrastructures. In March 2004, the three East African countries signed a Customs Union Agreement.
Kenya is East and Central Africa's hub for financial services. The Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) is ranked 4th in Africa in terms of market capitalisation. The Kenyan banking system is supervised by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK). As of late July 2004, the system consisted of 43 commercial banks (down from 48 in 2001), several non-bank financial institutions, including mortgage companies, four savings and loan associations, and several core foreign-exchange bureaus.
Kenya's services sector, which contributes 61% of GDP, is dominated by tourism. The tourism sector has exhibited steady growth in most years since independence and by the late 1980s had become the country's principal source of foreign exchange. Tourists, the largest number being from Germany and the United Kingdom, are attracted mainly to the coastal beaches and the game reserves, notably, the expansive East and Tsavo West National Park 20,808 square kilometres (8,034 sq mi) in the southeast.
Tourism has seen a substantial revival over the past several years and is the major contributor to the pick-up in the country's economic growth. Tourism is now Kenya's largest foreign exchange earning sector, followed by flowers, tea, and coffee. In 2006 tourism generated US$803 million, up from US$699 million the previous year. Presently, there are also numerous shopping malls in Kenya. In addition, there are four main hypermarket chains in Kenya. Kenya banned most game hunting in 1977, removing a major economic incentive for rural communities to protect wildlife. By best estimates, Kenya’s wildlife has declined by more than 70 percent over the past 20 years.
Agriculture is the second largest contributor to Kenya's gross domestic product (GDP), after the service sector. In 2005 agriculture, including forestry and fishing, accounted for 24% of GDP, as well as for 18% of wage employment and 50% of revenue from exports. The principal cash crops are tea, horticultural produce, and coffee. Horticultural produce and tea are the main growth sectors and the two most valuable of all of Kenya's exports. The production of major food staples such as corn is subject to sharp weather-related fluctuations. Production downturns periodically necessitate food aid—for example, in 2004 aid for 1.8 million people because of one of Kenya's intermittent droughts.
A consortium led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has had some success in helping farmers grow new pigeon pea varieties, instead of maize, in particularly dry areas. Pigeon peas are very drought resistant, so can be grown in areas with less than 650 mm annual rainfall. Successive projects encouraged the commercialisation of legumes, by stimulating the growth of local seed production and agro-dealer networks for distribution and marketing. This work, which included linking producers to wholesalers, helped to increase local producer prices by 20–25% in Nairobi and Mombasa. The commercialisation of the pigeon pea is now enabling some farmers to buy assets, ranging from mobile phones to productive land and livestock, and is opening pathways for them to move out of poverty.
Tea, coffee, sisal, pyrethrum, corn, and wheat are grown in the fertile highlands, one of the most successful agricultural production regions in Africa. Livestock predominates in the semi-arid savanna to the north and east. Coconuts, pineapples, cashew nuts, cotton, sugarcane, sisal, and corn are grown in the lower-lying areas. Kenya has not attained the level of investment and efficiency in agriculture that can guarantee food security and coupled with resulting poverty (53% of the population lives below the poverty line), a significant portion of the population regularly starves and is heavily dependent on food aid. Poor roads, an inadequate railway network, under-used water transport and expensive air transport have isolated mostly arid and semi-arid areas and farmers in other regions often leave food to rot in the fields because they cannot access markets. This was last seen in August and September 2011 prompting the Kenyans for Kenya initiative by the Red Cross.
Kenya's irrigation sector is categorized into three organizational types: smallholder schemes, centrally-managed public schemes and private/commercial irrigation schemes.
The smallholder schemes are owned, developed and managed by individuals or groups of farmers operating as water users or self-help groups. Irrigation is carried out on individual or on group farms averaging 0.1–0.4 ha. There are about 3,000 smallholder irrigation schemes covering a total area of 47,000 ha. The country has seven large, centrally managed irrigation schemes, namely Mwea, Bura, Hola, Perkera, West Kano, Bunyala and Ahero covering a total commanded area of 18,200 ha and averaging 2,600 ha per scheme. These schemes are managed by the National Irrigation Board and account for 18% of irrigated land area in Kenya. Large-scale private commercial farms cover 45,000 hectares accounting for 40% of irrigated land. They utilize high technology and produce high-value crops for the export market, especially flowers and vegetables.
Kenya is the world's 3rd largest exporter of cut flowers. Roughly half of Kenya's 127 flower farms are concentrated around Lake Naivasha, 90 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. To speed their export, Nairobi airport has a terminal dedicated to the transport of flowers and vegetables.
Although Kenya is the most industrially developed country in the African Great Lakes region, manufacturing still accounts for only 14% of the GDP. Industrial activity, concentrated around the three largest urban centres, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, is dominated by food-processing industries such as grain milling, beer production, and sugarcane crushing, and the fabrication of consumer goods, e.g., vehicles from kits.
There is a cement production industry. Kenya has an oil refinery that processes imported crude petroleum into petroleum products, mainly for the domestic market. In addition, a substantial and expanding informal sector commonly referred to as jua kali engages in small-scale manufacturing of household goods, auto parts, and farm implements.
Kenya's inclusion among the beneficiaries of the US Government's African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has given a boost to manufacturing in recent years. Since AGOA took effect in 2000, Kenya's clothing sales to the United States increased from US$44 million to US$270 million (2006). Other initiatives to strengthen manufacturing have been the new government's favourable tax measures, including the removal of duty on capital equipment and other raw materials.
The country has an extensive network of paved and unpaved roads. Kenya's railway system links the nation's ports and major cities and connects Kenya with neighbouring Uganda. There are 15 airports with paved runways.
The largest share of Kenya's electricity supply comes from geothermal energy followed by hydroelectric stations at dams along the upper Tana River, as well as the Turkwel Gorge Dam in the west. A petroleum-fired plant on the coast, geothermal facilities at Olkaria (near Nairobi), and electricity imported from Uganda make up the rest of the supply. Kenya's installed capacity stood at 1,142 megawatts between 2001 and 2003. The state-owned Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), established in 1997 under the name of Kenya Power Company, handles the generation of electricity, while Kenya Power handles the electricity transmission and distribution system in the country. Shortfalls of electricity occur periodically, when drought reduces water flow. To become energy sufficient, Kenya aims to build a nuclear power plant by 2017.
Kenya has proven deposits of oil in Turkana and the commercial viability was just discovered. Tullow Oil estimates Kenya's oil reserves to be around 10 billion barrels. Exploration is still continuing to determine if there are more reserves. Kenya currently imports all crude petroleum requirements. Kenya, east Africa's largest economy, has no strategic reserves and relies solely on oil marketers' 21-day oil reserves required under industry regulations. Petroleum accounts for 20% to 25% of the national import bill.
Published comments on Kenya's Capital FM website by Liu Guangyuan, China's ambassador to Kenya, at the time of President Kenyatta's 2013 trip to Beijing, said, "Chinese investment in Kenya ... reached $474 million, representing Kenya's largest source of foreign direct investment, and ... bilateral trade ... reached $2.84 billion" in 2012. Kenyatta was "[a]ccompanied by 60 Kenyan business people [and hoped to] ... gain support from China for a planned $2.5 billion railway from the southern Kenyan port of Mombasa to neighboring Uganda, as well as a nearly $1.8 billion dam", according to a statement from the president's office also at the time of the trip.
Base Titanium, a subsidiary of Base resources of Australia, shipped its first major consignment of minerals to China. About 25,000 tonnes of ilmenite was flagged off the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi. The first shipment was expected to earn Kenya about Kshs15–20 billion in earnings. Recently the Chinese contracted railway project from Nairobi to Mombasa was suspended due to dispute over compensation for land acquisition.
In 2007, the Kenyan government unveiled Vision 2030, an economic development programme it hopes will put the country in the same league as the Asian Economic Tigers by the year 2030. In 2013, it launched a National Climate Change Action Plan, having acknowledged that omitting climate as a key development issue in Vision 2030 was an oversight. The 200-page Action Plan, developed with support from the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, sets out the Government of Kenya's vision for a 'low carbon climate resilient development pathway'. At the launch in March 2013, the Secretary of the Ministry of Planning, National Development and Vision 2030 emphasised that climate would be a central issue in the renewed Medium Term Plan that would be launched in the coming months. This would create a direct and robust delivery framework for the Action Plan and ensure climate change is treated as an economy-wide issue.
Kenya has proven oil deposits in Turkana County. President Mwai Kibaki announced on 26 March 2012 that Tullow Oil, an Anglo-Irish oil exploration firm, had struck oil but its commercial viability and subsequent production would take about three years to confirm.
Early in 2006 Chinese President Hu Jintao signed an oil exploration contract with Kenya, part of a series of deals designed to keep Africa's natural resources flowing to China's rapidly expanding economy.
The deal allowed for China's state-controlled offshore oil and gas company, CNOOC, to prospect for oil in Kenya, which is just beginning to drill its first exploratory wells on the borders of Sudan and Somalia and in coastal waters. There are formal estimates of the possible reserves of oil discovered.
Child labour is common in Kenya. Most working children are active in agriculture. In 2006, UNICEF estimated that up to 30% of girls in the coastal areas of Malindi, Mombasa, Kilifi, and Diani were subject to prostitution. Most of the prostitutes in Kenya are aged 9–18. The Ministry of Gender and Child Affairs employed 400 child protection officers in 2009. The causes of child labour include poverty, the lack of access to education and weak government institutions. Kenya has ratified Convention No. 81 on labour inspection in industries and Convention No. 129 on labour inspection in agriculture.
24 institutions offer business loans on a large scale, specific agriculture loans, education loans and for any other purpose loans. Additionally there are:
Out of approximately 40 million Kenyans, about 14 million Kenyans are not able to receive financial service through formal loan application service and an additional 12 million Kenyans have no access to financial service institutions at all. Further, 1 million Kenyans are reliant on informal groups for receiving financial aid.
Conditions for microfinance products
Kenya had a population of approximately 48 million people in January 2017. Kenya has a young population, with 73% of residents aged below 30 years because of rapid population growth; from 2.9 million to 40 million inhabitants over the last century.
Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is home to Kibera, one of the world's largest slums. The shanty town is believed to house between 170,000 and 1 million locals. The UNHCR base in Dadaab in the north also currently houses around 500,000 people.
Kenya has a diverse population that includes most major ethnoracial and linguistic groups found in Africa. There are an estimated 47 different communities, with Bantus (67%) and Nilotes (30%) constituting the majority of local residents. Cushitic groups also form a small ethnic minority, as do Arabs, Indians and Europeans.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), Kenya has a total population of 38,610,097 inhabitants. The largest native ethnic groups are the Kikuyu (6,622,576), Luhya (5,338,666), Kalenjin (4,967,328), Luo (4,044,440), Kamba (3,893,157), Kisi (2,205,669), Mijikenda (1,960,574), Meru (1,658,108), Turkana (988,592), and Maasai (841,622). Foreign-rooted populations include Kenyan Arabs, Somalis, Asians and Europeans.
Kenya's various ethnic groups typically speak their mother tongues within their own communities. The two official languages, English and Swahili, are used in varying degrees of fluency for communication with other populations. English is widely spoken in commerce, schooling and government. Peri-urban and rural dwellers are less multilingual, with many in rural areas speaking only their native languages.
British English is primarily used in Kenya. Additionally, a distinct local dialect, Kenyan English, is used by some communities and individuals in the country, and contains features unique to it that were derived from local Bantu languages, such as Kiswahili and Kikuyu. It has been developing since colonisation and also contains certain elements of American English. Sheng is a Kiswahili-based cant spoken in some urban areas. Primarily consisting of a mixture of Kiswahili and English, it is an example of linguistic code-switching.
There are a total of 69 languages spoken in Kenya. Most belong to two broad language families: Niger-Congo (Bantu branch) and Nilo-Saharan (Nilotic branch), spoken by the country's Bantu and Nilotic populations, respectively. The Cushitic and Arab ethnic minorities speak languages belonging to the separate Afroasiatic family, with the Indian and European residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family.