For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Republic of Kenya
Area: 582,646 sq. km. (224,960 sq mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Nairobi (pop. 2.1 million). Other cities--Mombasa (665,000), Kisumu (504,000), Nakuru (1.2 million).
Terrain: Kenya rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean in a series of mountain ridges and plateaus which stand above 3,000 meters (9,000 ft.) in the center of the country. The Rift Valley bisects the country above Nairobi, opening up to a broad arid plain in the north. Mountain plains cover the south before descending to the shores of Lake Victoria in the west.
Climate: Varies from the tropical south, west, and central regions to arid and semi-arid in the north and the northeast.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Kenyan(s).
Population (2002 est.): 30 million.
Annual growth rate (2003 est.): 1.7%.
Ethnic groups: African--Kikuyu 21%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 11%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 5%. Non-African--Asian, European, Arab 1%.
Religions: Indigenous beliefs 10%, Protestant 40%, Roman Catholic 30%, Muslim 20%.
Languages: English, Swahili, more than 40 local ethnic languages.
Education: Years compulsory--None, but first 8 years of primary school are provided through cost-sharing between government and parents. Attendance--84% for primary grades. Literacy (in English)-65.5%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--115/1,000. Life expectancy--49 yrs.
Work force (1.7million wage earners): Public sector 30%; private sector 70%. Informal sector workers--3.7 million. Services--45%; industry and commerce--35%; agriculture--20%.
Independence: December 12, 1963.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state, head of government, commander in chief of armed forces). Legislative--unicameral National Assembly (parliament). Judicial--Court of Appeal, High Court, various lower and special courts, including Kadhis' (Islamic) courts
Administrative subdivisions: 69 districts, joined to form 7 rural provinces. Nairobi area has special status.
Political parties: Registered political parties, 41. Ruling party, National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), coalition of 14 separately registered parties.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2003): $12.7 billion.
Annual growth rate (2003): 1.4%.
Per capita income: $271.
Natural resources: Wildlife, land.
Agriculture: Products--tea, coffee, sugarcane, horticultural products, corn, wheat, rice, sisal, pineapples, pyrethrum, dairy products, meat and meat products, hides, skins. Arable land--5%.
Industry: Types--petroleum products, grain and sugar milling, cement, beer, soft drinks, textiles, vehicle assembly, paper and light manufacturing.
Trade (2002): Exports--$2.2 billion: tea, coffee, horticultural products, petroleum products, cement, pyrethrum, soda ash, sisal, hides and skins, fluorspar. Major markets--Uganda, Tanzania, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Egypt, South Africa, United States. Imports--$3.2 billion: machinery, vehicles, crude petroleum, iron and steel, resins and plastic materials, refined petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, paper and paper products, fertilizers, wheat. Major suppliers--U.K., Japan, South Africa, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Italy, India, France, United States, Saudi Arabia.
Kenya has a very diverse population that includes most major language groups of Africa. Traditional pastoralists, rural farmers, Muslims, and urban residents of Nairobi and other cities contribute to the cosmopolitan culture. The standard of living in major cities, once relatively high compared to much of Sub-Saharan Africa, has been declining in recent years. Most city workers retain links with their rural, extended families and leave the city periodically to help work on the family farm. About 75% of the work force is engaged in agriculture, mainly as subsistence farmers. The national motto of Kenya is harambee, meaning "pull together." In that spirit, volunteers in hundreds of communities build schools, clinics, and other facilities each year and collect funds to send students abroad.
The six state universities enroll about 45,000 students, representing some 25% of the Kenyan students who qualify for admission. There are six private universities.
Fossils found in East Africa suggest that protohumans roamed the area more than 20 million years ago. Recent finds near Kenya's Lake Turkana indicate that hominids lived in the area 2.6 million years ago.
Cushitic-speaking people from northern Africa moved into the area that is now Kenya beginning around 2000 BC. Arab traders began frequenting the Kenya coast around the first century AD. Kenya's proximity to the Arabian Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian settlements sprouted along the coast by the eighth century. During the first millennium AD, Nilotic and Bantu peoples moved into the region, and the latter now comprises 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 increased rapidly.
The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Kenya became independent on December 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.
A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People's Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice President and Luo elder. The KPU was banned shortly thereafter, however, and its leader detained. No new opposition parties were formed after 1969, and KANU became the sole political party. At Kenyatta's death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi became interim President. On October 14, Moi became President formally after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee.
In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state, and parliamentary elections were held in September 1983. The 1988 elections reinforced the one-party system. However, in December 1991, Parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution. By early 1992, several new parties had formed, and multiparty elections were held in December 1992. Because of divisions in the opposition, however, Moi was reelected for another 5-year term, and his KANU party retained a majority of the legislature. Parliamentary reforms in November 1997 expanded political rights, and the number of political parties grew rapidly. Again because of a divided opposition, Moi won re-election as President in the December 1997 elections. KANU won 113 out of 222 parliamentary seats, but, because of defections, had to depend on the support of minor parties to forge a working majority.
In October 2002, a coalition of opposition parties joined forces with a faction which 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 received 62% of the vote, and NARC also won 59% of the parliamentary seats (130 out of 222).
The unicameral National Assembly consists of 210 members elected to a term of up to 5 years from single-member constituencies, plus 12 members nominated by political parties on a proportional representation basis. The president appoints the vice president and cabinet members from among those elected to the assembly. The attorney general and the speaker are ex-officio members of the National Assembly.
The judiciary is headed by a High Court, consisting of a chief justice and High Court judges and judges of Kenya's Court of Appeal (no associate judges), all appointed by the president.
Local administration is divided among 69 rural districts, each headed by a presidentially appointed commissioner. The districts are joined to form seven rural provinces. The Nairobi area has special status and is not included in any district or province. The government supervises the administration of districts and provinces.
Principal Government Officials
Vice President--Moody Awori
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Chirau Ali Mwakwere
Ambassador to the United States--Leonard Ngaithe
Ambassador to the United Nations--Judith Behamuka
Kenya maintains an embassy in the United States at 2249 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-6101).
Since independence, Kenya has maintained remarkable stability despite changes in its political system and crises in neighboring countries. Particularly since the re-emergence of multiparty democracy, Kenyans have enjoyed an increased degree of freedom.
A cross-party parliamentary reform initiative in the fall of 1997 revised some oppressive laws inherited from the colonial era that had been used to limit freedom of speech and assembly. This improved public freedoms and contributed to generally credible national elections in December 1997.
In December 2002, Kenyans held democratic and open elections, 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 single party that had ruled the country since independence to a new coalition of 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. These promises have only been partially met, however, as the new government has been preoccupied with internal wrangling and power disputes. Of note, progress on the writing of a new constitution has come to a virtual standstill.
After independence, Kenya promoted rapid economic growth through public investment, encouragement of smallholder agricultural production, and incentives for private (often foreign) industrial investment. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual average of 6.6% from 1963 to 1973. Agricultural production grew by 4.7% annually during the same period, stimulated by redistributing estates, diffusing new crop strains, and opening new areas to cultivation.
Between 1974 and 1990, however, Kenya's economic performance declined. Inappropriate agricultural policies, inadequate credit, and poor international terms of trade contributed to the decline in agriculture. Kenya's inward-looking policy of import substitution and rising oil prices made Kenya's manufacturing sector uncompetitive. The government began a massive intrusion in the private sector. Lack of export incentives, tight import controls, and foreign exchange controls made the domestic environment for investment even less attractive.
From 1991 to 1993, Kenya had its worst economic performance since independence. Growth in GDP stagnated, and agricultural production shrank at an annual rate of 3.9%. Inflation reached a record 100% in August 1993, and the government's budget deficit was over 10% of GDP. As a result of these combined problems, bilateral and multilateral donors suspended program aid to Kenya in 1991.
In 1993, the Government of Kenya began a major program of economic reform and liberalization. A new minister of finance and a new governor of the central bank undertook a series of economic measures with the assistance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As part of this program, the government eliminated price controls and import licensing, removed foreign exchange controls, privatized a range of publicly owned companies, reduced the number of civil servants, and introduced conservative fiscal and monetary policies. From 1994-96, Kenya's real GDP growth rate averaged just over 4% a year.
In 1997, however, the economy entered a period of slowing or stagnant growth, due in part to adverse weather conditions and reduced economic activity prior to general elections in December 1997. In 2000, GDP growth was negative, but improved slightly in 2001 as rainfall returned closer to normal levels. Economic growth continued to improve slightly in 2002, reached 1.4% in 2003, and is forecast at 2.6% for 2004.
In July 1997, the Government of Kenya refused to meet commitments made earlier to the IMF on governance reforms. As a result, the IMF suspended lending for 3 years, and the World Bank also put a $90-million structural adjustment credit on hold. Although many economic reforms put in place in 1993-94 remained, Kenya needs further reforms, particularly in governance, in order to increase GDP growth and combat the poverty that afflicts more than 57% of its population.
The Government of Kenya took some positive steps on reform, including the 1999 establishment of the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Authority, and measures to improve the transparency of government procurements and reduce the government payroll. In July 2000, the IMF signed a $150 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), and the World Bank followed suit shortly after with a $157 million Economic and Public Sector Reform credit. The Anti-Corruption Authority was declared unconstitutional in December 2000, and other parts of the reform effort faltered in 2001. The IMF and World Bank again suspended their programs. Various efforts to restart the program through mid-2002 were unsuccessful.
Under the leadership of President Kibaki, who took over on December 30, 2002, the Government of Kenya began an ambitious economic reform program and has resumed its cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF. The new National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government enacted the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act and Public Officers Ethics Act in May 2003 aimed at fighting graft in public offices. Other reforms especially in the judiciary, public procurement etc., have led to the unlocking of donor aid and a renewed hope at economic revival. In November 2003, following the adoption of key anti-corruption laws and other reforms by the new government, donors reengaged as the IMF approved a three-year $250 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility and donors committed $4.2 billion in support over 4 years. The renewal of donor involvement has provided a much-needed boost to investor confidence.
However, the government's ability to stimulate economic demand through fiscal and monetary policy remains fairly limited while the pace at which the government is pursuing reforms in other key areas remains slow. The Privatization Bill is yet to be enacted and civil service reform has been limited despite the government's assertion that reforms would be undertaken. The main challenges include building consensus within the loosely bound NARC government, taking candid action on corruption, enacting anti-terrorism and money laundering laws, bridging budget deficits, rehabilitating and building infrastructure, maintaining sound macroeconomic policies, and addressing structural reforms needed to reverse slow economic growth.
Nairobi continues to be the primary communication and financial hub of East Africa. It enjoys the region's best transportation linkages, communications infrastructure, and trained personnel, although these advantages are less prominent than in past years. A wide range of foreign firms maintain regional branch or representative offices in the city. In March 1996, the Presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda re-established the East African Cooperation (EAC). The EAC's objectives include harmonizing 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.
Despite internal tensions in Sudan and Ethiopia, Kenya has maintained good relations with its northern neighbors. Recent relations with Uganda and Tanzania have improved as the three countries work for mutual economic benefit.
Kenya has hosted and played an active role in the negotiations to resolve the civil war in Sudan and to reinstate a central government authority in Somalia. The Sudan peace negotiations have made major progress, resulting in the signing in Kenya of agreements between the Khartoum government and the southern Sudan rebels to put an end to the two-decade-long war. On January 9, 2005 a Sudan North-South Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in Nairobi. Negotiations in the Somali National Reconciliation Conference resulted at the end of 2004 in the establishing of Somali Transitional Federal Institutions (Assembly, President, Prime Minister, and Government); Kenya was still serving in early 2005 as a major host both for these institutions and for refugees from Somalia as well as Sudan.
Kenya maintains a moderate profile in Third World politics. Kenya's relations with Western countries are generally friendly, although current political and economic instabilities are sometimes blamed on Western pressures.
The United States and Kenya have enjoyed cordial relations since Kenya's independence. More than 5,000 U.S. citizens live in Kenya, and as many as 25,000 Americans visit Kenya annually. About two-thirds of the resident Americans are missionaries and their families. U.S. business investment is estimated to be more than $285 million, primarily in commerce, light manufacturing, and the tourism industry.
U.S. assistance to Kenya promotes broad-based economic development as the basis for continued progress in political, social, and related areas of national life. U.S. aid strategy is designed to achieve four major objectives--health care, including family planning and AIDS prevention; increasing rural incomes by assisting small enterprises and boosting agricultural productivity; sustainable use of natural resources; and strengthening democratic institutions. The Peace Corps has 150 volunteers in Kenya.
Since 2001, the United States and Kenya have forged close ties and have strengthened cooperation on the war on terrorism.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--William M. Bellamy
Deputy Chief of Mission--Leslie Rowe
USAID Mission Director--Kiert Toh
Public Affairs Officer--Peter Claussen
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is located on UN Avenue, Nairobi, P.O. Box 606, Village Market, Nairobi (tel. 254-20-363-6000; fax 254-20-363-6157).