Background Kenya lies across the equator in east-central Africa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Kenya borders Somalia to the east, Ethiopia to the north, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, and Sudan to the northwest. In the north, the land is arid. The southwest corner is in the fertile Lake Victoria Basin, and a length of the eastern depression of the Great Rift Valley separates western highlands from those that rise from the lowland coastal strip. Paleontologists believe people may first have inhabited Kenya about two million years ago. In the 700s, Arab seafarers established settlements along the coast, and the Portuguese took control of the area in the early 1500s. More than 40 ethnic groups reside in Kenya. Its largest group, the Kikuyu, migrated to the region at the beginning of the 18th century. The land became a British protectorate in 1890 and a Crown colony in 1920, called British East Africa.
Nationalist stirrings began in the 1940s, and in 1952 the Mau Mau movement, made up of Kikuyu militants, rebelled against the government. The fighting lasted until 1956. Founding president and liberation struggle icon Jomo Kenyatta Kenya from independence in 1963 until his death in 1978, when President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi took power in a constitutional succession. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982 when the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) made itself the sole legal party in Kenya. Moi acceded to internal and external pressure for political liberalisation in late 1991. The ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud, but were viewed as having generally reflected the will of the Kenyan people. President Moi stepped down in December 2002 following fair and peaceful elections.
Mwai Kibaki running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), defeated KANU candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform. Kibaki’s NARC coalition splintered in 2005 over a constitutional review process. Government defectors joined with KANU to form a new 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 from ODM candidate Raila Odinga and unleashed two months of violence in which as many as 1,500 people died. UN-sponsored talks in late February 2008 produced a power-sharing accord bringing Odinga into the government in the restored position of Prime Minister. In August 2010 Kenya adopted a new constitution that eliminates the role of Prime Minister after the next presidential election.
Kenya has a population of 43,013,341 (July 2012 est.). Estimates for Kenya explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected. Kenya has a very diverse population that includes most major ethnic and linguistic groups of Africa. Traditional pastoralists, rural farmers, Muslims, Christians, 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.
Although the regional hub for trade and finance in East Africa, Kenya has been hampered by corruption and by reliance upon several primary goods whose prices have remained low. Low infrastructure investment threatens Kenya’s long-term position as the largest East African economy. Kenya has enjoyed a long history of economic leadership in East Africa as the largest and most advanced economy in the region. However, ethnically-charged post-election violence in January/February 2008, which left 1,200 dead and 300,000 displaced, caused many to reassess Kenya’s investment climate. Since then, the economy has rebounded but serious concerns about corruption and governance remain.
Government and Politics
The Kenyan legal system is based on English common law and the 1963 constitution. A new constitution was approved in a referendum in August 2010; its implementation is currently underway.