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Africa Files: Kenya

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 10:20 AM | Jennifer Wisniewski (Administrator)

At a glance: 

Population:  47.6 million (2017)

Capital:  Nairobi

Official Languages:  English and Swahili

Religion:  Protestant (47.7%), Catholic (23.4%), Other Christian (11.9%), Muslim (11.2%)

Fertility Rate:  3 births per woman

Life Expectancy:  64.3 years

Literacy Rate:  78% (total) 81.1% (men)  74.9% (women)

Currency:  Kenya shilling

GDP:  5% growth (2017)

Form of Government:  Presidential republic

Natural Resources:  limestone, salt, gemstones, zinc, wildlife, hydropower

Exports:  Tea, coffee, horticulture, petroleum products

Geography

Kenya is a country located in East Africa along the coast of the Indian Ocean.  It shares a border with five countries: Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan.

Five times the size of the state of Ohio, Kenya’s terrain includes low plains to the east and highlands in the central and western section of the country.  It is a land bisected by both the equator and the Great Rift Valley, an area of fertility and also what scientists believe to be the birthplace of the human race.  The climate is tropical along the coast and arid in the interior. (1)


History

To highlight the important events in Kenya’s history means to go back 3.3 million years.  Archaeologists believe that the earliest evidence of human existence has been found in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. (3)

Skipping ahead to the 7th century A.D., Kenya became the site of incursions from foreign lands.  Arab merchants established trading posts along the Indian Ocean coastline including what is now known as Kenya.  The Portuguese arrived much later, in the early 16th century, but were driven out by the Arabs by 1720. (3)

Around 1750, the Maasai, nomadic cattle herders, moved in.  As different European powers tried to colonize Kenya, the Maasai drove them back.  Still, by 1895, the British were able to grab a foothold and declared Kenya a protectorate.(3)

The 20th century brought a guerilla war for independence from 1952-56.  Though the British did put down the uprisings, the fight led to a path for an independent Kenya.  Full independence was achieved in 1963. Today Jamhuri Day, December 12, is a public holiday which marks both Kenyan independence in 1963 and the formation of the Republic in 1964.  It was in 1964 that Jomo Kenyatta was elected Kenya’s first president. (3)

Demographics

The Kenyan population in 2017 was 47.6 million, more than 40 percent under the age of 15.  Population density pockets have formed in the west, along Lake Victoria, in the capital of Nairobi, and in the southeast, along the coast. (1)

Over the years, Kenya has become known as a host country for refugees.  Because it is a relatively stable country, hundreds of thousands escaping violence from surrounding countries have fled to its borders.  Most recently, Kenya has seen an influx of over 300,000 Somali refugees. (1)

Culture

Harambee, a Bantu word meaning “to pull together,” characterizes Kenyan culture.  A group-oriented culture, Kenyans practice their shared principle of mutual assistance, effort and responsibility.  The extended family is the basis of their social structure, and as such, child rearing is a communal undertaking. (4)

Nyama choma, charcoal grilled beef or goat meat, is said to be a national dish of Kenya.  Other staples of the Kenyan diet include rice, bread, chicken and tilapia. A favored drink is chai tea. (5)

Though Kenyans love their soccer, they are world renowned for another sport - running.  Kenyans, particularly runners from the Great Rift Valley, dominate middle and distance running, several runners having achieved international status.  Studies have shown that a variety of factors contribute to their success, including a cultural emphasis placed on perseverance. The teens in this area are generally very thin; they spend their time as children walking or running back and forth to school, averaging 7.5 kilometers per day.  Their endurance coupled with a low bmi is a factor in their running prowess. (6) Another study demonstrated that biology might play a part. Thin ankles and calves are common to tribes living near the equator and are advantageous to distance runners. (7)

Sources:

1.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ke.html

2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13681342

3 http://thecommonwealth.org/our-member-countries/kenya/history

4. https://www.commisceo-global.com/resources/country-guides/kenya-guide

5. http://www.kenya-information-guide.com/kenya-culture.html

6.https://www.runnersworld.com/races-places/a20828246/why-are-kenyan-distance-runners-so-fast/

7.https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/11/01/241895965/how-one-kenyan-tribe-produces-the-worlds-best-runners



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