About Kenya

In many ways Kenya has suffered from its long history as a safari package tour destination. But get away from the crowds, and Kenya offers an amazing beauty and variety of landscape, not to mention an unmatched variety and density of wildlife.

Also unique to Kenya is the opportunity that is given to visit a Maasai village to meet with the Maasai people and get some insight into their totally individual way of life.

• History of Kenya

As might be expected, the early history of Kenya was that of a country populated by a number of small tribal groups, amongst whom were the Kikuyu and Maasai. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that significant external exploration affected the interior of the country (and hence Kenya escaped the worst of the Arab slave trade), although its coastal regions did form an important part of a chain of Omani Arab trading posts (dealing in both slaves and ivory), under the control of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

The Sultan's powers waned in the late 19th century when both British and German personnel obtained trading concessions along the coast, and the country became a British protectorate in 1895. In order to take advantage of the rich resources of neighbouring Uganda, the British built a railway between Mombasa and Kampala using labourers from India, many of whom remained and have actually become today’s merchant class.

White farmers then arrived to set up plantations producing export crops, owning the land to the exclusion of both the native Africans and these newly arrived Asians, a situation that still largely remains intact.

However during World War 2, as a result of Africans being conscripted, political consciousness expanded, and a consequence of this was the formation of the Mau Mau guerrilla organisation, which took an oath to commit itself to expelling all white settlers in Kenya and to eliminate the Africans who cooperated with or benefited from colonial rule. It took until 1956 to overcome this rebellion, but it had the effect of raising African awareness, and establishing a stable middle class.

In 1960 the earlier Kenyan African Union reformed into the Kenyan African National Union (KANU) and Jomo Kenyatta turned from a feared leader of black nationalism into the accepted leader of KANU. This organisation then won the following year’s elections and voted in favour of a parliamentary system as opposed to a federal system which was proposed by the party of the minority tribes. In 1963 independence was granted with Jomo Kenyatta as the country's first president.

Following Kenyatta’s death in 1978, Daniel Arap Moi took over, although his increasingly autocratic style increased internal repression. However Moi was successful in settling a dispute with Somalia over its borders and also normalised relations with Tanzania.

Kenya’s history has remained turbulent, as the violence that followed the most recent set of elections has demonstrated, and the country remains in an uncertain state politically, with considerable remaining inter-tribal tension, although, thankfully, the tourist industry is not affected by this to too great an extent.

• Geography of Kenya

Kenya covers an area of 224,960 square miles and sits upon the equator, on the eastern coast of the African continent. Its coastal region is on the southeast, and to the east lays Somalia. Ethiopia is to the north, the Sudan to the northwest, and Uganda directly to the west. The south western border of the country is marked by Lake Victoria, and to the south lies Tanzania.

Kenya's geography is marvellously varied. While much of north eastern Kenya is a flat, bush-covered plain, the remainder of the country encompasses pristine beaches, scenic highlands and lake regions, the magnificent Mount Kenya, and the Great Rift Valley.

The Great Rift Valley, an expanding fault line, stretches from the Red Sea to Mozambique, and is visible from the moon. When the rift began about 30 million years ago, it created a basin that filled with rain, creating a series of lakes from Magadi in the south to Baringo in the north. Volcanic activity accompanied this shift, creating Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, Longonot, the Ngong and Chyulu Hills. The most fertile land, usurped from Africans, was called the White Highlands, and is still home to cattle ranches, coffee and tea plantations.

• Kenya's Culture

The population of Kenya is about 32 million. Almost all are of African descent with the largest minorities being Asians, Europeans and Arabs, although these three minority groups together represent less than 1% of the population. The majority of the numerous tribes found here are descendants of just two language groups, the Bantu of Western Africa, and the Nilotic from the Nile Valley.

English and Swahili are the languages taught throughout the country, but there are many other tribal languages. Most Kenyans outside the coastal and eastern provinces are Christians of one sort or another, while most of those on the coast and in the eastern part of the country are Muslim. Muslims make up some 30% of the population.

Kenyan food is based more on survival than on gourmet cuisine. Beer drinkers, on the other hand, are well supplied. Kenyans love their beer almost as much as their dancing and there's a thriving local brewing industry, and the Tusker beer is excellent. Kenya coffees are internationally renowned, and a major export. Local white wines from Naivasha are good.

Kenya, a country of diverse and rich cultural traditions, is anxious to ensure that its valuable cultural assets are not irretrievably lost and that social cohesion is not undermined in the process of change to newer ways. Thus a National Archive Service has been established, and it is saving an increasing number of documents. Music and dance play an integral role in social and religious life. Rhythm, all-important, is largely provided by the drum, supplemented by wind and stringed instruments. Swahili literature, both oral and written, is traditional in form and content. The visual arts, though, are largely confined to the mass production of wood sculpture for the tourist trade.

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