- About Kenya
- Basic Information
Kenya is an amazing country with a topography of extreme contrasts and a people with a modern culture born out of the influence of being at the hub of centuries old trading and migratory routes.
Kenya straddles the Equator, and is located on the eastern coast of Africa. Roughly one and half times the size of Japan, it covers a surface area of about 586,600 square kilometres. It is bordered by Somalia to the east, Ethiopia and Sudan to the north, Uganda to the west and Tanzania to the south. Kenya has a single time zone, GMT +3.
Kenya’s highest mountain, Mount Kenya, is also the second highest mountain on the African continent with an altitude of 5,199m (17,058 feet) above sea level. Mount Kenya is believed to be the home of Ngai, the supreme god, of the Kikuyu and several other tribes. Despite its location astride the Equator Mount Kenya is perennially snow-capped.
Much of central Kenya, either side of the Rift Valley, is over 1,500 metres above sea level.
Other isolated hills and mountains include Mount Kulal, Mount Nyiru and Mount Marsabit in the north of the country, and the Taita and Chyulu Hills in the south. The latter is one of the region’s most recent volcanic formations.
Kenya is bisected by the Great Rift Valley which stretches 6,000 kilometres from Mozambique in south-eastern Africa to Jordan, north of the Red Sea. The Rift Valley in Kenya contains seven lakes, some freshwater and some soda-based.
Kenya is famous, above all else, for its incredible game viewing opportunities. Most game can be seen in Kenya’s savannah bushland. The most barren and remote areas are found mainly in the north and eastern parts of the country. Desert and semi-desert make up 20 per cent of the country’s total surface area.
Kenya has 16 major faunal reserves designated as National parks, National Reserves and Game Reserves administered through the Game Department of Kenya and by County Councils.
Kenya’s largest National Park is Tsavo, which is in fact made up of two Parks-Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Their combined area is that of Wales!
The Masai Mara is possibly the world’s most famous Game Reserve. It is an extension of the equally renowned Serengeti plains in neighbouring Tanzania. The annual wildebeest migration, which takes place between July and November every year, involves nearly three million animals moving up from the dry, low-lying Tanzanian plains to the greener, wetter pastures of the Mara, nearly 2,000m above sea level.
Other Parks and Reserves in Kenya include Amboseli, Samburu, Shaba, Buffalo Springs, and Meru.
Indigenous forest only covers two per cent of the country; well below the optimum 10 per cent figure. Much of this forest is in the high-altitude central highlands, and on isolated mountains whose altitude is suitable for indigenous forest.
The Kakamega forest in Western Kenya is an isolated rainforest, once part of the Guineo-Congolan rainforest which stretches across Africa from west to east. It is a unique forest habitat in Kenya, and renowned in botanical circles worldwide as an example of how an isolated environment can survive being cut off from the main body.
Isolated remnants of coastal forests and woodland still exist, including mangrove forests in most coastal creeks, but particularly on the Lamu archipelago.
Kenya has 480 kilometres of coastline on the Indian Ocean. Her coral reefs are spectacular, and are regarded by divers as one of the world’s top three diving destinations after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea. There are numerous off-shore islands, including Kiwayu, Pate,Manda, Lamu, Mombasa, Chale, Funzi and Wasini. Much of the coastline consists of sandy beaches.
Kenya is a warm, dry country with seasonal rainfall. Rain falls mainly in two seasons: the first between March and May – the long rains – as a result of the south-easterly monsoon winds; the second in October/December. The Coast tends to be humid and hot.
The central highlands receive the most rainfall and tend to be cool, due to the high altitude. The Lake Victoria basin is wetter, owing to the moist westerly winds originating in the Atlantic and Congo Basin.
To the north and north-east, it is extremely dry and hot, with daytime temperatures exceeding 34 degrees. The Suguta Valley in northern Kenya is reputed to be one of the hottest places on earth.
Mount Kenya is glaciated, with a snow-cap all year round. Frost occurs in most areas in Kenya which are above 2,500m.
Kenya’s modern culture was born out of a myriad of sources and influences, both modern and traditional. Despite the many and varied influences that have shaped Kenyan society, the culture in Kenya has become truly and purely Kenyan. If there is any one thing about Kenya that gives any indication of this unique character today, it is the melding of traditional societies and culture with modern norms and values.
In Kenya it is possible to leave Nairobi – a city with a thriving central business district powered by the latest information technology – and drive in just a couple of hours to a place where life is lived in accordance with tradition and custom, where warriors armed with spears drive their cattle into thorn bush enclosures to protect them from lions at night. The modern and the traditional live side by side, and sometimes the boundaries between the two blur and merge.
The ease with which Kenyans adopt and adapt to new cultural influences has a long history. Kenyan culture is built on the acceptance and absorption of new and varied cultures, be they migrant nomads or sea-borne traders.
The result is a culture of endless influence and yet one that is completely Kenyan in character.
Kenya’s music is varied. Nearly every tribe has its own musical culture. Drumming has been perfected by peoples like the Akamba from Eastern Kenya, and the coast Mijikenda. Traditional instruments – like the nyatiti lyre favoured by the Luo – are used too. The Luo have a distinctive musical style known as benga, which has become an integral part of popular Kenyan music, not just among the Luo.
The Maasai and the Samburu have perfected the art of unaccompanied singing. Their sagas of conquest and prowess are sung in a series of throaty grunts, with each man singing part of the tune.
There is a strong Congolese rumba influence in Kenyan popular music.
A talented crop of youth artists, inspired by modern hip-hop, R&B, rap and reggae, blend these styles using Kenyan melodies, lyrics and rhythms.
In 2002 Kenya was declared the winner for ‘Best Film Location’ in the ‘Originality and Creativity’ section of Annual Global Locations Expo in Los Angeles. Out of Africa, Born Free, To Walk With Lions, Mountains of the Moon, and the recent Oscar award-winning film Nowhere in Africa have all been shot on location in Kenya. In addition, Malooned has jointed the list.
Kenya’s cuisine reflects the diversity of its varied cultural influences. However, eating out is not a national pastime, and only the Coast has developed a distinctive regional culinary style, thanks to its long association with Indian Ocean trade.
Traditional food tends to be simple and starchy – practical eating! Ugali (maize meal cake) is the main staple, along with potatoes or rice. It is usually accompanied by chicken, beef, goat or vegetable stew, spinach, beans or fish. A nyama choma (mutton, goat or beef, roasted over glowing charcoal) feast is a typical Kenyan experience.
Coast cuisine is a delight. Seafood (sea-perch, parrot-fish, red snapper, king fish, giant crayfish, jumbo prawns, crabs, oysters and sailfish) is cooked with lime, coconut, peppers, and a myriad of exotic spices. Fresh fruit – in particular mangoes, pineapples, pawpaws and citrus – grow well in the coastal climate.
Kenyan cuisine has a strong Indian influence, dating back to the 19th Century when Indian labour was used to construct the Mombasa-Kisumu railway and most international tastes are catered for.
In Kenya’s major cities there are a plethora of international restaurants – Chinese, Italian, French, Japanese and Thai, to name just a few.
The official currency is the Kenya Shilling. Foreign currency is readily exchangeable in banks, bureaux de change or authorised hotels. Traveller’s cheques are widely acceptable, as are credit cards in most established hotels, travel agencies, safari companies and restaurants.
Most banks in Kenya are equipped with ATMs and credit card facilities. Banking hours in Nairobi and other major towns open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Business hours are generally 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. closing for an hour over lunch (1-2 p.m.) There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency which can be brought into Kenya.
Kenya enjoys a relatively free press. The most popular English language dailies are The Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star. The East African, produced on a weekly basis, is a review of the week’s main news in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. All three newspapers contain a reasonable coverage of international news and sport. There are several Swahili dailies, including Taifa Leo and Kenya Leo.
International newspapers and magazines are widely available in Kenya. The UK Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express as well as the American International Herald Tribune are the most popular international newspapers. Time Newsweek, National Geographic, The Economist, and The Spectator are also widely available.
There are a number of local special interest magazines produced in Kenya of ever-improving quality. Travel News & Lifestyle Kenya is one particularly popular magazine on sale locally for both residents and visitors to Kenya offering plenty of useful travel information and an insight into everyday life in Kenya.
The National Flag
Three major and equal width stripes of black, red and green colours running from top to bottom and separated by narrow white stripes, with a symmetrical shield and white spears superimposed centrally.
Ee Mungu nguvu yetu
Ilete baraka kwetu
Haki iwe ngao na mlinzi
Natukae na undugu
Amani na uhuru
Raha tupate na ustawi.
Amkeni ndugu zetu
Tufanye sote bidii
Nasi tujitoe kwa nguvu
Nchi yetu ya Kenya
Tuwe tayari kuilinda
Natujenge taifa letu
Ee, ndio wajibu wetu
Kenya istahili heshima
Kila siku tuwe na shukrani
O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.
Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.
Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.
Jambo Jambo Bwana
Kenya Nchi Nzuri
Nchi Ya Kupendeza
Nchi Ya Maajabu
Nchi Yenye Amani