U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Republic of Kenya, March 1998
Released by the Office of East African Affairs, Bureau of African
Official Name: Republic of Kenya
Area: 582,646 sq. km. (224,960 sq mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Nairobi (pop. 1.4 million). Other cities--Mombasa
(480,000), Kisumu (200,000), Nakuru (165,000).
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 (1996 est.): 28 million.
Annual growth rate (1996 est.): 2.7%.
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%,
Languages: English, Swahili, more than 40 local ethnic languages.
Education: Years compulsory--none, but first 8 yrs. of primary school
are provided through cost-sharing between government and parents.
Attendance--83% for primary grades. Literacy (in English)--59%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--58/1,000. Life expectancy--58 yrs.
Work force (1.6 million wage earners): Public sector--43%. Private
sector--57%. Informal sector workers-2.6 million. Formal sector
breakdown: Services--47%. Industry and commerce--34%. Agriculture--19%.
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
Administrative subdivisions: 63 districts, joined to form 7 rural
provinces. Nairobi area has special status.
Political parties: 26 registered political parties. Ruling party, Kenya
African National Union.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1996) : $8.6 billion.
Annual growth rate (1996): 4.6%.
Per capita income: $270.
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 product, grain and sugar milling, cement,
beer, soft drinks, textiles, paper and light manufacturing.
Trade (1996): Exports--$2.0 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--$3.0 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.
Market exchange rate (Jan. 1998): 61.2 Kenya shillings (Ksh)=U.S.$1.
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 urban sector employs 0.9 million
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
The five state universities enroll about 38,000 students, representing
some 25% of the Kenyan students who qualify for admission.
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 A.D. 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 A.D., 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
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
predominant Kikuyu tribe 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
tribes 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 and its leader detained
after political unrest related to Kenyatta's visit to Nyanza Province.
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
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.
President Moi was reelected for another five-year term. Opposition
parties won about 45% of the parliamentary seats, but President Moi's
KANU Party obtained the majority of seats. Parliamentary reforms in
November 1997 enlarged the democratic space in Kenya, including the
expansion of political parties from 11 to 26. President Moi won re-
election as President in the December 1997 elections, and his KANU Party
narrowly retained its parliamentary majority, with 109 out of 122 seats.
The unicameral assembly consists of 210 members elected to a term of up
to five years, plus 12 members appointed by the president. 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 at least 30 High Court judges and judges of Kenya's Court of Appeal
(no associate judges), all appointed by the president.
Local administration is divided among 63 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
administration of districts and provinces.
Principal Government Officials
President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--Daniel Toroitich
Minister Foreign Affairs--Dr. Bonaya Godana
Ambassador to the United States--S.K. Chemai
Ambassador to the United Nations--Moses Njuguna Mahugu
Kenya maintains an embassy in the United States at 2249 R Street NW,
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 bipartisan 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 significantly improved
public freedoms and assembly and made for generally credible national
elections in December 1997. Kenya is now focusing on a comprehensive
review of the national constitution.
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. However,
estimates show GDP growth dropped to around 2% in 1997 due in part to
adverse weather conditions and reduced economic activity prior to
general elections in December 1997.
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
its Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) with Kenya that
totaled $218 million. The World Bank also put a $90-million structural
adjustment credit (SAC) on hold. To date, Kenya has not fully met
conditions to negotiate a new ESAF or SAC.
In 1998, Kenya faces a growing budget deficit, high interest rates,
rising inflation, and deteriorating infrastructure. Although many
economic reforms put in place in 1993-94 remain, further reforms,
particularly in governance, are necessary if Kenya is to increase GDP
growth and combat poverty among the majority of its population.
Corruption and inefficient use of government funds remain problems.
Nairobi continues to be the primary hub of East Africa. It enjoys the
region's best transportation linkages, communications infrastructure,
and trained personnel. 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
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. The lack of a cohesive government in Somalia prevents
normal contact with that country. Kenya serves as the major host for
refugees from turmoil in Somalia.
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 often blamed on Western
The United States and Kenya have enjoyed cordial relations since Kenya's
independence. More than 6,000 U.S. citizens live in Kenya, and as many
as 35,000 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--reduced population growth, increased agricultural
productivity, increased role of private enterprise in the economy, and
civic education to expand the knowledge of democratic institutions. It
focuses on small farmers and the rural landless, a group that comprises
more than four-fifths of Kenya's poorest citizens and accounts for about
one-quarter of the population. The U.S. Peace Corps has more than 165
volunteers in Kenya.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission-Michael W. Marine
USAID Mission Director--George Jones
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--William Barr
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is located at Haile Selassie and Moi Avenues,
Nairobi, P.O. Box 30137 (Tel. 334141; Fax 340838).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published annually by the U.S.
Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of
State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign
policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954,
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202)
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is
available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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