The Republic of Kenya is situated on the coast of East Africa and is bisected by the Equator. She has common borders with Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ugandaand Tanzania. The country is divided into eight provinces, namely Coast, Central, Rift Valley, Nyanza, Western, North Eastern, Eastern and Nairobi – which has province status – making up a total of 582,000 sq. km (224,230 sq. miles).
The capital and the commercial center is Nairobi. Other major centers are Mombasa – a centuries old trading port, Nakuru – an important agricultural center, and Kisumu – a port on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The Great Rift Valley, with steep sided walls, its floor littered with lakes and extinct volcanoes, cuts through the country from north to south and lies to the west of Mount Kenya 5,199 m (17,060 ft) the second highest mountain in Africa.
The geography and climate vary from hot and arid semi-desert in the north, and the rolling central highlands with warm days and cool comfortable nights, to the relative humidity of the silvery coastline lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Kenya is an enchanting country and few places in the world can better its varied holiday attractions. It has a flawless coastline, with its palm-fringed, casuarina-shaded silver-sanded beaches. Sunshine at the coast averages eight hours a day throughout the year.
Specialist safaris in Kenya cater for almost every type of enthusiast. Year by year the network of cross-country roadways improves. New airports of international standard permit the safari arrival and departure of visitors by an increasing number of the world’s airlines. There are landing grounds for light aircraft all over the country. Flying safaris are becoming increasingly popular allowing great distances to be covered in the minimum time. Kenya has been geared for the last Forty years to offering visitors the most sophisticated of facilities, even in the heart of bush-country. Above all, it is the home of the “Big Five” – the elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard, which can be seen in most of the magnificent game sanctuaries, these extend through the borders of the Ethiopia, Uganda and down to Tanzania.
The game parks and reserves of Kenya cover every sort of terrain – deserts, semi-deserts, forests, mountains, lakes, open plains and, at the coast, marine parks. All are devoted to the conservation of their indigenous flora and fauna. New areas of conservation are being set aside regularly, and in no way can one ever say, “to have seen one is to have seen them all”.
In Kenya today the largest proportion of the country’s population is of Bantu stock, followed by the Nilo-Hamitic, the Nilotic and Hamitic. Of these people the first are basically agriculturalists, whereas the other three groups are semi-nomadic pastoralists. Among the Bantu-speaking groups are the Kikuyu, the Kamba and the Abaluhya. The most well known of the Nilo-Hamites are the Maasai and their close relatives the Samburu. In addition to these four main groups and the small tribes of hunters and fishermen, there are the coast people who are the mixture of Bantu, Arab and other stock.
These are the Swahili people who have a distinct culture and whose language is the lingua franca of eastern Africa. Other groups who have made some impact on the culture and way of life in Kenya are the Indonesians, who are reputed to have introduced the coconut, the banana and the out-rigger canoe; the Semites who have lived along its coastline for 1500 years; and more recently the arrival of people from the Indian sub-continent, the British and other Europeans.
The contribution made to the world prehistory by East Africa’s archaeological discoveries and prehistoric sites, with their wealth of exhibits of both man and animals, has been profound. Recent discoveries of pre-human species found at Lake Turkana, near the Kenya’s northern border, have gone a long way towards establishing the origins of man.
Since the days before Christ the big sailing dhows with their lateen sails have been a familiar sight along the coast. Their journey is seasonal, coming down from the Gulf on the north-east trade winds and returning when the wind veers to the south-east. No longer slavers, today they trade in spices, perfumes, carpets, cloth and wooden carvings and can still be seen tied to the wharf in the old port of Mombasa. The Muslim influence on the coastal strip date back to the 7th Century A.D. when, because of religious dissent, thousands of Muslims emigrated to East Africa bringing with them their knowledge, customs and religion.
In 1498 the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, arrived with his fleet off Mombasa and continued up to the coast to Malindi before embarking on the last leg to Calicut. Fort Jesus at Mombasa is a formidable relic of the Portuguese occupation of the coast.
The first steamships began to arrive from Europe, via the Suez Canal, in 1870. The country was administered by the Imperial British East African Company – who surveyed the Kenya/Uganda railway and were instrumental in putting down the slave trade – until 1895 when the country was declared a British Protectorate. Kenya became a crown colony in 1920 and gained independence on December 12th 1963, becoming a fully independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. In 1964 it was declared a sovereign Republic and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta became the country’s first president and Head of State, and remained such until his death on August 22nd 1978. Mr. Daniel Arap Moi, the then Vice president, took over the responsibility for Kenya’s 18 million people and was duly and democratically elected to the Presidency.