kenya flag red black green maasai shield

Kenya Country Profile

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

While much of Africa deserves all the plaudits it gets for stunning natural beauty and wildlife, Kenya still manages to stand apart from the herd.

Want to learn more about Kenya?

History and Culture | Currency

  • Kenya Capital (and Largest City): Nairobi
  • Population (2016): 47,251,000 (29th)
  • Total Area: 581,309 km² (49th)
  • Official Languages: English, Swahili
  • Currency: Kenyan shilling (KSh) (KES)

lion africa kenya savannah wildlife animal cat

History of Kenya

Early Kenya

While nearby Ethiopia can claim to be the cradle of humanity Kenya isn’t far off, with traces of human habitation dating back millions of years. In the beginning, hunter-gatherer tribes roamed before they settled down and turned to agriculture as the climate became wetter. This era also saw Bantu-speaking people migrate into the region.

Swahili Culture…2 Millennia of History

Around the first century CE, city-states including Mombasa, Malindi, and Zanzibar (now in nearby Tanzania) began to flourish and trade with Arab nations. This brought about the spread of a more uniform Swahili culture – something that grew and adapted as the port cities became more connected to the outside world. The Islamic faith was brought to the region while the traders spread to the Middle East, India, and beyond. Mombasa in particular grew to a major port, even attracting the attention of Europeans by the 15th century.

Fast-forwarding to the 17th century, and we see the Kenyan coast under the sway of Oman. This also coincided with an increase in the slave trade. The abolition of slavery by the British in the early 1800’s cut down on this however. Over the course of nearly two millennia of Swahili and Arab rule on the coast, the city-states of Kenya became renowned as centres of seafaring, trading, exploration, and more.

British Kenya

After a brief foray into the region by the Germans, the East India Company and, soon, the British moved in to colonize Kenya – beginning in the year 1890. While some ethnic groups and tribes resisted, Britain was able to consolidate control though, despite being part of the British Empire, Kenya voided the worst of WWI. During the Second World War however, the country was the site of a battle with the Italians and contributed troops and resources to the UK. Tensions arose as Europeans moved to the central highlands and set up large tea and coffee plantations on inhabited native land.

Throughout most of the 50’s, the Mau Mau rebellion against the British gripped Kenya. The fight against the insurgency was long and bloody, though the Brits triumphed after an offensive in 1956. Still, this was in the age of decolonization and it wouldn’t be long before British rule was ended for good.

Independence and Modern Kenya

Independence was officially recognized in 1963, with the country becoming a republic just a year later. Under first president Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya solidified its independence in the coming years. After his death in 1978, Daniel arap Moi rose to power after running unopposed. While Kenya continued down the path of independence, his rule saw an unsuccessful coup, two massacres by troops, and restrictions on more than one political party.

In 2002, opposition head Mwai Kibaki was elected in largely free and fair elections. Though the country recently suffered a devastating drought, Kenya seems to have solidified its democracy and now looks towards to future as a major player in the region.

dhow boat kenya traditional river nature

Kenyan Culture

While there is no single uniform Kenyan culture thanks to the variety of tribes that inhabit the country, there are some prominent groups. The Swahili in particular are strong in numbers along the coast while other peoples (such as the Bantu, Nilotic, and Maasai) are also found throughout the country. Kenyan music, particularly the drums, is one of the most well known forms of cultural expression in the country. Kenyan cuisine features local produce and meats, with regional varieties.

Flag of Kenya

The Kenyan flag consist of three horizontal stripes (black, red, green) separated by thin white stripes. In the centre is a Maasai shield in front of two white spears. Black represents the people, red denotes bloodshed, and green is the natural landscape, while the shield and spear represent defending these values.

Sports in Kenya

Amongst the most popular sports in Kenya are long distance running, cricket, soccer, rallying, rugby union, and boxing. The country is mostly known for its runners, many of whom have won gold at the Olympics and other events.

running marathon kenya kenyans hague netherlands

Geography of Kenya

The climate and geography of Kenya varies, however the Highlands and Great Rift Valley that cuts through it are a couple of the dominating features. There are areas of arid desert close to Somalia and in the northwest.

Cities in Kenya

The largest city in Kenya (by a long shot) is also the capital, Nairobi. Located inland in the south-central part of the country, the city has grown into a regional hub for commerce and culture. Mombasa, on the coast, is the second largest city and remains a major international port as it always has throughout the centuries.

nairobi city kenya africa urban cityscape towers buildings

Facts about Kenya

  • The Maasai people represent one of the most famous cultures in the country, though they consist of a small proportion of the population
  • Hydroelectric power is prevalent in the country
  • The motto is ‘Harambee’, which means “Let us all pull together”
  • Kenya is about the size of Texas
  • Hot or room temperature drinks are common in lieu of cold ones
  • A dowry is often paid to the bride’s family
  • ‘Chai’ translates as ‘tea’ in Swahili

kenya safari elephants truck jeep

Last Word

With thriving cities and stunning natural wonders, you can bet that our journey through Kenya will be one to remember.

Your journey is just beginning! Look back at all the places we’ve been with Continental’s Countries. Keep exploring Kenya with our Travel Guide and Currency Spotlight.

Stay informed. Stay Current.