Origin of name

Kenya is named after Mount Kenya. The Kikuyu people who lived around present day Mt Kenya referred to it as Kirinyaga or Kerenyaga, meaning ‘mountain of whiteness’ because of its snow capped peak. Mt Kirinyaga which was the main landmark became synonymous with the territory the British later claimed as their colony. However, the name Kenya arose out of the inability of the British to pronounce Kirinyaga correctly.

Early Visitors

The first people to settle in Kenya were indeginous African communities who migrated from various parts of the continent. Other visitors included traders, explorers and tourists who came in from various parts of the world such as Portugal, Arabia, Roman empire, India and Greece. They visited mainly the East African Coast from as early as the first century A.D. While the majority of the visitors went back to their countries, some settled, and intermarried with the local populations giving rise to a new Swahili culture along the Coast.

The civilisation base of craft industries, farming, fishing and international trade gave rise to both Coastal city states such as Siu, Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Gede, Mombasa and Vanga . Islam and Kiswahili language were also introduced . The traders from overseas brought such items as clothes, beads, wines, iron weapons, porcelain and handicrafts. These were exchanged for ivory, timber, gold, copper, rhinoceros horns, animal skins and slaves.

The first major European presence in East Africa started with the arrival of the Portuguese in the East African waters in 1498 when Vasco Da Gama’s fleet made its initial forays on its way to the East Indies. On the first voyage his only negotiations were with the ruler of Malindi and, indeed, for the next hundred years this alliance was the foundation of the Portuguese network in the region. Their quest to control and dominate the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, the conquest of several city-states along the coast, and the establishment of their dominance, lasted 200 years. But their presence was hated and resisted and there were many insurrections against them. For example, on the 16th August 1631, the Arab Sultan of Mombasa called Dom Jeronimo Chingulia entered the Portuguese Citadel of Fort Jesus with a band of followers through the passage of the Arches. He killed the Portuguese Captain, Pedro Leitao de Gamboa, and then gave the signal to his followers outside the Fort to set fire to the Portuguese houses in the town. There was no marked resistance and in the course of the next two weeks all the Portuguese were killed. The Portuguese were finally kicked out of the Coastal towns through a combination of local nationalisms, aided by the Omani Arabs. To ensure the Portuguese did not return, Sultan Seyyid Said of Oman moved his capital to Zanzibar and ruled the entire East African Coastline until the establishment of British rule.

Colonial Rule

The scramble for colonies in Africa among European countries reached fever pitch in 1884, when the Berlin Conference was convened to partition Africa amongst European colonial rivals. Among British acquisitions was the land we today call Kenya. A British trading company, Imperial British East Africa Company, was set up and posted to administer Kenya under the name British East Africa Protectorate. When it was realised that the company could not contain Kenya’s hostile communities the British declared the country a colony and Protectorate on 1st July 1895 and posted the first Governor, Sir Arthur Hardinge, to establish a formal British administration.

The seventy years of colonial rule in Kenya were characterised by punitive economic, social and political policies. Most outstanding among these policies was racial discrimination. Huge fertile land was alienated for white settlement, and harsh labour laws were enacted to force the Africans to work at low wages on settler farms and public works. In addition, African political participation was confined to local government.

It was against this scenario that African protest movements began in earnest from the early 1920s. Several political associations, including the Young Kikuyu Association, East African Association, Young Kavirondo Association, North Kavirondo Central Association and Taita Hills Association, were formed to articulate African grievances against forced labour, low wages, heavy taxation, continuing land alienation, and racial discrimination.

Between 1944 and 1960 African political activity and pressure were intensified. In 1944, the first countrywide nationalist party, Kenya African Union (KAU) was formed. And in the same year the first African, Eliud Mathu, was nominated to the settler dominated Legislative Council. Unhappiness with the slow political and economic change led to the breakdown of law and order in the early 1950s, and in 1952 Governor, Sir Everlyn Baring declared a state of emergency following the outbreak of the Mau Mau rebellion, whose major grievances included land alienation, racial discrimination and lack of political progress.

The state of emergency, however, intensified political resolve for independence, forcing the colonial government to come up with constitutional proposals. Under the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 Africans were allowed to directly elect their representatives to the Legislative Council. The elections were held in 1957, and eight African leaders – Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya, Daniel arap Moi, Mate, Muimi, Oginga Odinga, Oguda and Muliro, were elected. They stepped up agitation for widened representation and independence. After considerable discussion, it was decided to form a mass organization to mobilize the people for the final assault on colonialism, hence the birth of Kenya African National Union, (KANU). KANU was formed in March 1960, at Kiambu town, and on 11 June 1960, it was registered as a mass political society. But as the objective of freedom became evident, many of the smaller communities feared domination by the larger ethnic groups, and on June 25, 1960 they formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). The first election on a broad electoral register was held in 1961, and was won by KANU. In another election in May 1963, KANU captured 83 of the 124 seats in the House of Representatives and formed the Madaraka Administration on 1st June 1963, and the independence Government on 12th December 1963, under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Independent Kenya

The first Government of independent Kenya immediately had to deal with some pressing economic and political problems. The priorities were acceleration of growth, Kenyanisation of the economy and redistribution of incomes. None of this, however, could be achieved without political stability, and it was first felt necessary to neutralize those elements in the country who supported extreme policies and who were undermining, rather than building confidence in the new nation. Thus, Kenya embarked on the road to peace and stability, which has made it possible for the country to realize great strides in development.

The country has had three Presidents since independence. Upon Jomo Kenyatta’s death on 22nd August 1978, Daniel arap Moi took over the leadership. He retired on 30th December 2002 in line with a constitutional Provision which limits the Presidential term to a maximum 10 years of two 5 year sessions. This provision took effect in 1991 following the re-introduction of multipartism. Previously kenya was a single party state.Mwai Kibaki took over from Moi on 30th December 2002 to become Kenya’s third President. Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) won with a landslide in the December 27 2002 general elections, thus ending KANU’s forty year stranglehold.Kenya has played a leading role in the quest for peace and stability in the turbulent East African region, because of her stability and general neutrality. The country has held regular elections every five years since independence. The December 2002 election which was largely hailed as peaceful paved the way for a smooth transfer of power.


Kenya is bordered to the north by Sudan and Ethiopia, to the east by Somalia, to the west by Uganda, to the south by Tanzania, and to the southeast by the Indian Ocean. Much of the country, especially in the north and east, is arid or semi-arid. From the Indian Ocean the land rises gradually through dry bush to the fine arable land of the highlands.


Kenya covers an area of approximately 580,367 square kilometres and lies almost exactly astride the equator.


In the low-lying districts, particularly along the coast, the climate is tropical, hot and humid. On the Plateau and in the highlands the climate is more temperate. Western Kenya and most parts of Nyanza experience heavy conventional rain and have two rain seasons, the long rains from April to June and the short rains from October to November.Kenya’s warm climate is favourable for tourism during the drier season that is between September and March.


According to the national population and housing census report of 2009, there are an estimated 38,610,097 Kenyans dispersed around the country. In the semi arid north and northeast regions, population density hardly reaches 2 per sq km, whereas in the rich and fertile western, population density rises to 120 persons per sq km. In the well endowed Rift Valley, population density varies from one area to another with an average of 13 inhabitants per sq km.

Nearly 25% of the total is concentrated in the large cities of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu including large towns such as Nakuru. Women account for 50.48% of the total population.

Ethnic Composition

  • Cushites: This group includes the Somali, Orma, Rendille, and Borana.
  • Bantu: This includes the Gikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, Embu, Meru, Kisii, Mijikenda, Taveta, Taita Pokomo, Bajuni, Boni and Sanye
  • Nilotes: Includes the Luo, Kalenjin, Maasai, Teso and Samburu


Principal commercial cities and towns

Nairobi is the capital city and a commercial center. It is situated 300 miles from the Coast and lies midway between the capitals of Uganda and Tanzania. It is the largest city in east Africa and houses two UN agencies, UNEP and Habitat.

Mombasa is Kenya’s main port and popular holiday city. It is situated on an island in a natural sheltered inlet. It is the only port that serves not only Kenya but land locked countries like Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan.

Kisumu is the Chief Port city on the shores of lake Victoria. It serves western Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Nakuru is an agricultural and industrial town in the Rift Valley basin.Eldoret lies on the main road and rail route to Uganda. It is mainly an agricultural town that serves wheat and Maize farmers from the North Rift.