Kenya's Attractions

Kenya's Attractions

Although it is known worldwide for its safari industry, Kenya has much wider appeal than this would suggest. Other highlights include pre-historic excavations, well preserved ruins, cultural diversity, mountains, adventure sports and water sports. There are also a number of unique festivals that take place annually.

Kenya boasts one of the longest and most complete records of man’s cultural development in the world. Excavations in the Tugen Hills near Lake Baringo have exposed some of the earliest fossil beds. Other fascinating sites are found in Sibiloi National Park on the shores of Lake Turkana, at Hyrax Hill and Kariandusi near Nakuru, on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria and at Olorgesaillie near Lake Magadi.

Striking and atmospheric ruins date back to earlier civilisations that flourished during the emergence of the Indian Ocean trade routes. Gede, near Watamu, was at the peak of its prosperity from the 13th to the 17th centuries, then was mysteriously abandoned. Stories abound of ghosts and inexplicable happenings in the area. Takwa, on Manda Island near Lamu, also thrived for centuries before being abandoned in the 17th century. Malindi, Lamu and Mombasa all have Old Towns which are both genuine historic towns and current-day functioning urban centres.

Each of the tribes of Kenya has its own culture and traditions. The Maasai, Kenya’s best known tribe, have a reputation for being warriors, and are recognised worldwide for their vivid red garments and exotic beaded jewellery. The El Molo are the least numerous of Kenya’s tribes, and traditionally hunt fish, crocodile and hippo in Lake Turkana. The nomadic Rendille rely on camels for food, milk, clothing, trade and transport. The coastal Swahili have cultural ties to the Arabs and Persians. The Kalenjin are most famous for producing Kenya’s marathon-winning athletes. A growing number of tour operators offer cultural safaris that include interaction, or volunteer work, with local people.

Kenya boasts two of Africa’s five highest mountains. Mt Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain, offers spectacular trekking and climbing. Mt Elgon, Africa’s fourth highest mountain, also has stunning viewpoints and interesting climbs. Other mountains and hills that offer exciting trekking and walking include Mt Longonot, the Aberdare National Park, the Cherangani hills and Marich Pass.

Adventure tourism is diversifying across the country. White water rafting is offered on both the Tana and Athi Rivers. Rock climbing, camel safaris, horse riding, game bird shooting, caving and fishing are available at a number of places. The coast provides a wealth of water sports, including scuba diving, water skiing, kite surfing, windsurfing and jet skiing.

Kenya's Land and People

Kenya straddles the equator. It has an area of approximately 582,650km². The country shares borders with five nations: Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Variations in altitude are extreme, from sea level to 5,180 meters, producing extraordinary topological diversity and corresponding contrasts in climate.

There are four distinct geophysical features. The Rift Valley, a 5,000km fracture in the earth’s crust filled with lakes, extinct volcanoes and geothermal activity, carves across the country. The Central and Western Highlands are rich agricultural lands blanketing striking mountain ranges, which produce coffee, tea, vegetables, fruits and flowers. The vast, semi-arid area that covers the rugged north and east of the country is home only to resilient nomadic peoples. And Kenya’s coastline, a long stretch of attractive beaches and hot humidity, is fringed by coral reef.

Although the climate varies widely across the country, four main seasons can be noted. The hot, dry season covers December to March. The long rains come in April and May. The cool season covers June to October. And the short rains come in November.

There are three cities in Kenya: Nairobi, the capital, Mombasa, on the east coast, and Kisumu, on Lake Victoria.

Kenya has a population of about 40 million, of which almost 4 million live in Nairobi. Although the categorisation of tribes is disputed, it’s usually estimated that there are 42. Although each tribe has its own language, there are three main linguistic groups. The Bantu-speaking tribes are the most numerous and live in the lush south of the country. These include the Kikuyu, Akamba, Meru, Embu, Tharaka, Mbere, Gussi, Kuria, Luhya, Mikikenda, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju, Taveta and Taita. The Nilotic-speaking tribes, living in the west of the country, include the Maasai, Samburu, Teso, Turkana, Elmolo, Njemps, Kalenjin, Marakwet, Tugen, Pokot, Elkony, Kipsigis and Luo. The Cushitic-speaking tribes, many of which are nomadic, live in the arid northeast and include Rendille, Somali, Boran, Gabbra, Orma and Boni.

There are three other racial groups of Kenyan nationality. The Kenyan Arabs are predominantly descended from the Yemeni, Omani and Persian traders who established early trading posts on the Kenyan coast. The Kenyan Asians are predominantly descended from the Indian labourers brought to Kenya by the British to build the railway. Kenyans of British origin are predominantly descended from the British who came during the Colonial Administration and took Kenyan nationality at independence.

The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English.

Kenya's History

Kenya's History

Excavations in East Africa have uncovered a wealth of evidence that life in this region dates back millions of years. Dinosaur fossils found at Lokitang have been dated to 70 million years ago. Mammal remains including rhinos, bovidae and aquidae found at Lokipeda in West Turkana have been dated to 26 million years ago, and those found at Buluk in East Turkana and Kalahe in Pokot have been dated to about 20 million years ago.

The earliest evidence of human evolution has been found in the Rift Valley region of Africa. Discoveries in the Tugen Hills near Lake Baringo date to 6.8 million years ago, and precipitated the naming of a new species, the Orrorin Tugenensis. Excavations near Lake Turkana indicate that hominids like Australopithecus Anamensis lived in the area from around 4.1 million years ago. Homo Erectus found in the region have been dated to about 1.6 million years ago, while Homo Sapiens have been dated to 200,000 to 150,000 years ago.

The early Stone Age, dating from about 2 million years ago, is characterised by tools that consist of pebbles and stone blocks. Evidence of these tools has been found in the Koobi Fora region, east of Lake Turkana. A study of the fossil and animal remains at these sites indicates that the people of that period lived in small groups that depended on hunting and gathering, and were predominantly meat-eaters.

The middle Stone Age, dating from about 1 million years ago, is characterised by more advanced tools referred to as bifaces, such as hand axes and cleavers. These have been found in many areas of Kenya, including Olorgesailie near Lake Magadi, Kariandusi near Lake Elementaita, Kilombe near Eldama Ravine, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy near Isiolo, Isingya near Kajiado, Mtongwe near Mombasa, and the regions around Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana. Like their predecessors, people of this period lived by hunting and gathering.

The late Stone Age witnessed an emergence of the bow and arrow. More intricate techniques of stone tool manufacture produced microliths, such as blades, awls and scrapers, as well as artefacts such as grinding stones, pottery, bone harpoons and beads. These have been found in the Rift Valley between Naivasha and Nakuru, at Lukenya Hill near Athi River and in the Lake Victoria region.

The Neolithic period, from between about 6,000 to 1,000BC, marked the origin of the domestication of plants and animals, and saw the emergence of agriculture and pastoralism. Tools found from this time include stone bowls, platters, wooden vessels and beads made of seed, bone and stone. Pottery became more varied in size and form. Burial sites from this era show that at Njoro River Cave and Keringet Cave the practice of cremation was common, while at Hyrax Hill burial graves were preferred.

The Iron Age, in the first few centuries AD, witnessed the emergence of iron technology. While little iron has been found because of its tendency to perish when exposed to the atmosphere, iron slag and bellows have been found. Other finds include stone artefacts, elaborate pottery and intricate beads. Sites from this era are in the Turkwell Basin, Siaya District, Kwale town, Gatunganga near Nyeri, South Nyanza, Bungoma District and Lanet near Nakuru.

In the 1st century AD, Cushitic speaking peoples moved south from Ethiopia. These people settled along the route from Lake Turkana through Marsabit to Tana River. They are the ancestors of today’s Rendille, Somali, Boran, Gabbra, Orma and Boni tribes. Shortly afterwards, Nilotic-speaking peoples moved from Sudan into the Western highlands and the Rift Valley. These are the ancestors of today’s Maasai, Samburu, Teso, Turkana, El Molo, Njemps, Kalenjin, Marakwet, Tugen, Pokot, Elkony, Kipsigis and Luo.

The next wave of immigration was the Bantu-speakers moving from Central and Southern Africa. Kenya’s largest linguistic group, these are the ancestors of today’s Kikuyu, Akamba, Meru, Embu, Tharaka, Mbere, Gussi, Kuria, Luhya, Mikikenda, Pokomo, Segeju, Taveta and Taita.

From the 7th century AD, Arab dhows were docking at East African ports. Trading posts were established at Lamu, Gede and Mombasa and by the 9th century AD, there is evidence of Arabs settling and marrying the indigenous coastal people, producing the ancestors of the Swahili people who today inhabit much of the coastal region. Archaeological evidence shows signs of trade between the coastal people, the Near East and the Far East. Exports included leopard skins, tortoiseshell, rhino horn, ivory, gold and slaves. Ming Chinese porcelain and Persian glazed earthenware found from this time illustrate how extensive the trade routes were.

Vasco da Gama heralded the arrival of the Portuguese when he docked at Mombasa in 1498. Under the banner of Christianity, the Portuguese attacked the predominantly Muslim coast. They retained dominance of the coast through the 16th and 17th centuries, putting an end to Arab domination and taking over the trade routes. In the 18th century, the Omanis terminated Portuguese rule. Under their control, the caravan trade penetrated deeper into the centre of the continent.

The increasing rivalry between European nations was soon to overflow into Africa, and during what became known as the Scramble for Africa, Britain declared Kenya a British Protectorate in 1895. The British built the Uganda Railway, otherwise known as the Lunatic Express, between 1896 and 1901. Large numbers of Indian labourers were shipped in to assist with the railway’s construction, many of whom remained in Kenya and are the ancestors of today’s Indian Kenyans. During the next two decades the British extended their influence and imposed economic policies and taxation.

World War I saw bitter fighting in the Tsavo region of Kenya between the British and the Germans, who were based in what was then Tanganika, now Tanzania. The deaths of about 50,000 African porters during the war triggered the first wave of African resistance to British rule, spearheaded by Harry Thuku’s Young Kikuyu Association. The British tightened their grip, proclaiming Kenya a colony in 1920, and formally defining the White Highlands in 1933.

After World War II, during which huge numbers of Kenyans were conscripted to fight in the British Army, Kenyan resistance to the British Colonial Administration gained momentum. Increasing waves of British settlers emigrating to Kenya exacerbated the land issue and intensified the pressure. Jomo Kenyatta, a local leader who had been studying in Britain, returned to Kenya and took over the presidency of the Kenyan African Union; the Mau Mau movement was born.

In 1952, a State of Emergency was declared. While the Mau Mau perpetrated attacks from their hideouts in forests and caves, lashing out at both British settlers and Kenyans who refused to take the Mau Mau oath of allegiance, the British administration enacted harsher and harsher retaliations and instigated a punitive system of detention and imprisonment. Finally, after a two-year handover period, Kenya became independent in 1963.

Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, led the country from independence until his death in 1978. His successor, Daniel arap Moi, was president until 2002, when the current president, Mwai Kibaki took power. After the 2007 elections, a power sharing agreement was signed between President Kibaki and Raila Odinga, the leader of the ODM opposition, producing Africa’s first coalition government. Kenya’s new constitution was voted in by referendum in 2010.

Vision 2030 is Kenya’s new development plan. It aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrialising middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by the year 2030. The project is based on three pillars: economic, social and political. Within these pillars, targets have been set in tourism, agriculture, trade, manufacturing, business, education, health, sanitation, environment, housing, rule of law, transparency, democracy and security.