Background Notes: Kenya

Kenya Official Info

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Details of Background Notes: Kenya, Kenya Official Info
Details for Background Notes: Kenya

Kenya Official Info

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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 people.

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 students abroad.

The five state universities enroll about 38,000 students, representing some 25% of the Kenyan students who qualify for admission.



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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 increased rapidly.

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 sole nominee.

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.

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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.

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President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--Daniel Toroitich arap Moi
Vice President--(vacant)
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, Washington, DC
20008 (Tel. 202-387-6101).

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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.

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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 regional infrastructures.

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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 pressures.

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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.

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Ambassador--Prudence Bushnell
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).

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Background Notes: Kenya
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U.S. Department of State information for the Republic of Kenya.

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