Kenya is a large country in eastern Africa. It has received a lot of international attention in recent years, partly because it has been ruled by a cruel and ruthless dicator, partly because it has become a hotbed of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism. The things we don't hear as much about on the news are the country's natural beauty, its many peoples with wildly different languages and rich cultures.

geography and people

Kenya is flanked by Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania. It is home to over 70 ethnic groups fitting into 14 tribes, which again belong to three greater linguistical groups: Bantu, Nilote and Cushite. The two official languages are English and Kiswahili. The majority of the people are Christians, but there is a sizeable Muslim minority as well as many indigenous religions.

The country meets with three impressive bodies of water: The Indian Ocean in the southeast, Lake Victoria in the southwest, and Lake Rudolf in the northwest. The capital of Nairobi lies in the highlands, which have brought the world a number of Kenyan long-distance runners with an admirable stamina. The sea port town of Mombasa is the second most important city, and Kisumu on Lake Victoria the third.

Kenya is bisected by two important lines, the equator and the Great Rift Valley. Although the equator can't be seen, the tropical climate can easily be felt. The Valley separates the western highlands of the country from Mount Kenya and the landscape sloping down to the sea on the eastern side. The country has several natural parks and great lakes with an abundance of thriving African wildlife.

The country is heavily based on agriculture and 75% of the people live in the countryside. The most important products are sisal and cut flowers. About a half of the population knows how to read.


Kenya has just gained a democratic government, and only time will tell whether it will stay a servant of the people. Its new politicians began writing a new constitution in May 2003. Following electoral defeat in december 2002, longtime president Daniel arap Moi stepped down after 24 years in power. He was replaced by Mwai Kibaki of the Democratic Party of Kenya, which finally united the different ethnical interests of the diverse country.

In the past Kenya has been ruled by strong and power-hungry men. When Arap Moi got power in 1978, he took over from Jomo Kenyatta, who had ruled the republic since it became independent in 1964. Previously, the area was called British East Africa and was a protectorate of Great Britain.

Before the British, Kenya's coastline belonged to the sultan of Zanzibar and to the Portuguese. And during the 2 million years before the country's discovery by traders, the people who lived there presumably ruled themselves.

a long fight against everything

Every dictator has experienced protests against their rule. Against the British, it was the Mau Mau rebellion of the Kikuyu people. Kenya's Human Rights Commission is currently preparing a lawsuit against the British for human rights abuses at the time of the rebellion, which lasted from 1952 until Kenya got its independence.

Widespread poverty and a general feeling that the government doesn't care has led to a growing support of Islamic fundamentalism, because Muslim organisations offer food, water and education to those who have nothing. As a result, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have gotten hold over many minds. In 1998, a devastating attack on the American embassy in Nairobi killed 200 Kenyans and 12 Americans. In 2002, another attack aimed at Israeli tourists in Mombasa shook the country. After Kenyan authorities said they had spotted the mastermind behind Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks, Britain suspended all flights to the country.

Kenya's greatest countrywide problem is the AIDS epidemic, of which over 2 million people of the country's 31 million are victims. Corruption is also an omnipresent disease within the administration. Finally, there is a water problem as floods and droughts replace one another in the changing climate of the globe. Is there hope for progress among all these seemingly unsolvable problems? I offer you the glass of water - and, do not despair if today you have to eat off the floor. Tomorrow you might have a plate.

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