General Information about Kenya

Kenya

General Country Information

The country

Kenya is located in the Eastern part of Africa, next to the Indian Ocean. On the other sides, the country is bordered by the countries of Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania. The total area of the country is 582.646 km2, making it nearly 17 times bigger than the Netherlands. In 1963, Kenya gained its independence from the United Kingdom. The capital of Kenya is Nairobi.

Ethnic make-up

There are approximately 48 million people living in Kenya and nearly 40 different ethnic groups. Some of the largest ethnic groups are:

  • Kikuyu (approx. 22% of the population) – the Kikuyu are the biggest ethnic group in Kenya. They primarily live on the fertile land of Central Kenya as farmers.  They are not only competent farmers, but also gifted merchants and entrepreneurs. Many of the Kikuyu live in Nairobi and hold important business/commercial/corporate and political functions. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, was also a Kikuyu.
  • Luo (approx. 14% of the population) – The Luo are the biggest ethnic group in Kenya after the Kikuyu. The majority lives in the surroundings of Lake Victoria and in North and South Nyanza. They make a living from agriculture and fishing. Many Luo people also hold important functions in the political world. Famous Luo leaders were Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga.

Maasai and other tribes

  • Maasai (approx. 1.5% of the population)-  the Maasai people live in the Southern part of the country and are the most known tribe of Kenya. They are a nomadic tribe and very proud of their ancient traditions and customs. For example, the amount of livestock/cattle that they posses is more important than the amount of milk or meat that the animals can yield. Land ownership is not as important as possession of livestock.
  • Mijikenda (approx. 5% of the population), nowadays the Mijikenda live in the Kilifi and Kwale districts. They are subdivided into nine groups, including the Digo, Kauma, Kamba and Diruma, and the Giriama tribe, which is the most well-known due to their dances and music.
  • Turkana (approx. 1.3%), the Turkana live in Northwest Kenya. As a nomadic tribe, their living area is between the Turkana Lake and the Rift Valley near the border with Uganda. The Turkana can be divided into the Nimonia, who live in the forest areas, and the Nocuro, who live in the Savanna. Subsequently, the tribes can be subdivided into about 20 clans, known as the ‘’ategerin’’. The El Molo tribe, which only consisted out of 538 members according to the National Census of 1979 and therefore the smallest tribe in Kenya, also belong to the Turkana.

Samburu and other tribes

  • The Samburu live in the North of Kenya and are related to the Maasai in terms of culture and language. The Samburu are also a nomadic tribe and still live a lifestyle that has barely changed from that of their ancestors. The wealth of a family is measured by the amount of cows, goats and camels that they own.
  • Rendille, the Rendille lives at the south-eastern shores of the Turkana lake and they are related to the Somali. They live in semi-permanent settlements where they take care of big herds of camels, goats and sheep.
  • Boran, the Boran are shepherds, living in the Turkana area, and are related to the Cush in South-Ethiopia.
  • Akamba (approx. 11% of the population)

Language

The official language of education in Kenya is English. Also in the political domain, English is the official language. The language used by the different tribes to communicate is (Ki)Swahili; Swahili is a mixed language, with influences from the Arabic, English and Bantu language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring countries. Moreover, every tribe has its own language.

Religion

About 70% of the Kenyans are Christians. Many of the Kenyan tribes interpret the bible in different ways, in addition, each tribe has its own rituals and customs. The indigenous religions vary a lot between the different ethnic groups and often involve one or more gods. Some rituals and sorcery still appear throughout in Kenya. The worshiping of ancestors is still very important for all religions. With the help of mediums, often shamans or tribal elders, the Kenyans try to contact their ancestors to ask for help.

Next to a god who has created everything, the Kenyans still recognize many good and bad spirits/ghosts and demons. Animism of trees and mountains as sacred places still play a big role in Kenya.

The Kikuyu religion in Kenya is concentrated on the main god Ngai. According to oral tradition, Ngai lives on the top of Mount Kenya, as a consequence, many sacrifices are made at the base of this mountain.

The Muslim population (7%) lives predominantly along the coast and in the east of Kenya. In Kenya, Christianity is not as old as the Islam (which were originally established by Arab merchants. The Muslim population in Kenya has doubled in the last decade.

Climate and the best time to travel

Kenya is situated near the equator, leading to a relatively constant temperature throughout the year. Kenya has, with the exception of certain areas, a tropical climate that is influenced by the Indian Ocean. Yet there are major differences in climate throughout the country; the coastal areas, for example, can have tropical temperatures while it is freezing on Mount Kenya, and hot and dry in the north. Kenya does not have 4 seasons, but rather it has 2 rain seasons. The quantity of rain varies per area. As Kenya is situated on the equator, the length of days and nights remains constant.

Nairobi has 2 monsoons: a smaller rain period around November/December and a much more stronger rain season that lasts from March until the beginning of June. The coastal city of Mombassa is only subject to one rain season that starts in April and stops in June. The subsequent period is not a dry season, but it is a longer period in which there is significantly less precipitation.

Time difference

During the summers, Kenya is one hour ahead of the Netherlands, and during the winters, the time difference increases to two hours.

Health

Malaria is endemic in the whole country. The use of malaria tablets is advised everywhere except Nairobi. The following vaccinations are recommended (regardless of the duration of stay): vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and poliomyelitis, vaccination against hepatitis A (infectious jaundice), and a vaccination against yellow fever (this is not mandatory). If you do have not had measles or if you never had a vaccination against measles, it is strongly advised to get vaccinated for the measles.

Currency

The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling (KES). It is prohibited to import the Kenyan currency. Other currencies can be imported, but have to be declared. American Dollars are accepted everywhere and money withdrawal at an ATM is possible at most banks. However, do pay attention when withdrawing money, as bank cards can be scammed.

Food and Drink

Kenya has an outstanding selection of international and local cuisines. Many restaurants are specialized in Arabic and Indian dishes, but western snacks are available as well. The Kenyan cuisine consists traditionally out of dishes with beans and a thick sauce with meat. This is a quick way to satisfy any appetite and is very cheap, and therefore seen as a great advantage by many Kenyans. A dish that is widely eaten is nyama choma, grilled goat meat. The principal ingredients of a dish are potatoes, rice or ugali, a type of  oatmeal. Irio is a mixture of peas, potatoes and corn; very filling. Ugali and Irio are commonly eaten with stewed/braised meat. Fish is also eaten in Kenya, especially shrimps, tilapia and trout are very good, particularly along the coast.

Passport and e-visa

Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months beyond your arrival date in Kenya. A visa is needed to enter Kenya which is possible to apply for online.

Voltage

The voltage in Kenya is 220/240V. Bring a universal adapter to charge devices. In Kenya, 3-pin sockets are used.

Safety

Just as in other countries, it is advised to avoid the center of big cities after sunset. Safety precautions taken during other holidays/trips are also applicable here.

If you have any questions about Kenya, please contact us: travel@smiletothefuture.org