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Essay on Kenya

This paper will provide a profile of Kenya, a country with a rich but turbulent history. The information discussed includes the geographical placement and features of the country, the historical and settlement characteristics, the key population figures, the economic and resource characteristics, the major domestic challenges that the country is facing and Kenya’s role in the international community. On that last point, particular focus will be paid towards Kenya’s place in the regional and global context along with explanations for why Kenya is struggling as a developing country.

The Republic of Kenya is an east African country situated along the equator, with Uganda bordering to the west, Ethiopia to the north, Somalia to the east and Tanzania to the south. The Indian Ocean lies along the southeast coast of the country. The capital and largest city in Kenya is Nairobi, with a population of 3,375,000 according to the most recent census data from the CIA Factbook. The coastal port city of Mombasa is also of key importance economically and culturally. Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the African continent is located north of Nairobi and Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, can be found along the southwestern border.

The colonial history of Kenya began in the late 16th century when Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama landed in Mombasa while on his way to India. Soon thereafter, Portuguese settlers built a fort in Mombasa that became a hub for the African slave trade. Omani Arabs captured the port in 1698, although subsequent attempts by Arabs to invade the interior of Kenya were unsuccessful. The first events that lead to Kenya’s eventual colonization by the British Empire occurred in 1883 when British explorer Joseph Thompson traveled through Maasai (part of modern southern Kenya). The Germans, who had arrived a few decades earlier and staked their claim to parts of Maasai, agreed to divide the land with the British, resulting in the formation of modern Uganda and Kenya. The Imperial British East African Company was given a royal mandate to administer the territories of Kenya and in 1885 the British Foreign Office officially declared it to be a British protectorate. There was significant resistance to colonial rule from the start, with various uprisings and demands for self-governance that ultimately led up to Kenyan independence in 1963. Although given only nominal power during British colonial rule, the setting up of indigenous political bodies such as the Young Kikuyu Association in 1929 (lead by Johnstone Kamau Ngengi, who would go on to become the first president of independent Kenya under the name Jomo Kenyatta) provided for a smooth, peaceful transition once Kenya gained independence.

In terms of rural and urban settlement patterns, Kenya is divided into 47 counties with most of the urban settlements concentrated in the three counties of Machakos (directly east of Nairobi), Nakuru (directly northwest of the capital) and Bungoma (near the central western border with Uganda). The most sparsely populated rural areas are along the Indian Ocean where the country borders Somalia, and in the central and northern counties, particularly along the border with Ethiopia. Several of the largest counties, such as Marsabit, are also among the least populated.

According to data provided by the United Nations, the population of Kenya as of 2012 was slightly more than 43,000,000 with a population density of 72.9 per square kilometer (0.6 miles). In terms of ethnic background, the CIA Factbook identifies the following groups as a percentage of the entire population: Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (i.g., Asian, European, and Arab) 1%. In terms of religious composition, 85.5% of Kenyans identify themselves as Christian, 11.1% as Muslim, 1.6% as adherents of traditional religions, 1.7% as “other,” and 2.9% who do not identify with any religion. The average population growth rate from 2010 through the start of 2015 has been 2.7%, with the rate of growth in urban and rural areas during this time at 4.2% and 2.1% respectively. Urban dwellers made up slightly less than a quarter of the country’s total population as of 2013. The population under the age of 15 is 42.2%, making Kenya a very young country in terms of demographics. Kenya is at stage 3 of the demographics transition stage with sharp drops in birth rates (from 8.1 children in 1978 to a projected 2.4 by 2050) and an anticipated increase in life expectancy (currently in the late 50s/early 60s to a projected 68 by 2050).

As it relates to health challenges, Wamai identified the low life expectancy rates relative to the developed world, lack of access to health care for those in the rural areas, and relatively high mortality rates for children under 5 and high maternal mortality rates. Underinvestment and a lack of modern health care equipment plays a large role in the difficulties related to Kenya’s health care system. The author adds that around 7.8% of the population has been diagnosed with HIV and 33.5% of all outpatient deaths are the result of malaria.

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Migration has been of key importance in terms of supporting the economy of Kenya on two levels. First, in terms of going abroad in order to seek education and work opportunities, the United States and Canada have been leading the way, with 47,000 and 20,600 Kenyans immigrating to those countries respectively in 2001. Not only does it provide a means for Kenyans to send money back home to their families, in the case of students it helps them gain the academic skills necessary to run their country in the economic and political sectors.

Kenya had more or less made the transition to independence in a peaceful manner, unlike its neighboring countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia, which have been characterized by violence, frequent military coups, ethnic strife and, especially in the case of Somalia, chaos and anarchy. However, not everything went smoothly at first, as economic reforms following independence were slow to start. Mwebe notes that in the 1960s efforts to put the control of the economy back into the hands of Kenyans originally backfired because East Indians and those of European descent were able to benefit by being able to claim Kenyan citizenship. On the other hand, Klopp mentions that deep commitment to education reforms in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in a highly educated middle class that was able to play an active role in the country’s political process. Nonetheless, there are several internal issues that exist today in terms of ethnic and religious conflict, governance, calls for separatism and environmental problems. Additionally, the Human Development Index survey by the United Nations Development Program ranked Kenya 145th out of 187 countries. Factors that contributed to this low ranking included inequalities related to gender, disparities between those who lived in rural areas versus cities and the wealth gap between the wealthy and poor.

The presidential elections in 2007 saw many of these problems come to the forefront and the result was unprecedented levels of violence and civil disorder. The problems began when incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was accused of attempting to rig the elections against opposition leader Raila Odinga. Those who were unhappy with the outcome took to the streets in protest; some peacefully while others engaged in violence. The police in some instances fired on the protestors even when the demonstrations were peaceful, which only served to inflame the situation. The conflict spread from one of political discontent to full fledged ethnic discord, with Kikuyu (of which President Kibaki is a member) being targeted. Eventually Kibaki and Odinga reached a settlement in which Odinga was named prime minister. In all, approximately 1,300 people died and more than 500,000 were displaced as a result of the conflict.

Along with the conflict between rivaling tribes, there has also been tension along religious lines between the Christian and Muslim communities in Kenya. The political separatist organization (although not an Islamist group) known as the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) has called for independence for the Kenya’s Indian Ocean regions so that the Kenyan Muslims who live there have the right to self-determination. The government considers the MRC to be an illegal group, although the courts have upheld its right to exist. Branch notes that Muslims in Kenya have often felt marginalized as a result of policies that target them, such as movement restrictions placed on ethnic Somalis. In addition, the author notes that there has been a lack of investment in health care and education in Muslim communities, and inequalities that make it more difficult for them to have access to land.

The industries that contribute to Kenya’s economy include the manufacturing sector, including tobacco, sugar, wheat flour, and cement; and exports such as garments, chemicals and agro-processing. In addition, the government has taken steps to grow the economy and tackle unemployment by investing in education, infrastructure development, agriculture promotion, macroeconomic management, legal and legislative reforms, and through fiscal measures. In fact, Fengler notes that Kenya’s debt level in the range of 45% of GDP rivals that of the best performing countries in the European Union. Kenya’s economic outlook at this point appears to be positive, with the World Bank raising its projection of the expected grown in the country’s economy from 4.7% to 6% on lower oil prices and the government’s investments in rail and energy projects. Kenya also receives substantial foreign aid, including $2.6 billion in total assistance, of which $404 million comprises humanitarian assistance. This makes the country the world’s 11th largest recipient.

However, Klopp points to several issues that have hindered development in Kenya today. While noting that post-colonial Kenya managed to transition into a relatively stable democracy, with spirited debate in parliament, the freedom of the press to criticize the government and genuine lobbying for reform measures, the country is struggling to deal with the economic consequences that resulted from the violence. In particular, the business, trade, agriculture and tourism sectors of the economy have yet to recover due to the death and displacement of skilled workers, the ruined farmland and the anger and distrust that still persists in the aftermath of the conflicts. In addition, the author adds, the various ruling elite factions have been alternating between encouraging supporters to kill each other and forming alliances in order to enrich themselves at the expense of the ordinary Kenyan. So while there are reasons to be optimistic about Kenya’s future, more political reform is necessary.

As for Kenya’s place on the regional and global stage, Kenya does play a very important role both on the international and regional front. Indeed, the headquarters for the African continent’s United Nations offices are located in Nairobi and the country has been described as “a regional hub for commerce, infrastructure, transport and humanitarian operations,”. A report issued by the United Nations highlighted the key role that Kenya plays in regards to regional stability and security. In particular, Kenya has been at the forefront in combating the illicit drug trade and piracy as well as demonstrating a commitment to prison reform in east Africa. To accomplish this, Kenya has worked with the international community to foster better cooperation between law enforcement, has worked to transfer convicted Somali pirates back to their country and has focused on creating a more humane prison system that puts rehabilitation over punishment. Since independence, the Kenyan military has played a minimal role in terms of hostile engagement with neighbors, having never declared war with another country. However, American aid for counterterrorism efforts to Kenya (estimated to be $8 million in 2011) has lead to a more aggressive military posture, best exemplified by its 2011 invasion of Somalia with the objectives to fight against the threat of the Islamic militant group al Shabaab, secure its borders and create a buffer zone within Somalia itself. Thus, it could be the case that this funding emboldens Kenya and makes it more of a force in terms of shaping events in the region.

In closing, since independence Kenya has by and large show itself to be a model of stability that other African countries should follow. Obviously there serious issues in the political sphere that must continue to be addressed, and ethnic and religious tensions that need to be resolved. The country has the resources and the highly educated populace necessary to turn Kenya into a politically and economically sound country. To achieve this, the international community needs to continue to invest in Kenya and help usher in a new generation of technocrats and reformers who can bring about change.

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