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What Should I Know About Kenya?

Kenya is located in East Africa, between Ethiopia and Tanzania.
The Masai people live in parts of Kenya and Tanzania.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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Kenya is a large country, bordering the Indian Ocean on the east coast of Africa. It covers 224,000 square miles (580,000 sq. km), making it roughly twice the size of Nevada. It shares borders with Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The history of prehistoric man can be found throughout Kenya, with fossils of Homo habilis dating back 2.5 million years. The early settlement of Kenya began around 2000 BCE, and around 100 AD both Persians and Arabs began settling the area. Around this time both the Bantu and Nilotic people began to settle the area, forming the core ethnic mix that comprises the country to this day.

The Portuguese moved into the region in the 1500s, largely replacing the Arab trading posts along the coast. At the end of the 1800s, the German Empire laid claim to the coastal regions, later chartering them to the British East Africa Company, and eventually trading them to the British Empire. The settling of the interior did not begin in earnest until 1906, when the first spur of the planned Uganda Railway was completed, despite opposition from local groups. By the 1920s Kenya had shifted from being a protectorate to being an official Crown Colony, allowing for much more direct participation by the white settlers in the region.

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Beginning in 1952 Kenya, entered a period of revolt against the British, primarily focused around the Mau Mau rebellion. By 1963 Kenya had achieved independence, with a democratic system of representation in place. This would last until 1982, when the constitution was changed to make the government a one-party system. The one-party system lasted for nearly a decade, until it was repealed in 1991, allowing for multiple parties to make up the government. From 1978 to 2002 the country was led by a single president, Daniel arap Moi, until new term limits disallowed him from running again.

Kenya is home to many diverse cultures, including many that live relatively close to their traditional lifestyle. There are 42 specific tribes in Kenya, each with their own cultural beliefs and practices, and finding a unifying theme can be difficult. By far the most widely-known group is the Masai. This tribe, due to its recognizable clothing and customs, has become popular in depictions throughout the west, and a sizable tourist industry has built up around their culture.

Kenya is an amazing nation, with a remarkable history and a wealth of cultural and natural wonders. For the somewhat adventurous traveler, Kenya offers limitless opportunities for exploration. Many of the largest and most astounding wildlife parks on Earth can be found in Kenya, with all of the big game many people associate with Africa. Beautiful beaches and diving in the nation’s extensive coral reefs also await travelers. And the cultural legacy of Kenya has left many ruins from the Swahili cultures, including large city complexes. While bandits can be a problem in some areas — primarily along the borders of Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia — so long as you travel with a respectable guide you should be safe. Getting to Kenya is easier than getting to most of Africa; flights arrive at Nairobi daily from most major American and European cities. Once in Kenya, it is easy to fly to the rest of East Africa as well, as Nairobi acts as a sort of hub for the region.

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