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Kenya is a sovereign state in East Africa. The capital and largest city is Nairobi. Kenya lies on the equator with the Indian Ocean to the south-east, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, South Sudan to the north-west, Ethiopia to the north and Somalia to the north-east. Kenya covers 581,309 km2 (224,445 sq mi) and has a population of about 44 million in July 2012. The country is named after Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa.
Mount Kenya was originally referred to as “Mt. Kirinyaga” by the indigenous people. “Kirinyaga or Kerenyaga, meaning ‘mountain of whiteness’ because of its snow capped peak”; The name was subsequently changed to Mt. Kenya because of the inability of the British to pronounce “Kirinyaga” correctly.
The country has a warm and humid climate along its Indian Ocean coastline, with wildlife-rich savannah grasslands inland towards the capital. Nairobi has a cool climate that gets colder approaching Mount Kenya, which has three permanently snow-capped peaks. Further inland there is a warm and humid climate around Lake Victoria, and temperate forested and hilly areas in the western region. The northeastern regions along the border with Somalia and Ethiopia are arid and semi-arid areas with near-desert landscapes. Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh-water lake and the world’s largest tropical lake, is situated to the southwest and is shared with Uganda and Tanzania. Kenya is famous for its safaris and diverse wildlife reserves and national parks such as the East and West Tsavo National Park, the Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru National Park, and Aberdares National Park. There are several world heritage sites such as Lamu, and world renowned beaches such as Kilifi where international yachting competitions are held each year.
The African Great Lakes region, of which Kenya is a part, has been inhabited by humans since the Lower Paleolithic period. The Bantu expansion reached the area from West-Central Africa by the first millennium AD, and the borders of the modern state comprise the crossroads of the Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic ethno-linguistic areas of the continent, making Kenya a multi-cultural country. European and Arab presence in Mombasa dates to the Early Modern period, but European exploration of the interior began only in the 19th century. The British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895, known from 1920 as the Kenya Colony. The Republic of Kenya became independent in December 1963. Following a referendum in August 2010 and adoption of a new constitution, Kenya is now divided into 47 semi-autonomous counties, governed by elected governors.
The capital, Nairobi, is a regional commercial hub. The economy of Kenya is the largest by GDP in East and Central Africa. Agriculture is a major employer and the country traditionally exports tea and coffee, and more recently fresh flowers to Europe.
Although Kenya is the biggest and most advanced economy in east and central Africa and a minority of the wealthy urban population often leaves a misleading impression of affluence, Kenya is still a poor developing country with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.519, putting the country at position 145 out of 186 – one of the lowest in the world and about 38% of Kenyans live in absolute poverty. The important agricultural sector is one of the least developed and largely inefficient, employing 75 percent of the workforce compared to less than 3 percent in the food secure developed countries.
Despite western donors’ early disillusionment with the government, the economy has seen much expansion, seen by strong performance in tourism, higher education and telecommunications, and acceptable post-drought results in agriculture, especially the vital tea sector. Kenya’s economy grew by more than 7% in 2007, and its foreign debt was greatly reduced. But this changed immediately after the disputed presidential election of December 2007, following the chaos which engulfed the country.
East and Central Africa’s biggest economy has posted tremendous growth in the service sector, boosted by rapid expansion in telecommunication and financial activity over the last decade, and now contributes 62 percent of GDP. Unfortunately, a massive 22 percent of GDP still comes from the unreliable agricultural sector which employs 75 percent of the labour force (a consistent characteristic of under-developed economies that have not attained food security – an important catalyst of economic growth) and a significant portion of the population regularly starves and is heavily dependent on food aid. Industry and manufacturing is the smallest sector that accounts for 16 percent of the GDP.
Kenya has traditionally been a liberal market with minimal government involvement (price control) seen in the oil industry. However, recent legislation allows the government to determine and gazette price-controls on essential commodities like maize flour, kerosine and cooking oil.
Privatisation of state corporations like the defunct Kenya Post and Telecommunications Company, which resulted in East Africa’s most profitable company – Safaricom, has led to their revival because of massive private investment.