Kenya, a culturally rich country known for its tea and coffee, began with migration from what is today Sudan, Swahili its dominant influence. After 74 years as a British protectorate and following years of the Mau Mau Uprising, the country gained its independence in 1963. Tourism, especially in the form of safari, is a major economic driver today.
The Swahili traditions have long been the primary influence in the culture of Kenya. There is a widespread belief among many people of Swahili descent that theirs is an Arabic or Persian heritage, though this is also disputed — but there are influences of both, and early Swahili city-states were followers of Islam. Today, 83% of Kenyans identify as Christian.
As in nearly all of Africa, Kenya is rich in resources and thus has been too attractive to European colonisers, becoming a British protectorate from 1888 until 1962. Recently, China has become a major investor as well as lender in Kenya, as the country’s largest creditor with 72% of total bilateral debt — prompting some to refer to its “conquering” of Kenya.
Women of Kenya are still struggling for their rights as full and equal citizens. While traditional gender roles existed from early times, women also participated in the marketplace — until the era of British imperialism, generally viewed as one of increased patriarchy and misogyny, a legacy carrying on even today. The country ranks 0.548 or 122nd out of 152 on the Gender Inequality Index; women make up 20% of parliament yet 62% of the workforce, while only 25% have a secondary education.
One of the recent advances for Kenyan women and girls is the country’s 2011 legal ban against the traditional practice of genital cutting; a rite of passage, groups are now advocating for alternative rites. The practice has continued illegally, however, as well as by medical justification — and the battle for its eradication is far from over.
Kenya also wrestles with longstanding terrorism, including several major incidents and their ongoing legacy. In 1998, more than 200 were killed in a bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi; 2013 saw the gunfire attack at the Westgate Mall, with 71 dead. In January of this year, an attack on a luxury hotel complex resulted in 19 deaths with more recent warnings of threat. Kenya is the target of terrorism by neighboring Somalia, specifically the al-Shabaab extremist group.
Today the same shopping mall that was the site of 2011 terrorism and tragedy has been fully rebuilt, an emblem of Kenya’s resilience — and its wealth, side-by-side with its poverty. Its economy ranks 65th in the world, with room for improvement; as of this time last year, the GDP was 6% above expectations, with telecommunications, transport, and construction all expanding.
Many Kenyans work abroad in the US, as well as in Middle East, Europe, and Asia, all sending remittances home to boost the country’s economy. In its “Vision 2030” plan for development, Kenya identifies 3 pillars for improvement: economic, social, and political. Foreign relations are also important to the country, and woven into its cultural makeup — including their pride in Kenyan descendants abroad, such as former US President Barack Obama.
Above all — in light of multiple terrorist attacks and other insecurities, including those in neighboring countries of Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda — Kenyans, like people everywhere, long for peace.