Formerly one of Africa's most stable democracies, Kenya has been shaken by violence
Most of the eastern half of Kenya consists of a broad plateau with scattered hills that slope down to a narrow coastal strip. This is an area of uncertain rainfall, merging into the arid and semi-arid lands of the north and north-east. The western half has several mountain systems split in two by the snaking line of the Rift Valley, while to the south-west the mountains descend to a basin around the shores of Lake Victoria.
The population is concentrated in the western half of the country, particularly on the fertile central highlands and on the land to the west. The land in the north-east is occupied mostly by nomadic herding communities. Kenya has many different ethnic communities, but they can be divided into three main groups. The largest, with about two-thirds of the population, are the Bantu group which includes the Kikuyu and the Luhya. A second group, the Nilotic, making up around a quarter of the population, includes the Luo and Kalenjin and the Masai nomads. A third, smaller group are the Cushitic. Others are of European, Asian, and Arab descent.
Kenya has had very rapid population growth though the rate has now fallen to 2.8% as a result of more intensive family planning as well as the death toll from AIDS—5% of adults are HIV-positive. Even so, the population density is already high in the areas that have better land, putting pressure on the environment and driving people into the cities, particularly to the slums of Nairobi.
Kenya also suffers from wide income disparities. At independence, much of the best land was taken and kept by the Kikuyu élite. And subsequent liberal free-market development led to rapid economic growth but also heightened inequality. The richest fifth of the population get half of national income. Around half the population live below the national poverty line.
Agriculture accounts for around one-quarter of GDP and for around one-fifth of formal employment. Kenya's small farmers grow food crops such as cassava and maize for subsistence, and also produce around 60% of two major export items, tea and coffee—the rest being grown on large estates. Kenya is the world's largest exporter of black teas.
Florist to the world
Over recent decades Kenyan farmers have increasingly turned to horticulture for export, primarily fruit, vegetables, and cut flowers. These are air-freighted to Europe where they meet around 25% of the demand for off-season produce. Output continues to rise as Kenya finds new horticulture markets in Asia and North America.
Manufacturing accounts for 10% of GDP, with the emphasis on food processing and small-scale consumer goods. Output has been constrained, however, by poor infrastructure, especially power supplies: the country faces frequent power cuts, following a badly managed liberalization of the electricity industry.
Kenya also has a vast informal sector working in small-scale manufacturing making everything from household goods to car parts—and contributing around one-fifth of GDP.
Tourism has been a further source of foreign exchange, and accounts for around one-fifth of GDP, as half a million visitors each year head for the game reserves and the beaches. However, the industry has suffered from political uncertainty and weak infrastructure as well as tougher competition from neighbouring countries.