For those of us who know very little about Kenya, it is important to delve into the background of Kenya before we can begin to talk about the current state of Kenya. This Sub-Saharan African country is geographically located in East Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean. The capital of Kenya is Nairobi. As the country is on the Equator, it has a very warm and humid climate.
With about a population of 45 million people, the country has recently become more politically free. It began to gain its independence in Kenya in the middle of the 1900’s. The first elections were held in 1957. However, it was not until 1963 the the United Kingdom signed over their control of Kenya to the people, making Kenya an independent country. Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president in 1964. This was surprising to me. That means that Kenya has only been an independent country for about 50 years. That is such a short amount of time.
Following this, the country took a downturn with the Moi regime. The Founding President had passed away. Moi was likable at first. However, he struck down any opposition to his party. When there began to be opposition, he made Kenya into a single-party system. This reign lasted from 1978 until 2002. His rule was seen as very unconstitutional. He granted himself power so that any checks there had previously been on the President were ineffectual. He was barred from running again in 2002, which ended his regime. The country now has a presidential republic government with a multi-party system. At first, this was surprising that something like this could happen. However, Moi did many things that people liked at first to gain their trust. For example, he released people from prison who had served an extreme amount of time. The country was fairly new during his reign, so it makes sense that they struggled to combat his dictatorship once they realized it was a problem.
Now we can move on to the current state of Kenya. Although politically the country has been more successful, environmental issues are still persistent. In 2011 Kenya was struck with terrible drought. Schools were shut down. Food was scarce. Luckily, the crisis ended in 2012. However, several years later another crisis occurred. In 2014, Kenya was in the middle of yet another drought. This drought, mainly in the Turkana region of Kenya, was said to have left nearly a million people in need of food. These droughts bring up the issue of malnutrition in Kenya. In an article from The Guardian regarding the 2014 drought they said that, “A malnutrition rate of more than 15% is classified as a critical emergency by the World Health Organization; in many parts of Kenya it exceeds 20%.” This number is especially alarming in times of drought because malnutrition may be perpetuated even further when there is a lack of resources.
The economy is doing well, however, in comparison to other nearby countries; the country is often seen as a frontier market. Kenya has a market-based economy. The good news is that Kenya is known to have one of the best GDPs in East and Central Africa consistently. Although it may seem successful with a GDP of 60.94 billion, many citizens still live in poverty. Close to 46 percent of citizens are living below the poverty line. Their economy is very dependent on the environment. Hopefully, in the future these two issues will be made a priority.
Kenya has been in trade news recently. They have made a deal with Nigeria, who also is economically successful in Africa. They have agreed to exempt the need for Visas in trade for diplomatic passport holders. Now when a businessman enters either country from the other country they will not need to pay the visa fee. This will decrease the cost of trade. The hope is for this deal will increase the amount of trade between the two countries, although trade has been frequent between the two countries already. Hopefully, this will help the economy.
Kenya has also had a large role with Somalia recently. The Kenya Defense Forces have been working to rescue parts of Somalia from Al Shabaab, an Islamist Militant Group. This group has caused conflict in Somalia for over a decade. They have also provided shelter to refugees. Nigeria is also working with Kenyans and Somalians to help Somalia. The President of Somalia recently gave an address thanking Kenya for the role they have played in helping their country. Opposition groups in Kenya have spoken out against the aid they are giving to Somalia, but Kenyan leaders promise to continue their efforts to help the country.
Overall, Kenya is a unique country. It has just recently become independent, so the recent history of the political system is interesting. Also, the environmental and economic concerns are alarming, but they are very intertwined. Kenya is also a great country to study because it seems very connected with other Sub-Saharan countries. For example, it is involved with the trade and refugees. I look forward to learning about Kenya this semester.