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Bordering Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, Kenya is in the north of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Independent from the British since 1963, Kenya has struggled to maintain democracy, with periods of effective one party rule alternating with free and fair elections, leaving tensions that were highlighted by the violence after the 2007 vote. The abuses of this period have yet to be adequately addressed at a national level - a situation made even more difficult by the prevalence of restrictions, harassment and attacks against human rights defenders.
Located in East Africa, on the Indian Ocean, Kenya borders Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. The terrain is highly variable, with swamps and mangroves along the coast, dense forests and mountains in the west and the wild-life rich savannah grasslands in the centre of the country. The capital city is Nairobi.
Population and language
Kenya has a population in excess of 41.6 million people, a figure that has more than doubled over the past three decades. Though population growth has gradually slowed over that period, it remains substantial at an annual rate of more than 2.5 per cent. This population is made up of a plurality of ethnic groups, including Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin and Luo peoples as well as a large number of smaller ethnic communities.
The national language is Kiswahili, which alongside English is also an official language. A number of indigenous languages are also spoken within the country.
History and politics
Kenya gained its independence from Britain in 1963 under the leadership of Prime Minister Kenyatta of the KANU (Kenya African National Union), who had been imprisoned for his part in the Mau Mau rebellion of the previous decade. The following year Kenya became a Presidential republic and the only opposition party dissolved itself. In 1969 a new opposition party was banned by the Kenyatta government, and Kenya remained a one-party state until the end of Kenyatta's rule in 1978.
Upon Kenyatta's death, he was succeeded by President Daniel arap Moi whose political reforms established the country as a de jure a one-party state until national activists and international pressure led to the constitutional reforms of 1991. Under the 1992 and 1997 elections KANU retained its control of the country, but when President Moi stepped down in 2002, a coalition of all opposition parties backed a single presidential candidate, and secured the election of Emilio Kibaki to the office.
Political instability has been an ongoing problem in national politics, however, as was exemplified by the aftermath of the elections of December 2007. Initial indications were that the incumbent President had lost the election to Raila Odinga but after a significant delay, the Electoral Commisison announced that Kibaki had been re-elected. The the Chair of the Commission later stated that he made the announcement “under duress”, and the EU Election Observer Mission supported the view that the elections lacked credibility and fell short of international standards. In the subsequent violence more than 1,000 people were reported killed and an estimated 600,000 people were displaced. By the end of February 2008, a power sharing arrangement had been secured between the two presidential candidates, and a Grand Coalition entered government in April. Following extensive investigations, the International Criminal Court has confirmed charges of crimes against humanity with respect to four leading political figures, including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta with regards to the post-election violence.
After decades of gradual reform, a new Constitution came into force in 2010.
The Kenyan economy has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, from the instability that followed the 2007 elections to the declining tourism and remittances revenue in the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, the rise in oil prices as a result of the instability in the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result of the drought and food crisis in the horn of Africa. Nevertheless, GDP is estimated to grew by an estimated 5.6 per cent in 2011, and though food prices hit a record high in July 2011, the country is not suffering shortages as severe as its neighbours to the north. However, the high price policy of the state controlled national cereals board has acted to benefit large-scale farmers at the expense of those on low incomes, forcing some children onto the streets to beg. Poverty has been decreasing at a rate that compares well among Sub-Saharan African countries, declining from 51 per cent to 46 percent between 1997 and 2005, but Kenya has made more modest progress than some of its immediate neighbours (Uganda and Tanzania) and remains low on the Human Development Index, rated 143 out of 187 countries.
Agriculture accounts for 80 per cent of employment in Kenya, 50 per cent of exports and 25 per cent of GDP, making it a vital economic activity. Tourism is also an important source of foreign revenues. Regional trading partners, particularly Tanzania and Uganda, account for a large proportion of trade (46.2 per cent), while the European Union is also an important source of trade (28.5 per cent). Kenya is a key part of the East African Community, which established a Common Market in 2010.
Media and civil society
Civil society organisations working within in Kenya face an environment that is fraught with dangers, particularly for those advocating and end to impunity for human rights violations. CIVICUS has reported on a number of incidents in which civil society advocates have been arrested and detained without charge, or even killed. Two senior members of the the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic Kenya were murdered after blaming police for carrying out extra-judicial killings, an allegation supported by Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions in his 2009 report on the country. Civil society has had some notable successes in recent years, however, and in 2011 civil society groups successfully brought a case challenging the unilateral appointment of senior justice officials, including the Director of Public Prosecutions by President Kibaki.
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 84 out of 179 in its 2011 Press Freedom Index, a ranking significantly higher than many of its regional neighbours, but the organisation has nonetheless been critical of recent laws on press offences and the murder of journalist in 2009
Human rights and children's rights
The new Constitution of 2010 has provided a basis for political and judicial reforms in Kenya, but these reforms have yet to make a significant impact on the widespread impunity in the country. While the International Criminal Court is proceeding in cases against six high profile figures regarding allegations of crimes against humanity, the national response to the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008 has stalled. Human Rights Watch has reported that successful convictions against those involved in the violence have been very low and that as of the publishing the HRW World Report 2012, no security officers had been successfully prosecuted and the government had not paid court ordered compensation to victims of the violence. Of particular relevance to the rights of children is the lack of reform in relation to juvenile justice, which has been persistently criticised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but is yet to be addressed through systematic reforms. The 2010 Constitution did, however, act to prohibit corporal punishment against children in all settings.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Constitution of Kenya 2010, Art. 7(1) and (2)
- European Union Election Observation Mission to the Republic of Kenya: General Election 2007
- BBC, "Around Kenya: After the violence" 12 February 2008
- UN News Centre, "Kenya: UN expert urges durable solutions for internally displaced persons" 27 September 2011
- International Criminal Court, ICC-01/09 Situation in the Republic of Kenya"
- IRIN, "Kenya: Hungary families send children out to beg" 31 August 2011
- East African Community
- CIVICUS, "CIVICUS warns of grave danger to civil society activists in Kenya" 18 May 2010
- Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summar or arbitrary executions (16-25 February 2009) A/HRC/11/2/Add.6. Available here
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012"
- Reporters Without Borders,"President deals major blow to press freedom" 2 January 2009
- Reporters Without Borders, "Freelance journalists murdered in southwest" 2 February 2009
- See Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, February 2007, paras. 67 and 68
- The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, "VIOLENCE: Kenya's new Constitution prohibits all corporal punishment" 31 August 2010
- OHCHR: "Kenya Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Kenya Country Profile"
- The World Bank, "Kenya homepage"
- The World Bank, "Kenya Country Brief"
- BBC, "Kenya Profile" 24 January 2012 and news items (see footnotes)
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011" and news items (see footnotes)