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Kenya - Introduction

Kenya is a developing East African country known for its wildlife and national parks. The capital city is Nairobi. The second largest city is Mombasa, located on the southeast coast. Tourist facilities are widely available in Nairobi, the game parks, the reserves, and on the coast. The official languages in Kenya are English and Kiswahili.

International entities refer to Kenya as a success story for the African continent, particularly in the tumultuous East African region, regarding political practices and democratic principles. However, conflicting national conditions, ranging from a model of democracy and political maturity to a powder keg of violence and dissent, leads to skepticism regarding Kenya's stability. Despite the turmoil, the May 2010 United States National Security Strategy, names Nigeria and Kenya "key states" and "essential subregional linchpins." Democracies are not predominant throughout Africa, but rather they exist sporadically, and tenuously.

Kenya maintains a facade of democracy to appease international donor governments and trade partners. Kenya does not meet the nominal criteria for a democracy, regardless of international perceptions and reputation. In fact, Kenyans, like most people of East Africa, face a desperate struggle for sustenance and an absence of individual economic potential. This struggle prevents the environmental and social conditions allowing for the exercise of democratic principles and establishment of institutional mechanisms of democracy.

Kenyan society, like Nigeria, is deeply divided according to ethnicity, or ethnic identity. Differences in religious and other basic values underlie and help to perpetuate these cleavages. The colonial period had formalized and hardened ethnic division as the colonial ruler established a system of administration based on a division of Kenya by tribes.

Nairobi is East Africa's economic hub, and the country is the second-largest economy in the region, according to figures from the World Bank and the International Monitory Fund (IMF). Until late 2014, when its larger neighbor, Ethiopia, overtook it, Kenya had the biggest economy - at more than $60bn - of the East Africa region. Kenya is home to several UN and humanitarian agencies that oversee relief efforts in the region. Most of the aid agencies operating in South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are based out of the Kenyan capital. In Kenya, traffic moves on the left side of the road, which can be very disorienting to those not accustomed to it. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits and manners, poor vehicle maintenance, bumpy, potholed, and unpaved roads, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards on Kenyan roads. When there is a heavy traffic jam, either due to rush hour or because of an accident, drivers will drive across the median strip and drive directly toward oncoming traffic. There are often fatal accidents involving long-distance, inter-city buses, or local buses called “matatus.” Matatus are known to be the greatest danger to other vehicles or pedestrians on the road.

Crime is rampant, indiscriminant, at times violent, and happens in all parts of Kenya. Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including home invasions, burglaries, armed carjackings, grenade attacks, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location. Crime is high in all regions of Kenya, particularly Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and at coastal beach resorts. There are regular reports of attacks against tourists by groups of armed assailants. Pickpockets and thieves carry out "snatch and run" crimes on city streets and near crowds. Thieves on motorcycles will assault pedestrians and speed away.

Highway banditry is common in much of Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit, and northern Tana River counties, as well as Turkana County. These areas are remote and sparsely populated. Incidents also occur occasionally on Kenya's main highways, particularly after dark.

Kenya initiated military action against al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab by crossing into Somalia on October 16, 2011, and on June 2, 2012, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) whereby it formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Kenyan troops within AMISOM are now actively pursuing al-Shabaab in southeastern Somalia. In response to the Kenyan intervention, al-Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted retaliatory attacks against civilian and government targets in Kenya.

On September 21, 2013, suspected members of the al-Shabaab terrorist organization, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, killing scores of innocent people, both Kenyan and non-Kenyan nationals, and wounding many others. The siege at the mall continued for several days and five U.S. citizens were confirmed injured in the attack.

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Page last modified: 31-07-2017 10:32:10 ZULU