Kenya: Land and People

Land and People

The country, which lies astride the equator, consists of several geographical regions. The first is a narrow coastal strip that is low lying except for the Taita Hills in the south. The second, an inland region of bush-covered plains, constitutes most of the country's land area. In the northwest, straddling Lake Turkana and the Kulal Mts., are high-lying scrublands. In the southwest are the fertile grasslands and forests of the Kenya highlands. In the west is the Great Rift Valley, an irregular depression that cuts through W Kenya from north to south in two branches. It is also the location of some of the country's highest mountains, including Mt. Kenya (17,058 ft/5,199 m). Kenya's main rivers are the Tana and the Athi. In addition to the capital, other important cities include Mombasa (the chief port), Nakuru, Kisumu, Thika, Machakos, and Eldoret.

People of African descent make up about 99% of the population; they are divided into about 40 ethnic groups, of which the Bantu-speaking Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kamba, and Kisii and the Nilotic-speaking Luo are predominant. Small numbers of persons of South Asian and European descent live in the interior, and there are some Arabs along the coast. The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English; many indigenous languages are also spoken. About 80% of the population is Christian; others follow indigenous beliefs and there are Muslim and Hindu minorities.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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