- Capital city: Nairobi
- Government: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
- Currency: Kenyan shilling (KES)
- Population: 49.7 million
- Official languages: English, Swahili
- Main Religions: Christianity (84%), Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism
The Republic of Kenya is an East African state situated on the equator, which boasts a 1,420km-long coastline along the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. Kenya is bordered by Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Rich in wildlife, its geography consists of low plains, imposing mountains and vast savannahs such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve – home to the Maasai people, known globally for their distinctive customs and tribal dress. Kenya has been named the ‘cradle of civilisation’ after paleoanthropologists discovered evidence of the earliest humans in the Great Rift Valley region.
Kenya’s largest city is the capital Nairobi in the south west of the country, a modern and vibrant metropolis of four million inhabitants, sitting 1,700m above sea level. The beautiful coastal city of Mombasa, the country’s second largest and oldest city, is a popular tourist destination and cultural hub. A former British colony, Kenya’s economy has grown steadily since its independence in 1963 and it is now one of Africa’s more affluent nations. Divided into 47 semi-autonomous counties, Kenya became a multi-party democracy since the introduction of a new constitution in 2010.
Notable Kenyans include Barack Obama Senior, father of the 44th American President and Prof. Wangarĩ Muta Maathai, an environmental activist and Africa’s first female Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Kenya is a multi-cultural society made up of around 70 ethnic groups. The majority of Kenyans belong to Bantu tribes, the largest being the Kikuyu, Kamba and Luhya. Around two thirds of Kenyans are Christian but there is also a significant Muslim minority (around 10%) and followers of Hinduism and Sikhism.
The family is at the heart of Kenyan society and the Bantu word “harambee” (to pull together) encapsulates how Kenyans value familial ties above all else. It is common for large extended families to live together under one roof, with older members of the family accorded the greatest respect. Kenyans are known for being impeccable and gregarious hosts – guests to a Kenyan household will be treated to a warm welcome and a feast of delicious dishes, such as nyama choma (barbequed meat and cornmeal).
A love of music and dance is deep-rooted in Kenyan culture and you will find every type of music, from the traditional songs and chants of the Maa-speaking groups to modern jazz and Kenyan Hip Hop. Kenyans are also passionate about sports, particularly track and field athletics, which has helped put the country on the map at the Olympic Games.
Research in Kenya is predominantly funded by the national and county governments, as well as through private and business enterprise. The University of Nairobi is ranked highest for research output and has boosted its success by the development of an expansive Science and Technology Park.
University research in Kenya is under-funded and there is a lack of coordination on a national research policy. However research activity and collaboration are slowly expanding with the establishment of the Planning, Research and Development Division, a CUE department which aims to improve the funding and quality of Kenya’s research landscape.
Safety and security
On the whole Kenyans are extremely friendly and hospitable. However, crime has risen in recent years, with robbery and carjacking being the most common types of offence. It is therefore advisable to avoid going out after dark in more isolated areas known for high rates of crime. Expats should also bear in mind that homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and carries a 14-year prison sentence.
Higher education has experienced rapid expansion in the last 25 years and Kenya is now home to 22 public universities, 14 private universities and 13 universities operating under a Letter of Interim Authority (awaiting a university charter). Raising standards in Kenyan schools has led to an increased demand for university places among young people. The highest-ranking institution is the University of Nairobi, the oldest and largest university in Kenya. English and Swahili are the principal languages of instruction and research in Kenyan higher education institutions.
Universities offer a two-tier system of degree programmes, with bachelor’s degrees taking around four to six years to complete and master’s degrees between one and two years. A PhD takes around three to five years to complete. Public universities are governed by the Commission for University Education (CUE), an agency of the Ministry of Education.
Admission to university in Kenya is through grades attained at secondary school and a fiercely competitive university entrance exam. Tuition fees at public institutions are around 139,000 KES (£1,065) to 501,500 KES (£3,860), depending on the course.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Kenya is the eighth highest on the African continent, however it is almost 40% lower than the UK and the USA. Rent and utilities will take up most of an expat’s budget and extra costs such as paying for a driver and clean drinking water should be factored in. The capital Nairobi is the most expensive place to live, however expats moving for a job may get help to cover initial costs from an employer. Food, transport and eating out are all cheap when compared with many European nations.
Kenya has a mix of public and private healthcare, however expats are advised to take out a comprehensive international insurance healthcare policy, which would usually be arranged by your employer in Kenya.
Kenya attracts many professional expats each year, particularly to Nairobi, where the areas of Karen, Lavington and Westlands are famous for their large expat communities and range of international schools. Most expats choose to rent and there is a wide range of options available, including houses, apartments and private complexes. Rents in Nairobi and Mombasa can be high compared to rural areas. However, it is common for employers to assist you in finding suitable accommodation and covering the costs, in line with your salary. The average rental price for a three-bed apartment in Nairobi is around 94,000 KES (£720) per month and around 67,000 KES (£520) in Mombasa.
Visas and Eligibility
All foreign nationals entering Kenya must have an eVisa, which can be applied for online. Visas are valid for a period of three months, after which it can be extended for a further three months. Those wishing to stay longer than six months should obtain a Foreign Nationals Certificate (Alien Card) and a work permit, the category of which will depend on the type of employment. Permits and Alien Cards can be applied for online through the Kenyan Department of Immigration Services and Foreign Nationals Portal and your employer is required to assist you in this process.
Working hours in Kenya are generally 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, although many people also work on Saturday mornings. By law, workers are not permitted to work more than 52 hours per week or eight hours per day. Employees are entitled to 21 days paid leave after 12 months continuous service. Kenya has 11 public and religious holidays, which incorporate multi-faith celebrations, as well as national celebrations such as Madaraka Day on the 1st of June, when Kenyans celebrate gaining independence.
Businesses are traditionally hierarchical in Kenya and although all opinions are welcomed, there is a prevalent top-down approach to decision-making. English is the main language of business, government and higher education and Kenyans will seamlessly switch to English if required.
Education and experience are revered in the Kenyan workplace so be mindful of your counterpart’s position in an organisation when meeting for the first time. Relationships are also important in Kenyan culture and this is reflected in the workplace. Most people will go out of their way to make visitors feel comfortable and welcomed. Indeed, Kenyan’s are known for having an indirect and polite communication style, so projecting a friendly and open demeanour will help you to gain trust and support.