Geography of Kenya

Overview of Geography of Kenya

Spatial location of Kenya on the world map - Geography of Kenya
Spatial Location of Kenya on the World Map

Overview of Geography & Boundaries of Kenya

Kenya is spatially situated at the Horn of Africa, in the far eastern end of Africa, flanked by Tanzania in the south, by Uganda in the west, by Sudan and Ethiopia in the north and by Somalia in the east. It fronts two major world water bodies, Indian Ocean to the south east and Lake Victoria to the west with a total surface area of about 582,646 km2 of which 11,230 km2 is water. Other notable water bodies include Lake Turkana, north of the Rift Valley, and a number of notable smaller lakes along the Rift Valley. The country is dissected into four sectors by the Great Rift Valley about east and west, and by the Equator into two equal parts of north and south. Kenya’s diversity is comprised of 44 major tribes and residents from all corners of the world.  The economy is principally agrarian. Kenya’s climate ranges from balmy tropical at the coast to temperate and arid in the interior, based on altitude. Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest, is the highest point, at 5,199 m. Kenya’s total population (as at 2018) is estimated at almost 52 million, the bulk of whom live in three areas of Kenya: nearby Lake Victoria in the west and south-west, in Central Kenya, and in an area of fairly dense population along the Coast Region of Kenya, specially between Malindi and Tanzania border. In the hinterland, population density is higher where the ground lies more than 3,000 feet above sea level and the climate is equable and pleasant enough, particularly in the highlands that form the central province of Kenya and North Rift. These areas take on about 20% of her total land surface area, where much of the population thrives in the tightly packed constellation of small counties in Central Kenya, Western Kenya and the Coast Region of Kenya.

About 80% of Kenya’s terrestrial land is listed as arid to semi-arid, where life is essentially a continual search of water and the little vegetation to be found here, the rainfall here ranging from 150 to 750 mm annually. That is to also say, the rainfall here is erratic and poorly distributed, spatially and temporally, making agricultural production in the ASALs a cosmic challenge. The temperatures are always high across the ASAL, incessantly above 30 Celcius, which consequently affects moisture availability and dampers agricultural production potential.  So that, the high potential areas covering 20% of the country carry about 75–80% of the national population.  This has caused extensive pressure on land use for agriculture. It is upon this premise that Kenya must be understood and one that has inspired Kenya’s designation as the “land of variety.”  To better understand Kenya, one may look at it this way: It straddles the equator, the land rising from the coast to altitudes of 10,000 feet or more before dropping down into Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana. In between these variations of altitudes are seminal rolling farmlands, rolling expanses of plantation and natural forests, dry bush, scrublands, deserts and palm fringed tracts of amazing beaches.  The Northern Region of Kenya, the big 80%, previously a marginalized region, now provides some of the great driving experiences in Kenya, and not least along the 504 km A1 Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale highway linking Kenya to Ethiopia.  A lovely smooth road takes trippers across unfamiliar horizons, great scenery, and new cultures. 

Coastal Strip along Diani or the South Coast of Kenya.  Photo Courtesy
Coastal Strip along Diani at the South Coast of Kenya. Photo Courtesy

Boundaries: Districts, Counties and Facts

The original 40 boundaries of Kenya, marking districts and provinces, were first defined in the 1963 Independence Constitution and they were largely based on ethnic boundaries, affirmed by political positions taken at the Lancaster House Conferences. Leading up to the British Rule of East Africa, the people of Kenya had lived more or less homogeneously, each tribe living in one general location. The pastoralists communities, like the Maasai, who traversed expansive areas, interacted hospitably with other communities. Occasionally, small wars would break out among the communities – especially between the puissant pastoralist communities – but peace generally prevailed. During the British Era, the Royal Boundaries Commission believed that it was prudent to keep rival tribes within their own administrative and political boundaries for the object of peace. And thus the defunct 40 Districts [under 9 Provinces] were drawn and created. In 1968, Central Nyanza and South Nyanza districts, within Nyanza Province, were replaced by Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya Districts – that brought the number of districts to 41.  Between 1969 to 1989, six districts were created. In Eastern province, Makueni District split from Machakos and Tharaka Nithi District split from Meru. In Nyanza Province, Migori District hived-off from Homa Bay while Nyamira District split from Kisii. In Rift Valley Province, Bomet District split from Kericho, and in Western Province Vihiga District split from Kakamega. Some territory was transferred from Turkana District, in Rift Valley Province, to create West Pokot District – bringing the number to the districts to 47. In 2010, the 47 Districts were replaced by the 47 Counties of Kenya in accordance to the August 05, referendum adopted by 67% of Kenyans, in time promulgated on August 27, 2010. Rather interestingly, almost all the Counties of Kenya are named after their capital town which also serve as administrative headquarters.

Map of the Counties of Kenya - Overview of Geography & Boundaries of Kenya

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