Tourism in Kenya



o       Position of Kenya in Africa

o       Importance of tourism to Kenya

2.Factors promoting Kenya's tourism

o       Wildlife

o       Landscapes

o       People

3.Problems facing Kenya's tourism

o       Wildlife

o       Poverty and crime

o       Corruption and political instability

o       Competition from South Africa



Kenya straddles the equator with its boundaries going four degrees north and south respectively. It is located in the eastern region of Africa bordering Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. The country has a population of about 30 million people (census carried out in September 1999) and comprises of three major towns namely  Nairobi which is the capital city, Mombasa and Kisumu. The towns owe their existence to the early trade and settlement of foreigners.

Tourism  is  the greatest earner of foreign exchange to the Kenyan economy and contributes to about 30% of its total earnings. While the government of Kenya attaches much importance to tourism, the industry has been on a decline in the recent past. This has raised a lot of concern to the country and its government has tried to look into the problems and some possible solutions.

 Factors Promoting Kenya's Tourism

The key factor in Kenya’s tourism is wildlife. The country has an abundance of game reserves and national parks. The largest park is Tsavo East National  Park which covers an estimated area of 11747  sq. Km. The park has all the ‘big five’ namely elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffaloes also known as man eaters of Tsavo.Other animals present here include giraffes, impalas, dikdiks,  and lesser kudus. The park also has birds examples of which include starlings, herons, weaver birds, storks and kingfishers. Close and similar to Tsavo East  is Tsavo West which covers an estimated  area of 9000 sq. Km .The two are separated by the Nairobi-Mombasa railway but the latter has more bird population with a record of over  6000 bird species. The third largest in this category of parks is Amboseli National Park which lies at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and covers an estimated area of 392 sq km. The park has 53 species of herbivores and carnivores with the most conspicuous being elephants. Mt. Elgon National Park follows in size covering  an estimated area of 169 sq. Km. This park lies to the western border of Kenya where the country borders Uganda and has 400 forest elephants, bushbucks, giant forest hogs, wild cats and monkeys.The bird population here includes falcons, red-headed parrots, and guinea fowls. Next in size are Lake Nakuru National Park and Ruma National Park respectively. The latter is about 140 Km from Kisumu town and famous for roan antelopes while the former is close to the capital city and is famous for flamingoes more than any other kind of animals although it has some zebras and lions. Nairobi National Park stands out as the only Park in the city and covers an estimated area of 117sq. Km. The animal population here includes rhinos, elands, plain zebras, giraffes, gazelles, lions, leopards and Cheetahs. Over  400 birds have been recorded here although their presence depends on seasons.Other smaller parks include Mt.Kenya National Park, which has a lot of baboons and buffaloes, Shimba hills National Park, Hells Gate and Mt. Longonot National Parks.

Kenya has a varied landscape ranging from the coastal plains to the south, Nyika plateau to the east, the interior highlands to the Lake basin on the western side. Among the physical features in Kenya include beaches along the coast bordering the Indian Ocean, lakes like Lake Victoria which is a major fishing ground for fish both for the domestic and export market. Lake Naivasha is the only fresh water lake in Kenya because of its underground inlet. Rivers and great waterfalls include Tana and Athi .Major mountains include Mt. Kenya which is snow capped and has a lot of alpine vegetation and Mt. Longonot with a crater lake on its peak.The vegetation of Kenya also varies from the dense tropical forest of Arabuko Sokoke reserve, mangrove along the coast, shrubbery arid desert in the north to thick mountainous forest and alpine along the snow capped mount Kenya.

Rich cultural heritage and diversity also serve to promote tourism in Kenya. With 42 different tribes, the country has a lot of variety to show in terms of artifacts and sociofacts. The largest tribe are the kikuyu who cover two of Kenya’s eight provinces followed by the Kambas .The most indigenous tribe are the masai who cover themselves with lesos (folded bed sheets and blankets). Their main economic activity is hunting and they still look down upon education.They marry off their daughters at around thirteen years of age in return for dowry which must be in the form of cows. Before the elders decide that a man is brave enough to marry he has to go to the wilderness and prove his worth by killing a fierce animal. The transition is marked by adding the word ole to ones name. People of the same age group also share certain names to show which age set they belong to. Their houses are built from mud all round including the roof. Another tribe called the abagusii are also popular for both wood and soapstone carving and their artistry in making woven products from reeds especially the kiondo basket.The luo are to the western side and are popular for their fishing skills.Other smaller tribes include luhyas,digos,giriamas,pokomos and kalenjins who particularly excel in long distance races due to their hunting skills.

Problems facing Kenya's Tourism

The existence of some of the wildlife such as rhinos and elephants is threatened by hunting for their ivory. Furthermore, land grabbing has threatened the existence of some preserved indigenous forests like Karura Forest Reserve.In an attempt to eliminate these problems, the government formed Kenya wildlife Services which has made some progress in curbing the hunting of rhinos and elephants.

 The rate of crime due to poverty has escalated in Kenya over the last few years. Every other day in the local news people get to hear of violent robberies. The streets are also crowded with street children who are a threat to people walking on the streets as they steal especially from tourists in their desperate attempt to find food for their daily survival. The roads in Kenya especially along some parts of the city center are also filled with pot holes. There have been attempts of late to rehabilitate street children thus clear them from the streets. It is hoped that this will help to solve the danger they pose to people along the streets and that robbery due to poverty shall be cut down. Constitutional reforms are currently underway and it is hoped that this will help to solve the street demonstrations that often end up in violence and looting.

  Kenya is currently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. This in itself portrays a negative image to both past and potential future tourists. It is not much of an exaggeration because the media contains many scandals sometimes involving high ranking government officials. Recent reports indicate that funds allocated for projects like road development are embezzled by corrupt officials. The political situation in Kenya has also been volatile of late with many politically instigated street protests especially calls for constitutional reforms ahead of the 2002 general election. There have also been cases of tribal clashes and land grabbing the roots of which can traced to politics. The Kenyan Anti-Corruption Authority was formed in 1998 in a bid to phase out corruption in the country as a whole and the government in particular. It is controlled by the government and as such has not made much impact although slight changes are noticeable.

Kenya’s tourism is facing stiff competition from South Africa .Most tourists would rather visit South Africa whose government have been able to capitalize on Kenya's weaknesses by providing good infrastructure, better security and better services generally at lower rates due to its cost-effective government.


The future of Kenya’s tourism lies in the hands of the government. A change is needed urgently in the political scene and the general feeling among the people according to most popular daily newspapers is that there is need to change the government. Most donors  who used to provide aid also feel that their money is not being put into proper use hence they have frozen their funding.The situation at the moment therefore only points to a further decline in Kenya’s tourism as no serious steps have been taken to solve the problems.The resources that the country needs to promote tourism are there and its success is just a question of government.


The Daily Nation Newspapers, Kenyan Geography by Ogundipe 4 th Edition Published 1998

Coast Week Newspapers, Kenyan Tourism by Dr Ochieng' 2 nd Edition Published 1998 and  -owned by Kenya wildlife services and viewed on November 3 1999   -owned by Nation Media Group and viewed in October 1999

http://www.Netsearch/kenya/tourism  -search engine viewed on October 4 1999

By Chris O Abade      On:November 5, 1999