Kenyan economy

Kenyan economy


The following material is owned by Fabrizio Cinus, as it comes from the master thesis titled “La questione di Mandera fra Kenya e Somalia”, A.A. 2009-2010, Faculty of Political Science, University of Cagliari.


As already mentioned, after independence, President Kenyatta decided to keep the country in the western block and try to give it a capitalist imprint. Even the two presidents who followed him maintained this line, but the results were not always positive. In any case today the country is the most industrialized country in East Africa [1]. The economy showed signs of positive growth during the first decade after independence, supported by both the agricultural sector, which stood at 7 percent average growth per year, and the manufacturing sector, which follow a contraction after the President Moi rose to power until 2000, with a 0.2 percent growth rate of GDP. In the following years, during which there was also a change of presidency and Kibaki rose to power, an Economic Recovery Strategy (ERS) was developed, bringing GDP growth from 0.5 percent in 2002 to 7 percent in 2007. [2]

Skyline of Nairobi

Skyline of Nairobi

Post-election violence at the end of that year led again to a fall in the GDP growth rate for the year 2008 [3], during which there was a contraction in the tourist sector, the port of Mombasa was closed with consequent accumulation of work, fuel prices increased, though already high compared to the standard of living of the majority of the population, there was a lack of food and fertilizers, frequent blackouts and rationing of the most precious asset, the water, and high inflation. The efforts of the newly-established government were all aimed at normalizing the situation. [4]

The workforce is made up of about 18 million people, of which 75 percent are employed in agriculture and 25 percent in industry and services. In 2010 agriculture contributed to 22 percent to GDP, industry to 16 percent and services to 62 percent. But the unemployment rate is very high, in fact it stands at 40 percent, according to 2008 projections. [5]

The economic activities that make Kenya competitive internationally and a source of income and survival for the population are tourism and production for the export of tea and coffee.

As far as tourism is concerned, the presence of exotic landscapes and wildlife spurs every year over one million tourists [6] to try the safaris (that is, the search for animals that remind us of hunting trips), for example in the famous parks of Masai Mara, Tsavo and Samburu National Park, places which they are connected to other services, such as private transportations, hotel services and commercial services for the sale of souvenirs. The coast also has a great offer of holiday resorts, from Mombasa to Malindi and Lamu, where numerous holiday villages have been installed, mostly destined, for their prices, almost exclusively to foreigners, but where you can find, if you can adapt to them, also some good cheap hotels.

Le famose "Tusks" o "Mapembeni" a Mombasa

The famous “Tusks” or “Mapembeni” in Mombasa

Even the northern part of Kenya, which is also considered (and rightly) dangerous by tourist guides and embassies such as the Italian one, can attract tourists eager to go on the banks of Lake Turkana, a journey that crosses more than one type of desert and just a few villages. Nor is the risk of contracting malaria and other illnesses curbing the desire for tourism in Kenya.

The crops for which Kenya’s exports are best known are coffee and tea productions. Kenya is able to produce the best qualities of these two drinks, also thanks to the manual work of farm workers. In fact, businesses give work to tens of thousands people. As for tea, the production takes place in the area between the Rift Valley and Nyanza Province, where some farms are owned by former President Moi [7]. The area is above two thousand meters of altitude and with a high humidity. The landscape is impressive, with light green crops stretching for miles. The secret of tea quality lies in manual leaf harvesting, carried out daily for eight hours by workers, driven by a method of production that stimulates competition and is well organized. In fact, the wage is calculated on the basis of the weight of the leaves collected, where not all the leaves fall into the count, but only the clearest ones, that is, the best, and in order to be entitled to work workers must ensure a daily collection of at least 30 kg. Experience and familiarity allow some worker to pick up 80 kg of leaves per day. The darker or more dry leaves are removed from the calculation made by some responsible persons with special scales. Renewal of the leaves takes about two weeks, and for this reason it would be better to not pick up the smaller ones. The workers are housed in a series of houses built around the crops and in one of the companies there was also a school for the workers’ children. Plants do not require special care, especially in the area where rains are frequent. The arrival of technology is suggesting to replace the workers and their manual job in searching for the best leaves with machines that, at higher speeds, however, combine the cut of all leaves without distinction, and this could lead to lowering the quality of the Kenyan tea, but above all could lead to the dismissal of workers who are already moving in protest. [8]

Coffee collection is also done manually, but it is simpler than tea because workers have to limit themselves in picking only red berries. But the care of coffee plants is more complicated because they need pruning to allow the plant to renew and continue to produce. Coffee cultivations are located between the Central Province and the Rift Valley Province, and they also need these at a high altitude. [9]

Despite a lively economy, and even though in 2008 the per capita GDP was $ 788.1 [10], wealth is not evenly distributed and much of the population is living below the poverty line. According to figures reported in 2007 by the local newspaper Daily Nation, over 16 million people, about 46 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. [11]

[1] Africa South of the Sahara 2010, p. 632.

[2] KNBS, Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-09, Nairobi 2010, p. 2.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Africa South of the Sahara 2010, p. 629.


[6] Africa South of the Sahara 2010, p. 635.

[7] In fact, that area is also inhabited by the Kalenjin tribe, who is the tribe of the former President Daniel Moi. J. SELLIER, Atlante dei popoli dell’Africa, Ed. il Ponte, Bologna 2009, p. 253.

[8] From a testimony given to the author by an employee of one of the tea growing farms in Kericho, Kenya’s West Town.

[9] From a testimony of Giuseppe Zencher to the author.

[10] UN Data,

[11] Antenne di Pace – notizie dai caschi bianchi in servizio civile nel mondo,