Kenya

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Background

With few mineral resources to rely on, Kenya’s economy is more widely diversified than many other African countries, offering a host of opportunities for entrepreneurs – everything from agriculture and tourism to manufacturing and ship-repair contribute to the country’s respectable 5% annual growth in GDP. However, deep-rooted corruption across all levels of government – along with long periods of political turmoil – have hamstrung what should be one of the strongest economies in Africa. While current President Mwai Kibaki rose to power on an anti-graft platform, corruption remains a major impediment to doing business in Kenya. Kibaki’s second (and final) term comes to an end in 2012, and after violence marred the 2007 poll, all eyes are on whether power will be transferred peacefully this time around.

Important Cities

Although it began life in 1899 as a simple railway depot on the line linking Mombasa to Uganda, Nairobi is today the country’s commercial and political capital, home to the seat of government, United Nations missions, the Nairobi Stock Exchange and a host of multinational offices. The coastal city of Mombasa is the country’s second-largest city, and one of the most important ports in East Africa, providing a vital transport link to Central Africa. Apart from maritime and oil industries, inbound tourism is a mainstay of the coastal economy and you’ll find seafront resorts strung out north and south of the city. Kisumu, situated on the tendrils of Lake Victoria, is the largest city in western Kenya and an important trading centre for freighters servicing routes to Uganda and Tanzania. Cotton, rice and sugar production are key industries in this region.

Climate

Kenya’s diverse geography means that weather conditions vary widely across the country. The Rift Valley and Central Highlands have the most moderate weather, with temperatures ranging from 12-28°C. Rainfall occurs in two monsoon periods: March-June, and October-November. The coastal areas are always humid, and the mercury hovers around 30°C on most days of the year. Expect heavy rains in April and May, due to the north-east monsoon. The hot plateau of western Kenya experiences rainfall throughout the year, although January is usually the driest month. Temperatures are stable throughout the year, and days regularly top 36°C. Rain is scarce in the semi-desert areas of northern Kenya, but expect a huge fluctuation in temperatures – below 20°C before dawn, and over 40°C during the day.

Visas

Citizens of most south and east African countries do not require a visa to enter Kenya for less than 30 days, although a passport valid for six months after date of departure is required. Passport-holders requiring a visa can apply at their nearest Kenyan High Commission, or obtain a visa on arrival for US$50.

Connectivity

Internet access is easily available in major cities, and almost all hotels and resorts will offer Internet access in the rooms, or in a central business centre. Public Internet cafés are also available in Nairobi and Mombasa. Mobile phone coverage is widespread throughout the southern parts of the country, but can be scarce in the sparsely populated northern areas. Roaming charges are expensive, so if you expect to make a lot of phone calls rather purchase a local SIM card (Safaricom is a popular choice) on arrival. Mobile Internet access is also easily available, although it can be slow. Expect to pay $6 for 500MB.

Travel Tips

There’s a reason the capital has earned the nickname ‘Nai-robbery’. If you’re walking the streets, especially at night, it pays to leave your valuables in the hotel safe and keep your guard up. Unless you know exactly where you’re going, rather take a taxi from the hotel. The ageing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport can be chaotic at the best of times – ensure you arrive early for your flight. However, once you’re past the interminable security queues you’ll find airside services are few and far between. If you have more than a few hours to wait it’s worth paying for access to the Business Class lounge. Kenya’s coastal areas are predominantly Muslim in tradition, so remember to dress conservatively when away from tourist resorts and hotels. VISA and Mastercard-enabled ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and Mombasa, and hotels will accept major credit cards and travellers’ cheques.

Getting around

International flights land at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, located 15 kilometres beyond the CBD on the road to Mombasa. Wilson Airport is situated close to the city centre, and offers both domestic services and charter flights. Unless you’re of stern disposition you’ll want to avoid hiring a car in Nairobi or Mombasa – taxis are readily available from the airport and hotels. In the coastal cities of Mombasa and Malindi three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuks’ are also available for short journeys. Remember to negotiate a fare upfront. Local ‘matatu’ minibus taxis ply routes in and around major cities – they’re popular with locals, but aren’t ideal for getting to meetings on time. An overnight train service runs from Nairobi to Mombasa, but is notorious for lengthy delays and less than stellar conditions on-board. Rather fly. It’s generally safe to walk in the centre of Mombasa and Nairobi during the day, but be alert for pickpockets. At night, ask your hotel to call a taxi.

Health

Although there’s no malaria in Nairobi, it is prevalent across much of the country and prophylactics are recommended. Consult your doctor three weeks before travelling. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required to enter Kenya. Remember that the vaccination must be done at least 10 days prior to departure.

Contacts

Kenyan High Commission: kenya.org.za
Kenya Investment Authority: investmentkenya.com

Fact File

Population: 41 million
Time zone: GMT +3
Plugs: Three-pin square British-style
Dialling code: +254 + area code + number required
Currency: Kenyan Shilling US$1=KES90
GDP growth rate (2010 est.): 5%
Language: Both Kiswahili and English are official languages in Kenya. Across southern Kenya, English is widely spoken.

Richard Holmes

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