Demographics of Kenya

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Kenya is a multi-ethnic state in the Great Lakes region of Southeast Africa. It is primarily inhabited by Bantu and Nilotic populations, with some Cushitic ethnic minorities in the north. Its total population is estimated at 41 million inhabitants as of 2011.

A national census was conducted in 1999, but its final results were never released. A new census was undertaken in 2009, but it turned out to be controversial, as the questions about ethnic affiliation seemed inappropriate after the ethnic violence of the previous year.[1] Preliminary results of the census were published in 2010.[2]

Kenya's population was reported as 38.6 million in 2009, compared to in 28.7 million in 1999, 21.4 million in 1989 and 15.3 million 1979,[3] an increase by a factor of 2.5 over 30 years, or an average growth of more than 3% per year. The population growth rate has been reported as somewhat reduced during the 2000s and is now estimated at 2.7% (as of 2010), resulting in an estimate of a total population 41 million in 2011.

Ethnic groups[edit]

Further information: Languages of Kenya
A Maasai man.

Kenya has a very diverse population that includes most major ethnic, racial and linguistic groups found in Africa. The majority of the country's population belongs to various Bantu sub-groups, with a significant number of Nilotes.

Cushitic peoples form a small ethnic minority of about 2%, mostly represented by Oromo and Somali speakers.

Swahili and English are official languages. Swahili is compulsory in primary education, and, along with English, serves as the main lingua franca between the various ethnic groups.

SIL Ethnologue lists a total of 69 individual languages spoken in Kenya.[4]

Kenya's diversity is such that its largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, make up for less than a fifth of total population. Ever since Kenyan independence in 1963, Kenyan politics have been characterized by ethnic tensions and rivalry between the larger groups, devolving into ethnic violence in the 2007–2008 Kenyan crisis.

The 2009 census figures give the ethnic composition as follows (out of a total population of 38.6 million): Kikuyu 20%, Luhya 14%, Kalenjin 13%, Luo 10%, Kamba 10%, Kisii 6%, Mijikenda 5%, Meru 4%, Turkana 2.5%, Maasai 2.1%. Around 9% of the population consists of smaller groups numbering below 1% each; non-African groups (Arabs, Indians and Europeans) are estimated to total about 1%.[5]

Bantu peoples[edit]

Bantus are the single largest population division in Kenya. The term Bantu denotes widely-dispersed but related peoples that speak south-central Niger–Congo languages. Originally from West-Central Africa, Bantus began a millennium-long series of migrations referred to as the Bantu expansion that first brought them to Southeast Africa about 2000 years ago.

Most Bantu are farmers. Some of the prominent Bantu groups in Kenya include the Kikuyu, the Kamba, the Luhya, the Meru, the Mijikenda and the Kisii. The Swahili people are descended from Mijikenda Bantu peoples that intermarried with Arab and Persian immigrants.[6][7]

Nilotic peoples[edit]

Nilotes are the second-largest group of peoples in Kenya. They speak Nilo-Saharan languages and came to Southeast Africa by way of South Sudan.[6] Most Nilotes in Kenya are herdsmen, and they have a fearsome reputation as warriors and cattle-rustlers. The most prominent of these groups include the Luo, Maasai, the Samburu, the Turkana, and the Kalenjin.[6] As with the Bantu, the Nilotes have adopted many customs and practices from the Cushitic groups, including the age set system of social organization, circumcision, and vocabulary terms.[8][9]

Cushitic peoples[edit]

Cushitic peoples form a small minority of Kenya's population. They speak Afro-Asiatic languages, and originally came from Ethiopia and Somalia in Northeast Africa. Most are herdsmen and Muslim.[9] Cushites are concentrated in the northernmost North Eastern Province, which borders Somalia.[10]

The Cushitic-speaking peoples are divided into two groups: the Southern Cushites and Eastern Cushites.





Main article: Languages of Kenya
Lord's Prayer in Swahili, a Bantu language that alongside English serves as a lingua franca for many in Kenya.

Kenya's various ethnic groups typically speak their mother tongues within their own communities. The two official languages, English and Swahili, are used in varying degrees of fluency for communication with other populations. English is widely spoken in commerce, schooling and government.[17] Peri-urban and rural dwellers are less multilingual, with many in rural areas speaking only their native languages.[18]

According to Ethnologue, there are a total of 69 languages spoken in Kenya. Most belong to two broad language families: Niger-Congo (Bantu branch) and Nilo-Saharan (Nilotic branch), spoken by the country's Bantu and Nilotic populations, respectively. The Cushitic and Arab ethnic minorities speak languages belonging to the separate Afro-Asiatic family, with the Indian and European residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family.[19]


According to the 2010 revison of the World Population Prospects, the total population was 40,513,000 in 2010 compared to only 6,077,000 in 1950. The proportion of children below the age of 15 in 2010 was 42.5%, 54.9% was between 15 and 65 years of age, and 2.7% was 65 years or older.[20]

Total population (x 1000)Population aged 0–14 (%)Population aged 15–64 (%)Population aged 65+ (%)
19506 07739.856.33.9
19556 98042.853.43.8
19608 10546.449.93.7
19659 50548.448.03.6
197011 25249.147.53.4
197513 48649.647.13.3
198016 26850.047.13.0
198519 65550.047.22.8
199023 44749.048.32.7
199527 42646.550.82.7
200031 25444.352.92.8
200535 61542.754.52.8
201040 51342.554.92.7

Population by province in 2009 census[edit]

A map of Kenya.


Kenya (country total)38,610,097
Nairobi (capital city)3,138,369
North Eastern2,310,757
Rift Valley10,006,805

Population by census year[edit]


Fertility and Births (Demographic and Health Surveys)[edit]

Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and Crude Birth Rate (CBR):[22]

YearCBR (Total)TFR (Total)CBR (Urban)TFR (Urban)CBR (Rural)TFR (Rural)
2008-2009 (census)34,84,632,52,935,35,2

UN population projections[edit]

Numbers are in thousands. UN medium variant projections[20]

Vital statistics[edit]

Registration of vital events is in Kenya not complete. The Population Department of the United Nations prepared the following estimates. [20]

PeriodLive births per yearDeaths per yearNatural change per yearCBR*CDR*NC*TFR*IMR*
1950-1955334 000154 000181 00051.223.627.77.48147
1955-1960388 000163 000225 00051.521.629.87.79134
1960-1965449 000165 000284 00051.018.832.28.07117
1965-1970525 000172 000353 00050.616.534.18.11104
1970-1975628 000178 000450 00050.814.436.47.9991
1975-1980743 000186 000557 00049.912.537.47.6480
1980-1985869 000192 000677 00048.410.737.77.2270
1985-1990972 000214 000757 00045.19.935.16.5467
1990-19951 003 000252 000751 00039.49.929.55.5766
1995-20001 115 000345 000770 00038.011.826.25.0769
2000-20051 294 000427 000867 00038.712.825.95.0070
2005-20101 447 000429 0001 017 00038.011.326.74.8065
* CBR = crude birth rate (per 1000); CDR = crude death rate (per 1000); NC = natural change (per 1000); IMR = infant mortality rate per 1000 births; TFR = total fertility rate (number of children per woman)

Population statistics[edit]

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated.

Total population is reported as 41.07 million as of July 2011.


Further information: Health in Kenya

Like the demographics of Africa in general, Kenya is plagued by high infant mortality, low life expectancy, malnourishment (32%of population) and HIV/AIDS. While these concerns remain grave, a trend towards improvement is reported in the period of 2006 to 2010: Infant mortality was at estimated at 59.26 deaths/1,000 live births as of 2006, decreasing to 54.7 deaths/1,000 live births as of 2010. Life expectancy was estimated at 48.9 years as of 2006, and has risen to 64 years in 2012.[23]

According to 2008-09 Kenyan government survey, total fertility was 4.6 with contraception usage rate among married women was 46 percent.[24] Total fertility rate has decreased slightly, from 4.91 children born per woman (2006 estimate), to a value of 4.38 (2010 estimate). Literacy (age 7 and over can read and write) was estimated at 85.1% in 2003 (male: 90.6%, female: 79.7%).


Main article: Religion in Kenya

Protestant 47.7%, Roman Catholic 23.5%, other Christian 11.9%, Muslim 11.2%, no religion 2.4%, African Traditional Religion 1.7%,[25] Bahá'í Faith about 1%,[26][27] Buddhism 0.3%, other 2%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kenya begins contentious census BBC News, 24 August 2009.
  2. ^ Kenya defends tribal census figures BBC News, 31 August 2010.
  3. ^ census data cited after
  4. ^ Languages of Kenya
  5. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Kenya
  6. ^ a b c A. Okoth & A. Ndaloh, Peak Revision K.C.P.E. Social Studies, (East African Publishers), p.60-61.
  7. ^ S. Wandibba et al, Social Studies STD 6, (East African Publishers), p.45-47.
  8. ^ Robert O. Collins, The southern Sudan in historical perspective, (Transaction Publishers: 2006), p.9-10.
  9. ^ a b c d e S. Wandibba et al, p.19-20.
  10. ^ a b c d Godfrey Mwakikagile, Kenya: identity of a nation, (Godfrey Mwakikagile: 2007), p.99-102.
  11. ^ H. Okello Ayot, Topics in East African history, 1000-1970 (East African Literature Bureau: 1976), p.13.
  12. ^ a b Randall L. Pouwels, Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800-1900, Volume 53 of African Studies, (Cambridge University Press: 2002), p.9.
  13. ^ Mwakikagile, p.79.
  14. ^ Kenya/Somalia: Somalia community doing booming business in country
  15. ^ a b c "Population and Housing Census - Ethnic Affiliation". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  16. ^ Evans, Ruth (24 May 2000). "Kenya's Asian heritage on display". BBC. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  17. ^ Proquest Info & Learning (COR) (2009). Culturegrams: World Edition. Proquest/Csa Journal Div. p. 98. ISBN 0977809161. 
  18. ^ Brown, E. K.; Asher, R. E. and Simpson, J. M. Y. (2006). Encyclopedia of language & linguistics, Volume 1, Edition 2. Elsevier. p. 181. ISBN 0080442994. 
  19. ^ Languages of Kenya.
  20. ^ a b c Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Kenya’s life expectancy jumps to 64 years - News -
  24. ^ Kenya - Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-09
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Kenya". World Council of Churches. World Council of Churches. 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2008. 
  27. ^ U.S. State Department (2007). "Background Note: Kenya". The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affair. Retrieved 6 April 2008. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document "2006 edition".

External links[edit]