Kenya is a political and financial hub in East Africa and has traditionally played a stabilizing role in the region.

Facts about Kenya

The flag for Kenya
Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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The flag for Kenya

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

The country has had a progressive constitution since 2010, economic growth of approximately 5.5 per cent, and a dynamic civil society. At the same time Kenya faces considerable challenges related to security and corruption in particular, as well as an increasing gap between rich and poor.

Norway’s main goal in Kenya is to promote Norwegian business interests and to strengthen good governance, human rights and gender equality.


Kenya has a coalition government headed by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Jubilee coalition consists of the President’s party, the National Alliance (TNA), and the United Republican Party (URP) led by Vice-President William Rutos. The opposition is led by Raila Odinga’s party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). ODM is part of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD).

The new 2010 Constitution is regarded as progressive and marks a watershed in Kenyan history in respect of the equitable allocation of resources in the country.

The Constitution establishes devolution of responsibility and funding to 47 counties. The transfer of authority to these counties and the creation of well-functioning county administrations are important issues in the public debate in Kenya.

The Constitution incorporates a comprehensive list of human rights guarantees. Kenya has a strong human rights commission and an active civil society. Nonetheless, many believe that the democratic space has become more restricted since the election in 2013.

Repressive media laws have been passed, and proposals to limit international funding of civil society organizations have been put forward. Commentators interpret the development as a reaction to the demands of human rights organizations for justice for the victims of electoral violence in 2007/8 and to accusations of breaches of human rights in the government’s anti-terrorism efforts.

Civil society has fought a fierce battle against restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and international partners have had talks with the authorities on the issues in question.

A review of Kenya’s human rights record by the Human Rights Council (Universal Periodic Review) took place in Geneva in January 2015, when the Kenyan government accepted all of Norway’s recommendations.

In 2012 the Supreme Court of Kenya ruled that the constitutional requirement of 1/3 representation of each gender in all elected bodies had to be introduced by 27 August 2015. The National Gender Equality Commission is preparing a bill to implement this requirement, a commitment funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Nairobi.

Security has been a central theme during Kenyatta’s presidential period. After a relatively peaceful election in March 2013, Kenya was hit by al-Shabaab’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in September of the same year. Since then there have been numerous attacks throughout the country.

In April 2015, al-Shabaab launched a terrorist action on the local university in Garissa. At least 147 students from all over Kenya were killed. The terrorist attack is the worst Kenya has experienced since the attack on the US Embassy in Nairobi in August 1998. The attacks have had a destabilizing effect on Kenya, with serious repercussions for the tourist industry.

In April 2015 the government published a list of organizations that were suspected of having links to al- Shabaab, including the Norwegian-supported human rights organizations HAKI Africa and MUHURI. The government requested the Norwegian Embassy to sever all links with human rights defenders. A court in Mombasa has since confirmed that the organizations have no links with terrorist organizations.

Even though Kenya has a growth economy and the Kenyan middle-class is increasing, there are enormous differences between rich and poor. The Jubilee coalition government claims that its most important task is to ensure optimal conditions for stronger economic growth and an increase in jobs, thereby lifting the Kenyan population out of poverty. 

Critics believe that the government must also tackle many of the fundamental reasons for the widespread poverty, such as extensive corruption and a lack of ability and willingness to secure a fair distribution of land.

Investment in infrastructure and energy production, often with the help of Chinese capital and competence, is in focus in the government’s project for stronger economic growth. However, a number of sources point out that contracts and large-scale borrowing have been instrumental in increasing corruption.

Since the election in 2013, the court cases involving President Kenyatta and Vice-President Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have received considerable attention. The charges against Kenyatta were withdrawn in December 2014 because of a lack of evidence.

Foreign policy

In January 2015 Kenya launched a new foreign policy. The main pillars are peacebuilding and conflict resolution, trade and investment, the diaspora, environment policy, culture and protecting the image of the country. The economic dimension is of major importance, not least in relation to trade with Europe and increased cooperation with China.

Kenya champions stronger regional integration. The East African Community (EAC) has passed a resolution to put in place a common internal market, a customs union and a monetary union.

Although the idea of a political federation has been aired, attention is presently focused on the free flow of goods, services and labour in the region, in addition to development of infrastructure and energy production. 

Kenya is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and has played an active role in peace negotiations for South Sudan. Nairobi hosts the UN’s third largest headquarters, housing the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).


In recent years the Kenyan economy has experienced stable growth of over four per cent despite a number of challenges. Agriculture, which accounts for about 25 per cent of GDP, has been affected by poorer harvests because of drought and the low prices of important commodities.

Tourism, accounting for 12−14 per cent of GDP, is vital for the local communities affected but has been undermined by the security situation.

Kenya’s greatest challenge is corruption, which makes it difficult for Western companies to invest in the country. General demand in the economy is limited by an uneven distribution of economic growth and the fact that the tax base is too fragile to ensure essential new investment.

The lack of an adequate infrastructure is especially noticeable in the field of transport and energy. In 2014 Chinese companies were awarded a contract to build a new railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi, and a number of large road projects were approved.

Investments are being made in large and small energy projects, primarily geothermal energy but also solar and wind power production. In addition, gas-fired power plants are planned in both the port of Mombasa and in connection with the large-scale LAPSSET pipeline project for the transport, in combination with railway and road links, of crude oil from future fields in Turkana to the new deep-water port at Lamu.

As a result of changes in the statistical data for the calculation of GDP, Kenya achieved middle-income country status in October 2014. In consequence, the country can borrow money at lower interest rates. Even though central government debt currently appears to be sustainable, it is vital that the change does not lead to an untenable burden of debt.

Development cooperation

In 2015 planned development aid to Kenya totals NOK 95 million, of which NOK 32 million is administered by the Norwegian Embassy. Norway does not give financial support directly to the Kenyan government with the exception of grants to two public constitutional commissions (National Gender Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission).

Various programmes promoting democratization in the country are supported through the UN and international organizations. The Norwegian Embassy supports several Kenyan human rights organizations, and focuses on the gender equality issue.

Norway supports the constitution-based decentralization process from 2013 and the efforts to meet the provisions of the Constitution for 1/3 female representation in all public sector administrative bodies.

A main priority has also been to support a range of organizations working to combat increased political radicalization and violence, particularly among young people in coastal areas.

Several serious terrorist attacks and security incidents in recent years have resulted in a greater and worrying polarization among population groups in Kenya. Dampening religious differences is of vital importance. 

Much of Norway’s development aid to Kenya is distributed through Norad’s support to Norwegian NGOs that work with local partners. Although there are numerous priority areas, the most important are environment, energy, health and education.

Refugee flows from neighbouring countries, especially from Somalia and South-Sudan, in addition to man-made and natural crises mean that Norway also provides humanitarian assistance in Kenya.  

In 2014, Innovation Norway established a regional office in Nairobi to administer Norad’s Business Matchmaking programme.

The board of the Oil for Development (OfD) programme decided in December 2014 to begin preparation for a potential OfD programme from 2016.

Bilateral relations

Norway and Kenya have a long history of good relations. Norwegian actors have carried out aid activities in Kenya for decades and Norway gave asylum to political refugees during the dictatorship of Daniel Arap Moi.

In 1990, Kenya suspended diplomatic relations with Norway because of Norwegian support to local human rights defenders triggered by the Koigi wa Wamwere case. By 1997, full diplomatic relations had been resumed, and a bilateral memorandum of understanding on development cooperation was signed in 2002.

The Embassy’s strategic goals in Kenya are to promote Norwegian business interests and to foster democratic development, good governance, and respect for human rights and gender equality.

In 2014, Norway exported goods to the value of NOK 146 million to Kenya (Statistics Norway), an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year. Exports comprised chemical products, finished products and machinery.

Norwegian imports from Kenya amounted to NOK 363 million in 2014, an increase of 17 per cent from 2013. Imports consisted mainly of commodities and agricultural products.

The Government Pension Fund Global invested in Kenya for the first time in 2012 and currently has an equity portfolio of NOK 630 million, an increase of 9 per cent since 2013. Investments are spread across eleven companies, mainly in financial services, consumer goods and telecommunication. 

Norfund, which has an East Africa office in Nairobi, has given loans to or has ownership interests in several companies in Kenya, mainly in the field of ecotourism and energy. In January 2015, Norfund bought twelve per cent of the shares in Equity Bank, Kenya’s second largest bank, in partnership with Norfinance.

The Norwegian business sector has shown a surge of interest in business opportunities in Kenya. Innovation Norway’s office in Nairobi plays a key role in the Norwegian Embassy’s promotion of trade, with a focus on renewable energy, fisheries and agriculture. Approximately 25 Norwegian companies are established in the country.

The number of Norwegians visiting Kenya has fallen and in 2014, roughly 250 Norwegians were registered as resident in the country.

Published 29.08.2014
Last updated 20.11.2015