Kenya is one of the most stable and prosperous countries in East Africa and is home to a thriving tourism industry, mainly due to the vast wildlife reserves and national parks which occupy much of the landscape. Although Kenya has enjoyed many years of relative peace and prosperity during the 20th century, it has suffered through several upheavals over the last two decades. In the early 1990s unrest and international pressure forced the ruling party Kanu, who had ordained themselves as the only legal political party, into allowing a multiparty democracy. In 2002 this came to fruition as opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki came to power, ending decades of Kanu rule. Corruption still blights the political classes in Kenya, but the economy is starting to grow again after the uncertainty of the 1990s. Kenyan enviromental activist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Prize, wrote of her hope for the future of Kenya and Africa in general in The Challenge for Africa.
Kenya was granted independence from Great Britain in 1963, having been ruled by them since 1895. Independence was preceded by the Mau Mau rebellion in the early 1950s and a sustained insurgency throughout the country, as is depicted in David Anderson’s Histories of the Hanged. The period of colonisation heavily influenced the country’s culture and society, as it brought together the distinct ethnic groups which existed in the region. The Swahili people, a Bantu ethnic group, are prominent in the coastal regions and the Maasai tribal people play a significant role in Kenyan culture, although much of their fame is due to Western perceptions of Africa. Culturally Kenya draws on these diverse influences to create a distinctive and highly varied cultural tradition, that is especially evident in the music, art and cuisine of the country.
The literature of Kenya is one of the most celebrated in Africa, producing such luminaries of continental fiction as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Grace Ogot, Meja Mwangi, Margaret Ogola and Binyavanga Wainaina. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is particularly notable and his works have received numerous awards internationally. His most famous novel is A Grain of Wheat, a depiction of independence day celebrations in a Kenyan village which engages with the notion of being a postcolonial nation. Some of Ngũgĩ’s other celebrated works include The River Between and Weep Not, Child. Kenyan cinema has not received the same level of recognition although several Western films have been set in the country, including Small Act, Constant Gardener and Out of Africa.