Kenya, which gained independence from the United Kingdom in December 1963, covers a land area of 582,647 sq. km. (225,000 square miles), which extends about 280 miles north and south of the equator and which is almost 560 miles wide along the equator. Kenya shares boundaries with Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Its coastline along the Indian Ocean on the southeast is about 250 miles long. The Rift Valley, which runs the entire length of the country in the west, contains a series of lakes, and a small part of huge Lake Victoria lies within Kenya’s territory. While a narrow fertile belt of tropical vegetation borders the Indian Ocean, more than half of the country is an arid lowland, stretching north and west from the coast and having a natural vegetation of poor grass and scrub. The rest of the country consists mainly of a plateau, with an altitude varying from 2,000 to 9,000 feet. The highest point is Mount Kenya, which rises about 17,000 feet and is centrally located to the northeast of the capital, Nairobi.