KENYA: (Named after Mount Kenya, from the Kĩkũyũ name Kere-Nyaga (“Mountain of Whiteness”).
Some facts I’d like to mention about Kenya:
Drive on the: left
|HDI (2007)||▲ 0.521 (medium) (148th)|
President: Mwai Kibaki
Coat of Arms:
Kenya is a diverse country, with many different cultures represented. Notable cultures include the Swahili on the coast, pastoralist communities in the north, and several different communities in the central and western regions. Today, the Maasai culture is well known, given its heavy exposure from tourism, however, Maasai make up a relatively minor percentage of the Kenyan population. The Maasai are known for their elaborate upper body adornment and jewelry.
Kenya has an extensive music, television and theatre scene.
Kenya has no one culture that identifies it. With such diverse regional peoples such as the Swahili along the coast, several pastoralist communities mainly in the North and the different communities in Central and Western regions, having a mutually acceptable cultural identification is difficult.
There are about 42 different ethnic groupings in Kenya – each of these with its own unique culture, but majority of them with intertwining cultural practices brought about by the close resemblance in the languages, the similar environment and physical proximity of the ethnic groups. The ethnic groups are grouped into larger sub-groups – based on their cultural and linguistic similarities. There are three major unifying categories of languages: the Bantu speaking people of the Coastal region, the Central Highlands and the Western Kenya Region, The Nilotes who are mainly found in the Great Rift Valley and the Lake Victoria Region and the Cushites who are mainly composed of pastoralists and nomads in the drier North Eastern part of the country. Of note is that these sub-groups span a vast area of not just Kenya, but the East, Central and Southern African Region as a whole.
The Maasai culture owes its widespread identification to the tourist industry which has exploited them for purely commercial purposes.
Historical and current politics of division practiced first by the colonizers and then by subsequent community leaders has led to a situation where Kenyans themselves barely know their own culture let alone that of their neighbours. The colonial administration in partnership with missionary activities and formal education wiped out most cultural practices leaving a gap that was filled by Western cultural attitudes and identification especially by the youth.
The recent attempts at coming up with a national dress testifies to the difficult nature of Kenyans’ cultural identity. The top-down formula employed rendered the entire process irrelevant as it only involved the urban areas hence the better educated and wealthier segments of society. The result was basically a restricted set of pre-approved national dresses and outfits with questionable aesthetic appeal to the majority of Kenyans.
Jomo Kenyatta (Flaming Spear”)
Birth name: Kamau Wa Muigai. As the leader of the independence movement (Mau Mau) and first president of Kenya after independence (1963), Kenyatta is no doubt the most influential Kenyan in the 20th century. As the leader of KANU (the political movement which led the struggle for independence), the British colonizers sent Kenyatta to 7 years of hard labour.
After independence, Kenyatta followed a course of reconciliation with the British and choose the side of the West in the Cold War. During his era Kenya built an international reputation for being one of the most stable African countries. Foreign investments flew in, Kenya was doing well economically and Kenyatta had influence throughout Africa. However, Kenyatta also started the deep rooted favouritism (if not outright corruption): he used the land reforms to give the best pieces of land to friends and relatives and he made himself the biggest landowner in the country
Richard Leakey (born 1944 in Nairobi) is a paleontologist, archaeologist and conservationist, and a larger-than-life public figure in Kenya. He was of British white descent but he was a true Kenyan: his grandparents already settled in Kenya as Christian missionaries. His parents were the famous archeologists Louis and Mary Leakey, who did groundbreaking research to the origin of humans in East Africa. Richard first set up a company in among others safaris as a teen, but later followed in his parents footsteps and made groundbreaking discoveries himself.
Richard Leakey was active in government and politics. From 1989 on, he stopped the slaughter of elephants by poachers as a head of the forerunner of the Kenya Wildlife Service. He authorized wildlife guards to shoot poachers on sight and made international headlines with the public burning of giant piles of ivory. In 1995 he founded a political party – Safina – to combat the rampant corruption in the country. He was harassed by the Moi regime, but in 1999 Moi had to appoint him as Cabinet Secretary and overall head of the civil service, under pressure of international donor institutions. In 2007, he became head of the Kenyan branch of Transparency International.
Daniel arap Moi
Daniel arap Moi was the second president of Kenya, from 1978 to 2002. He was born in 1924 as the son of poor parents. He worked himself up as vice president under Kenyatta, which was not easy as he was of the small Kalenjin tribe and politics was, and to a great extent still is, dominated by the Kikuyu. After Kenyatta’s death in 1978 he managed to become president. Moi was always impeccably dressed in dark suits with a trademark rose in his buttonhole, and carried a silver-topped ivory stick with him everywhere, a Swahili symbol of his power.
Over the years he became more and more authoritarian. In 1982 he constitutionally outlawed all political parties except his own, and harassed and tortured political enemies. But as he continued and reinforced Kenya’s pro-Western course during the Cold War, international funds kept flowing in and the economy did relatively well. When the Cold War ended, Western governments suddenly discovered his authoritarian politics and the funds stopped. From 1990 on, Kenya entered a period of stagnation and crisis. Moi had to allow multi-party elections and in 2002 he lost power to the new president, Mwai Kibaki.
Prof. Wangari Maathai
Prof. Wanagari Maathai (born 1940 in Nyere, Kenya) is a Kenyan environmental and women’s rights activist. In 2004 she was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”.
Maathai studied biology in Kansas and Pittsburg in the United States. She was the first East African woman to received a Ph.D. (in veterinary medicine from the University of Nairobi). In 1977 she founded the Green Belt Movement, which planted 30 million trees in Kenya to combat soil erosion. During Daniel arap Moi’s regime she was put in prison several times for violent actions. In 2002, when Mwai Kibaki became president, she was voted into parliament and from 2003 to 2005 she was Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kibaki’s administration. She wrote an autobiography, “Unbowed: One Woman’s Story”.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born in 1938 as James Ngugi. He is Kenya’s most prominent author (novelist, playwright and essayist). He went to missionary school and was a devout Christian as a child, but later he became critical of everything Western. He rejected Christianity and embraced his native Kikuyu culture, changing his name to Ngugi wa Thiong’o. At the same time he became a fierce critic of colonialism and adopted Marxism.
In 1964 he published the first novel in English by an East African author, “Weep not, child”. This book, as well as “A Grain of Wheat” (1967) and “Petals of Blood” (1977) have been translated into 30 languages, and were re-issued in 2002 as Penguin modern classics. Later he argued that literature written by a Kenyan in a colonial language (English) cannot really be Kenyan literature. He published his first book in Kikuyu, “Caitaani Muthara-Ini” (Devil on the Cross), in 1980. His work was banned by the government and he was detained in prison without trial. In 1985, he went into exile in London. Ngugi accepted a position as professor of literature at New York University in 1992.
Paul Kibbi Tergat (born 1969) is considered as one of most successful long-distance runners of all time. He currently holds the world record in the marathon: in 2003 in Berlin he completed the marathon (traditionally 42 kilometers) in 2:04:55, which is an average speed of 12.6 miles per hour or 20.3 km/hour! During his career, he won a long list of gold, silver and bronze medals in running competitions around the world. His nickname is “The Gentleman”.
Since 2004, Tergat is an ambassador for the UN World Food Program. This program provided Tergat with lunch at school, as his parents were too poor to send him to school with food. Tergat says he could not have finished school without this food program. In 2005, he also founded the Paul Tergat Foundation which supports disadvantaged sports people in Kenya. He also runs a sports PR and marketing firm.
-Present day Education in Kenya:
The current 8-4-4 system was launched in January 1985. It put more emphasis on vocational subjects on the assumption that the new structure would enable school dropouts at all levels either to be self-employed or to secure employment in the informal sector.
In January 2003, the Government of Kenya announced the introduction of free primary education. As a result, primary school enrolment increased by about 70%. However, secondary and tertiary education enrollment has not increased proportionally because payment is still required for attendance.
In class eight of primary school the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (K.C.P.E.) is written. The result of this examination is needed for placement at secondary school. In form four of secondary schools the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination (K.C.S.E.) is written. Students sit examinations in eight subjects.
KCSE Grading System
The average grade is based on performance in the eight subjects. Where a candidate sits for more than eight subjects, the average grade is based on the best eight subjects. University matriculation is based on the best eight and performance in particular subjects relevant to degree courses. Example below:
|History & Government||3||B||9|
The total number of points is 81.
The average grade is 81 divided by 8, which equals 10.1 (approximately 10.0 points) which is Grade B+ according to the grading system. This student qualifies to join one of the Public Universities for his good score. Training institutions and faculties and departments determine their own minimum entry requirements.
Students who manage a grade of C+ qualify to do a degree course at the University. Owing to competition, and fewer places at the University, those with B and in a few cases B-, and above are taken for degree courses at the Public Universities and benefit by paying government-subsidised fees. The rest join private universities or middle-level colleges.
Interestingly, the number of students admitted to public universities through J.A.B depends on the total number of beds available in all the public universities. Nonetheless, those who miss out but attained the minimum university entry mark of C+ or C with a relevant diploma certificate are admitted through the parallel degree programmes (module II) if they can afford the full fees for the course.
This has been the subject of much discussion with people questioning the rationale and morality of locking out qualified students from public institutions yet still admitting those who come from financially able families.
-National food and drink:
There is no singular dish that represents all of Kenya. Different communities have their own native foods. Staples are maize and other cereals depending on the region including millet and sorghum eaten with various meats and vegetables. The foods that are universally eaten in Kenya are ugali, sukuma wiki, and nyama choma. Sukuma wiki, a Swahili phrase which literally means “to push the week,” is a simple dish made with greens similar to kale or collards that can also be made with cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, or pumpkin leaves. Its Swahili name comes from the fact that it is typically eaten to “get through the week” or “stretch the week.” Nyama choma is roasted meat – usually goat or sheep- roasted over an open fire. It is best eaten with ugali and kachumbari. Among the Luhyas residing in the western region of Kenya, ingokho (chicken) and ugali is a favourite meal. Other than these, they also eat tsisaka, miroo, managu etc. Also among the Kikuyu of Central Kenya, a lot of tubers, ngwaci (sweet potatoes), ndũma (taro root) known in Kenya as arrowroot, ikwa (yams), mianga (cassava) are eaten as well as legumes like beans and a Kikuyu bean known as njahi.
The following is a recipe for Sukuma Wiki. It is made using any leafy green vegetable, mainly collard or mustard greens, or kale. Sukuma wiki means ‘to push the week’ indicating that sukuma wiki is a basic food dish that is tides the family over through most of the week.
Sukuma Wiki (“to push the week”)
2 tablespoons fat (oil or shortening)
A bunch of Sukuma (kale or collard greens), chopped
Melt fat in a pot and add the onions. Stir well and saute for a bit. Add tomato and saute. Add sukuma and saute for a short time. Add 1/2 cup water and the add salt to taste. Let the mixture simmer until the sukuma has reached a desired tenderness.
BASIC FOOD TERMS IN SWAHILI:
Bill – Hesabu
Bottle – Chupa
Bowl – Bakuli
Bread – Mkate
Butter – Siagi
Coffee – Kahawa
Cup – Kikombe
Egg – Yai
Fish – Samaki
Food – Chakula
Fork – Uma
Fruit – Matunda
Ice – Barafu
Knife – Kisu
Meat – Nyama
Milk – Maziwa
Pepper – Piripiri
Plate – Sahani
Salt – Chumvi
Spoon – Kijiko
Sugar – Sukari
Table – Meza
Tea – Chai
Vegetables – Mboga
Waiter – Ndugu/Bwana
Water – Maji
For those with more interest in learning Kenyan, here is a link to the online Kenyan dictionary:
THE INTERNET LIVING SWAHILI DICTIONARIES – THE KAMUSI PROJECT
Kenya is active in several sports, among them cricket, rallying, football (soccer), rugby union and boxing. But the country is known chiefly for its dominance in Middle-distance and long-distance athletics. Kenya has consistently produced Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions in various distance events, especially in 800 m, 1,500 m, 3,000 m steeplechase, 5,000 m, 10,000 m and the marathons. Kenyan athletes (particularly Kalenjin) continue to dominate the world of distance running, although competition from Morocco and Ethiopia has reduced this supremacy. Kenya’s best-known athletes included the four-time women’s Boston Marathon winner and two-time world champion Catherine Ndereba, former Marathon world record-holder Paul Tergat, and John Ngugi.
Kenya won several medals during the Beijing Olympics, 5 gold, 5 silver and 4 bronze, making it Africa’s most successful Nation in the 2008 Olympics. New athletes gained attention, such as Pamela Jelimo, the women’s 800m gold medalist who went ahead to win the IAAF Golden League jackpot, and Samuel Wanjiru who won the men’s marathon.
Retired Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Kipchoge Keino helped usher in Kenya’s ongoing distance dynasty 1970s and was followed by Commonwealth Champion Henry Rono‘s spectacular string of world record performances.
Kenya has a long oral and written literary tradition, primarily in English and Swahili, the two official languages of the country.
One of the best known pieces of Kenyan literature is Utendi wa Tambuka, which translates to The Story of Tambuka. Written by a man named Mwengo at the court of the Sultan of Pate, the epic poem is one of the earliest known documents in Swahili, being written in the year 1141 of the Islamic calendar, or 1728 A.D.
Apart from the national flag, Kenya is yet to have a national dress that cuts across its diverse ethnic divide. With each of the more than 42 ethnic communities in Kenya having its own traditional practices and symbols that make it unique, this is a task that has proved elusive in the past. However, several attempts have been made to design an outfit that can be worn to identify Kenyans, much like the Kente’ cloth of Ghana.
The most recent effort was the Unilever-sponsored “Sunlight quest for Kenya’s National Dress”. A design was chosen and though it was unveiled with much pomp at a ceremony in which public figures modelled the dress, the dress design never took hold with the ordinary people. Kitenge, a cotton fabric made into various colours and design through tie-and-dye and heavy embroidery, is generally accepted as the African dress. Though used in many African countries, Kitenge is yet to be accepted as an official dress as it is only worn during ceremonies and non-official functions. The Maasai wear dark red garments to symbolise their love for the earth and also their dependence on it. It also stands for courage and blood that is given to them by nature. The Kanga (Khanga, Lesso) is another cloth that is in common use in practically every Kenyan home. The Kanga is a piece of clothing about 1.5 m by 1 m, screen printed with beautiful sayings in Swahili (or English) and is largely worn by women around the waist and torso.
Woman in kanga from Siyu on the Pate Island in Kenya. SOURCE
-Music of Kenya:
Kenya is home to a diverse range of music styles, ranging from imported popular music, afro-fusion and benga music to traditional folk songs. The guitar is the most popular instrument in Kenyan music, and songs often feature intricate guitar rhythms. The most famous guitarist of the early 20th century was Fundi Konde.
The following are samples of Mr. Konde’s music.
Other notable musicians of the 60s era include Fadhili Williams (recognised by many as the author of the hit song “Malaika” that was later re-done by Miriam Makeba, Boney M and Daudi Kabaka.
Popular music in the 1980s and 90s in Kenya could be divided into two genres: the Swahili sound and the Congolese sound. There are varying regional styles, and some performers create tourist-oriented “hotel pop” that is similar to western music. Them Mushrooms, later renamed Uyoga, was one of the popular groups in this era.
In the recent past, newer varieties of modern popular music have arisen which are mostly local derivatives of western hip-hop. Two sub-genres have emerged: “Genge” and “Kapuka” beats. This has revolutionized popular Kenyan music and created an industry dominated by the youth. There is also underground Kenyan hip hop that gets less radio play than Kapuka or Genge due to the fact that it is less club oriented and more focussed on social commentary. Early pioneers include the late Poxi Presha, Kalamashaka, and K-South. In Nairobi, hip-hop is viewed as more of a style than as a musical culture. There is a great correlation between the youth who listen to rap music and their economical status in the country with the majority of them coming from wealthy economic backgrounds. Since hip-hop is portrayed through clothing, magazines, and CDs, all of which are expensive, only the wealthier individuals are able to enjoy these luxuries.
Mainstream artists include Nameless, Redsan, Necessary Noize, Nonini, Juacali, Kleptomaniax, Longombas, Suzzanna Owiyo Achieng Abura, Eric Wainaina and others. Their sounds run the gamut from Reggae/Ragga, Pop, Afro-Fusion to Hip-Hop. Contemporary Kenyan music is becoming quite popular, with African based music channels such as Channel O and MTV Base, giving them a greater audience than previously before.
The following is a video of Ms. Owiyo.
Many Kenyan performers mix languages in any single song, usually English, Swahili, their tribal language or Sheng (a hybrid of Kenyan languages and English/Swahili).
The Kisima (the Swahili word for “well”) Music Awards, which recognize musical talent across East Africa, were founded and are currently based in Kenya. Every year numerous Kenyan artists take out categories in the scheme.
The African Children’s Choirfeatures children, many of whom are orphaned, from Kenya, as well as from other neighbouring African countries.
The most well known Kenyan author is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Thiong’o’s first novel, Weep Not, Child, was the first novel in English to be published by an East African and is an illustration of life in Kenya during the British occupation. This is a story about the effects of the Mau Mau on the lives of black Kenyans. Its combination of themes—colonialism, education, and love—helped to make it one of the best-known novels in Africa. His The River Between is currently on Kenya’s national secondary school syllabus. Undoubtedly, Thiong’o is best known for his novel, A Grain of Wheat.
M.G. Vassanji’s 2003 novel The In-Between World of Vikram Lall won the Giller Prize in 2003. It is the fictional memoir of a Kenyan of Indian heritage and his family as they adjust to the changing political climates in colonial and post-colonial Kenya.
Since 2003, the literary journal Kwani? has been publishing Kenyan contemporary literature.
Other important Kenyan writers include Grace Ogot, Meja Mwangi, Margaret Ogola, and Binyavanga Wainaina.
- Nairobi; 2,818,000
- 580,367 square kilometers (224,081 square miles)
- English, Kiswahili, numerous indigenous languages
- Protestant, Roman Catholic, indigenous beliefs, Muslim
- Kenyan shilling
- Life Expectancy:
- GDP per Capita:
- U.S. $1,100
- Literacy Percent:
The East African country of Kenya rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean to mountains and plateaus at its center. Most Kenyans live in the highlands, and Nairobi, the capital, is here at an altitude of 1,700 meters (5,500 feet). Even though Nairobi is near the Equator, its high elevation brings cooler air. To the west of Nairobi the land descends to the north-south running Great Rift Valley—the valley floor is at its lowest near Lake Turkana in the deserts of northern Kenya. Around Lake Turkana, scientists have discovered some of humankind’s earliest ancestors—a fossil known as Kenya Man was dated at 3.5 to 3.2 million years old.
Both free enterprise and a measure of political debate helped make Kenya one of Africa’s most stable nations after it achieved independence from Britain in 1963. But, more recently, corruption has been an undermining force, and the government—pressured for reform—moved to a multiparty system in the late 1990s. Barriers to progress are high population growth, electricity shortages, and inefficiency in key sectors.
Forty ethnic groups, including Kikuyu farmers and Maasai cattle herders, crowd the countryside, still home to three-quarters of Kenya’s people. Intense competition for arable land drives thousands to cities, where unemployment is high. In Nairobi, East Africa’s commercial hub, skyscrapers abruptly give way to slums. The government has stepped up efforts to stem poaching, particularly of the elephant and black rhino. Tourism is essential to the economy, and Kenya is one of Africa’s major safari destinations.
- Industry: Small-scale consumer goods (plastic, furniture), agricultural products processing; oil refining
- Agriculture: Tea, coffee, corn, wheat; dairy products
- Exports: Tea, horticultural products, coffee, petroleum products, fish
Sunset falls on a Maasai boy on Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.
Photograph by Jen Eudy, My Shot
—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition
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