New Internationalist

Kenya

Issue 131

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COUNTRY PROFILE

Kenya

Map of Kenya

Leader: Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, President

Economy: GNP - US$420 per person per year Monetary Unit - Kenya shilling (1 3Shs = US$1)

Main exports: - Coffee, tea, pyrethrum (for insecticide), sisal, tourism.

People: 17.4 million (15% urban) Health Infant mortality - 85 per 1000 live births Daily calorie availability - 3,718

Culture: Religion - mainly Protestant, with many local interpretations. Muslims predominant on coast. Two-thirds of Asian population are practising Hindus. Ethnic groups nearly 100 "tribes" and "subtribes," plus significant white and Asian communities.

Languages: most widely spoken are Kikuyu and Luo. Swahili is official language, but is only native to coast dwellers. English is other official language, also used in education.

Previous colonizing power:
Britain (Independence: 1963)

EARLY morning, and Kenya is walking. A column of men moves steadily from the slums and shanties of Nairobi towards the industrial area on the outskirts of the city. In the countryside groups of women, each head swathed in a brightly-coloured scarf, each shoulder carrying a hoe, each back bearing a baby, are walking to the shamba, the family plot of land. Along country and city road alike, hundreds of children, dressed in blue-and-white, red-and-white uniforms are walking to school.

School uniforms are a bequest of the British. However, British colonialism is not the only lasting influence on African society. Kenya is a country buffeted by contrasting cultures for centuries. Arab traders came to the coast of Kenya in the first century AD; they not challenged until the Portuguese Vasco da Gama landed at Mombasa in 1498. The Arabic influence remains strong on the Indian Ocean coast, where a fusion of the Arabic with the African has created the distinctive Muslim Swahili culture. Although Swahili, a Bantu language which has borrowed from Arabic, is Kenya’s official language, it is only on the coast that people know it as a mother tongue.

Kenya finally gained independence in 1963. Although it was the Kikuyu who took the reins of power, it was not the Mau Mau freedom fighters who ruled. Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first President, had been imprisoned in 1952 and - despite British claims to the contrary - declared that he had never been involved in the armed struggle. Many of the men who joined Kenyatta’s government had been District Officers and District Commissioners under the British. Kenya moved smoothly from colonialism to neocolonialism.

Kenya became a capitalist country heavily dependent on western investment. While retaining an agricultural base, it has industrialised more quickly than neighbouring states and is now one of the continent’s major suppliers of manufactured goods.

Although western countries hail Kenya as a model of economic development, rapid industrialisation has caused a major dislocation in Kenyan society. More and more men are migrating to the cities, leaving women and children in the countryside. Kenyan women have long been responsible for cultivating and processing the family’s food; now they must also grow enough surplus to feed the towns.

An enviable quality of the country, in a continent of chronic turbulence, is the relative political stability it has enjoyed since independence. Despite the attempted coup in August 1982, when airforce officers tried to oust Kenyatta’s successor President Daniel arap Moi, the government looks firmly in control. Recent elections, September 1982, gave Moi major endorsement from the voters and his cabinet reshuffle diluted Kikuyu tribal dominance. Today there is talk and some action in Nairobi on corruption clean-ups, and Africa’s capitalist success story is set fair for some while yet.


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Urban elite substantially wealthier than rural dwellers
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Self-sufficient in basic grain, but dependent on USA and Britain for military and economic support
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‘Women regarded as inferior and have little political representation
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47% Improving

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Several political prisoners. Limited freedom of speech

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56 years

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