Cultures in Context Series
AFRICAN HABITATS :
FOREST, GRASSLAND AND SLUM
Studies of the Maasai, the
Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
PART ONE : INTRODUCTION
3. Political and Economic
Characteristics : 013-022
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|013. Kenya's first independent government, headed by Jomo Kenyatta,
was dominated by his friends and the Kikuyu tribal elite. After his
death in 1978 he was succeeded by Moi, who was not a Kikuyu but a Kalenjin.
He was popular initially, touring the country and making contact with people,
displaying an openness which contrasted with Kenyatta's closed style of
government. At that time, though, demands for democracy were sweeping across
Africa, and Moi was also faced with internal discontent, from Kenyatta’s
friends in particular but also from an opposition led by Oginga Odinga.
There was a coup attempt in 1982 (which implicated Odinga, Kenya's present
prime minister), and Moi’s response was to consolidate his position by
banning political parties and silencing all opposition.
Multi party politics was restored in 1991. However, though Kenya has
proved more stable than many of its neighbors it is no less authoritarian.
Political interference in matters of state is commonplace, whereby the
ruling elite improves its position at the expense of groups supportive
of the opposition: and the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots"
has widened. (Salute at Independence Day parade in Kakamega.)
|014. Kenya's national flag displays the colours of the Kenya
African National Union, the political party which led the struggle for
independence. Black represents the people who fought for independence,
red for the blood that was shed, and green for the land. The white stripes
symbolize peace and unity. And in the middle of the flag there’s a Maasai
war shield superimposed on crossed spears.
|015. Kenya’s coat of arms displays a shield in the same colours
as the flag, with a cockerel in the centre holding an axe.
(The cockerel was the badge of Kenyatta's party.) The shield
rests on Mount Kenya, and is superimposed again on crossed spears. On one
side is a lion and on the other a lioness, each holding a spear with one
paw. With the other paw one of them touches the tail of the cockerel and
the other the axe. Below the shield are samples of Kenyan products ...
such as corn, coffee and pyrethrum.
|016. Kenya's production of basic foodstuffs has been undermined
in part by multinational companies that encouraged farmers to grow export
crops: and as a result the government has had to buy corn overseas. Its
export trade is dominated by primary products, with little foreign income
generated by manufacturing. Kenya has no oil fields but does process imported
crude for domestic use and export. (Sugar refinery at Mumias, west of
|017. Its gross national product per capita (the total value
of all goods and services generated within the country) is 2.5% that of
Australia, and its economy depends heavily on foreign aid ... to feed,
clothe, and educate its children. Economic growth has actually increased
poverty and widened inequality, concentrating wealth in the hands of those
most fortunate. Even the education system has been politicized in the interests
of the ruling elite. (Samburu children at breakfast)
|018. The number of people living in towns and cities is growing
rapidly, as it is in many parts of the "Developing World". Nairobi, the
capital, is ringed by crowded informal settlements occupied by people displaced
from rural areas by drought, conflict, and poverty, or squeezed out by
|019. Often families are divided: wives and children remain in
rural areas to care for their shamba (farm) while husbands leave
to look for work in the towns and cities. Regardless of how long they stay
in town, though, people still consider their former village to be their
"home", and the place to which they will return eventually, as retirees
or for burial after they die. As a result you see relatively few women
in large towns and very few old people. (Grave of husband beside house
of first wife.)
|020. This web portal will focus on two ethnic groups in particular,
and on contrasting environments. The pastoralist Maasai and their Samburu
cousins are residents of grassy savannah lands and their semi-desert margins,
mainly in the Great Rift Valley. The agriculturalist Luhya in western Kenya
and their neighbors the Luo and the Nandi live in a well watered area from
which the original forest cover has been cleared for farming.
|021. Basic differences in both the physical and cultural character
of the two study areas are obvious in these extracts from topographic maps
(on the same scale). Extract A shows an area 10kms west of Maralal in Samburu
territory, with little water and few houses. Extract B, in contrast, is
of an area 12 kms west of Kakamega, the homeland of the Luhya.
|022. Thirdly, the daily life of well-defined tribal groups is
then contrasted with that of the melting pot (sometimes boiling pot)
of peoples from a diversity of tribal backgrounds, crammed together in
Kibera, one of the informal settlements (referred to as “slums” in many
countries) on the outskirts of Nairobi. Roughly 60% of the population of
Nairobi now live in informal slum settlements.
Text, photos and recordings
by John Tyman
Intended for Educational Use
Contact Dr. John Tyman at email@example.com
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Hillman ~ Brandon, Manitoba ~ Canada