John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
Studies of the Maasai, the Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
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 Kakamega.)
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 government projects.
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.


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