KENYA has people of all races but the vast majority of them are members
of indigenous groups. They are black African.
Although there are significant numbers of Kenyans of Asian, Arab
and European origin, they are vastly outnumbered by the members of black African tribes or ethnic groups.
The main non-indigenous groups are Gujaratis, Punjabis and Goans
from India; Arabs mostly from Oman; and the British. Although they are not black, they are also African since Africa is their
Kenyan Professor Ali Mazrui classifies non-indigenous people in Africa
as Africans of the soil, as opposed to black Africans whom he calls Africans of the blood.
There are basically 42 black African ethnic groups or tribes in Kenya..
But the number goes up to 49 depending on who defines them.
Some of them are related and are so close that they are not considered
to be separate tribes.
All 49 are listed here in alphabetical order:
Ameru, Bajuni, Bukusu, Choyi, Digo, Duruma, Elgeyo, Embu, Giryama,
Isukha, Jibana, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kambe, Kauma, Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Kissi, Kore, Kuria, Luhya, Luo, Maasai, Maragoli, Marakwet,
Marama, Miji Kenda, Nandi, Ogiek, Orma, Oromo, Pokomo, Pokot, Rabai, Rendille, Ribe, Sabaot, Samburu, Sengwer, Somali, Suba,
Swahili, Tachoni, Taita, Taveta, Terik, Tugen, Turkana, Yaaku.
Together with the five non-black groups we mentioned earlier –
the Gujaratis, Punjabis, Goans, Arabs, and Britons – Kenya has 53 ethnic groups.
We are going to take a closer look at some of them to get a better
understanding of the ethnic composition of this East African country.
Black African ethnic groups in Kenya are divided into three linguistic
categories: Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushite. The Bantu constitute the majority. They include the Kikuyu, the Kamba, and the Luhya
who are also among the five largest ethnic groups in the country.
The Kikuyu, the Luhya, the Kamba, the Meru, the Embu and the Gusii
(Kisii) constitute the majority of the Bantu in Kenya. And they are mostly farmers like most Bantus are. But many of them
also own cattle.
The Kikuyu homeland is around Mount Kenya and it is believed they
arrived in the area in the 1700s.
There are many theories concerning their origin. Some say they migrated
from Mozambique; others say from Congo.
What is clear from archaelogical and linguistic evidence is that
they arrived in East Africa about 2,000 years ago from West Africa, especially from the Nigeria/Cameroon border area, as did
the rest of the Bantu-speaking people, and their language belongs to the Niger-Congo family.
They have interacted with their neighbours, the Maasai, for a long
time. The Maasai usually raided the Kikuyu for cattle and women, and the Kikuyu fought back. But in spite of all that, the
two groups built strong commercial ties through the years and their people have been intermarrying almost from the time they
first came into contact with each other in central Kenya.
Another major Bantu ethnic group, the Kamba, also has an interesting
history. It is said the Kamba migrated from what is now western Tanzania, a region occupied by the Nyamwezi ethnic group,
one of the largest in Tanzania; implying that they were part of the Nyamwezi or are related to them. They moved east to the
Usambara Mountains in northeastern Tanzania and eventually found their way to a semi-arid region in eastern Kenya which became
their new home.
Other researchers contend that the Kamba are a product of many ethnic
groups who intermarried and ended up creating a new ethnic group.
Whatever the case, it is generally believed that they arrived in
their present homeland east of Nairobi towards the Tsavo National Park about 200 years ago.
The Kamba today are one of the most successful groups in Kenya, and
one of the most well-known in East Africa.
In the past, they had a reputation as excellent traders, carrying
on trade from the coast all the way to Lake Victoria, and all the way up to Lake Turkana. They traded in ivory, honey, weapons,
beer, and ornaments.
They also excelled in barter, exchanging goods for food with their
neighbours: the Maasai and the Kikuyu. It was a matter of survival. They could not always produce much since their home region
was arid or semi-arid land, forcing them to find food elsewhere.
And during colonial rule, the British “respected” them
for their intelligence. They also had a reputation as fighters, another quality the British liked since they could use them
as soldiers and as policemen. Many Kambas were conscripted into the army and fought in both world wars.
Even today, many Kambas serve in the armed forces and in law enforcement.
The Luhya are another major Bantu ethnic group in Kenya. Although
successful, they have had to contend with problems of high population density through the years in a region where there is
not enough fertile land for all the people.
The Meru and the Embu are the other Bantu ethnic groups in Kenya.
They are related to the Kikuyu and are essentially farmers. They grow coffee, tea, maize, potatoes and pyrethrum as well as
other crops. The Embu are also well-known for their honey and for dancing on stilts.
Then there are the Nilotic-speaking people as a major linguistic
category in Kenya besides the Bantu.
The Nilotic group includes the Luo, the third largest ethnic group
in the country. Other Nilotic-speaking groups include the Maasai, the Turkana, the Samburu, and the Kalenjin.
Originally, the Luo were pastoralists. But they changed their way
of life when rinderpest killed their cows and they became farmers and fishermen. Their involvement in fishing was facilitated
by their geographical proximity to Lake Victoria in their new home region after they migrated from Sudan via Uganda. Some
of them came straight from Sudan.
Like the Kikuyu, the Luo also played a major role in the struggle
for independence. Some of the most prominent Luo politicians of national and international statures include former Vice President
Oginga Odinga, Minister of Economic Planning Tom Mboya, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Robert Ouko, and independence leader
And the most prominent Luo outside Kenya and Africa is Barack Obama,
a United States senator representing the state of Illinois who was elected president in November 2008. He was the first non-white
to win the presidency of the world's richest and most powerful country. And he won by a landslide.
His father, also named Barack Obama after whom the son was named,
earned a Ph.D. in economic from Harvard University and returned to Kenya where he served under President Jomo Kenyatta. He
died in a car accident in Kenya in 1980.
He was one of the hundreds of Kenyan students who went to school
in the United States on scholarships on the famous Tom Mboya Airlift in 1959.
Another Nilotic group, the Kalenjin, has an interesting history in
terms of identity. The Kalenjins are actually a collection of related ethnic groups who speak the same language. They include
the Kipsigis, renowned worldwide as long-distance runners; the Nandi, the Tugen and the Elyogo. President Daniel arap Moi
was a Tugen.
The Kalenjin were once mainly pastoralists like the vast majority
of the Nilotic-speaking people. And many of them still are today. But they are also engaged in agriculture in their fertile
home region, the Rift Valley Province.
Besides the Luo, the most well-known Nilotic-speaking Kenyans are
the Maasai, followed by the Turkana and the Samburu. The Maasai, who also came from Sudan like other Nilotic-speaking peoples
in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, are a small minority in both Kenya and Tanzania but are known worldwide because of their lifestyle
and reputation as warriors.
They are also fiercely proud of their culture and way of life and
have strongly resisted external pressure – including pressure from some national leaders – to change and adapt
to “modern” ways, which is a euphemism for the “Western” way of life.
They own not only cows but also goats. But cows are their most important
possession in their social, political and economic life.
There are two ethnic groups closely related to the Maasai: the Samburu
The traditional homeland of the Samburu
is around Maralal in northern-central Kenya, an arid region. Like the Maasai, they also have the morani, the young warriors; also like the
Maasai, they prefer red blankets and use red ochre to paint their heads.
The women wear beads. And like the Maasai, they also own cows and
goats, with the cows being their most important possession and the centre of their social, political and economic life.
Unlike some Nilotic-speaking people
who have adopted other ways of life to adjust to new realities, the Samburu have remained pastoralist, preferring a nomadic
way of life. When pasture becomes scarce in their arid and semi-arid homeland, they pack up and go, taking their manyata (portable houses and other essential
items) on their camels to find better pastures. This is similar to what Somalis do. But they are not related. The Somali are
The other major Nilotic-speaking group is the Turkana. The Turkana
have a reputation as fierce fighters, just like their kith-and-kin the Maasai and the Samburu. They own other animals besides
cows. They have goats, sheep, and camels, but cow ownership is still the most important aspect of their social, political
and economic life. They live in an arid region near Lake Turkana.
And all three – the Maasai, the Samburu and the Turkana –
are cattle rustlers. The government has not been able to stop them and law enforcement officials usually leave them alone.
Disputes among them are settled by their elders. They were colonised
like the rest of the Africans but the colonial rulers failed to conquer them in one fundamental respect: their way of life
which has remained intact for hundreds of years.
The other major linguistic group is the Cushitic. The Cushites are
a minority in Kenya and live mostly in the North Eastern Province which borders Somalia and Ethiopia. They include the Somali,
the Boran, the El Molo, the Burji Dassenich, the Gabbra, the Orma, the Sakuye, the Boni, the Wata, the Yaaka, the Daholo,
the Rendille, and the Galla.
The Somali and the Galla are the most well-known. But it is the Somali
who are the dominant group in the region. They own cattle, goats, sheep, and camels in the arid and inhospitable region of
northern Kenya and lead a nomadic way of life in search of water and pasture for their herds. They also have a reputation
as fierce fighters.
Another group is the Swahili. They are some of the most well-known
people in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania, but they don't constitute an ethnic group the way the Kikuyu or the
Luo do. They are essentially a linguistic and cultural group, and a product of many tribes and non-indigenous groups especially
the Arabs. They live mostly along the coast.
Also most of the Arabs live along the coast. They are one of the
three main non-indigenous groups in Kenya, the other ones being Asian and British.
Most Arabs speak Swahili and see themselves as Africans, not as citizens
of the Arab world. Most Arabs in Kenya are Kenyan citizens.
There are also many Arabs in Kenya who
are not Kenyans. They come mainly from Yemen and are small traders. They are commonly known as Washihiri or simply Shihiri, but mostly as Washihiri in Kiswahili; a
term also applied to them in neighbouring Tanzania.
The British are also a significant minority and Kenya has one of
the largest European communities in Africa. Kenyans of British descent include members of the aristocracy. And many of them
continue to have great influence in the country especially among the elite including national leaders.
Kenyans of Asian descent, commonly known as Indians, are the most
prosperous group in Kenya – and the rest of East Africa – besides the British and other whites who have always
been on top.
The term “Indian” is collectively used to identify Pakistanis
as well, although the majority of the Asians in Kenya came from India.
India and Pakistan were one country until 1947 and most of the immigrants
in East Africa today immigrated to the region before Indian independence in 1947 when the sub-continent was split into India
So, in a way, the term “Indian” is the appropriate designation
even for those who came from Pakistan. They all came from the Indian sub-continent as a geographical entity.
The prosperity of Indians in Kenya and other parts of Africa has
been a source of resentment towards them among many black Africans....
THE Akamba, or Kamba,
are one of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya and in the entire East Africa.
They are known as Wakamba
in Kiswahili and are the fourth-largest tribe in Kenya after the Kikuyu, the Luhya and the Luo. The Kamba constitute about
12 per cent of the total population of Kenya.
Although we have already
looked at the Kamba together with other Kenyan ethnic groups or tribes in this book, we take another look at them in much
more detail as a case study of an African people who are one of the best examples of ethnic and cultural diversity in this
vibrant East African nation.
It's also said that
the name of the country, Kenya, comes from Kikamba or the Kamba language. It's supposedly derived from the word Kiinyaa which means “the Ostrich
Country,” a term the Kamba also use as the name for Mount Kenya.
But there's a dispute over that. Other sources say the name “Kenya” comes from Gikuyu or the Kikuyu
language – Kirinyaga which is the name of Mount Kenya. And that seems to be a plausible explanation since the name for the mountain
in the Kikuyu language sounds very similar to the name, “Kenya,” and the mountain itself is located in a region
occupied by the Kikuyu.
Yet others say the name “Kenya” comes from the Maasai word erokenya
which means “snow.”
But, in spite of
all that, the Kamba term Kiinyaa remains one of the contenders as the source of the country's name.
The Kamba originally migrated from what is now western Tanzania.
On their migration to
Kenya, they went through what is now Tanga Region, a coastal province in the northeastern part of Tanzania, and through Kilimanjaro
Region which also is in northeastern Tanzania but farther inland from the coast. Kilimanjaro Region borders Tanga Region on
In fact, the Kamba share
many cultural traits with the Chaga, a Tanzanian ethnic group indigenous to Kilimanjaro Region, similarities which, some people
contend, show that they originated from that part of Tanzania. For example, they share some names and cultural values in ways
they don't with members of other ethnic groups who inhabit the same region.
Their migration from Tanzania
many years ago is attributed to insecurity including lack of food, forcing them to travel vast expanses of territory to find
a better place where they could settle and be able to feed themselves.
The migration is believed
to have taken place in the 1700s. They were forced mainly by drought in their homelands – wherever they settled as they
moved along – to move closer to coastal areas in search of better life. And this is one of the main reasons, besides
being traders, why a significant number of them are found in the coastal areas of Kenya where they settled a long time ago
and through subsequent periods.
They also served as guides
for the first British settlers travelling from the coast to the hinterland and thus, inadvertently, facilitated the occupation
of Kenya by Europeans to the detriment of the indigenous people.
Their long association
with the British settlers was also a contributory factor to their recruitment into the colonial army in very large numbers
during World War I and World War II.
Although the Kamba were
also victims of imperial domination when Kenya was colonised by the British just like other Africans were, they did not suffer
as much as the Kikuyu and other groups did in terms of land loss because the region they occupied and which they still occupy
in Kenya as their homeland was not very fertile.
It's dry, semi-arid and
with a climate not conducive to large-scale farming and settlement by Europeans who preferred to settle in cooler areas at
high altitudes which reminded them of a temperate climate they were used to in Europe.
They did, however, suffer
in a significant way more than other tribes in one respect.
As traders, they relied
heavily on routes from the hinterland to the coast. All that changed when the British built a railway from the coast all the
way to the shores of Lake Victoria in the western part of Kenya, depriving the Kamba much of their business since commercial
activities – in terms of transport and other services – were now being conducted by railway and at a much faster
pace and in larger quantities as opposed to what had been previously done by Kamba porters carrying commodities on their heads
and backs and walking hundreds of miles, also risking their lives on the way.
After the Kamba
settlled in Kenya following their long migration through the years from what is now Tanzania, they intermingled with members
of other ethnic groups, producing a blend of an ethnic community which includes elements of the Kikuyu, Maasai, Taita, Kalenjin,
Boran and Cushitic groups who are their neighbours in the eastern part of their homeland which is known as Ukamba or Ukambani,
the suffix -ni in
Ukambani meaning in the land or homeland of the Kamba.
Yet, in spite of all that,
they have remained essentially Kamba, a Bantu ethnic group. And they speak a language called Kikamba which is also a Bantu
They are an integral part
of the central Bantu linguistic group which occupies the districts of Kangando, Kibwezi, Kitui, Machakos, Makweni and Mwingi
in the southeastern part of Kenya.
And they have historically
interacted and traded with many tribes including the Kikuyu, the Maasai, the Embu and the Meru who are some of their neighbours.
They have also played
a major role in national politics through the years. Some of the most prominent leaders of the independence movement were
The most well-known, nationally,
was Paul Ngei. He was imprisoned for nine years with Jomo Kenyatta and four other leaders during Mau Mau. The other leaders
were Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, and Kung'u Karumba.
They came to be known
as “The Kapenguria Six,”named after the small town in the arid part of northern Kenya where the Mau Mau trial
was held. They were also imprisoned in the same remote part of the country.
After Kenya won independence
from Britain on 12 December 1963, Ngei served as a cabinet minister under Kenyatta and under Kenyatta's successor, Daniel
arap Moi .
Born in October 1923,
Ngei died in August 2004. And the last surviving member of the Kapenguria Six, or the Big Six, Achieng Oneko, died in June
2007. He was 87.
The Kenyan government
established a national holiday, Kenyatta Day, to commemorate the arrest and detention of the Big Six renowned freedom fighters
on 20 October 1952. They were released in 1961, about two years before Kenya won independence.
Paul Ngei will also be
remembered as the man who founded the African People's Party (APP) to contest in the 1963 general election.
The party had a large
following among his people, the Kamba, and in other parts of Kenya where the Kamba lived. It was essentially an ethnically-based
or regionally entrenched party securely anchored in Ukamba or Kambaland, despite its attempts to win national appeal among
members of other ethnic groups.
But when Ngei died more
than 40 years later, he was eulogized and honoured across the country not as a Kamba leader but as a national hero of the
He was also known
internationally because of his role as a leader during the independence struggle and as a compatriot of Jomo Kenyatta who
also served a prison sentence with him. As The Washington Post, 23 August 2004, stated in its report, “Former Kenyan Official Paul Ngei
Dies at 81”:
“Paul Ngei, 81, a leader in Kenya's independence
movement who became a cabinet minister and then lost his high position after the country's high court declared him bankrupt,
died Aug. 15 at a hospital in Nairobi. No cause of death was provided, but he had lost both of his legs because of diabetes.
with Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, Mr. Ngei was one of the 'Kapenguria Six,' who served prison terms in colonial
days as leaders of the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonialists. The others were Bildad Kaggia, Kung'u Karumba, Fred
Kubai and Achieng' Oneko.
six were arrested Oct. 22, 1952, on suspicion of being the leaders of the Mau Mau secret society, whose violent revolt against
British colonial rule, though eventually defeated, helped force Britain to give independence to Kenya.
were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for managing the Mau Mau, which had been banned by the colonial government,
and were released in 1961.
day they were arrested, Oct. 22, is a national holiday, named after Kenyatta, to commemorate Kenyan independence heroes who
had been imprisoned or detained by the colonial government.
Ngei won a seat in parliament after he was freed and served for 27 years as a cabinet minister in both Kenyatta's and former
president Daniel arap Moi's administrations.
his career, Mr. Ngei held the cabinet posts in charge of marketing, housing and social services, environment and lands and
settlement. He was forced to leave his parliamentary seat and cabinet post in 1991, after the high court declared him bankrupt.
the Kapenguria Six, Kenyatta, Karumba and Kubai died before Mr. Ngei. Oneko retired from active politics in 1997, and Kaggia
is in frail health.”
And according to The New York Times, 23 August 2004, in its report, “Paul Ngei, 81, Mau Mau Rebel and Cabinet Minister
Ngei, a former cabinet minister and one of the heroes of Kenya's independence movement, died here (in Nairobi) on Aug. 15,
an official of the M.P. Shah Hospital said. He was 81.
died after six days in the hospital's intensive-care unit, the official said. Mr. Ngei had been in poor health for years.
Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, Mr. Ngei was one of the ''Kapenguria 6,'' who served prison terms in colonial days
as leaders of the Mau Mau, a secret society of mostly Kikuyu tribesmen who in 1952 led a rebellion against white settlers
and British colonial rule.
six were arrested on Oct. 22, 1952, on suspicion of being the leaders of the Mau Mau, whose violent revolt led the British
authorities to declare a state of emergency that lasted for eight years.
the Mau Mau uprising was finally put down, it pushed Britain toward finally granting independence to Kenya in 1963. Mr. Kenyatta
became the nation's first president.
Ngei and the others were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for being leaders of the Mau Mau, which had been banned
by the British authorities.
day Mr. Ngei and the other five were arrested is a national holiday, named after Mr. Kenyatta, to commemorate heroes of the
Kenyan struggle for independence who had been imprisoned or detained by the British colonial government.
his release in 1961, Mr. Ngei won election to a seat in the Kenyan Parliament, and after independence he served for 27 years
as a minister in the cabinets of Mr. Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, his successor.
the posts he held were the portfolios for marketing, housing and social services, environment and lands and settlement. He
was forced to leave his Parliament seat and cabinet post in 1991 after the Kenyan High Court declared him bankrupt.”
Other Kamba leaders of
national stature include Kalonzo Musyoka, Kenya's vice president under President Mwai Kibaki, and Charity Ngilu, the most
prominent female politician in the country in the 1990s and beyond. She also served as a cabinet member under President Kibaki
and ran for president in 1997, the only serious female contender to do so during that time.
She was, by then, already
one of the most well-known national leaders, following her meteoric rise to national prominence when she won a parliamentary
seat for the first time in the 1992 general election, surprising many observers who did not expect her to win since she was
When she ran for president
five years later in December 1997, she was able to mobilise support across the country especially among women and other people
including the young and seriously challenged the incumbent, Daniel arap Moi, in one of the most lively campaigns in Kenyan
And she remains a heroine
among many people across the country but especially among her people, the Kamba, because of Kenya's reputation as a fractured
society divided along ethnic and regional lines.
The Kamba are basically
farmers but many of them are also pastoralists. There are also significant numbers of them who are hunters.
They also have an excellent
reputation as woodcarvers like the Makonde of neighbouring Tanzania, even if not of the same international stature as the
Makonde, with their sculptured works, calabashes, fine pottery and beautiful woven baskets occupying a prominent place in
many shops and markets as well galleries in all the major towns and cities across Kenya.
Men do the carving, and
women do the weaving. They also decorate the baskets they weave and the pottery they make.
With a reputation as traders
and long-distance travellers, many Kambas have also settled along the coast and have become an integral of the coastal communities.
They gravitated towards the coastal areas for economic reasons looking for jobs and in pursuit of self-employment opportunities.
Overcrowding and soil
erosion are some of the factors which have forced many Kambas to migrate to other parts of Kenya, mostly to urban areas.
Drought and famine also
played a major role in encouraging or forcing many Kambas to change their lifestyle and become traders.
They formed caravans and
travelled long distances covering hundreds of miles on foot from the coast to the shores of Lake Victoria in the hinterland.
They had to feed their
families and traded ivory, arrows, bracelets, beads and other items for food which included millet, maize, yams and other
commodities such as cattle.
In East Africa, their
well-earned reputation as long-distance travellers and traders is matched only by the Nyamwezi of Tanzania who also for many
years travelled for hundreds of miles from the interior to the coast and back as porters and traders who worked closely with
the Arabs along the coast and in the interior of what is now Tanzania.
A large number of the
Akamba or the Kamba live in Mazeras, an area near Mombasa where sand for building is mined; they also live in large numbers
in the Shiba Hills in Kwale District and in smaller but significant numbers in other parts of the Coast Province.
When they first migrated
to the coast, they settled in large numbers in Kisauni, Kiango and Mariakani, creating a nucleus of what later became a large
Kamba community along the coast of Kenya.
The Akamba still constitute
a substantial number of the urban dwellers in those towns. And they have played and continue to play a significant role in
the cultural, economic and political life of the coastal communities in one of the largest countries in East Africa.
As in most African
communities, the extended family is one of the basic and most important foundations of the Kamba society. Members of the extended
family constitute a social unit or a clan which is known as mbai in the Kamba language.
The man is the head of the family and main provider, working as a farmer, trader, or hunter or cattle owner.
He is known as tata
but there are other Kamba names, nau and asa,
which are used to identify him because of his status as head of the family.
However, the term tata has special significance in a larger context because of its linguistic and cultural ties to other African communities
in and beyond Kenya as far as South Africa.
The term tata is part of the vocabulary of a number of other African groups, and it basically means the same thing. And there
are sometimes slight variations in spelling but in many cases it's spelt the same way. For example, among the Xhosa and other
South African ethnic groups including the Zulu, it means “an elder” or “father” and is used with reverence.
Among the Nyakyusa of southwestern Tanzania, tata also means “father,” “elder” or “ancestor.”
I remember that well when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Mpumbuli
village in an area called Kyimbila four miles south of the town of Tukuyu in Nyakyusaland, Rungwe District.
In Nyakyusa language, which is also known as Kinyakyusa, the plural term of
tata is batata, the same term used by the Xhosa,
the Zulu and members of other black African groups in South Africa and elsewhere in east, central and southern Africa who
speak Bantu languages.
And in Kiswahili, the lingua franca of East Africa, the term which has basically the same meaning as tata is baba
which means “father.”
linguistic affinity is one of the pieces of evidence cited to show the ties which Bantu groups share as one large family of
a people who speak related languages and who have a common origin, having migrated from West Africa about 2,000 years ago.
The Kamba are one of the most prominent and most well-known Bantu groups throughout east, central and southern Africa.
as in most African societies, women play a central role among the Kamba in terms of economic activities. They work on farms,
planting and harvesting crops; they feed their families and sell harvested crops and other items at markets. In fact, they
provide the largest amount of food for their families. Men till the land as they do in most African societies....
A White Tribe
KENYANS are one of the most successful white tribes in Africa. Most of them belong to the upper middle and upper classes.
mostly of British origin and can even be called Anglo-Kenyans – just as Black Americans are called African Americans
– but only for identification purposes in terms of roots. They are Kenyans just like everybody else who is a Kenyan
and they can not even be called settlers.
British who settled in Kenya when the colony was founded and others who followed are the ones who can legitimately be called
white settlers. Those born in Kenya are just Kenyans no different from the Kikuyu and other indigenous people.
people who are native to Africa are what Kenyan Professor Ali Mazrui calls “Africans of the blood,” and those
who came from outside Africa – Europeans, Arabs and Asians – and settled in the continent are called “Africans
of the soil.”
farmers first settled in the central highlands of Kenya in the early 1900s. They were joined by other farmers from Europe
but most of the settlers were British, mainly from England.
a significant number of Boers – Afrikaners – migrated to Kenya from South Africa and founded the town of Eldoret
in what is now the Rift Valley Province in western Kenya. The town was built at a high elevation south of Cherangani Hills.
the Boer settlers arrived, the area of what came to be known as Eldoret was inhabited by members of the Nandi tribe or ethnic
group. The Afrikaners were later joined by other white settlers as well as Indian traders, but mostly by other whites.
white settlers prospered and became wealthy growing coffee and tea. In fact, they became some of the most successful white
settlers on the entire continent in a relatively short period of time.
the 1930s, Kenya had about 30,000 white settlers, mostly in the central highlands which had been taken away from the indigenous
people, mostly the Kikuyu. They also exercised enormous influence on the colony and on the colonial government because of
their economic clout.
colonial authorities worked closely with the settlers, enabling them to acquire political power they otherwise would not have
had. And they had a lot of political power not only in the conduct of government affairs but also over the natives.
addition to taking the land away from the Kikuyu, the colonial government – together with the settlers – made
things worse when they prohibited the Kikuyu from growing coffee in order to stop them from competing with whites; introduced
the hut tax, and forced the Kikuyu to work for whites, giving them less and less land in exchange for their labour.
was hardly any difference between the colonial rulers and the white settlers who owned vast tracts of land. They collectively
constituted the white colonial community which dominated blacks and ruled Kenya. Black people were no more than a source of
cheap labour, when needed.
of their land and unable to fend for themselves, many Kikuyus were forced to migrate to urban centres just to survive. The
majority moved to Nairobi to live in slums.
exodus of the Kikuyu from their native land had a profound impact on the future of Kenya. With the loss of their land, the
seeds of Mau Mau had been planted. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
there are about 62,000 whites in Kenya, almost equal to pre-independence levels when the country had about 66,000 whites.
30,000 of them are Kenyan citizens and 32,000 are British expatriates whose numbers have increased through the years since
the country won independence, many whites left, probably the majority. Ironically, they were replaced by expatriates, bringing
the total roughly to what it was before independence.
most of the early settlers were landowners – farmers, horticulturists, livestock and game ranchers – the majority
of the whites in Kenya today work in other sectors of the economy including export-import business, finance, tourism, air
transport, hotel, and real estate. And they are not active in politics as their predecessors once were during colonial times.
landowners and tradesmen, another major group of whites in Kenya during colonial times were colonial officials.
last remaining leftover staff of whites from colonial times who worked in different sectors of the economy including industry
and in the civil service retired in the 1970s, marking the end of an era.
were the good old days for the white settlers who lived in paradise under the tropical sun. In terms of political power and
economic status, they were virtually unchallenged. And although they lost power after independence, they maintained their
privileged status in terms of wealth and lifestyle.
in that sense, little has changed. And many black Kenyans are painfully aware of that.
Their economic clout even insulates them from demands of the law and tips the scales of justice in their favour.
One incident clearly demonstrates that. According to The Guardian, London, Thursday, 26 October 2006, in its report, “A Lost World”:
“The furore surrounding Tom Cholmondeley, accused
of shooting two black people on his land, has thrown the spotlight on Kenya's 30,000-strong white community. Despite 40 years
of black rule, many white Kenyans lead hugely privileged lives – and some still own vast swathes of the country. Chris
McGreal on life in 'Trigger Happy Valley':
'After the first killing, there was
a great deal of sympathy for the Honourable Tom Cholmondeley among Kenya's disparate white population.
The aristocrats who own vast tracts
of land, the alcohol and drug-fuelled 'Kenya cowboys' living the fast life in tourism and conservation, and the middle-class
suburbanites who 'love Africa' but despatch their children to school in England could all understand how the 38-year-old scion
of the country's most prominent white settler family, and heir to the Delamere baronetcy, shot dead a black game warden who
ventured on to his ranch last year.
Old white families in Kenya's Great
Rift valley are so besieged by poaching, murder and crime, his sympathisers said, that life has become very difficult for
the haves. It was a mistake any one could have made. The authorities agreed, and let the Eton old-boy go.
The second time, even before the evidence
was heard, sympathy was in short supply. This time Cholmondeley was accused of killing a black poacher. 'The sense here among
both communities [white and black] is nail him,' says Michael Cunningham-Reid, a stepbrother to Cholmondeley's father. 'Once
is forgivable, twice is inexcusable.'
Cholmondeley, who is now on trial for murder - which he denies - has become a liability
for Kenya's 30,000-strong white community, which, through more than 40 years of black rule, has clung on to its privileged
lifestyle - and in the case of 12 or so old settler families, great swathes of land - largely by keeping its collective head
Cholmondeley, who can expect to inherit
a 100,000-acre ranch along with the title of Lord Delamere, had committed the unforgivable sin of rocking the boat.
white community had spent decades trying to shake off the image of Kenya's Rift Valley as the "Happy Valley" playground of
decadent and racist toffs, a view shaped by wartime Britain's fascination with the salacious details of adultery, drugs and
debauchery provided in the trial of Sir Jock Delves Broughton (who was eventually acquitted of murdering his wife's lover,
Lord Erroll). Infuriatingly, the story was given new life in the 80s by the film White Mischief, starring Greta Scacchi and
Charles Dance. Now Cholmondeley's killings have prompted wags to redub the place 'Trigger Happy Valley.'
trial coincides with the latest wave of doubt among white people over their future in Kenya – people who have always
wondered whether they truly belonged, and whether one day they might be expelled like the Asians from Uganda and white farmers
from Zimbabwe – and growing insecurity after a spate of murders of white people.
independence came in 1963. A majority of the 60,000 white settlers were gone by the end of the decade. Those who remained
generally took out Kenyan citizenship (although many secretly, and illegally under Kenyan law, keep their British passports).
who stayed was Michael Cunningham-Reid, a nephew of the late Lord Mountbatten and part of the extended Delamere clan that
forged the path for aristocratic settlers into East Africa with an energetic enthusiasm for hunting, drinking and sex.
mother, Ruth Ashley, the daughter of Lord Mount Temple, was on to her third marriage by the time she wed the Fourth Baron
Delamere, Thomas Cholmondeley, during the second world war. When they divorced in 1955, Cholmondeley went on to marry Diana
Caldwell, the by-then famous widow of Sir Jock Delves Broughton.
Today, Cunningham-Reid, 78, lives in the heart of Happy Valley, the exclusive town of Karen (named after the
author Karen Blixen, who memorialised her life in Kenya in Out of Africa).
I came out of the army in 1948, my stepfather, Lord Delamere, said, 'You've only been in the army three years. You haven't
learned to do anything. No one's going to employ you in the City because you've got no training. You'd better come to Kenya
and work on my farms.' That was 1948. I'm still here,' he says.
family trustees bought him an 800-acre farm and, a couple of years after that, Cunningham-Reid was successful enough to buy
a 6,000-acre ranch to farm sheep and wheat. In the 1950s, during the Kenya Emergency, when Mau Mau rebels rose up against
the crown, Cunningham-Reid found himself back in the army and in charge of Kenyan soldiers loyal to the UK.
views of that time – and the language he uses, redolent of old-school racism – have not changed greatly despite
the recognition today of the atrocities committed by British forces. 'The atrocities of the Kenya regiment were there but
not on the scale of the Mau Mau,' he says. 'The amazing thing about the Kenyan is you could find him in the forest, shoot
two of his pals, capture him and he would be working for you two days later.'
independence, much of the white population weighed up the benefits of a glorious lifestyle against what they considered the
nightmare of black rule - and decided to get out.
took a gamble. He believed that the big issue was the land, and his best hope of remaining in Kenya would be to get rid of
it. 'All my friends were hooking it, saying, 'We can't live with a fucking black man telling us what to do,'' he says. 'I
farmed happily until independence in 1963. But the British government made £22m available to buy out farmers in the Rift Valley.
I was the first in the queue. Although I intended to stay, I thought all the farms would be broken up into small plots and
we'd be plagued by squatters and the land would be a big political issue.'
used the money to buy a mansion in Karen, a house that was being left behind by Lady Twining, wife of the former governor
of Tanganyika. 'I basically liked the African and I couldn't picture myself going back to England and buying a very small
farm or something,' he says.
money also extended to a house on the coast and a hotel next to Lake Naivasha, which was to become the crucible of the family's
future in conservation.
gamble paid off. More than four decades later he is still installed in Lady Twining's sprawling old house, with servants to
hand and the chauffeur ever ready with the Mercedes for the swift drive to his club.
has no regrets about staying. 'There were times when I had serious doubts: have I been a complete fool? Am I going to lose
everything? There have been moments when I considered sending my family away. Not myself though. I'd stay and go down with
the ship,' he says. 'The white community has survived by laying low, keeping their mouths shut. We stayed out of politics.
That was the big taboo. We must be no challenge to the black man's political power.'
everyone stayed out of politics. Richard Leakey, who heads Kenya's other most prominent white family, confronted white Kenyan
society's deep-seated paternalism – at times hardly removed from the views of the old colonial officers who proclaimed
they had brought Christianity and civilisation to the natives – by wading into the forbidden territory of politics.
parents, Louis and Mary, made the Leakey name with a multitude of anthropological finds; Richard established himself as a
paleoanthropologist in his own right with the discovery of the oldest human skull yet found, before going on to make a name
as head of Kenya's Wildlife Service.
saved the country's elephants by winning a worldwide ban on ivory trading and brought Kenya's 51 parks from the brink of collapse.
He is also one of the few Europeans to openly distance himself from the white clan in Kenya.
people bore me stiff and I'm not part of that set at all,' he says. 'Some of them are pretty racist people deep down. They
don't mix and have very negative attitudes to their fellow Kenyans. I keep them at arm's length and I find them offensive.'
is unusual among white Kenyans in having sent his two daughters to a Kenyan government school where almost all the other pupils
were black. 'They are both real Kenyans,' he says. 'They speak perfect Swahili and they know all the important networks in
this country because they went to school with people who are now part of them.'
Kenyans revelled in the kudos Leakey brought them until a decade ago, when he scared the hell out of them by daring to point
the finger of responsibility for rampant corruption, mismanagement and cynical political violence at the man responsible –
President Daniel arap Moi.
broke the taboo on white people embroiling themselves in opposition politics, launching Safina, a party that promised to combat
police brutality and shambolic public services. Moi accused Leakey of being a neo-colonial racist, traitor and atheist.
white Kenyan who joined Leakey in Safina, Rob Shaw, also found himself under attack from the neighbours. 'I had several come
round to me and say, 'We've had a good life here since independence, we've kept our heads down. Why are you putting your head
above the parapet?'' he says. 'If I look back to my parents' generation, through independence and after there was a large
element of, 'We don't know how long we've got here.' That sort of insecurity was ingrained.'
people were, however, welcome to serve the government. Leakey's brother, Philip, was an MP for the ruling party for 15 years
and briefly a minister.
led 88 white Kenyans to pay homage to President Moi on bended knee and distance the white community from Richard. 'Some were
starting to think of us as a potential target,' says Philip Leakey, 'and we felt it was necessary to prevent ourselves from
becoming a target by clearing the air and getting the response we got from the president – that we should carry on being
good Kenyans, as we've been.'
Leakey says white Kenyans' fear of politics is a reflection of their failure to integrate and their desperation to hang on
feel sufficiently sure that Kenya is my home to be able to criticise the president,' he says. 'Very few Europeans have got
involved in public life and politics, and that's because they haven't felt integrated. They haven't made the effort to integrate.
So many of these people live a privileged life. They don't want to integrate socially. They don't speak the language. They
send their children to schools in England and South Africa, and then say there's no future for them in Kenya. They must feel
like fish out of water. I suppose it's because they have a very privileged life. It's very peachy.'
is still very privileged in Happy Valley, but the whiff of scandal is never far off, and the detail is astonishingly reminiscent
of another age.
daughter, Anna, established herself as a designer whose clothes proved a hit with the likes of Kate Moss, Princess Caroline
of Monaco and Jemima Khan. She married Antonio Trzebinski, an artist from one of the most prominent and long-standing white
families in Kenya.
was murdered five years ago by a single shot through the heart as he drove to see his Danish mistress, Natasha Illum Berg,
the only licensed female big game hunter in East Africa.
a surfer and big game fisherman renowned for his drinking, drug use and womanising, was killed little more than a mile from
where Lord Erroll was shot.
a year ago, Anna raised eyebrows by marrying a semi-nomadic warrior, Loyaban Lemarti, in a ceremony that involved the slaughter
of a bull. Lemarti wore a toga and lion skin. She now divides her time between her husband's rural village, white society
in Karen and fashion shows in London.
Cunningham-Reid describes the marriage as 'an experience' that has not gone down universally well among white Kenyans. But
he calls Lemarti 'a very close friend of mine.'
think [racial] attitudes have changed with some families,' he says. 'With me it's changed. Tom Delamere was my stepfather.
He considered the black man a necessary evil. You had to have him around to do the work. Since then I've found out that the
black man is a human being after all,' he says.
unwelcome attention caused by Tom Cholmondeley aside, the old family names are increasingly an irrelevance in Kenya. They
have largely ceased to matter.
white community is now better represented by a comfortable middle class that has carved out a future in tourism and conservation.
white immigrants continue to arrive. Arabella Akerhielm, who hails from a wealthy family in Chelsea and was part of the Sloane
Ranger set in the 80s, first came to Kenya in 1990. Four years later she married Baron Carl-Gustav Akerhielm, a member of
one of the first Swedish families to settle in East Africa.
here to stay,' she says at her relatively small home in a Nairobi suburb. 'I was in financial advertising in the City in London.
To me the quality of life is better here, although we're not as rich financially. I suppose it's somewhat colonial. Our husbands
do the work. There are moments of insecurity, but there's the freedom. Life's wilder here, more cavalier. It's not so materialistic.
In England I came from a very privileged background. I like being away from the City boys talking about their cars.'
Akerhielm – as she says she does not like to be known – says there is not much racism but recognises there is
not much integration either.
people are quite scathing [about Kenyans], but as a general rule I don't think there's much racism. If anything there's racism
against whites in getting jobs,' she says.
we are quite tribalistic. I suppose I don't have a lot of black friends. My husband, even being brought up here, does not
have a lot of black friends, but I believe my daughter will mix more freely. A lot more children educate their children here
or in South Africa than in the past. There are still the school flights to England, but fewer go.'
Akerhielm has already put her own seven-year-old daughter down for a place in 2011 at her old Catholic private school in Ascot.
Michael Cunningham-Reid if his family will still be in Kenya in two or three generations and he is doubtful. 'My feeling of
100% belonging here may not be right for my children and grandchildren. I am completely sure I will die here peacefully rather
than have a panga in the back of the neck. I don't know about my children,' he says.
are already making plans to leave.
Gaymer is a professional big game hunter who lives on an island in Lake Naivasha. Since hunting is banned in Kenya, he takes
his rich American clients to Tanzania.
say we're racist, but we've never been comparable with anywhere south [Rhodesia or South Africa] in the way we treated the
blacks,' he says. 'I think the majority of blacks in my area like me. I drink with them. I get along with them. Generally,
I think they like the old-time whites. In this country, the word for respect is fear. Because they fear me, they respect me.'
father was one of those who came on a grant after the war and became a ranch manager. Gaymer bought land but sold up in the
late 70s and turned to tourism. Today he is chairman of the Naivasha wildlife conservancy that has 23 members who own or farm
a combined total of 380,000 acres that is home to 55,000 head of wildlife.
half of them are white. 'I didn't even think of myself as coming from England. I could hardly imagine the place. But now,
very recently, I've been thinking about moving, leaving Kenya. It's getting too much,' he says.
is not the happy place that the white population once imagined. Seven white people have been murdered in the area in the past
two years (no one can tell you how many black people have been murdered).
January, a renowned British conservationist, Joan Root, 69, was killed at her home on the banks of Lake Naivasha where she
had lived for decades.
had been trying to put an end to the illegal fishing on the lake that has caused a collapse in the fish population over the
past five years. The water level is falling alarmingly, and the lake is increasingly polluted by pesticides and sewage.
established families blame the sprawling flower farms that provide roses and carnations to Marks & Spencer and other European
stores. The farms tap into the lake and spew out waste.
have also caused an influx of black Kenyans to Naivasha to work, or in search of work, that has seen the population of the
town rise tenfold to 300,000 people, many living in considerable poverty. With that have come the killings and other crimes.
also believes that Kenya's wildlife will be wiped out in the coming years unless there is a dramatic change in government
policy to permit licensed hunting. 'I'm looking at Tanzania now,' he says. 'I've bought 2m hectares there with antelopes,
hippo, buffalo, zebra. The country was a mess because of socialism, but the one thing they did was get rid of tribalism. I
think it has a future.''”
British settlers in Kenya played a major role in the country's economic development and helped Kenya to become the most developed
country in East Africa. It also has the largest and strongest economy among all the countries in the region.
Kenya's relative prosperity came with a heavy price. It was achieved at the expense of the indigenous people whose land was
taken away from them by the white settlers. And the economic pie was not shared equally. And it's still not.
white settlers got the biggest piece of the pie. And they still do.
provided the labour needed to develop the economy....
Seth, Kenya and Its People