What Makes Us Kenyan?


I chuckled when she asked this.

“No, I’m serious. What makes us Kenyan? We don’t have a national food. Everything either belongs to a tribe or another culture, but nothing is national; nothing is officially Kenyan.”

I thought about it, and she was indeed right. She continued:

“Same thing goes for clothing and language. We don’t have a national landmark, per se: most Kenyans wouldn’t recognize Mt. Kenya and not many outside Nairobi would know what KICC is. And maybe that’s why we don’t feel united with each other unless we’re looking at our flag or singing our national anthem. We’re related by Geography.”

I found this to be a severely sad thought, but definitely one worth pondering. So, I pass the question on to you, dear readers. What would you says makes us Kenyan?

18 thoughts on “What Makes Us Kenyan?

  1. The Kenyan education system is a common experience among Kenya’s citizen and provides a basis for rapport creation. Secondly, the 07 phone number prefix used to hint for a person’s number is so Kenyan and lastly the country is a geographical region where inhabitants will use the first person reference upto three times as well as repeat time word basicaly e.g. “me, i basically, i think its nothing as in “

  2. I would say it’s our unending pool of optimism. I watched the promulgation through Twitter on Friday and the reaction was just amazing.

    For a country that has been through so much abuse and disappointment and disillusionment and neglect and whatever else we have been through in my lifetime alone, not adding what my parents and grandparents have witnessed, I’m in awe at our ability to always put the country first as we clean our slates and hope (and fervently pray) as we march on to yet another new beginning.

    When I look around Africa and see the other countries, I know we have dodged many bullets as a country, so I am eternally thankful and proud to be Kenyan

  3. Kenya is not a just a country…Kenyanism is a way of life.
    we have our own language and norms that INSTANTLY identify us as Kenyans – seriously I think we are the only ones who go to feel hot in other peoples countries and who floss lyk we are a super power (wait a minute in EA we ARE a super power…hehehehe)

  4. There are things that need not be justified of be apologetic for. Being Kenyan is one of them coz we can hardly do anything to change that. That notwithstanding, I must say that the realization of oour shared commonalities is best exhibited and appreciated when one stands at an external point…I mean when one is outside that shared sphere, like in another country…or amongst people of different nationalities. You will realize there is a lot in common that makes us kenyans…watch it and prove it…you don’t have to theorize it…live it.

  5. I don’t know what the ‘it’ factor is exactly, but haven’t you ever stood on the street in a foreign country, or looked at a kid in a video or seen some extra in a movie and said, ‘that guy/girl looks like a Kenyan?’ I know I have.

    Even on race tracks when you see a mass of runners, you can identify the Kenya B and Kenya C teams even if they’re in a different uniform, and it’s not about leg length or geography. In TZ, you’ll be walking down the street and before you open your mouth some random person will come ask you if you’re Kenyan.

    Maybe it’s like the elusive X-factor from all those TV shows and beauty pageants – you can’t quite describe it, and you don’t know it till you see it, but it’s definitely there.

  6. I think the following makes us Kenyans.

    1. Our inability to obey the law. Most Kenyans always disobey the law most of the time.Be it by drink driving, driving without insurance, misfesance in public office, domestic violence we are at the forefront. When even those who are supposed to uphold the law and in the forefront (police, judges and council askari’s to name but a few) are so corrupt, it is no wonder that individuals cannot obey the law.

    2. Our love of everything foreign.

    As Kenyans we are not proud of ourselves.Most Kenyans will buy imported goods as opposed to promoting kenyan products. They would rather buy chinese toothpicks rather than Kenyan made toothpicks and the goverment, through its lack of adequate import duties or through sheer corruption makes it possible for imported goods to be cheaper than local produced goods. How do you explain eggs from South Africa being cheaper than Kenyan eggs? How do you explain mitumba clothes ( second hand clothes all the way from Europe or America) being cheaper than products made by Rivatex. Why can’t our goverment love us and protect us and our industries by taxing imports heavily and subsidising local produce? Why can’t our government stop the brain drain currently happening? Why do we have to go to India or South Africa or Europe to get treated by Kenyan doctors?

    3. Lack of Identity.

    Kenyans lack identity. Most of our youth now want to dress like the American youth whom they see on TV regardless of the weather conditions. Our young girls especially in showbiz want to dress like the women they see in hip hop movies and our politicians will go to holiday in foreign lands instead of promoting domestic tourism. Lets not forget them buying property in Europe and America and stealing from public coffers and banking the money in Western capitals, hence our local businessmen cannot get a cheaper loan from the bank to expand their business whereas in the West, the banks beg people to go for credit despite the fact that they have no security.

    And not lets us forget parents failing to teach their children their mothertongue but paying for them to study at least 2 other foreign languages in addition to English.

    4. Tribalistic
    I love reading the posts at Mashada. It kills me when I see forumists calling each other names based on tribes with the main culprits being Luos, Kikuyus and Kalenjin. This three ethnic groups are among the country’s elite, yet if the posts in Mashada are anything to go by, they are very tribalistic and trivial and an embarrassment to people like me who are tribal blind. How can you judge a person based on the tribe that they come from? In the spirit of the speech of Martin Luther King, I have a dream that one day Kenyans will judge each other, not by their tribal origin but by the content of their character and I hope I will live to see the day.

    In summary, I do not think they is nothing truly to be proud of. Yes some will say that we are among the best in Africa for peace and stability but to benchmark, we need to use the best country in the world as our starting point and that is when we will truly see if we are as good as we think we are.

  7. Our eternal optimism while great might be a symbol of something worse – chronic foolishness.
    Kenyans were amazingly optimistic, right after Kibaki came into power. I think at the time we topped the world in optimism according to some study. Five years on when the miracles that we expected him to perform did not occur, the same were virulently oppossed to him and we all know what happened when he came back into power.

    We need to manage our expectations of our leaders, constitution etc. We act as if the mere change in leader or document is a magical elixir which will alleviate our problems while doing little on our own to change the course the nation is on. Opportunities have greatly increased for biz since Emilio got into power, but people still expect the ‘govt’ to hand them a job. Good luck!

    Additionally, we contribute to corruption every day and are constantly re-electing useless leaders because of pre-election gifts or promises which we have no real reason to think will continue or come true after we elect them. We favour impunity in practice which bemoaning it when it benefits people we don’t like.

    Kenyans need to change before Kenya can change. Kenyans will have to think of themselves and their neighbours as worthy human beings despite tribe without pretending that tribe does not exist or worse still by throwing away our languages and culture in some elusive pursuit of harmony.

    Tribe like gender or colour is a fact of life and another thing to celebrate in each other. When people say that not seeing tribe or not having a tribe is the way to harmony, I say BULL. If we have to pretend that something is nonexistent to get along, we are lying to ourselves. Everyone should be accepted as is i.e. I see that you are a short, fat Kikuyu woman with buckteeth and that’s alright as oppossed to pretending that these things are not there.

    I hope this time that we will work to make it one nation for all Kenyans to enjoy.

  8. The fact that we have nothing that makes us Kenyan makes us Kenyan? I think Kenyans ‘Just Are’. We don’t need a national symbol or dress. It’s in the confidence, optimism, amazingly good looks (no matter what opinion polls say), and our patriotism (especially when out in the diaspora :) )

    Does the fact that we don’t have a common symbol affect our national cohesion? I don’t think so. Kenyans are just like Kenyan relatives. Get together during crisis and celebrations, then forget about each other till the next crisis / celebration.

  9. Damn it’s tricky. The only thing that makes me Kenyan is the fact that I resonate well with my background in terms of Cultural values and my history and I respect them since I don’t necessarily believe in karma.

  10. The problem with all this is that it’s very intangible and easily gets lost in a situation where turmoil begins tugging at our differences. There is no national rallying factor when tribal dispute erupts. To this day, religious bias leads the average Kenyan to interchange “Muslim”, “Islam”, “Arab, “Somali”, etc. And the reverse can be said; that bias and segregation is immensely bilateral. The point I’m making is that at the end of the day we’re an extremely divided, racist, classist, segregationist society here.

    At some point, you have to wonder, if we were stripped of the things that make us different, what would remain on that black, red and green white-striped slate? Is there really a Kenyan core outside of the Kenyan brand?

  11. This bs of us lacking identity and symbols and what not should stop. Kenyans are not tribalists we are ethnocentric we appreciate each other celebrate together mourn together be it in Nakuru or Kisii Mombasa or Kampala, New York or Wajir we are always having the camaraderie that is uniquely Kenyan. When in foreign lands we appreciate any kenyan irrespective of race be it a mzungu , muindi, or mjaluo we all cool with each other. The only people we dont get along very well with are the posers; the refugees who passed through kenya those ungrateful ethiopians eritreans and somalis.The only grateful people are the sudanese. Anyway incidentally and infact am digressing. Whatever makes us kenyan is this “sisi ni wakenya utado?”

  12. I remember watching the movie Phone Booth starring Keifer and Farrell and a some hawker guy near the booth that Stuart was stuck in said in Swahili ‘Namna gani jamaa!’ Never felt so proud watching a movie since Lion King days. How would you feel the moment you hear two random people in a remote Mongolia village speaking Swahili?

  13. What being Kenyan Means to Me

    There are the Luhya, there are the Kikuyu, Luo, Kalenjin, name them. When asked, I call myself a Kenyan, not for any reason other than I was born in Kenya. Being Kenyan is living in a multicultural society; filled with people of a broad spectrum of ethnicity, because of Kenya’s and indeed Africa’s famous hospitality to visitors. Being Kenyan means …being proud of our history, for without it we have nothing to base our future on. It is irrelevant whether we agree with what happened in our country’s past (as I am sure future generations might never like what we are doing now) history is a foundation to build on. As much as I hate our colonial past I believe there are important lessons and gains our present can draw on. I believe we can turn our current tribalistic, corrupt and oppressive leadership into a pillar on which a better self-respecting governance for future Kenya can evolve from.

    Being Kenyan means getting on with life in times of adversity, supporting those weaker than ourselves, being a friend to others and a help to our neighbours. Kenyanness is reliance and on your friends and family rather than the state. This belief has enabled Kenyans to survive under years of a corrupt leadership where nothing really comes out of government. Being Kenyan means respect for the institution of the family in its nucleated and extended form. It also means respect for our senior citizens (Wazees) as reservoirs of Knowledge, wisdom and blessings.

    Being Kenyan is: applauding the other team when they score. It’s being courteous to people who touch your life at various points in life. It’s helping my elderly next door neighbour for the pleasure of it. It’s respecting the values and traditions that were instilled into me by my parents along with a strong community spirit. Most of all and gratifyingly so, acknowledgment from all around me, that there are very few others in the world with the will and resolve not to be intimidated by those with corrupt and perverse ideology, like KENYANS.

    Being Kenyan means having a respect and intellectual understanding of our institutions and the continuity of our beloved motherland and the life it represents. It is to understand and accept that change comes about through evolution in society, not revolution. Being Kenyan means that when in doubt, we try and do the right thing and deploy a heavy dose of common sense. It means that when our political party does not win an election, and no matter how fiercely we disagree with the winners, that we become the Loyal Opposition. It means that we will tolerate any point of view, however outrageous, until it stops tolerating us. It means being able to laugh at ourselves and never take offence. It means that we will argue amongst ourselves, but be instantly united if our country is threatened. And, most importantly, it means that our patriotism is intellectual and born of a conviction that does not need to be expressed in words or flags because we are supremely comfortable and confident with who we are as a people

    Being Kenyan means reverence to our ancestors and God. Proud to be KENYAN for KENYA I’D GIVE MY LIFE.

  14. Does it really matter that Kenyans don’t conform to a certain dress mode? Kenya does not need a national dress. It is a constantly evolving fashion scene. Kenya’s diversified topography dictated how its inhabitants lived hence the lack of a communal dress, and our food is a little smidgen of everything. Kenya comprises of all the aspects of the Negro race…be it Bantus, Nilotes, Cushites we have them all. Therefore, just like Rome is the melting pot of the world, I certify Kenya as the melting pot of Africa. Anytime one asks of my accent, I proudly inform them of my heritage…and just because I am lighter skinned than the Africans they show on National Geographic does not make me any less African. I appear like this because I am Kenyan. We are proud of who we are and where we come from. What makes Americans American? There is no formal dress code. Every state flaunts their cultural heritage. The only people with any real tradition are the native Americas…they were not even considered American until about two centuries back. Everyone is proud of their home state – New Yorkers, Texans et cetera. Kenyans are proud of their ethnic diversity and especially those in Diaspora. Kenyans are Kenyans no matter how you weave and twirl them. We still take pride in our country despite the rape and mortifying that the no good avaricious self-serving politicians have done to the beautiful pride of Africa. That account provokes such anger in so many Kenyans and is best left for another forum….

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