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Kenya - People

The rate of population growth poses problems for a country whose sustained rate of economic growth is not likely to be that high; it also raises the demand for educational and health facilities, which may not be met. The US Census Bureau International Data Base estimates the population of Kenya in 2015 as 45,925,000, in 2025 at 53,196,000, and in 2050 at 70,755,000. The 1979 census yielded a population of 15.3 million, 98.9 percent of which was African. The total constituted an increase of more than 40 percent over that enumerated just 10 years earlier. By mid-1982 the population was estimated at nearly 18 million, and the annual rate of natural increase was calculated at 4 percent, the highest in the world.

Colonial society in Kenya was marked by clear physical, linguistic, and cultural distinctions among the indigenous Africans, the Asians, and the Europeans (as all white people were — and still are — designated). The political, economic, and social status of each of these groups stood in inverse relation to its numbers. The Europeans (largely persons of British origin) always constituted less than 1 percent of the total population, but they were politically dominant and insisted on their social superiority. The European settlers in this African environment were farmers and ranchers or businessmen and the purveyors of services who catered to the needs of the agriculturists.

The Asians, roughly 2 to 3 percent of the population, were generally involved in urban occupations, mainly commercial activities. After an early and unsuccessful effort to compete for political power with the Europeans, the Asians settled for their place in the middle of the economic pyramid and concerned themselves with their own communal affairs, maintaining only the most public and necessary social relationships with the other communities. The Africans — 96 to 97 percent of the colony's population — remained largely subsistence farmers and pastoral herders or agricultural and domestic laborers.

There was little or no relationship between many of the African ethnic groups during the precolonial period; they were either too far apart to have contact with one another, or their mode of life was so different that there was no significant competition for territory. During the colonial era ethnic boundaries were established and, except for some mixing in border areas and urban centers, each African group stayed primarily in a specific region to which its cultural way of life was well adapted. Most Africans thus were barely touched by the colonial economy and society. But the Kikuyu, the most numerous of Kenya's African peoples, became an important exception to this general pattern because of their proximity to the main areas of European settlement in the highlands and Nairobi, the capital city.

Kenyan politics have been characterized by ethnic tensions since independence in 1963. But it was not until 2008 that the demons of tribalism really flared up after the hotly disputed national elections which left over a thousand people dead and thousands displaced. The clashes mainly between the larger ethnic tribes, the Kikuyus, Luos and Kalenjins, erupted after Mwai Kibaki from the Kikuyu community was declared the winner amidst accusations of rigging and electoral manipulation. The dilemma arises when politicians use ethnicity for their personal gain and create a divide which breeds tribalism. The first two political parties before and during independence Kenya - the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) and the Kenyan African Democratic Development Union (KADDU) - propelled current tribal politics in the country. KANU was a Kikuyu and Luo alliance party while KADDU was comprised of other small tribes who feared domination by KANU. Traditional Kenyan society contained strong elements of economic and political egalitarianism, and all Kenyans were expected to cooperate in a mutual sharing of benefits and to cooperate in a variety of contexts. This communal, cooperative spirit was constantly evoked by Kenyatta and his government officials in exhortations to the people to work together in the spirit of harambee, the national motto meaning "let us all pull together." Derived from an African phrase used by gangs of laborers when heavy jobs were to be tackled, it was placed in bold letters on the country's coat of arms and served as a standard against which the performance of government employees, private workers, and peasants was to be measured. Building on this foundation, the government sought to incorporate from any source ideas or principles that were deemed practical and relevant to Kenyan needs. It maintained a practical, independent attitude and did not accept uncritically the tenets of either Marxian socialism or laissez-faire capi talism.

As of 2012 CIA estimated the population at Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%. Kenya's 1979 census recognized between 30 and 40 ethnic groups. Of these, only five were fairly large, ranging in size from 10 percent to more than 20 percent of the population. These groups, in addition to being internally differentiated in terms of wealth, power, and other indicators introduced in the colonial era and persisting after independence, were often divided into subethnic groups based on differences of dialect, location, economic adaptation, and other indicators of cultural significance, some old, some new.

The ethnic categories used by the colonial authorities, often for administrative convenience, did much to define ethnic groups as they stood, at least officially, in the latter half of the twentieth century. In some important cases, current ethnic categories were first established in the 1930s and 1940s, largely as a consequence of the awareness and aspirations of the local elites in the independent groups that constituted the new categories.

Of the five largest ethnic groups, each having more than 1 million persons and together constituting more than 70 percent of Kenyan nationals, two — the Bantu-speaking Luhya and the Southern Nilotic-speaking Kalenjin — are of recent vintage, having emerged in the colonial era to bring together local entities of similar language and culture. The degree of relatedness between any two of the several components of either the Kalenjin or the Luhya varies. Moreover, members of these components, which still persist, do not have an equally intense sense of affinity to the larger, more comprehensive group.

The other three of the five largest groups — Kikuyu, Luo, and Kamba — have a longer historical identity, but even they were not aware of the outer limits of their groups until the colonial era. There is still some question of the boundaries between the Kikuyu and groups such as the Meru, Embu, and Mbere.

Two other groups, the Somali and the Oromo, consist of peoples independently counted in the 1969 and 1979 censuses. All the groups who are considered Somali are certainly seen, and perceive themselves, as such in some situations. The other names offered in the census refer to various levels of descent groups in terms of which the Somali, in Kenya as in Somalia, are organized. Thus, the Hawiya constitute one of six clan-families (groups of clans) in which almost all Somali are grouped. Three other Somali names used in the census — Degodia, Gurreh, and Ajuran — are in fact sections of, or associated with, the Hawiya, as are other groups not noted in the census but recognized by ethnologists or linguists in Kenya. The other group, the Ogaden, noted in the census (and others not noted), are sections of the very large Darod clan-family. The Ogaden in particular are to be found not only in Kenya but also in Somalia and Ethiopia. The Somali-speaking Gosha cultivators may be freed slaves in origin and do not appear to be attached to a Somali clan-family.

The sections below the level of the clan-family were the focuses of economic and political organization in the preindependence era in both Somalia and Kenya, and conflict between sections was not uncommon.No ethnic group ("tribe" in the language of the colonial authorities and in the postindependence lexicon of Kenyans as well) is culturally and linguistically homogeneous except perhaps for a few of the very smallest ones. Moreover, no Kenyan group was characterized in the precolonial era by a centralized political order that encompassed all or even most of those speaking the same language and sharing a common culture.

Kenya has a very diverse population that includes three of Africa's major sociolinguistic groups: Bantu (67%), Nilotic (30%), and Cushitic (3%). Kenyans are deeply religious. About 80% of Kenyans are Christian, 11% Muslim, and the remainder follow traditional African religions or other faiths. Most city residents retain links with their rural, extended families and leave the city periodically to help work on the family farm. About 75% of the work force is engaged in agriculture, mainly as subsistence farmers.

The number of languages equals or exceeds that of ethnic groups, posing a major problem for a state seeking to integrate its diverse populations. Efforts to deal with it have been made by declaring Swahili a national language, but the expansion of the use of standard Swahili has been slow.

With some exceptions, groups speaking languages of a given stock have made generally similar ecological adaptations to their environments. Such adaptations reflect both the culturally embedded orientations they brought with them on their arrival in the area and their responses to the opportunities offered (or the exigencies imposed) by local environments.

The groups speaking Bantu languages (of the Niger-Kordofanian stock) have long been primarily cultivators. A few groups near major bodies of water have turned to fishing for much or all of their livelihoods. They therefore live in that comparatively limited part of Kenya that will sustain cultivation or fishing. Although Bantu-speaking groups constitute at least two-thirds of the indigenous population, they occupy less than one-fourth of the land area.

Nearly as uniform in their quite different adaptation are the Cushitic- speaking peoples (well under 5 percent of the population), most of whom are pastoral nomads continuing a mode of livelihood characteristic of the areas in Somalia and Ethiopia from which they stem. The speakers of Cushitic languages (of the Afro-Asiatic stock) are thinly distributed over nearly one-half the country.

The peoples speaking Nilotic languages (of the Nilo-Saharan stock) are more varied. As a whole they constitute somewhat more than one- quarter of the population and inhabit roughly the same proportion of the country's land area. But the Western Nilotic-speaking Luo, cultivators and cattle keepers, are much more densely concentrated than the Southern Nilotic-speaking Kalenjin. The latter, despite a tradition of keeping cattle, have long been involved in mixed farming and, except for a few groups, have given up a pastoral nomadic way of life, as have the Eastern Nilotic-speaking Teso. Much more sparsely settled are the Eastern Nilotic-speaking Maasai, largely pastoral nomadic people, and related peoples occupying the more arid sections of the Rift Valley and the near desert in the northwest.

Swahili, a Bantu language much modified lexically (and to some extent in other ways) by contact with Arabs, developed as a common mother tongue along the coast and in Zanzibar by the thirteenth century. It has easily incorporated foreign words — Arabic, Hindi, Persian, and English among them — adapting them to fit the Swahili sound system and its grammar. Several dialects are spoken as first languages in Kenya, each tied to a specific local community, e.g., the dialect called Mvita, used in Mombasa. There are others in Tanzania, including the Zanzibari dialect, Kiunguja, which provided the basis for spoken standard Swahili.

Standard Swahili was developed in the 1930s by the Inter-territorial Language (Swahili) Committee for the East African Dependencies on the basis of earlier work when missionaries and educationists felt the need for a standard version of the language and for an accepted Latin orthography. The use of Swahili as a second language in missions and schools, by the colonial authorities, and by Europeans and Asians to communicate with Africans led to the emergence of several much simplified dialects (or pidgins) that were not satisfactory for educational, administrative, and religious purposes. There were also written forms, some in Latin script and one (used chiefly by Muslim religious figures) in Arabic script. The latter was still in use, but the Latin form, standardized in the 1930s, was much more widely employed.

The national motto of Kenya is Harambee, meaning "pull together." In that spirit, volunteers in hundreds of communities build schools, clinics, and other facilities each year and collect funds to send students abroad. Kenya has six full-pledged public universities: University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Egerton University, Moi University, Maseno University, Masinde Muliro University (most of these universities also have constituent colleges); and approximately 13 private universities, including United States International University. Public and private universities have a total enrollment of approximately 50,000 students with about 80% of these being enrolled in public universities (representing 25% of students who qualify for university admission).

In addition, more than 60,000 students enroll in middle-level colleges where they study career courses leading to certificate, diploma, and higher diploma awards. International universities and colleges have also established campuses in Kenya where students enroll for distance learning and other flexible programs. Other Kenyan students pursue their university education abroad. More than 5,000 Kenyans are studying in the United States.

At some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s - it cannot be pinpointed precisely - there was an abrupt and dramatic change and fertility began to fall with unforeseen rapidity. Most of this fertility decline can be attributed to increased contraceptive use. The 1989 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) showed that during the 1980s fertility had declined for the first time in Kenya's demographic history, from a level of 7.9 children per woman in the late 1970's (KCBS,1980) to 6.7 in the late 1980's (KNCPD and IRD, 1989). Despite the decline in fertility, Kenya's population was still concentrated in the younger ages and would continue to grow for many years. Between 1990 and 2020, Kenya will add 33 million people, more than twice as many as were living in Kenya in 1980.

After the 1989 census a new set of Central Bureau of Statistics projections for Kenya assumed rising mortality from AIDS, such that the overall life expectancy for both sexes after the turn of the century was just under 45 years. But the models used for the construction of the projections rested on some unhappy assumptions. In particular it had been assumed that HIV prevalence would level out at 9 percent. It had done no such thing; and reached 13.5 percent in 2000.

The AIDS epidemic in Kenya was first noted in the early 1980s among the sex worker population. It has since spread to most areas of the country. In 1999, the Kenyan government declared AIDS a national disaster. In subsequent years, declines in HIV prevalence were observed in both high risk and low risk populations as well as in urban and rural areas. Population-based HIV testing further confirms the decline in levels among the general population. Nearly 6 percent of the adult population were estimated to be living with HIV in 2008.

The past record of fertility trends in developing countries that have completed their fertility transitions indicates that once a fertility decline is underway it often continues without significant interruption until the replacement level of around two births per woman is reached. The level of fertility at the stalling onset varies considerably among countries, from a high of 4.7 births per woman in Kenya to a low of 2.5 in Turkey.

But in September 2005, health experts warned of a population crisis, following reports of increased fertility rate. Dr Richard Muga, the director of the National Council for Population and Development, said studies indicated that the fertility rate was rising. The rate had declined in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching an all time low of 4.7 per cent in 1998. However, the Kenya Demographic Health Survey for 2003 showed fertility rose to 4.9 per cent, meaning Kenyans would on average have five children instead of four. "We are very worried today and are asking ourselves whether Kenyans are beginning to prefer more children?"

Development is considered the main policy option available to reduce high desired family size, as the trends in development indicators had leveled off. Kenya is an example of a country where fertility stalled at near five births per woman despite relatively high levels of literacy and schooling. It would be surprising if Kenya’s low and deteriorating living standards were not partly responsible for this stall in fertility.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:29:30 ZULU