Clouds over Kenya


This probably is not the kind of scene most people associate with Africa. It looks more like a stretch of bleak English moorland in December. Anyway Kenya it is, and it was taken one August in a Maasai group ranch conservancy, bordering the Maasai Mara National Park.

May to September is East Africa’s winter, and the skies are often overcast and leaden. The nights, and even the days can be chilly. Kenya, anyway, covers many of the world’s climatic zones either horizontally or vertically – from the hot and arid Northern District, bordering Ethiopia and Somalia, to the alpine heights of Mount Kenya with its glacial peaks. There are also the airy, and rarely too hot, highland plains around Nairobi, and the steamy humidity of the Mombasa coastal strip to the south.

Much of the nation’s weather is determined by the cycle of Indian Ocean monsoon winds. These, unless disrupted by El Nino effects, bring two seasons of rain – the long rains in March to May, and the short rains in November-December. In between, many areas receive little or no rain. Western Kenya, however, receives more regular rainfall courtesy of Lake Victoria Nyanza which makes its own weather.  Meanwhile in the fertile Central Highlands above Nairobi, altitude and forest combine to make June and July the season of heavy mists. It’s all a bit dreary, but the mist does have its uses – for instance, ripening the maize crops for the August harvest.

napier grass on the Rift

Smallholder farms and July mists in the Kikuyu highlands, north of Nairobi


In the late 1990s Team Farrell was often out and about in the Kikuyu highlands, visiting smallholder farms. And the reason we were doing this in the fog season was because the Team Leader, aka Graham, was – besides running an agricultural crop protection project on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government – gathering data for his doctoral thesis on smut. If you want to know more about our smut forays (of the plant variety that is) your can find out more HERE.

Rift lane after July downpour

Rural road after an unseasonal July downpour. Poor communications embed poverty, making it hard for farmers to get produce to market before it spoils.


tea fields and workers' houses

Lowering skies over Limuru’s tea gardens with tea pickers’ housing.


Kikuyu farmstead 1

Kikuyu farmhouse.


banana trees 2

Wintery fields in Muranga where the Del Monte pineapples grow.


And just sometimes, even on the gloomiest Kenyan winter’s day, the sun breaks through the clouds:

Kikuyu child 3


Jennifer Nichole Wells OWPC: cloudy     Go here for more bloggers’ cloudy offerings.

48 thoughts on “Clouds over Kenya

  1. The young man in your final photo has a smile bright enough to rival any sunny day that I’ve ever seen. That’s my favorite of all the wonderful shots you’ve posted here.
    Really nice,Tish. Thanks.

  2. What lovely pictures you put into words and backed them up with equally impressive photographs Tish. Especially the Kenyan child with that unmistakable Kenyan smile!

    1. He was a star that boy. I bumped into him on a path, and the first thing he wanted to do was to take a photo of me with my camera. So sweet. I don’t know if I still have the photo he took.

  3. Great post, as always, Tish. Love you posts about anything in Africa as they educate as well as bring back memories. Kenya truly covers many climate zones. I never forget when I first came out of the plane in Mombasa. The humidity was the highest I had ever experienced. Fell in love. Came back many times 🙂

    1. It’s a country that gets under your skin somehow. When I first arrived in Kenya, I realised it was already under mine – as you say – from all the movies. We also used to have Armand and Michaela Dennis on our TV when I was a small child. He was one of the first wildlife film makers, and they lived in Nairobi. Michaela was very glam and did stunt work for the female stars of the African movies. She was in her 80s when we were in Nairobi, and still glam. She kept Armand’s ashes in her wardrobe, along with the ashes of the European Count who had succeeded him.

  4. Beautiful post Tish. It is like with every post about Kenya, you are teaching something new. I think the clowns that run this government should make you the ambassador instead of the crooked appointees they have. You do a better job than all of our ambassadors combined

    1. I’m very very touched by your comments, Noel. I can’t think of a bigger compliment actually. Btw – is it still raining with you. In the post I was about to launch into a rant about climate change, but decided it was too negative. I hope you are well.

  5. like a watercolour landscape, Kenya is evidently etched deep in your heart.
    As for SMUT, (fascinating to read your other post on this btw) I went to a Royal Society exhibition on GM and why developing nations need disease-resistant plants- their dependency on crop success is so much more vital than we Western protesters can ever imagine
    p.s.oh gosh – names from the ancient past – Armand and Michaela dennis – like Hans & Lottie Hass – the jouneyers to places I could not/ would never venture

    1. Thank you, Laura, and yes, Kenya seems to have hijacked essential parts of me.

      But I’m not too sure about all the tinkering that’s been going on with other people’s agriculture. At the time when the British first were exploring Kenya in the mid 19th century, the Kikuyu had the most fantastic gardens of crops. The Brits thought they were in the Garden of Eden. Earlier explorers’ tales elsewhere in Africa give a similar picture. People knew how to be successful growers, planting according to their local conditions.

      One of the things that colonialism did, plus the market economy, was to stop people growing crops as they had always grown them, ie all mixed up, which truly fools the pests. Like the EU supermarket ‘standards’, colonial development was only interested in people growing export-worthy produce rather than on good food to eat locally. These days farmers who have Montsanto contracts are not allowed to keep seed from year to year, (which means they have the expense of buying new seed), or to grow their own strains, which catered for variable conditions. This is leading to a huge loss in crop diversity, and again adding to risk – to all of us in fact. And certainly, those farmers who have been locked into cash-crop production for international markets are extremely vulnerable – though perhaps climate change is the worst threat. Stressed plants make them more susceptible to disease, or so Graham keeps telling me if he finds limp looking plants in my allotment. He also says disease resistant strains run out of resistance after a while, which is another reason to maintain the kitchen garden mixed crop method. Though of course this is not suitable for mass production.

      But then he also has a good story about blight resistant spuds that were grown under the auspices of one of the British agri-projects in Kenya. (The Irish spud is obviously not native to Kenya, but chips are becoming increasingly popular over local staples). Anyway, farmers were given some trial seed, and many had such good crops the first year they were able to buy a cow or open a kiosk with the profits, both of which were real triggers to further prosperity, and of course a hedge against crop failure in the future . They then had to pass some of their spud crop on as seed to other farmers. It was a real multiplier effect. All of which is to say, it’s all very complicated. And sorry if this sounds like a lecture, but it’s a subject I feel quite strongly about, now that I think about it 🙂

      1. thanks for all the info Tish – seems corporate capitalists are making money on a feudal system.

      2. Tish – I just had to jump in and say that I enjoyed this reply very much – and I have not followed your blog for too long, but really learning so much this month – and grateful for this part:
        “was to stop people growing crops as they had always grown them, ie all mixed up, which truly fools the pests”

  6. Beautiful cloudy skies! Such wonderful photos, and of course the beaming smile is my favourite. Although I lived in South Africa for over 40 years, I’ve not been to Kenya. Thanks for showing me what it’s like, 🙂

  7. What an amazing and diverse country Africa is, and what a sad story about the disintegration of the traditional farming ways. I believe that GM crops are causing lots of problem with farmers not being able to save seeds.

    1. Yes, indeed. It’s to our loss as well. In Ethiopia they once grew something like 40 different kinds of millet, each suited to a particular highland zone. It’s drought tolerant too, and nutritious. Small grained crops used to be mainstays in Kenya too, but in colonial times maize was introduced as rations for African labour. It fills people up, and now it’s a staple. But it is also dependent on good rain, and needs fertiliser, is vulnerable to food storage pests, and not so nutritious…

  8. 3 cheers for the humble spud, Tish, and for that lovely young man’s smile 🙂 🙂 I’m glad you feel strongly about these issues. The subject matter is wholely unfamiliar to me.

    1. I could become a crop bore, Jo. One of the odd things I did while in Kenya was read through 60 years of colonial agricultural officers’ reports. Much of what they did was well meaning, but also teeth gnashing too. The consequences of their actions are still embedded in the land, and with detrimental effects on-going.

  9. Kenya through your eyes is really something, Tish. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it there, which makes your post more meaningful. The poverty is striking, yet so is the beauty. Cloudy days are good ones for photography I think, it makes everything pop…especially the smile. Have a great weekend!

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