The 1995 Nairobi Agriculture Show ~ Waiting For Admission

One of the truly useful institutions we Brits left behind in the African countries we invaded is the Annual Agricultural Show. We went to both Kenyan and Zambian versions, and found them hugely popular events, still held on their original dedicated show grounds. Nor are they simply about entertainment, shopping and crop and stock competitions, although there is plenty of all of these to be had. I remember one Kenyan smallholder being quoted in the national press. He had travelled many miles to attend the Nairobi show, and at some expense. ‘But,’ he said, ‘this show is my university. This is where I come to learn how to improve my farming skills.’

And as we wandered round we certainly found plenty of advice to hand, much of it rendered in model farm lay-outs. There was also that year’s exhortatory slogan to spur all  to action: “Feed The Nation And Export”. And there were promotional exhibits for small-scale battery chicken rearing, camel raising, the Post Office and family planning. Even the National Archives had a small pavilion in which they were showing 1950s film footage from the Land Freedom uprising aka Mau Mau. The Young Farmers were showing off their crop  growing and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (the place where Graham had his office) also had a big stand with plenty of experts to provide farmer guidance.

Welcome to Nairobi’s 1995 Agricultural Show:

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Daily Post: waiting

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Photos From The Old Africa Album

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After I had posted the Kenya diary excerpt yesterday (see previous post), I found I could do passable scans from one of our old albums. So here are the photos of ‘A Day At The Nairobi Races’  – two 6WordSaturday titles for one then.

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Members of the Police Anti-Stock Theft Unit from Kenya’s Northern District – completing the race that never was.

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The real racing begins which reminds of an even more historical account of the Nairobi races.

In 1931 Evelyn Waugh arrived in Kenya during Race Week which was by then a colonial institution. I gather it took place between Christmas and New Year when the smart-set settlers left their upcountry farms and headed for town. Every night was party night at the Muthaiga Club. Here are some excerpts from Waugh’s day out at the races from Remote People:

I found myself involved in a luncheon party. We went on together to the Races. Someone gave me a cardboard disc to wear in my button-hole; someone else, called Raymond, introduced me to a bookie and told me which horses to back. None of them won…

Someone took me to a marquee where we drank champagne. When I wanted to pay for a round the barman gave me a little piece of paper to sign and a cigar.

We went back to Muthaiga and drank champagne out of a silver cup which someone had won.

Someone said, ‘You mustn’t think Kenya is always like this.’

And some sixty years on to 1994 when these photos were taken…

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The Steward’s Enclosure. The colours of the day were red and white, and the lady in the red and white hat won ‘best outfit’.

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The Chief Steward

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But when it comes to the old colonial residue, one key thing has  obviously changed. In 1963 Kenya won independence from Britain. But here’s the catch. As colonial private interest dwindled, so came the invasion of the multi-nationals. The American corporation Del Monte was one of the first. They took over Kenya Canners and the Thika pineapple plant. Another big investor was the Anglo-African giant Lonrho, here sponsoring the races.  This entity started out in 1909 as the London and Rhodesian Mining Company. During the ‘60s Lonrho bought up British firms throughout Kenya including the Standard newspaper, farms, distributors, wattle estates, and a large vehicle importer*. During the ‘90s Lonrho also owned some of the country’s most prestigious tourist hotels including The Ark, the Norfolk Hotel and the Mount Kenya Safari Club. There’s a postscript to this later.

Now back to the album:

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The Kenya Air Force Band waiting for their next stint between the races

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The main grandstand

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And for the children – donkey cart rides, face painting and Mr. Magic

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Postscript: from the Standard newspaper 15 May 2005

John Kamau reports:

Nairobi — The once politically-connected Lonrho Plc has finally called it a day in Kenya after selling its last five prime properties to Saudi-billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

In what may be one of the largest take-overs in Kenya in recent history, Kingdom Hotel Investments, owned by Alwaleed, on Wednesday took over the historic Norfolk Hotel, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Aberdare Country Club, The Ark and Mara Safari Club. Alwaleed also owns the famous London Savoy.

All of which prompts me to ask who actually does own Kenya these days?

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday  Please pop over to Debbie’s at Travel With Intent. She has posted some fabulous shots of the Forth Bridge – another example of how historical constructs can long endure, some far more useful than others.

 

*Charles Hornsby 2013 Kenya: A History Since Independence

The Way We Were ~ More From The Kenya Diary

Greater love hath no man than he who spent hours and days, and more hours and days transcribing this writer’s Kenya journal. Prior to transcription, and due to various computer glitches, it existed only on reams of faded, flimsy print-out paper. It was just about scannable, which was tiresome enough to complete, but the end result then required hours of copy editing. So thank you Graham.

And for those who don’t know the background to this, from January 1992 to January 2000, Graham aka the Farrell Team Leader, was working out in Africa on various British aid agricultural projects. The first year we were largely itinerant, travelling up and down the Mombasa highway between Nairobi, Kiboko, Taita and Mombasa.

Graham was working on a project to control Larger Grain Borer, a voracious grain-decimating beetle introduced to Africa in a consignment of US food aid. The actual home of this pest is Central America, and Graham had spent some time studying its behaviour in Mexico. He was then employed on a short-term consultancy project by the Natural Resources Institute in Kent, and thence despatched to Kenya.

His main base was the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Nairobi, but there was also a field station a hundred miles south at Kiboko, where the Kenyan project staff worked. When Graham had to make a visit, we stayed at Hunter’s Lodge, once the home of big white hunter, John Hunter, and later (in the ‘60s) developed into a small tourist hotel. The place had its heyday around this time, or until the horrendous dirt road to Mombasa was tarred, and coast- or city-bound travellers no longer broke their journeys at Hunter’s Lodge.

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In our day it was unusual to find any other overnight guests there, although there were plenty of staff, the waiters always smartly turned out in black trousers, white shirts and red bow ties, and ever in attendance in case anyone turned up.

Much of 1993 was then spent in Lusaka, Zambia. Graham was attached to the European Union Delegation, contracted there to organise the distribution of food aid during a period of prolonged drought. But at the end of that year we returned to Nairobi, in the first instance, to close down the Larger Grain Borer project at Kiboko, but later to run a crop protection project which involved British and Kenyan scientists working in partnership with smallholder farmers to overcome various crop and livestock problems. And here we stayed until the start of 2000 when the British Government closed the project down.

While we lived in Nairobi we were housed in a British High Commission house, which also came with Sam, our house steward. He lived with his family in a cottage at the bottom of the garden, but as we never had enough for him to do, he only worked mornings. His actual home was in Western Kenya where he owned three very small smallholdings in different places. Then there was Patrick, our day guard, also provided by the BHC. He never had much guarding to do either, so Graham paid him to look after the garden which he did with impeccable diligence. His home was also in Western Kenya, where his wife and children lived on his own smallholding. Sam told me Patrick had deployed his earnings from guarding and gardening on the building of a good stone house for his parents and was currently building one for himself. He was also paying for his children’s education. While he was working in Nairobi, which was 11 months of the year, he rented a room in one of Nairobi’s slums.

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The following extract gives a few glimpses of expatriate Nairobi life and those cultural events that owe more than a little to the country’s British colonial past.

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29 August 1994

Months have passed and no journal entries. In June we went home to England for three weeks. It was cold and windy and time was gobbled up visiting family and storming the shops. Then came the weeks of adjusting again to Nairobi living. It seemed very strange that, after all our days and miles of travelling, the only news Sam had when we got back was that the avocado tree had finished fruiting. Otherwise, everything was as we had left it.

And to root myself in once more, I took to gardening. Another effort to get the better of the over-shaded vegetable plot; flower beds cleared for tomatoes and herbs; a new plot excavated under my office window; seeds sown and the ever vigilant Patrick following up with the watering can at dawn and at dusk.

In July we went to the Ngong Racecourse for the Concourse d’ Elegance,  one of Nairobi’s annual multicultural events. It is a specialist car rally wherein owners show off their vintage vehicles including aged safari trucks (one of which had ‘starred ‘in  Out of Africa), wartime jeeps, a venerable Mini, period Peugeots, Alfa Romeos, Mercedes, Volvos and a red E-type Jaguar.

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Car owners from the Asian community were dressed up as maharajahs and Arabian Nights grand viziers, the Europeans in more peculiar costumes – a woman dressed as a large black spider, one chap in full Viking gear. There was an overall atmosphere of the English Village Fete. The Kenya Society for the Protection of Animals laid on donkey cart rides around the race course grounds; Mr Magic was doing tricks for the children; the East African Ladies group had a charity cake stall. There were welly-wanging contests, face painting, remote control model car races, hotdog stands and Lyons ice-cream carts.

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The racecourse itself is a picturesque colonial relic. Stands of gum trees, the tiered main grandstand creeper-covered and housing a shady restaurant, and nearby the race steward’s offices, the Jockey Club members’ precincts, the collecting ring sheltered by mature trees.

We thought we’d like to see what the place was like on race day, so a week  or so later we turned up for the Lonrho races. Kenyans take their racing seriously and the whole ground was humming with activity. The ‘old colonial’ set were very high profile, chaps in their grey plaid racing suits, members’ tickets dangling from lapels, their ‘good ladies’ in Ascot frocks and hats to match. In fact the woman who won the best outfit contest truly looked as if she was anticipating entry to the Royal Enclosure. At such times you can only blink: the British abroad – what are they thinking?

The first race was something of a novelty event being a camel race. The beasts and riders came from the anti-stock-theft police patrol in the remote north. There were four contestants, the riders in  bright racing colours. But the camels weren’t too lively and it took some time to cajole them to the starting line. And even after the gong  had been rung, it was hard to tell if the race had started. Every spectator head was craned, gazing across the course for signs of activity. Time passed. It was thus the biggest excitement when the first camel hove into view. He finally jogged  fast enough to reach the finish line, his rider waving not only arms but also legs to celebrate their mutual victory. It was hard to imagine that these camels ever caught up with any cattle-thieving bandits.

Then the serious racing began, most of the horses from wazungu stud farms up in the Rift Valley, and their riders so slender-limbed and tiny, I wondered if  the race horse owners employed their jockeys from the Okiek community,  the last of Kenya’s original indigenous inhabitants of slight-statured hunters. We sat in the grandstand for a while, watched the Kenyan Air Force band marching on the course between races, listened to the commentator who sounded to be the very same man who serves at every English agricultural show and sporting event wherever it is on the globe, looked at the Kenyan mamas in their elaborate kitenge costumes, had our ears blasted as two Air Force buglers dashed up into the grandstand to trumpet the start of the race,  admired the fine looking Kenyan rider, whose task it is to lead the mounted jockeys to the starting gate,  he sporting his  English hunting pink jacket and tight white breeches – yet another of Nairobi’s cross-cultural phenomena that challenge perceptions at every turn. It was all so absorbing that we didn’t even get round to placing any bets.

Our next trip to the racecourse was in early August, to another extraordinary multicultural event. This time to the Royal Ballet performing their specially created programme in aid of Kenyan conservation, Dances for Elephants. The week’s performances were aimed at raising funds for various Kenyan wildlife projects – rhino surveillance, Grevy’s zebra surveys, elephant monitoring, conservation education in Maasailand. It was the brainchild Royal Ballet Mistress, Rosalind Eyre and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, wife of Dr Ian Douglas-Hamilton, Kenya’s resident elephant expert.

Performances were laid on at several venues: at the racecourse, at the Lake Naivasha home of the Douglas-Hamiltons (complete with picnic hampers), at the Windsor Country Club and at the residence of the British High Commissioner, Sir Kieran Prendergast. Local businesses sponsored tickets so cohorts of Nairobi school children could go to the racecourse matinee and have their first ballet experience.  A congratulatory telegram also arrived from HRH The Prince of Wales, wherein he praised the sixteen dancers’ efforts and generosity in giving up their time. He also said he wished he could be with us, which we could not fail to doubt as we had recently read newspaper reports of another “Diana” scandal looming back in the UK.

We arrived in the racecourse at sundown, and again found the place was thronging.  It was a clear evening and I wondered if anyone had warned the dancers how chilly Nairobi was in August.

The audience was well catered for though. There was a tent serving hot drinks and hotdogs as well as a bar. We had come prepared with our own flask of cocoa, cushions and wraps. The grandstand was mostly filled with members of the diplomatic community and Kenyan professionals from the companies that had sponsored the event, but we could sit where we wanted among the concrete benches of the grandstand. The Jockey Club members’ padded seats comprised “The Circle” for which people had paid 3,000 shillings a ticket instead of our 700  bob. We settled down on Vitafoam sponge mats on the front row.

The stage was ingenious – two flatbed trucks parked tail to tail. Cranes rearing up behind each cab supported the roof and stage light tracking. Either side were the enormous speakers of the sound system that had been donated to the cause by Lufthansa. The racecourse and its stands of gum trees lay to their back and, as the sun disappeared behind them, black kites wheeled overhead,  mewing and on the lookout for abandoned hotdogs.

At dusk the dancing began – excerpts from the whimsical ballet ‘Still Life at the Penguin Cafe’, opening with the zebra dance, “White Mischief”. It could not have been more surreal, of itself and also because there was the stage backdrop of the African plains with the real African sky behind it, and real African ‘sound effects’  of cricket and frog call.

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Here is a version of what we saw out on the Ngong Racecourse on a chilly Kenyan night (best viewed full screen):

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Clouds over Kenya

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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Kikuyu farmhouse.

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Wintery fields in Muranga where the Del Monte pineapples grow.

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

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

Stripes and High Rises: Diversity

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You could say that Nairobi’s game park begins where the city stops. It is the only city in the world with a natural, unenclosed wildlife reserve on its peripheries: wilderness and urban sprawl side by side. There  is of course an electric fence along the urban perimeter to divide  man from beast, but the city is always pressing against the boundary. To the south the park is open to the Athi and Kapiti Plains to allow migrating herbivores such as wildebeest (there are a couple in the background) to come and go. These grasslands are important feeding grounds in the wet season, and so it is essential for the health and wildlife diversity of the park that the southern corridor remains open.  When we left Nairobi in 2000 there were fears that  it  would soon be closed by encroaching farmers, and community initiatives were being devised to avoid this.

By African game park standards the park is very small, 117 square kilometres, but it supports a breath-taking array of animals – lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhino, all the antelopes, and a host of small game. Only elephants are absent. The birdlife is equally diverse with over 500 species. And despite the proximity of the city, there still are wild places where the  high rises cannot be seen on the skyline. 

There is also another kind of diversity in this photo: the zebra’s stripes. Every individual has its own livery. Once when we were on a game drive on a private ranch in Zambia, our very tipsy guide was insistent that we grasp this fact. “Every zebra’s butticles have different markings,” he declaimed, “so their offspring know how to recognise their mamas.” I have been grateful ever since for that gift of the word  ‘butticle’.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Lost in Translation: Diversity

Basket case? Tales of bravery and betrayal

 

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These glorious Nubian mats adorn my kitchen. They decorate our every day, their colours radiating like mini-suns however dull the weather. It is hard to imagine, then, that there is a dark tale behind their creation, a tale of statelessness and discrimination.

The makers of the mats are women from the Nubian community of Kibera, in Nairobi (Kenya). They, their parents and grandparents before them, were born in this quarter of the city suburbs. This has been the case since the early 1900s, when British colonial authorities gazetted an area of land for settlement by Sudanese Nubian soldiers of the British Army, men who had first been recruited during the 1890s when Britain was trying to establish control over the peoples and territories of East Africa.

This next photo thus shows another form of decoration – a Nubian KAR officer’s chest adorned with medals that attest to years of brave service in the cause of the British Empire.

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Copyright Kenya Nubian Council of Elders

This photo was taken in 1956, during the British colonial era. The officer is showing his invitation to a garden party at Nairobi’s Government House. The gathering was in honour of the visit to Kenya by HRH Princess Margaret of England (Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now, Open Society Foundations).

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The Nubian people (also known in the distant past as Kushites) have a long, long history, their homeland once stretching along the upper reaches of the River Nile in North Sudan and into southern Egypt. Much of their territory was taken in the 1960s for the building of the Aswan Dam by the Egyptians, and this was another cause of displacement. But way back in time, the Nubians were a people to be reckoned with. The earliest evidence of a metropolitan culture  (the Kingdom of Kerma) has a date contemporary with neighbouring Ancient Egypt.  Nubia was the gateway to the African hinterland, and a great trading nexus.

Dr Stuart Tyson Smith (University of California, Santa Barbara) says the Kerma culture evolved out of the Neolithic around 2400 BC. The Kushite rulers of Kerma profited from the trading such luxury goods as gold, ivory, ebony, incense, and even live animals to the Egyptian Pharaohs. By 1650 BC, Kerma had become a densely occupied urban center overseeing a centralized state stretching from at least the 1st Cataract to the 4th, rivaling ancient Egypt. Kerma was sacked in c. 1500 BC, when the entire region was incorporated into the Egyptian New Kingdom empire.” 

The Nubians and Egyptians traded, intermarried and warred with one another over many centuries, the Nubians finally ruling Egypt for half a century during the 25th dynasty (c. 750–655 B.C.E.) And though it may be a big surprise for some people to know this, there were Nubian, black African pharaohs, Nubian pyramids, and a Nubian form of hieroglyphics that were later developed into a 23-letter alphabet (yet to be deciphered). Clearly as time went on, Nubian culture was influenced by Ancient Egypt (though why not the other way around?), yet it also evolved in its own very characteristic ways.

The strikingly tall Nubian pyramids below were built at the time when Britain was a land of Iron Age farmers who lived in thatched round houses and constructed hill forts of earthen banks and ditches.

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Fabrizio Demartis Creative Commons

The Nubian Meriotic kingdom developed from the 25th Dynasty when Nubia ruled Ancient Egypt. It is named after its capital Meroë (begun c 800 BCE). Over 255 pyramids belonging to the Meroitic period have so far been discovered.

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But back to more recent times, and the story behind my lovely mats. In World War 1, Sudanese Nubian forces were deployed in  defence of British-ruled Kenya along the border with  German controlled Tanganyika. This East African campaign was a brutal affair, fought over waterless, disease-ridden bush, as British forces attempted to thwart Count Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s ingenious guerrilla tactics, carried out by other Africans – the Count’s highly trained  askaris from German East Africa (now Tanzania).

The British Army, with a few exceptions late in the war, did not allow the native peoples of Kenya to carry arms at this time, so it was the Nubians who were the main combatants. Kenyans were instead conscripted into the Carrier Corps to transport army provisions since mules and horses could not survive in tsetse infested bush country.  Tens of thousands of young men died of starvation and disease in the British cause, their families often never hearing what had happened to their sons. They simply never returned from the war with Jerimani.

(For a vivid fictional version of this conflict see William Boyd’s An Ice-cream War).

In 1912 the British colonial administration in Nairobi gazetted 4,197 acres near the city for the settlement of Nubian soldiers and their families who could not be repatriated to Sudan. The Nubians called this place Kibra, the forest land.

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Nubian Family c1940s, photographer unknown. Copyright Kenya Nubian Council of Elders. For more wonderful photos see Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now, Open Society Foundations

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By this time, all British East African (Kenyan) tribes had been categorized, and the land they occupied, at the point of British incursion, designated as native reserves. Africans were not allowed to have title deeds to their own and and, in theory, European settlers (who did have title to vast acreages) were not allowed to encroach on the reserves.

The Nubians, however,  were specifically categorized by colonial authorities as ‘Detribalized Natives’, and non-natives of British East Africa. This meant they could not claim any rights to have their land made into a reserve, nor could they build permanent structures on the land.  The community, however, continued to provide further generations of soldiers who would serve in the King’s African Rifles. 

During WW2  Nubian soldiers fought for Britain, alongside other black Kenyan recruits, in Somalia, Abyssinia and in the terrifying war against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. It is another little remembered  fact that the African troops of the King’s African Rifles played a determining role in the winning of the Burma campaign.

By 1955 the Nubian community of Kibra numbered 3,000. Back then it was an attractive rural village, the houses surrounded by large gardens. But in successive decades as Nairobi grew into a city, hundreds of thousands of rural Kenyans, seeking work, invaded Kibra, putting up  shanty dwellings. Kibera, as it is currently known, is now one of the biggest slums in Africa.

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A cropped image of Kibera, Nairobi. Photo CC 2014 Schreibkraft

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Photo: CC Blazej Mikula

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During colonial times, Kibra land remained the property of the British Crown. At Independence in 1963, ownership of Crown Land passed to the new government, and so became state-owned land. The new state also inherited an administration that was still largely operating under State of Emergency regulations from the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. Being able to prove  who your tribe was and the associated right to domicile were essential proofs of citizenship. The Nubians’ former colonial categorization denied them on both fronts.

From 1963 until 2009, when the Nubian community in Kenya was finally accorded official existence as a Kenyan tribe, the Nubians of Kibera and elsewhere in Kenya had been stateless. While the colonial generation did have identity cards, the post-independence generations could only acquire them, if at all, with great difficulty, and after many years of persistence.

This meant they could not be formally employed, open bank accounts, acquire title deeds, participate in the affairs of their country of birth, vote, or even leave their own homes safely, since to be caught without an identity card is a criminal offence.  The only opportunities to earn a living were in the informal sector, and for women, this included/still includes making baskets for sale through non-governmental trading operations, and Nairobi’s tourist curio shops. Hopefully now, with official recognition, the fortunes of the Nubian people will change  for the better, but there is still much ground to make up, and in all senses. For more of these people’s story see the excellent short videos below, and also the full length BBC programme about Ancient Nubia at the end.

In the meantime, back to the beautiful baskets, and a Nubian woman at work. The method of construction involves coiling lengths of papyrus stems or dried grasses then wrapping them round with coloured and natural palm leaf strips. Truly great works of decorative art, and not only that, but life-enhancingly useful too. Expressions of spirit undaunted despite lives of grave hardship unimaginable to most of us?

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Photo: http://in2eastafrica.net/home-stays-growing-ugandas-tourism/

 

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Article on Nubians of Uganda: Flavia Lanyero 2011 Daily Monitor

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text copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Greg Constanine’s video explains the Kenyan Nubian dilemma

 

This brief film explains the history of Nubian statelessness in Kenya

 

Recent archaeological discoveries of the ‘lost’ Nubian civilization

 

Ailsa’s Challenge: Decoration – Go here for more bloggers’ decorative posts

Valentine’s Day Runaway

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Friday February 14 1992 was the day I ran away to Africa. I was finally fleeing a marriage with too many guns in the closet, and much else besides. And I was leaving behind home, possessions, an aged father and three much loved labradors. The springer spaniel, though, I would not miss. The little beast was demented and I wished the husband joy of her.

At the time of departure I had very little money, and I had left a legal aid solicitor to handle my divorce. (With guns in the closet I discovered that such matters are swiftly expedited). When I boarded the airport bus in Wolverhampton bound for Heathrow all I had with me was one canvas grip stuffed with some summer clothes, and a small cabin bag containing paperbacks, my Olympus-trip, a mini cassette player and Joni Mitchell’s Night Ride Home. I also had an Air France ticket to Nairobi and a stash of anti-malaria tablets.

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Long ago at Mzima Springs – the way I was then…

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I was off to be with the man with whom I was smitten, an entomologist working out in Kenya on a three-month contract to control an introduced crop pest, the Larger Grain Borer. I knew little about him, and still less about my destination. Years before, in a frigid Scottish university, I had written a masters thesis on the socio-economic relations between Mbuti hunters and Bantu farmers of the Congo. I had never been to Africa, nor wanted to go there. I had read too much about forest buffaloes, ants and yaws in the Ituri Forest to find the idea appealing. I was not the sort of person who craved adventure or who had travelled much. I was a museum researcher and an armchair anthropologist. When I set off from rural Shropshire on that dank and gloomy day, it was to meet up with the flesh-and-blood man who had sent me the plane ticket. I did not expect to look out of a plane window somewhere over Somalia, and fall in love with a continent.

It was un coup de foudre as the French say. Ludicrous and nerve-shattering. Perhaps I should not have flown Air France, (although with hindsight I have to say it was one of my best flights ever). But as we approached Nairobi the condition only grew worse. It seemed there was a plane jam at Jomo Kenyatta International; the 747 could not land. Instead, it circled and circled Mount Kenya. I could not believe it: this god’s eye view of the vast exploded volcano presented to me again, again, and again. Then, as a final flourish to this extraordinary entrée, we made our descent over the green highlands of Kikuyuland, the smallholder farms so lush from the short rains.

Those landscapes fused onto my retina, bedded in my cerebral cortex, and I was changed.

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My man in Mombasa – the way he was then…

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When I finally met G at the airport, he seemed like a stranger. I noticed that his hair needed cutting and he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with an oddly tropical look, this when I had only known him in the thick jumpers and anoraks so essential for surviving winter in rural Shropshire. It was a disquieting discovery to see that I did not know him at all in this landscape. As he drove me into the city I gazed out at the plains bush country around the airport, found myself blinking at the crowds and traffic chaos in downtown Nairobi. Someone had turned the colours up: it was all too bright, the road reserves dazzling with pink bougainvillaea, yellow cassia trees; the bright clothes and brown faces, the white smiles. When I arrived at the Jacaranda Hotel in Westlands I was still in tourist mode. I thought I had come to Kenya for a couple of months at most. Neither of us could have guessed that we would not live again in England for another eight years, or that our Africa journey had only just begun. And so yes, to thieve a line from Ms Brontë, and one so apt for this Valentine’s occasion – “Reader, I married him”; I married the man who bought me a plane ticket to Africa. How could I not?

napier grass on the Rift

Kenya’s highland farms in the rains

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Related:

Carnations, Crooks and Colobus at Lake Naivasha

On Kenya’s Farms

No way back from Africa: the road to Hunter’s Lodge

 AILSA’S TRAVEL THEME: ROMANCE

DP CHALLENGE

Weekly Writing Challenge: My funny Valentine for more bloggers’ stories. The ones below especially caught my attention:

Waiting on a Word

Aliabbasali

Words We Women Write

Yellow Peril? Some Cut and Thrust Tactics on Kenya’s Matatus

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Going down the Great Rift

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Meet the matatu, one of Kenya’s 24,000 privately owned and operated mini-buses. They are the country’s main form of public transport, taking 12 million Kenyan commuters to and from work each day. It can often be a grit-your-teeth-and-hope-to-live-to-tell-the-tale form of transport. The decrepit state of some of the vehicles, reckless driving and overloading are  frequent causes of the country’s large numbers of road deaths.

Government attempts to regulate the industry regularly stall. But whatever their shortcomings, there is always a matatu to be had, and their fares are relatively affordable. They provide the only means for many traders to transport their goods to market.

In fact you could say that matatus are an example of free market enterprise at its most vibrant/rampant – depending on your stance. This is especially true in the country’s capital Nairobi, now home to 3 million souls and counting. The competition to secure key commuter routes across the unregulated urban sprawl can be cut throat. Matatu owners hire young men as drivers and touts, and since they earn a cut of the takings, the inclination to make the maximum return from every journey, and to beat competitors  to the queue of waiting passengers, can lead to hair-raising practices. ‘Undertaking’ or cutting up on inside lanes and pavements is a particular Kenyan driving style. When we lived in Nairobi there were also anguished  letters to the local press from matatu users, saying how they had been physically ‘kidnapped’ by touts, forcing them to ride a particular bus when the did not want to.

And not only that, when it rains, the fares go up.

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Matatu stop in Westlands, Nairobi

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These two photos of yellow matatus were taken in the late ‘90s and are bit old hat when it comes  to the exterior paintwork. But even back then many buses were mobile art galleries. In recent times a vehicle’s ‘look’  has become part and parcel of the competition war. Owners commission the hottest young graffiti artists to paint their matatus’ livery.  The expectation is that a well ‘pimped’ vehicle will up the takings. And this is the vibrant side of the matatu business. It is creating employment opportunities for educated and creative young Kenyans who finish school but cannot find work. They have a lot to say for themselves and considerable flair. Their style is increasingly sophisticated and western influenced. Go matatu spotting and you will soon grasp what is trending in popular culture and political opinion.

Photo: Cheki.co.ke

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Then there is the loud music, especially hip hop. This is another ‘on board’ feature designed to attract and secure clientele. The touts say it brings in the beautiful girls and stylish guys, and is all about creating a cool atmosphere.  Needless to say, the Kenyan Government has also attempted to ban the music, but enforcement is another matter.

The intense competition for business has been taking the matatu in other directions. Over 1,000  Nairobi matatus have recently gone high-tech. Commuter journeys from the city suburbs can take up to 2 hours, so providing free wi-fi has been proving a significant draw. Vuma Online was launched last April by Kenya’s biggest telecom company, Safaricom. Now passengers can pass the time stuck in the capital’s notorious traffic jams on their smart phones – checking emails and watching the news. People with particular views of what goes on in African countries may be surprised at the particular sophistication of this commuter facility. They shouldn’t be. Kenya is the East African hub of telecoms interconnectivity. This is the country that has pioneered the M-Pesa mobile phone money transfer and micro-financing system that is now facilitating so many small businesses.

But enough from me. If you want a flavour of what city life is like for ordinary Kenyans, take a look at these two short films.

Ailsa’s Travel Theme for more yellow entries besides these that caught my eye:

Melissa Shaw-Smith

Travel Words

Figments of DuTchess

PDJPIX

The Changing Palette

Photos by Emilio