SWAHILI: The advantage of an extra language

Apart from English, Kenyans have Swahili to communicate with as a national language. It almost serves an official purpose and I understand this language transcends eastern, central and southern Africa. In recent times, there have been snippets of arguments in Ghana about the critical essence of using an indigenous language to teach in schools, at least at the basic level. As Ghana struggles to find which of its numerous local languages passes for this purpose, in Kenya, Swahili is the answer. You can be sure that both the educated and uneducated have a nationally recognised medium for communication and most of the issues that sound complicated to the locals can easily be demystified in Swahili. When I scanned the various radio stations detected by my mobile device, I got a strong feeling that the Kenyan media found it was more prudent and popular to speak in Kiswahili than in English; “of course who would not be interested in killing two birds with a stone”. At state functions, Kenyans would not have to go through the arduous regiment of long, winding translations. National campaigns could easily be executed with a singleness of language. Ghana maybe heading that way with the Twi language (a language that I estimate is spoken by about 50% of the Ghanaian population), but it clearly has its biases.


(1) A Comrade Is Always Right

(2) A Comrade Is Never Wrong

(3) In Case Rule 2 Does Not Hold, Refer To Rule 1

These above are the 3 laws of the studentship of the University of Nairobi (UoN). UoN students are referred to as “Comrades”. They are always right, they are never wrong, in case you feel that they are too human to have no flaws, remember they are always right. Ridiculous right? Yes. But those are the cardinal principles underpinning studentship in the UoN. I am even told that previous agitation has placed the UoN in a privileged position of sharing the same electricity supply line with the state house; meaning that anytime they had no lights, they would understand it meant the president was also without it (a near impossibility). Comrades would not understand why the Premier University that gave birth to most of the big brains in Kenya would experience power outage when other places had it. I am sure my Ghanaian friends will be laughing at the peasant status occupied by even the University of Ghana (UG) in national affairs in Ghana. The University of Ghana has not been spared the now infamous “Dumsor” (popular term for erratic power supply) and we had to endure it twice in our 10-day camp prior to the games. Major student activities by the University of Nairobi were national issues and their leadership could even be compared to national politicians in terms of influence and media attention. The UoN obviously occupies an enviable place as the crème of university education in Eastern and Central Africa with over 300 programmes, 237 active international links and a whooping 3BN Ksh research kitty (about 34M USD).
Currently, the Student Organisation of the Nairobi University (SONU) has a venerable leader named Babu Owino, who was described by one of my friends as a “Professional Academician” who kept coming back to school to enrol as a student to gain eligibility to lead the students. As controversial as his exploits may seem, he seems the anointed one by the students and they love him to lead. Maybe the student leadership in the various Universities in Ghana, will desist from the unnecessary cross-candidate litigations in court that robbed the students of an effective leadership and focus on delivering to their constituents.

ghana vs bigeria


GHANAIAN? OR NIGERIAN?; the Kenyan’s dilemma

Thanks to all the mixed Ghanaian-Nigerian casts in contemporary movies, most Kenyans cannot differentiate between the Ghanaian and the Nigerian, especially in speech; something that a kindergarten kid can do in Ghana. I can visualise my Ghanaian friends nodding in agreement. But may I ask, how many of us (Ghanaians) can differentiate between a Ugandan and a Kenyan from the way they speak? That was also my dilemma and I am sure a dilemma for most of my Ghanaian compatriots (Except that we found the Ugandan, the noisier of the two)
Most Kenyans believe we call big men in Ghana OGA (which is actually Nigerian). They cannot imagine I cannot eat UGALI and CHAPATI (two popular Kenyan delicacies). The first is a maize-meal that looks like Ghana’s cassava-made GARI and the second looks-like PANCAKE in Ghana, except they are not sweet (sugared).
On the soccer front, most Kenyan’s think that Ghana is the star of African soccer and understandably, Asamoah Gyan could arguably be voted by Kenyans as the most infamous sports personality for his 2010 heartrending World Cup penalty kick. Safe to say however, that I believe that most Kenyans do not know about the financial waterloo of Ghana’s world cup meltdown; they think we were just unlucky.

CONSPICUOUS ETHNICITY; the bane of Kenya’s stability
I met a Kenyan man on the street and he trumpeted how he felt the Kikuyus (President Kenyatta’s ethnic group) were “monopolising a capitalist government of elite gluttons” (quoting). In my response, I explained to him how I felt Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first President) had neutralised such divisions in Ghana with his introduction of the secondary school system that allowed cross-ethnic interactions of young students in post-independence Ghana. It is common knowledge that ethnic stereotypes were usual as we have in Ghana or anywhere else, but I found that the weight put on these stereotypes and prejudices were far more crystallised in the Kenyan situation; that is the reason why an Odinga or Kenyatta rally would make many Kenyans fear a politically violent clash. I write this as a wake-up to Ghanaians against fuelling ethnic propaganda.


(L) Dennis of Kenya & (R) Dennis of Ghana ©dennispenu

I extend a lot of gratitude to my friends who hosted me (and who I call the custodians of Kenya’s future): Dennis, a prospective Medical Doctor who shares my name and made me feel ‘home away from home’; Winnie, who is a badminton star (a gold medallist), a senior comrade and my generous tour guide; Faith, a prospective nurse and a selfless hardworking attaché to 3 different contingents (I still wonder how she managed it); Derrick; another prospective Medical  Doctor, a student leader and most probably my choice for SONU chairman if I become a comrade, and Joseph, a prospective economist who I believe could be key to Kenya’s economic development in future.I send greetings to all the Dennis(s), Alphas and Omegas; these for me were the three most popular names in Kenya, and maybe in East Africa.

With Ghana’s trophy for 2nd place ©dennispenu

I find in Kenya and in majority of Kenyans, a true African spirit of goodwill and solidarity. I see Nairobi as a classic candidate for the capital city of Africa (if all I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed). Even though Kenya has no mining profile, it is a nice place to pick gold and silver medals; and it is a perfect place for Ghana to lift the trophy for 2nd position in the FASU games (first in its history), second only to Egypt and relegating the hosts (Kenya) to 3rd place. I end by saying that this is Africa, with a lot of potential. It can be built, it can be nurtured and we have to take responsibility for that.

Thanks for reading. Share in the dream. HARAMBEE!


10 thoughts on “MEMOIR FROM KENYA (part 2)

    • You think so, Winnie? Well, I guess more readers can share their opinions on this. If you accept the Ugandans are the loudest in the east, then I bet the Nigerians are the loudest in the West. My friend Akachukwu (Akaokafor) is Nigerian and I know he will covertly admit but overtly dismiss that claim….haha

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