FLAKES: Peculiarly Kenyan


Culture is the mixture of customs, costumes and language that give a people their unique identity. Fifty or so years after independence a Kenyan culture is definitely emerging.

Of course it would be difficult to identify a particular item of clothing that is peculiarly Kenyan, until you admit that that every genuine Kenyan wears their cellphone with pride.

Wears or carries? Since the owner is very concerned about the brand, size, colour, slenderness and price of the item, and since they keep flaunting it, I think you would agree with me that it is a fashion accessory as much as it is a gadget.

So maybe we need to stop worrying about the issue of a national dress and focus more effort on selecting our national phone!


I move quickly on to the subject of our customs. In the past I would have claimed that Kenyans are marked by their habit of extending a warm greeting to friend and stranger alike. However, just today I entered a lift and greeted my fellow occupants with a friendly “Good morning!” They responded with blank stares, whereupon I repeated my greeting.

At that point, one woman smirked and retorted “Only drunkards talk to strangers in the lift!”

I could have retaliated in the obvious way but I did not have the courage to do it. Instead I staggered out at my floor and managed to restrain myself from hailing any other strangers.

While it is no longer kosher to greet indiscriminately, Kenyans find nothing wrong in kneeling in public to pray. We are certainly not closet pray-ers, but we are pray-ers without ceasing.

We regularly engage in family prayers, church prayers, office prayers and political prayers and our prayers are loud, long and very public.

When we are not praying, refraining from drunken greetings or massaging our cellphones, we are watching news. A person who calls at 7 or 9 pm commits an unforgivable faux pas. At those moments every Kenyan is once again consuming news that he already heard before.

He already received the alert by text, saw it on Twitter and Facebook, checked at least four news websites and blogs in the course of the day, but there’s something particularly Kenyan about the news rituals. We watch the news in Swahili at 7pm (surfing channels to ensure that we don’t miss any nuance) and then we watch the same news in English, this time round, at 9pm, without fail.

Since we are so well-versed in everything that is going on, it is not surprising that our favourite topic of conversation is, you guessed it, politics! However, despite having carefully, collected information from so many different sources, our political opinions are stubbornly fixed in one direction.

So, while Kenyans of all persuasions and all walks of life are vigorously discussing politics, they generally try to do it with people of the same opinion: talking politics is fine, but debating politics will lose you friends faster than a loud “Hallo!” in an elevator.

And sometimes a group of political “friends” (those of the same opinion saying “aye”) will gang up together against some poor, unsuspecting political enemy and do as much damage as a pack of wolves attacking a deer!

And what about the linguistic part of culture? Well Kenya must be one of the few countries in the world where two people speaking completely different languages can comfortably converse with each other.

(For some strange reason, this works particularly well in the vegetable trade.) Kenyans judge you not by the language you speak well, but by how many languages you can speak badly.

But perhaps the most curious attitude of Kenyans is our love-hate relationship with water. We wait impatiently for the rains and then complain about them continuously.

Nothing would cause us to miss our daily shower, but even the lightest drizzle has Kenyans running helter-skelter for the nearest shelter, unable to proceed with daily duties until it stops.

Rethink your customs this year.