Kenya: Microcosm of Africa

Kenya 2012

By Juliana Resende

June 16, 2012

Also published at BR Press

“Hakuna matata,” “karibu,” and “harambee” may be considered the Holy Trinity of Kenyan culture. They are key words in Swahili, the most-spoken African dialect in the country, alongside English. They say, respectively, “no problems,” “welcome” and something close to the slogan “a country for all,” used by the Brazilian government to embrace the ethnic diversity of the population.

This is the world that the Executive Editor of the BR Press, Juliana Resende, will dive into between June 18 and June 27, as the only Brazilian journalist traveling on invitation from the International Reporting Project (IRP).

Created in 1998 as one of the first programs in the United States that encourages journalistic independence on topics of global interest and responsibility, the IRP has sent over 400 journalists from the world’s largest media outlets to more than 100 countries. The objective of the trip to Kenya is to report on themes relating to family health, health, and women’s reproductive rights, and the impact of population growth in developing countries.

Origin of Humanity

Kenya, a country in Eastern Africa the size of France, is believed to be where humans began on earth, thousands of years ago, due to the archaeological evidence of the presence of hominids, the ancestors of homo sapiens.

Beyond this genetic heritage of humanity, Kenya is home to the richest fauna and flora on the planet, including more than one thousand species of birds—ideal for birdwatching—in addition to those species known as the “big five": lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinoceroses, and elephants, the stars of the safaris that today the country proudly offers in 56 untouched parks and reserves of 44,440 square kilometers (7.6 percent of the territory). One of these is Ol Pejeta, a reserve and NGO for sustainability that is included in the IRP’s agenda.

Kibera

It will be ten days of an intense, interesting, and diverse schedule that will begin with a visit to Kibera, considered the largest slum in the world, in the capital Nairobi, and internationally known for having been one of the scenes for the film Um Jardineiro Fiel (“The Constant Gardener”) by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles.

Sarah Onyango Obama

In Kibera, community leaders and doctors will be interviewed about policies for HIV/AIDS; more than two million of the 35 million in Kenya are positive for the disease. The theme will also be realized through reports in rural areas of the country like Kogelo, where there is an NGO directed toward women, created and directed by Sarah Onyango Obama, stepgrandmother of the president of the United States, Barack Obama.

A cultural microcosm of Africa—there are more than 70 ethnicities speaking more than 80 dialects—Kenya is a model for its complex neighbors, like Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda, despite its social and political problems. Having been the scene of a conflict between two polarized forces following the presidential elections of 2007, which were considered fraudulent, it has managed to become an economically stable country and is considered capable of independently following the course for its own development, which has been progressing, with a few mishaps, since the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1963, propelled by the Mau Mau rebellion, one of the most controversial colonial wars of the British Empire.

Challenges

With more than 85 percent of the population literate, Kenya is progressing as one of the most promising and prosperous African nations, with the issues of health and environment its biggest challenges. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of unplanned pregnancies almost doubled, from 11 percent to 21 percent. The life expectancy is 50 years and 50 percent of the population is below the line of poverty. Deforestation to make room for farms to feed the growing population is a huge problem, as are soil erosion and pollution. Only 30 percent of the rural population has access to potable water.

One of the oldest and most threatened cultures on the planet, in addition to being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Kenya has its charms and its treasures, from Mount Kenya—the highest peak in Africa (5,199 meters) and one of the widest (the base is 200 kilometers wide)—to exotic animals, such as the dik-dik (a wildcat the size of a rabbit). One can also pass along the beaches of Mombasa, the biggest port in Africa, and through to Nairobi itself, which, with its cosmopolitan nature, is the largest and most modern city of East Africa, and the one that is growing the fastest.

Juliana Resende, writer/editor for BR Press, is blogging from the International Reporting Project's reproductive health-themed trip to Kenya. This article was translated from Portuguese by Dominique Mack.