The Kenyan Question

Disclaimer: I love to read, more than I enjoy writing, actually.

See, when a good writer takes you away, it’s like a form of escape, a little like writing really, except in this case, someone else is driving the getaway car. And I read widely, which means I come across a lot of stuff, especially online. I tend to avoid blogs though; often, most of them sound like the writer is jerking off in public (which is rude, seriously; you should only do that at home, and with the curtains drawn). However, some blogs have some decent writing, and some even have some stuff which will blow you away.

I came across the Kenyan writer Jackson Biko’s writing in this manner, and as  it turned out, quite a few people I knew here in Uganda were also reading his stuff. He is neat, and can be warm, even cosy, without getting corny (which is incredibly hard). He has quite a following in Kenya as well, where he is based and writes for a living.

His blog ( some delightful stuff and every Monday, he hosts a guest writer. One of the people in my note’s group suggested I try and get hosted on the blog. I couldn’t resist the challenge (have I ever?) so I sent Jackson an inbox message, and the rest, (as they often say when they have nothing else to say) is history.

The piece that follows (which was originally posted on Biko’s blog, ‘High School’) includes smooth, savvy introduction from Mr. Biko followed by my own rambling of course.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, he asked me to write about what Ugandans think about Kenyans…

I had a sit-down with a couple of friends of mine Saturday night. We were at the Hub, a multi-mini-mall within a mall, located at NAKUMATT Oasis Mall. We were waiting to catch the new Hollywood blockbuster, Avengers (yeah, I know, I am movie name-dropping but it is a hell of a great movie) when suddenly; the subject of Kenyans came up (probably because we were inside a building owned by a Kenyan Franchise in Uganda).

And by Kenyans, of course, I refer to those folks across the border to the East that seem to get angry at everything extra fast and also seem to have problems serving buffets.

Speaking of buffets, according to urban legend in Kampala, and often told as a joke when everyone’s nationality in the vicinity has been verified carefully, a Kenyan’s idea of a buffet is fairly straight forward – a lump of ugali, a serving of some vague mix of vegetables calledkachumbari (which is really simply a mixture of diced onions and tomatoes, not even with a bit of seasoning) and a large plastic plate. If you press the wag telling this particular joke a little further, he will add that no, cutlery is not important or considered a necessity at a Kenyan buffet.

Xenophobia aside, it’s a little odd that both Kenyans and Ugandans have a curious superiority complex over each other, and what makes the whole little mix even more interesting is that they are not aware that the other side thinks they are the shit!

A closer examination of the two nationalities reveals the obvious: these are two drastically different folks that barely know a thing about each other.

Let’s look at what we do know, or the bare bones of it.

We know, for example, that Kenyans think us ostentatious (we are), and their girls think our girls dress to kill (they do, and we love it!), AND they think we can’t run an economy (which we happily find ridiculous; we are land-locked and they are situated right at the brink of the Indian Ocean, a traditional trade route access point! All they have to do is sit on the asses, fart quietly and wait for the goods to arrive!)

What about us? What do we think about our brothers (and sisters) across the border?

Well, we find them refreshingly honest. Kenyans will be surprised to realize that for the most part, this is, to us, their greatest trait; they are a blunt bunch, and will let you know what’s up in a heartbeat. The old ‘smile and wave, folks’ routine that Ugandans have perfected simply doesn’t work for your typical Kenyan. (Ugandan girls I spoke to often listed this as one of the reasons why they occasionaly liked dating Kenyan men).

We also think they are the most likely nationality to start a bar fight in East Africa. Actually, they will start a fight almost anywhere, be it a baptism party, in a line at the ATM machine or while getting their hair done (and yes, the women fight just about as much as the men, with often deadlier results). But it’s mostly where there is a serving of alcohol that they go off like small third-world nation nuclear weapons. It’s weird, I know, but how often do you see Ugandans fight, when drinking alcohol? They go all soft and mushy, singing Kumbaya and hugging each other. The majority of the time, when there is a fight in a pub or a club in Kampala, when you separate the louts that are rolling on the floor, one of them will say something like “Huyu nataka kummaliza!”

And we think they take their marketing skills a little bit too seriously. It is probably a major fault of the corporate community in Kampala. When our economy was booming in the ‘90s, Kenyan marketing managers were the rage, from the hotel industry to the beverage and telecoms. It was ridiculous. What I found odd was, how exactly is a non-indigenous chap or lass supposed to figure out what makes these Ugandans tick (and buy things off the shelf in droves?). As a trend, of course, it soon faded off; finding a marketing manager that is Kenyan in today’s Ugandan corporate scene is a definite rarity, and probably a bloody relief; they come across as way too bloody jovial, like a clown with their grin painted on.

Then of course, there are the Kenyan women… (*awkward silence*). Okay, I know I should tread carefully here, but do they have to be so darned aggressive? While Ugandan girls might be found draped around the arm of a Kenyan lad once in a while, the reverse is rather rare.

Ugandan men have grown up around subtle, softer (and yes, sexier!) women, so imagine their reaction when they come across this Kenyan girl in a bar who takes one look at you and says:

“Nimekunoki….naku feel. I like you; I like your look. You look as if I should take you home; you look as if you will know how to perform. Let me first finish my waragi. Sasa?”

Your poor Ugandan lad will simply be left stunned.

We have no problem at all with a woman being forward, or taking the initiative; what is important for us is that she is still recognizable as female, and for the most part, Kenyan ladies, well…good Lord!

Of course, this attitude towards Kenyan women from Ugandan men is made worse by the according to urban legend in Kampala (that usual resource of important unverified facts), the Domestic Violence act in Kenya was written to protect the men as well as the women from violent spouses.

Combining all this with their tendency for dressing way too practically (wear some soft fabrics, Kenyan ladies, and something that accentuates your curves, not arrests them!) means that you can always spot a Kenyan lass at a house party in a heart-beat; she’s the one dressed like a plumber’s assistant.

Tsk tsk.

There are, however two little niggles, two Kenyan habits that we could never ever get over, as Ugandans; we can ignore the rest but these two get to us in the nether areas, and not in a nice way. They are of course, alcohol-related.

ONE: Why warm beer? Seriously? Why? Is it a form of self-punishment or something? All that power we export to you, y’all can’t hook up some fridges and stuff? Why on earth do you guys like warm beer?

TWO: Why do you order your beer in bulk? I mean, at a table, in a bar or restaurant…it’s not like the bar is closing soon, or there is going to be an earthquake so you need to grab every resource you can, and stock up. Do you just like to look at them, like an adulterated scene from the Lion King? “Every beer that the light touches is yours, my son…” For *bleeped by editor* sakes!  A typical bar scene in Kampala, with a Ugandan and his Kenyan friend sharing a table would develop this:

Ugandan says: “Waiter, let me have a Bell please.”

Kenyan:  “Waiter, 7 Tuskers please.”

Waiter, slightly puzzled:  “Will anyone be joining you, sir?”

And of course, the Kenyan replies, “You just bring the beers here, you! Ama nitakakumaliza!”

Waiter replies politely “Yes sir”, and heads off, thinking to himself “Bloody Kenyans”.

The two nationalities apparently do have something in common, though: they both don’t think much of Tanzanians.

In the end, at least we agree on something.

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Written by Dennis Asiimwe (0)

Dennis lives and works in Kampala as a communications consultant. He’s single because dating is a bit tedious in Uganda. He owns a marketing communications firm that develops radio, TV, and print ads and uses other media tools, and has an event management section. He also writes for the New Vision as a music critic and is a social critic with several magazines.

He owns a jazz outfit called Bonafide and plays jazz when he can find the bloody time. He loves dogs (German Shepherds) and is a major fan of Stephen King and Babyface.

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