Kenya Languages and Religion
Religion: With God under the baobab tree
A little trust in God doesn’t hurt when you earn your money on such a device in Nairobi
Spirituality and religion play a very important role for most Kenyans. The majority of Kenyans – 85 percent according to the 2019 census – are Christians of various denominations. About 11 percent profess Islam. It is common in both private and public settings to pray at the beginning of an event, often also representatives of several religions. For a hundred years there has also been a synagogue for the Jewish community in Nairobi, which was particularly popular as a result of the Nazi persecution in the war years.
The Roman Catholic Church comprises 20.6 percent of the population. The Protestant churches come to 33.4 percent and are thus the largest group. They formulate common positions in the National Council of Churches (NCCK). Even under the Moi regime, many representatives of these churches saw themselves as reminders for a policy of justice. However, fiery to fanatical preachers of the so-called revival movements are also very popular (20.4 percent). The Pentecostal churches, which are strongly oriented towards America, also present themselves more strongly than usual due to the corona pandemic – on the Internet, but also in presence. Again and again, extatic preachers and faith healers fill large forums.
On the coast, Muslims make up the majority who stand for a liberal Islam. A dispute between Christians and Muslims, as in other African countries, is unthinkable for Kenya, a major country in African continent according to plus-size-tips. But the Wahabi missionary work also works here. Terrorist attacks, the problem of the Al-Shabab militias in Somalia and the politicization of religion in the election campaigns and the constitutional debate in 2010 contributed to a certain alienation. A group of Muslim separatists formed in Mombasa, the Mombasa Republican Council, which called for the secession of the Arab coastal territory, which until 1964 did not belong to Kenya. Not only the Muslims are surprised that their region, which generates a lot of foreign currency with tourism in good years, is one of the poorest in the country.
Traditional religious beliefs play an even bigger role on the coast, for example among the Digo, the Maasai and groups in the northern Rift Valley region (Turkana, Samburu, Pokot). In particular, the circumcision resp. Mutilation ceremonies (age set) are a social event. Sacred trees from the baobab to the fig tree are also under protection where officially nobody wants to be an animist anymore. Many Christian Kenyans have a fairly relaxed approach to the legacy of traditional spirituality; one does not necessarily exclude the other. With their book ” African Chess “, Hans von Loesch and Werner Zeppenfeld provide a good insight into the power and everyday significance of animistic traditions.
Sheng is spoken – languages in everyday life
Three different language groups are represented, roughly divided into Bantu, Nilotic and Kushitic. The official languages are English, the language of the former colonial rulers, and Kiswahili (literally: language of the coast), an African language that was originally mainly spoken in the coastal region between Somalia and northern Mozambique and which contains many Arabic parts. The BBC lists a total of 68 languages for Kenya, including those that are in danger of disappearing or are only spoken and understood by a few people, such as El Molo on Lake Turkana or Okiek in the Mau Escarpment.
Except in remote regions of northern Kenya, you will be able to communicate fairly well in English, at least with people under 40. This is a success of the mostly poorly equipped but extensive primary schools. For a career in business, politics, public service, churches or NGOs, good English skills are a must.
Kiswahili does not have the same high status in Kenya as in Tanzania, but it is the most important lingua franca in everyday life. In urban areas – even in poorer districts – many parents consciously speak only Kiswahili with their children instead of the local language of their home region. It is very advisable to acquire the basics of this language because it makes many contacts easier. You can practice idioms, numbers and the most important vocabulary on the German-language website Swahili.de. Deutsche Welle also offers news in Kiswahili on its website.
Some adults now take language courses so that they can understand their children: They learn Sheng, a slang from Swahili, English and regional languages. Sheng is now very common in urban environments, especially among young people, on the way via hip-hop and rap. Sheng songs are sometimes the stumbling block for media oversight and moralists because the words can be interpreted in many ways.