Kenya and Rwanda: Materials in Support of the Geography Syllabus

Kenya – Country Profile

Republic of Kenya – “the cradle of humanity”

There are more than 40 ethnic Groups in Kenya, the majority of who are descendants of two major language groups – the Bantu of Western Africa (Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kamba) and the Nilotic from the Nile Valley (Luo).

The main ethnic groups are:

  • Kikuyu 22%
  • Luhya 14%
  • Luo 13%
  • Kalenjin 12%
  • Kamba 11%
  • Kisii 6%
  • Meru 6%
  • other African 15% (e.g., Somalis, Turkana)
  • non-African 1% (Asian, European, Arab)


  • Protestant 45%
  • Roman Catholic 33%
  • Muslim 10%
  • indigenous beliefs 10%
  • other 2%


  • English (official)
  • Kiswahili (official)
  • Numerous indigenous


Generally, Kenyans primarily identify themselves according to their tribe or ethnic group, and then as Kenyan. The Kikuyu – the largest ethnic group in Kenya and most dominant in political spheres – are more likely to identify themselves as Kenyan. They have built up their representation over the centuries traditionally through trading portions of their harvests for land, through inter-marriage and intermingling with the many different ethnic groups – although there were occasional tensions around land and cattle! In Kenya, the Kikuyu dominate jobs with the highest status in Kenyan society, followed by the Luo – government, business and education. In rural areas, many Luo are fishermen and boat-builders; in urban areas they are mechanics and craftsmen and dominate Kenyan trade unions. Some members of the Maasai and Samburu ethnic groups are park rangers and safari guides.


Kenya has regularly experienced disputes around land issues that have existed for decades. The tensions appear to peak around election times – 1992/3, 1997, 2001/2 and more recently 2007/8. However, to the international observer these are all too often viewed as solely ‘tribal clashes’. The widening poverty gap in Kenya – the majority of Kenyan’s living below the international poverty level of US$1 a day – high unemployment and increasing crime all contribute to heightening tensions in the country. With increasing claims by national and international observers of vote rigging in the December 2007 presidential elections by incumbent president Kibaki, violence almost immediately erupted in Kenya among members of the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic groups. The opposition leader Odinga, is Luo and Kibaki, who has been in power for 2 terms, is Kikuyu. The violence is said to have claimed more than 800 people so far and 250,000 people have been uprooted from their homes. Some have called the violence in Kenya ‘Genocide’ other ethnic clashes some say it is “about deep, long-running income inequalities in Kenya’ and a rapidly growing population which sees land ownership as a means of survival” (BBC) The current conflict has been particularly intense in the rich and fertile Rift Valley, where the best land was distributed to the Kikuyu by Kenya’s first president after Independence. The Kikuyu have experienced relative wealth and high status with successive governments, which has bred resentment among other ethnic groups – in particular the Luo. The December elections were viewed as a chance to reverse this imbalance. The violence subsequent to the elections is taking the form of Luo versus Kikuyu:

“I was targeted because I am married to a Kikuyu. There is no other reason why they should have attacked me and identified me. They were attacking selectively.” Professor David Habel Odongo, from the Luo ethnic group, married his wife, a Kikuyu more than 20 years ago. “This isn’t only about election results or tribalism… it is deep grievances about land.” (elderly Kikuyu man in the Irish Times). There are stories of Luo recruiting other ethnic groups to attack and kill Kikuyu – “They are paid to kill and destroy… by an ODM politician.” (Irish Times)

Rwanda – Country Profile

Republic of Rwanda – “the land of a thousand hills”

There are 3 main ethnic groups in Rwanda all of who have much in common. All Rwandans speak a Bantu language called Kinyarwanda and have done so for more than 500 years. Kinyarwanda has over twenty different kinds of nouns! (English has only two – singular and plural).

French is Rwanda’s second language, which is spoken by many educated Rwandans. Swahili is spoken in commercial centres. English is also spoken, especially in cities.

Ethnic populations:

  • Hutu 85%
  • Tutsi 14%
  • Twa <1%


  • Roman Catholic 56.5%
  • Protestant 26%
  • Adventist 11.1%
  • Muslim 4.6%
  • Indigenous beliefs 0.1%
  • Other/none 1.7%

Tutsi’s and Hutu’s have long shared a common culture – they speak the same language, and religion, inhabit the same areas and follow the same traditions. Before the colonial period they lived peacefully together and intermarried. Conflicts were more often within rather than between ethnic groups. Tutsi and Hutu will often share the same cooking pots and drink containers. However, Twa are not allowed to drink or eat from the same containers. Their dishes are kept separate from those of everyone else.


To early Christian missionaries from Germany, the Tutsis in Rwanda stood as the finest example of the Hamitic race – they were viewed as racially superior to the Hutus and more “European” due to their perceived taller stature, “light skin, with a straight nose, thin lips, narrow face, soft, often wavy or even straight hair.” Also, the Tutsis were predisposed to Catholicism. During the colonial period, the Tutsis were placed in charge of the farming Hutus, the newly formed principalities, and were given basic ruling positions over the Hutu. Tutsi oppression of the Hutus was viewed normal, which was key to the fixing of geographical boundaries and to the political agenda in Rwanda’s future. When the Belgian government took control of Rwanda subsequent to Germany’s defeat after the World War 1, they continued to rely on the Tutsi power structure for administering the country. The Tutsi were favoured in education, which meant that Tutsis were literate, while the majority of Hutus were not.

In 1933, the Belgians instituted ethnic identity cards which required all Rwandans to self-identify as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa which was recorded on the identity card. In the late 1940s King Rudahigwa, began a reform process that challenged the ‘divide and rule’ policy under Belgian rule and redistributed cattle and land. Tutsis were still in control of pastoral land, yet they were no longer perceived to be in total control of cattle. When Belgium instituted the electoral process by secret ballot, the Hutus made enormous gains within the country. This marked the beginning of a long period of ethnic tension in Rwandan history. Also, at about the same time, the Catholic Church began to oppose Tutsi mistreatment of Hutus and promoted Hutu equality. Enter the revolution. In 1959 – 20,000 Tutsis were killed and 150,000 were exiled to neighbouring countries in particular Burundi. Those that remained in Rwanda were excluded from having any political power in a state, which was increasingly becoming centralised under Hutu power. In 1962, Rwanda became Independent from the Belgians and the power was now in the hands of the Hutu particularly from the Central and Southern regions of the country. In response, more than 100,000 Hutus were killed by Tutsis in neighbouring Burundi which triggered the slaghter of Tutsis in 1972-3 in Rwanda.

Ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis has intensified since its colonial period and peaked between after the death of the Rwandan President – a Hutu in a plane crash. Between April and June 1994 an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsi, were killed in the space of 100 days. Most of the perpetrators of the violence were Hutu and their mission to eliminate the Tutsi race. The genocide ended when Tutsi rebels from Uganda (children and grandchildren of Tutsis exiled to refugee camps after the 1959 massacre) overthrew the government. The new government has vowed to build a society that would not be based on ethnic divisions.

Links: Viewpoints from the Third World

“AllAfrica is one of a family of companies that aggregate, produce and distribute news from across Africa.”

This news website is great for:

  • Latest headlines and top stories from around the continent of Africa
  • News and issues categorised around specific countries and regions and areas of interest, for example, latest news about the increased risks of HIV and AIDS among displaced people in Kenya.
  • 3 separate in-depth news sections: Sustainable Africa which includes: Environment, sustainable development, Aid, trade, debt, water, women, etc; Peace Africa which looks at conflict, peace and security issues in Africa such as the latest in Darfur, etc.; and Biztech – a business/technology section which looks also at issues such as trade, ecotourism, and debt for example: “Zimbabwe’s domestic debt has soared to over $21 trillion, increasing by 165% inside one month.”
  • Includes a ‘how to’ section which guides you through the site step-by-step.

“Social Watch is an international NGO watchdog network monitoring poverty eradication and gender equality.”

Social watch is a great site for information on:

  • Country by country data – for example comparing women’s empowerment in Ireland with Sierra Leone
  • “Big Issues” – short thematic papers on development issues, for example: ‘Population trends in the 21st century: Demographic bonus or demographic anchor?’
  • Excellent section on annual progress/regression of countries on their Gender Development Index and the Basic Capabilities Index – comparing a country’s progress in terms of their social development
  • Really good downloadable posters, diagrams, charts, interactive maps, etc.

The International version of the BBC website is excellent for news around the world, international radio broadcasts – listen to Network Africa on the BBC World Service and hear news and stories from listeners in-country, country profiles including facts, overview of situation, country timeline, for example Burma see: Also, has excellent educational tools including photostories from around the world on issues like pollution in Lake Victoria or rural hardship in Zimbabwe:

Also, the BBC has some really good links to websites on country pages that provide ‘inside’ information.

“An educational and informative portal on Brazilian development issues.” This site includes masses of information from Brazil, from up-to-date news, economic and social indicators, links to government, private and non-governmental sites including the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics – click on the ‘social indicators’ tab and go direct to the Institute ( An excellent site for a cross section of information about Brazil – financial, political, environmental, regional, etc., and particularly good links to a diverse range of informational websites. Be sure to ‘click’ on the English version – unless you are fluent in Portuguese!

“The OneWorld network and portal brings you the latest news, action, campaigns and organisations in human rights and global issues across five continents and in 11 different languages, published across its international site, regional editions, and thematic channels.”

OneWorld is an excellent source of up-to-date local news, views, opinions and action from its members across 5 continents – the most recent of which is OneWorld Indonesia, who joined in 2007. Themes from each site include a wide cross-section of development issues and project locally developed to address issues. These include: water and sanitation, the environment, food security, trade, women, economy, health, war, etc.

The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection is an excellent site providing research on key social issues such as the “cost of living, social implications of debt servicing, accessibility of healthcare and education, and integrity of local democracy.”

An excellent feature in this website is the monthly Basic Needs Basket which surveys prices of essential goods and services and assesses the monthly cost of living for an average family in various parts of Zambia. The basket also compares the salaries of various civil servants such as teachers to the findings of the survey, which more often that not are substantially deficient.

“InfoChange is an online resource base that provides news, views, perspectives and debates on crucial issues of sustainable development and social justice in India and South Asia.”

Self-described as “cross-sectoral,” this website is an excellent site for a whole host of information and local perspectives on development issues. The site includes up-do-date news from India, comprehensive statistics on India set out under 12 different development categories, debates, analysis, back copies of the magazine “Agenda” which looks in-depth at issues such as climate change in India, critiquing the poverty line as it relates to India, trade, etc. The site also includes short films, documentaries, a ‘Microsites’ section which looks in-depth at development issues such as HIV/AIDS, a ‘Development Dictionary’ etc. There is also a really good “Kids for Change” section with case studies, references, statistics, viewpoints, information on development issues, such as the environment, women, WTO explained!? etc.

[nextpage title=”Links: Culture”]

Still by far the best site for any international related news, information, pictures, photos, links, etc.

Includes an A-Z list of “world cultures” from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and the ‘hyphenated’ American. Very basic information for quick reference but needs to be further researched.

A great news site from across the globe. Includes articles of various cultural projects from the various continents – for example: theatre projects in the Favelas of Brazil, government preservation of manuscripts in Mali, etc.

The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculture in Ireland. The site includes: resources, information and events to combat racism and promote interculturalism in Ireland and how you and your school can get involved with Intercultural and Anti-Racism Week 19-25 March 2007. There are posters, a school poetry competition, useful links to national, European and international organisations and websites and publications.


A ‘focus’ on African culture. Includes a great section on images and sound – an excellent gallery section of African art and the significance of the work, a gallery of images grouped by theme for example buildings and structures, a brilliant audio section with drumming music from around the continent. Also includes an East Asian and south east Asian images and text

A teacher resource stop. Look in the general search section and search through the various institution websites – some include sample class sessions.

The Fafunwa Foundation Internet Journal of Education focuses on making the “works of Nigerian scholars in the field of Education more visible to the rest of the world”. The site focuses on language education.


Images, folklore, art, music, culture, etc.


Great site for all there is to know about Asian Indian culture. Text heavy with few images.

Includes sections on Indian tribes, art, languages in India. Again, text heavy, but some great information.


Learn all about Swahili language and culture: poetry – in Swahili, photos of Kanga cloth and history of Kanga, a Swahili dictionary – to translate the poetry!! A basic site, but fun to work through.

The Swahili alphabet and links to other sites.

Simple information about Kenya and up-do-date news.


Google images:

Suggested searches: diversity, African cultural art/cultural art, etc.

[nextpage title=”Languages in Africa”]


The continent of Africa has a diverse set of languages. There are an estimated 2000 languages spoken on the continent, Nigeria alone has over 250 languages. About a hundred of these are said to be major languages – African languages for example Swahili, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba (in Nigeria due to their numbers), Shona and Ndebele in Zimbabwe, etc. European languages – as a result of colonialism in Africa – in particular French and English which are official languages in many African countries, Portuguese and Dutch/Africaans.

The choice of languages for education in Africa has been based on a number of factors, mainly:

  • the historical experience of colonialism;
  • political evolution after the attainment of independence;
  • the socio-linguistic contours of each country; and
  • the strength of linguistic and educational lobbies in various countries.


Swahili is of Bantu (African) origin. The Bantu (“the people”) migration spread through sub-Saharan Africa (Africa south of the Sahara Desert), over some 2,000 years. The Bantu, a linguistically related group of about 60 million people living in equatorial and southern Africa, are said to have originated in West Africa and migrated downward gradually into southern and east Africa. This migration is said to be one of the largest in human history.

Today, among the Bantu language groups, the most widely spoken language is Arab-influenced Swahili. It is the official language of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya and is used as a lingua franca throughout East Africa (a language used in common by different peoples to facilitate commerce and trade) by up to 50 million speakers in parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Congo (Kinshasa) Kenya, Mayotte, Mozambique, Oman, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, UAE and the USA. The word “Swahili” used by the early Arab visitors to the coast literally means “the coast” and contains a lot of vocabulary from Arabic, Persian, Malagasy, English, German and Portuguese. It is the only African language among the official working languages of the African Union.

Today, Swahili is spoken in many countries of East Africa. In Tanzania, a deliberate effort was made after Independence, under the new president Nyerere, to promote the language and is today Tanzania’s official language. Tanzania’s special relations with countries in southern Africa was one of the primary reasons behind the spread of Swahili into Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, and other neighbouring countries to the south. In Kenya, it is also the national language, but official correspondence is still conducted in English. In Uganda, the national language is English but Swahili enjoys a large number of speakers especially in the military. It was declared the official language under Iddi Amin’s rule of Uganda, but the declaration was never been seriously observed or repealed by the successive governments.

French (in Africa)

In 2006 there was an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 francophone African countries speaking French either as a first or second language. The French language arrived in Africa with colonisation from France and Belgium. African French speakers are now an important part of the Francophonie. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organisations

French is mainly a second language in Africa except in some areas such as in Réunion, the region of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire for example where it is the first language. In some countries it is a first language among some classes of the population, such as in Tunisia and Morocco where French is a first language among the upper classes (many people in the upper classes are simultaneous bilinguals Arabic/French), but only a second language among the general population.

In July 1994, Rwanda, whose official language had been French since independence in 1962, decreed that all laws be published in both French and English and that daily transactions take place in either. However, in reality, French is the second most spoken language in Rwanda after Kinyarwanda and is used in government and schools and spoken fluently by eight percent of Rwanda?s population as compared with only three percent for English. Cameroon has French speaking and English speaking regions, and more recently, young people have created a new language ‘frananglais’ which is a mixture of French, English and Creole.


Portuguese is a Romance language that originated in what is now Spain and Northern Portugal from the Latin spoken by romanised Celts about 2000 years ago. It spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial and commercial empire (1415-1999) which spanned from Brazil in the Americas to Goa in India and Macau in China. During that time, many Creole languages based on Portuguese also appeared around the world, especially in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Today it is one of the world’s major languages – with over 200 million native speakers. It is the language with the largest number of speakers in South America (183 million, over 51% of the continent’s population), and also one of the major lingua franca in Africa – Mozambique and Angola for example. It is the official language of nine countries, being co-official with Spanish and French in Equatorial Guinea, with Chinese in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau and Tetum in Timor-Leste.

From the 14th to the 16th century, with the Portuguese discoveries, the language was taken to many regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas. By the 16th century it had become a lingua franca in Asia and Africa, used not only for colonial administration and trade but also for communication between local officials and Europeans of all nationalities. Its spread was helped by mixed marriages between Portuguese and local people, and by its association with Roman Catholic missionary efforts, which led to the formation of a Creole language called Kristang in many parts of Asia. The language continued to be popular in parts of Asia until the 19th century. Some Portuguese-speaking Christian communities in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia preserved their language even after they were isolated from Portugal.