Native Kenyans? The Politics of Nativity

Native vs Indigenous

I’ve glossed over the word indigenous which I believe the users of the word native would rather use even though it is also problematic. Indigenous means “produced, growing, or living naturally in a particular region.” If something isn’t natural to an ecosystem then it is not indigenous. Examples includes plants such as water hyacinth native to South America and cattle such as Friesian from North Holland, and Guernsey from Channel Islands; all which are found in Kenya but are not indigenous. The word indigenous has more weight than native since it easily excludes whites, Indians, and other ethnicities that do not trace their origins in Kenya.

  1. A group of people who lived in a territory before the occupation of a colonial power.
  2. Their separation from the main bulk of the population culturally and politically.
  3. People who have an ethnic and territorial distinction from the dominant social power and a lack of political power at the state level.
Image of two Tanzanian Maasai Women in traditional plaids and regalia
Image by Kureng Workx: Tanzanian Maasai

Are Kenyans Indigenous

I’ve already dropped the word native in favor of indigenous. An indigenous Kenyan needs to have lived in Kenya before the occupation of Kenya by the British in 1920, which is when Kenya became a British colony. The date can be pushed back before the arrival of Europeans in the East Africa Protectorate which if adhered to closely dissolves Kenya as a country and the concept of nativity gets swallowed with it. It can also be pushed further beck before the arrival of European missionaries in the early 19th century. Essentially, what this does is it excludes Europeans and their ancestors from claiming any indigeneity to Kenya.

Numbers game

The concept of dominance both culturally and politically evokes a sense of power as held by a majority. In the United States, white people comprise 67% (250+million) of the population while Native Americans are a around 4 million people as of 2020. In Australia, aboriginals comprise 3.3% (847,190) of the population as of 2016. Therefore, before one burdens himself with a ‘native’ or indigenous tag, he should look at the numbers. The word native or indigenous denotes a minority status within a population which is why the definition of these words include an element of political or cultural exclusion. It’s almost impossible for a majority group to be held hostage by a minority group.


Othering is a leftist vocabulary. You’ll mostly find it in research papers dwelling on the oppression and exclusion of certain groups. If you ask a person what is their gender and offer two options, male and female, with a third one, other; you will probably be accused of othering trans individuals. Honesty, I hate this word but I will use it to facilitate what I am trying to communicate in this section.



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Zinah Issa

Zinah Issa

Reflecting on the cognitive and sociocultural nature of our societies.