Just another article about Kenyans and their lifestyles

Kenya, a country located in the Eastern part of Africa, is inhabited by a diverse group of people with a wide cultural heritage, some of which conflict with each other. Typically, the lifestyles of these people can be grouped into three segments – deep rural, semi-urban, and the Nairobi culture.

Deep Rural Lifestyle of a Typical Kenyan

There are about 40 to 50 different ethnic groups in Kenya living in deep rural villages across the country. Each of these ethnic groups practice different cultural traditions, some of which are informed by traditional religious beliefs but most of them have acquired the Christian or the Muslim lifestyles. Kenya also has some Indians living in the country within their Hindu cultural heritage.

Despite the diversity of the cultures across the different parts of the country, a typical Kenyan lifestyle in a deep rural area consists of getting up as early as 4 AM to visit the farms to plough, weed, or harvest depending on the season. Farming can also include activities like grazing cattle, goats, camels, donkeys in large tracts of land, or feeding chicken, ducks, quails and other birds.

Other than farming, rural Kenyans also engage in small scale business endeavours that may include operating grocery stores, taking their farm produce to markets, buying food and other household items from those markets, and most times spending their time with friends and family. Women in particular have a lot more to do, as they are required by their respective traditions to look for food, fetch for water that is sometimes as far as 10 kilometers or more away from their homes, fetch for firewood that is used as the main source of fuel in these rural setups, make sure the children are fed, clothed, prepared for school, and generally well raised up.

You cannot talk about rural life in Kenya without mentioning the delicacies they prepare, and how they entertain themselves. Food in rural households vary as much as those cultures vary. From chicken and fish in Western parts of Kenya to pilau, a special type of rice for the coastarians in the South Western part, all Kenyans do generally enjoy a well done roasted meat (nyama choma) served with ugali, which is a special kind of uniquely prepared corn flour cake. Accompanying the starch based stable foods are mainly traditional vegetables such as  mrenda, osuga, boo, and the more modern kales and spinach.

In time past the rural lifestyles in Kenya included getting entertained by traditional music which again varies from culture to culture, but what was common was that this entertainment was only delivered during funerals, weddings or when a politician paid the villagers a visit. In modern times entertainment tends to be more Western oriented and delivery is through radios and TVs, but given that most rural households in Kenya still lack those communication gadgets, a number of them get entertained from their mobile phones that come fitted with radio receivers.

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One thing that has happened recently particularly starting around 2016 is wide adoption of solar powered entertainment sets. These sets are low watt TVs and radios sold on loans by fintech companies and powered by MPESA, and in addition to allowing the rural folks to watch or listen to news, football matches, music, or even movies, the solar systems also light up their homes – and these developments which have been augmented by government’s drive for rural electrification are enabling most of the rural lifestyles to mimic the lifestyles of semi-urban lifestyles.

Semi-urban lifestyles in Kenya

The semi-urban lifestyles in Kenya are those lifestyles defined by shopping centres and markets where the rural villages gather to sell their produce. These market centres were initially open land spaces where traders could meet on a particular day of the week, e.g. every Tuesdays, for barter and cash aided trading. As the market days gained prominence, small scale entrepreneurs saw opportunities to set up structures for offering services such as restaurant kiosks, barber shops, fashion stores, supermarkets, and later office spaces.

When a centre grows to a level where it hosts office spaces, it is considered a rural town, and it is these rural towns that have given rise to the semi-urban lifestyles.

Semi-urban lifestyles incorporate aspects of both rural village lifestyle and Nairobi oriented lifestyles. People in these urban towns do not depend so much on income from the office work environment but on the farming activities of the rural folks. Most of those living in semi-urban setups are directly engaged in serving the rural farmers with goods and services the farmers would need from urban areas – thus they provide the much needed link for the farmers to acquire modern utilities.

On day by day basis, a semi-urban Kenyan would wake up around 6 AM, clean up his/her house, and go to the market centre where he or she operates a salon, a barber shop, a grocery store, a supermarket, or if he or she is one of the few employed, will report to the office. Office jobs in some of these rural towns are offices opened by banks or government departments meant to provide both the semi-urban and rural dwellers with financial and government services.

By fashion you’ll find a mixture – with the majority trying as much as possible to dress in trending Western Europe or North American fashion styles. Their foods are also mixed, where they usually get the rural farm produce but are able to prepare them following recipes used by the Nairobians.  

Entertainment wise the old of semi-urban dwellers still love their African traditional entertainment, tend to abide by their cultural requirements, but the young ones especially those 40 years and below have borrowed the Nairobi lifestyle in their blood. In addition to listening to music genres like RnB, Hiphop and the other Western pop music, these young semi-urban dwellers are attuned to popular Tanzania hits known as bongo flava, Nairobi hit music such as Genge, Gengetone, and Kapuka. The young ones of semi-urban Kenyans also enjoy the Western Oriented movies but you will also find them glued to Nigerian Nollywood and Mexican soaps during Prime Time TV.

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Although the lifestyle of semi-urban towns offer Kenyans access to both urban oriented living and access to rural wealth, not many Kenyans prefer to live in these towns given their dilapidated states. Government services, infrastructural development, and economic stimulus haven’t found footing in these towns. Housing in the towns are thus generally of substandard quality, impassable roads, and unreliable electricity. These setbacks force most of the youth to still migrate from the rural towns to settle to the towns that have fully adopted the Nairobian lifestyles namely Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Thika, Nyeri, Kiambu, Eldoret, and Nairobi itself.

The Nairobi Lifestyle in Kenya

Nairobi lifestyle in Kenya is a lifestyle defined by all the five major tribes of Kenya. These tribes are the Kikuyus, the Luos, the Kalenjins, the Luhyias, and the Kambas. Close to Nairobi, the well known Maasais haven’t contributed much to the definition of Nairobi lifestyle, and this can be attributed to their difficulty to undergo cultural change. Although the cultures of the big tribes have contributed to the Nairobi Lifestyle, the Western Europe and American lifestyle has outweighed all of them combined in defining what a typical Nairobian considers his/her lifestyle.

The most unique form of Nairobi Lifestyle is the use of different forms of Sheng, a language initially formed by incorporating some English words into the Swahili language. Over time, words from Kikuyu, Luhyia, Luo and a few other local languages have found themselves into Sheng. Then lack of rules governing the Sheng language have allowed the young ones to twist words in freestyle until today there are many variations of Sheng as there are youths in these urban centres. Today you wouldn’t be surprised if youth from one corner of Nairobi cannot understand a fellow youth from a different corner of the same city – let alone youths from those towns that have fully adopted the Nairobi culture.

Nairobi Lifestyles are divided into two: the white and blue collar lifestyles defined by reporting to office at 8 AM and leaving at 5 PM, and the jua kali lifestyle for casual and mostly manual laborers that either operate their own workshops or work at industries to do manual tasks.

The jua kali lifestyle is the lifestyle of those living in low middle class estates and the slums. The richest of them probably live in a one bedroomed but poor conditioned apartment, paying as little as $50 dollars a month for such an apartment. They have a slightly larger family, and usually live hand to mouth as they go out to work and are paid for their labor the same day. By population, they form up to half of Nairobi’s population.

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Ordinarily you will meet this Nairobian walking from home to work in the morning, and while at the workplace, you are likely going to meet him crowded at a construction site or a factory hoping to be recruited as a laborer for the day. If not, you might meet him opening his grocery shop or if it is a woman, she is likely going to knock door to door asking to be given dirty clothes to wash. Some of them sell quick to sell merchandise by shouting the names of the merchandise along the streets of middle class dwellers. Some of them sell some of the merchandise on the highways to the same middle class during pick hours when the middle class are stuck in traffic jams in their vehicles.

The middle class themselves will typically start their day from around 5 AM by waking up, take a shower, eat breakfast, and drive from their houses to be stuck in traffic jams between 6 AM and 9 AM when they arrive at their workplaces.

The lifestyle of Juakali artisans in Nairobi isn’t that different from that of a typical Kenyan living in semi-urban towns, but given their proximity to the middle class who are living close to 100% Los Angeles lifestyle, they tend to mimic those high end lifestyles. This mimicry has forced the low class Nairobians, and even a number of middle class Nairobians, to get into debts.

When speaking about debts, today a typical Nairobian lifestyle is financed by mobile loans that have become so easy to obtain – loans of which range from $10 to $1000 dollars usually payable within the month, and these loans couldn’t be possible if it were not for MPESA, a mobile money innovation that has defined the lifestyle of every Kenyan ever since it was introduced in 2007. Today, MPESA has become synonymous with money – for everything someone can do with hard cash, he can do the same via MPESA – well, except in a few merchant stores that still do not accept MPESA as a form of payment.


A typical Kenyans lifestyle is that lifestyle that started by deep adherence to ethnic tradition, but which has drifted quickly to Western influenced lifestyles as practiced in Nairobi and other big towns, and is slowly drizzling to rural villages through semi-urban settings – the rural towns.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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