Stepping off the plane at Nairobi and driving into the city is an initiation to Africa at ground level.  It’s a long and dusty road, clogged with vehicles from another era and lined with rustic auto parts shops.  There might be a giraffe or two nibbling on some trees, or a passing group of elephants. Nairobi is not an old city.  Founded in 1899 by British occupiers, it is situated on ancient tribal territories and tensions between old and new continue to exist.  The road from domination to freedom, like the way from the airport, has been long and full of pitfalls.

From the Caravan Journals: Stopping in a government plaza where some of our group wanted to feed the pied crows, the conversation narrowed to the undercurrent of issues in Kenya today. Our guide, looking sad, said “our greatest problem in Africa is tribalism.” The hope he saw for a way out of this situation lay in language. The majority tribal group in Sub-Saharan Africa, he said, was the Bantu, who spoke Swahili. Slowly, slowly, he said, this language was being adopted by other groups and creating a sense of national unification. On the other hand, I would hazard a guess that if tribal people were asked to define the core problem for Africa today, they would point to the lingering effects of colonialism.

For the few films that look at the world through the eyes of those who lived here long before the arrival of the Europeans, see Serengeti: Migrations. Hollywood prefers the colonial point of view. For a taste of the good life in Kenya before the  revolution, there is a popular attraction outside of Nairobi. It is the Karen Blixen plantation house. Blixen was played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985). A companion piece to this film is White Mischief  (1987), which dwells on the decadent side of colonial life.

Kenya wrested independence from the British in 1963.  On the government square in Nairobi, there is a statue of Jomo Kenyatta, hero of the revolution that made him president of the country in 1964.  There is only one Hollywood movie that makes a powerful statement on this topic and, remarkably, it stars Rock Hudson.  See Something Of Value (1957) below. Views of post-revolutionary Kenya can be seen in The Constant Gardener (2005) and The Boys of Baraka (2005).

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