The Kamba Nation
- A Brief History of the Akamba People
The Kamba people, also known as the Akamba, are a Bantu ethnic group of people who primarily live in the eastern region of Kenya (in Machakos, Makueni, and Kitui Counties, an area that is collectively referred to as Ukambani). Others, however, are located in the coastal region of Kenya, while others can be found outside Kenya in Uganda, Tanzania and even Paraguay in South America where the Kamba Cuá are well-known for their intense lively drumming and dancing. The Akamba speak the Kikamba language, and are closely related in language and culture to the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Mbeere ethnic groups.
Once a part of the greater Bantu empire, the Akamba broke off and began migrating from Western Africa at around 1000 AD. The fierce Kamba warriors and their families started moving eastward, taking the wealth of those they had conquered and keeping and selling other Africans as slaves to Arab traders. Invading the rich pasturelands of modern Kenya and northern Tanzania, the Kamba warriors shifted from fighting and hunting to farming.
The Kamba are then believed to have migrated from the Mount Kilimanjaro area in northeastern Tanzania where they had settled in at around 1300 AD. This belief is supported by renowned ethnologists Gerhard Lindblom and John Middleton, and is strengthened by the fact that the Kamba share many cultural similarities and common names with the Chaga Tribe of the Mount Kilimanjaro region.
From Mount Kilimanjaro, the Kamba moved to Taita and Mbooni Hills between the 15th and 17th centuries. Due to population pressures, some were forced to migrate and traveled through the plains to the coast, then up to Tana River through Shimba Hills to their current location in South-Eastern Kenya. It is speculated that the first group of Akamba people had arrived in Ukambani by the 17th century and opted to settle around the Mbooni Hills of present-day Machakos County. They selected Mbooni Mountains after generations of wandering the plains in search of better pastures. The Mbooni slopes and valleys were lush with permanent water and fertile soil and very conducive to agriculture, thus an ideal location to settle in.
As the population grew, the Akamba people spread to the greater Machakos, Kitui and Makueni Districts. The Akamba found themselves in Kitui and Machakos in search of food and security after centuries of migration through the plains, valleys and over mountains.
The Akamba were once a compact group occupying the region called Ulu (from the Kamba word meaning “upper”). One group went East of Ulu, crossed the River Athi and separated from the rest of the Kamba group for generations, settling in present day Kitui in the first half of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century, they extended their settlements into Kikumbuliu.
FUN FACT: The name ‘Kenya’ has been attributed to the Akamba. Kenya derives its name from the tallest mountain in the country, Mount Kenya. German explorer Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote the earliest record of the name in the 19th century, and it is alleged that when Krapf was traveling with the local Kamba people, he asked about name of the mountain, and they told him that it was named “Kĩĩma- Kĩĩnyaa” or “Kĩ-Nyaa.” Ice or snow is called Nyaa in Kikamba. So, Mt. Kenya in Kikamba is ‘the place with ice or snow.’
Among the best-known Kamba people are: Chief Kivoi Mwendwa, the first Kamba chief in recorded history who rose to prominence, power, and wealth by trading elephant tusks, minerals, and slaves to the Arab, Indian, and Chinese colonizers on the African coastline; Prophetess Syokimau, a medicine woman and considered the greatest Kamba prophetess as she prophesied the coming of the White Man and the building of the railway line with shocking accuracy; and Muindi Mbingu, a fearless freedom fighter.
- Economic Activities of the Akamba
During the pre-colonial period, long before the arrival of colonials, the Kamba were acclaimed long distance traders who organized sophisticated caravans that shipped ivory from Ukambani to Arab traders along the Kenyan Coast – a distance of 500 miles. Ivory was exchanged for copper, bracelets, beads, cloth, and salt. These items were transported back to trading centers in Machakos, Kaani and Kitui.
By the time the British arrived in Kenya, Machakos was already a thriving commercial center. The Akamba locally referred to it as “Masaku,” named after a famous Akamba Elder called Masaku. The British transformed the word ‘Masaku’ into ‘Machakos’ though many Akamba still call it Masaku.
Their proximity to the coast, and the need to trade (especially in times of drought), meant that the Kamba were also traders, and became deeply involved in the Zanzibar-dominated ivory and slave trade. Their knowledge of much of the Kenyan interior was thus a great help to the early western explorers.
- State of the Kamba Nation as at 2020
The 2019 National Census Report revealed that there are over 4.6 Million Akamba people living within the boundaries of Kenya, making the Kamba Nation the fifth largest ethnic group in Kenya.
Ukambani is blessed with a vast land territory that features impressive landscapes including the Yatta plateau, which is among the longest lava streams of the world. Others include the spectacular Fourteen Falls and the Ol Doinyo Sabuk Mountain. Indeed, Ukambani is home to some of the most spectacular attractions found in East Africa and is thus a notable tourist destination in Kenya.
Nevertheless, while Ukambani is home to some of the most amazing Kenyan tourism attractions, these have not been leveraged for the economic wellbeing of its people. The Kamba nation is mired in grinding poverty. A recent report by the Kenya Integrated Budget Survey put the poverty rate in Machakos at 43%, in Kitui at 40%, and in Makueni at 35%. This stacks poorly against the national average of 36%. Clearly, the greater Kamba nation is lagging behind and remains among the most poverty-stricken regions of Kenya.
This sad reality is compounded by the fact that Ukambani is a predominantly semi-arid area with no meaningful agricultural or industrial base to drive its economic advancement. The result is that agriculture in Ukambani is primarily subsistence farming.
Apart from the bitter poverty that affects the average Mkamba, Kamba women have to wrestle with the additional burdens of gender inequality, grossly insufficient social services, sparse infrastructure, perennial food insecurity, and limited access to drinking water. Unfortunately, these realities extend throughout the entire Kamba Nation.
However, the Kamba Nation has made a few strides since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010. Prior to the 2010 constitution, Ukambani, like the rest of rural Kenya, experienced disparities in accessing capital to undertake major infrastructural developments. The 2010 constitution brought devolved government, giving birth to Machakos, Kitui and Makueni counties. Now, each of these counties enjoys independent homegrown leadership, which has been able to tackle issues that are unique to the Kamba Nation in an unprecedented manner.
- Counties of the Kamba Nation
The 2010 constitution led to the establishment of the three regional blocks namely Machakos, Kitui and Makueni counties. Each of the three counties enjoys independent leadership. Let us look at each of the three counties within Ukambani Land:
- Machakos County Profile
Machakos County is one of the three administrative counties within the Kamba Nation. The County is currently under the leadership of H.E. Governor Alfred Mutua, the county’s first governor. Dr. Mutua is a youthful, visionary, and energetic leader who has set the pace in County governance and scored relatively well compared to other 46 governors across the different counties within the Republic of Kenya.
- Geographic Location
Machakos County sits strategically, along the Mombasa-Kampala highway. The County shares its borders with eight other counties. To the west, Machakos County borders the County of Nairobi and Kiambu County. To the east, the County of Machakos borders Kitui County, while to the north; the county shares its borders with Embu County. To the south, Machakos County shares its borders with Makueni County; while southwest, the county borders Kajiado County. Lastly, to the North West, the County of Machakos shares its borders with Murang’a County and Kirinyaga County.
Machakos County has eight sub-counties namely: Machakos Town; Mavoko; Masinga; Yatta; Kangundo; Kathiani; Matungulu; and Mwala. Machakos Town is the administrative capital of the county.
- Machakos County’s Top Economic Activities and Investment Opportunities
Machakos County has 4976 registered women groups, 2,044 youth groups, and 13,791 self-help groups across the county. Owing to the strategic positioning of Machakos County relative to the counties of Makueni and Kitui, the county has been the most attractive county in the region to investors. The county has put in place strategic investments, focusing on four areas, i.e.: health and wellbeing; education and skills development; employment and entrepreneurship; and youth empowerment. Interventions on those strategic focus areas will help towards the achievement of a healthier population while improving the economic status of the people of Machakos County.
Currently, the main economic activity in Machakos County is subsistence agriculture. The county has various open-air markets where buyers and sellers converge on major market days to trade their produce, which includes foodstuffs, and various livestock. Rain-fed dependent agriculture systems seem to have the potential to remain as the agricultural dominant systems in the County of Machakos. Unfortunately, the county experiences erratic and unpredictable rain usually less than 500 millimeters annually.
Due to the unsustainable rainfall experienced in the region, only corn and other drought-resistant crops like sorghum and millet are grown across the county. Further, the agricultural potential yield is limited by factors like soil infertility, pests, and diseases alongside post-harvesting wastage.
Tourism is another major economic activity in the County. The county has attracted investments by leading players within the hospitality industry, helping make the county the place to be for local and international tourists. Despite being a semi-arid county characterized by hilly terrain, Machakos County is blessed with beautiful scenery. The County offers an authentic cultural experience featuring various natural attractions and recreational centers. The beautiful hilly scenery makes the county a top destination for outdoor lovers.
Some tourist-related activities in the county include camping, hiking, sightseeing, and cultural tourism including dance and music festivals. Among the top attractive places to visit in Machakos include: Fourteen Falls; Ol-Donyo Sabuk National Park; Magnetic Hill Anti-Gravity Site; Masinga Dam; Iveti Forest Reserve; Komarock Shrine; Machakos Peoples Park; and Lukenya Hills
Apart from the above tourist attraction sites, Machakos County has identified various tourism and entertainment opportunities ideal for investors. Therefore, interested investors can collaborate with the County’s tourism sports and culture ministry regards the following potential projects:
- The development of resort cities
- Construction of high end and budget hotel
- Investment in Conference Facilities
- Setting up of Amusement Parks, Clubs, Casinos, theatres and specialty restaurants
- Film Development
Machakos County has been selected to host the upcoming Konza Technology City. Konza Technology City has been billed Africa`s first techie City and will become the World’s third IT magnet after California based Silicon Valley This is based on the county’s close proximity to the Capital City of Kenya and the amazing landscape. Moreover, the county has massive chunks of land and has a good infrastructure.
Machakos County is also home to upcoming industrial and residential centers. Good examples include Athi River and Mlolongo towns, which, by far are the leading in terms of developments within Machakos County.
- Challenges in Machakos County
While the Machakos County Government is working hard towards ending poverty and hunger in all their forms and dimensions, this has not been without various challenges. Political, economic, and social problems continue to affect service delivery to local citizens in rural areas. The state of water delivery and sanitation is particularly problematic, with most of the existing water and sanitation facilities in the county being old, dilapidated, and in dire need of rehabilitation. The adequacy, equity and reliability of government rural water supply projects in the County have deteriorated due to: inadequate budgetary provision; facilities that have not been upgraded to cope with increasing demand; and a decline in technical performance with increasing age of equipment and inadequate maintenance.
Uncontrolled sand harvesting in the county has led to severe environmental degradation resulting in a change of the regime of some of the rivers and the loss of retention capacities of some seasonal rivers.
- Progresses Made in Machakos County
Owing to the strategic positioning of Machakos County relative to the counties of Makueni and Kitui, the county has been more attractive to investors.
The county has put in place strategic investments, focusing on four areas i.e.: health and wellbeing; education and skills development; employment and entrepreneurship; and youth empowerment. Interventions on those strategic focus areas will help towards the achievement of a healthier population while improving the economic status of the people of Machakos County.
Further to that, there have been significant developments in the following areas:
- Infrastructure developments including the construction of new roads and upgrading of access roads within the county
- Partnering with the National Government on the “Last Mile” project to increase connectivity to the national grid across the county
- Setting up funding to support women’s projects through table banking
- 15 new irrigation schemes that spread across the six sub-counties have been proposed
- Implementation of the County Water Programme, reducing the average distance to 1 kilometer
- Construction of health care facilities across the sub-counties
- Collaboration with development partners including USAID, World Bank, World Vision, UN agencies among others
- Makueni County Profile
Formerly Makueni district, Makueni County occupies approximately 8,000 square kilometers. The current governor of Makueni County is Professor Kivutha Kibwana, a family man and an educationalist who is notably committed to improving the livelihood of the Citizens of the greater Kamba nation.
Makueni County has six sub-counties, namely: Kaiti; Kilome; Kibwezi East; Kibwezi West; Makueni; and Mbooni sub-counties. The capital of Makueni County is Wote Town, which also happens to be the largest town within the county.
- Geographic Location
Makueni County lies within an arid and semi-arid zone, located on the lower eastern region of Kenya, sharing its borders with Machakos County to the North, Kajiado County to the West, Taita-Taveta County to the South, and Kitui County to the East.
- Makueni County’s Economic Activities and Investment Opportunities
Agriculture is the predominant economic activity in Makueni County. Currently, the total arable land covers 5042.69 square kilometers, equivalent to 74 percent of the total area. Horticulture and dairy farming is also practiced within the hilly parts of Kilungu and Mbooni West sub-counties.
In Lowland areas covering Kathonzweni, Mbooni East, Nzaui, and Makueni sub-counties, the main economic activities are livestock keeping, cotton, and fruit production. Other economic activities include sand harvesting, harvesting of limestone, granite, gypsum, and Quartz in the Kibwezi constituency. Value addition, trade, and commercialization are still at very low levels within Makueni County. However, the County Government of Makueni is focusing on the establishment of different projects to improve economic activities within the county.
Tourism is one of the sectors promoting the economy of Makueni County. Numerous tourist attraction sites within the county register a good number of local and international tourists every year. Makueni County offers various five-star accommodations suitable for local and international tourists.
The County is connected to the rest of the country through the Standard Gauge Railway and an extensive road network. With better infrastructure, Makueni County has huge potential from its tourism sector.
Some of the top tourist attractions within Makueni County include:
- Tsavo East National Park
- Chyulu Hills National Park
- Kibwezi irrigation schemes
- Jipe Moyo Conservancy
- Makuli-Nguta Forest
- Kisula Leviathan Caves
- Historic AIC Church in Nzaui Sub County
- Challenges in Makueni County
In Makueni County, the top challenges are food insecurity, limited access to clean drinking water/ inadequate water supply, a depletion of water catchment areas, poor infrastructure, agriculture-related challenges, poor healthcare, degradation of land resources, low rainfall, pests, and diseases, as well as poor agricultural practices women and children walking long distances to water points, and sand harvesting which worsens the situation.
The poor population experiences limited access to basic needs. The basic requirements include things like food, shelter, clothing, health, water, and education. Moreover, the majority of the poor are children, women, and persons living disabilities. The worst hit are women, and this is because of gender inequality, limited access to and ownership of land, and limited income-generating activities as well as isolation when making important decisions.
Unemployment has also reached an alarming rate in the county. Consequently, the county is experiencing relatively high levels of poverty, standing at 34.8 percent according to the KIHBS 2015/2016 report.
- Progresses Made in Makueni County
The Makueni County 2018-2022 Integrated Development Plan focuses on transforming the county the socio-economic status by the year 2025. Under the leadership of H.E Kivutha Kibwana, the County Integrated Development Plan aims to:
- Increase productivity, enable value addition and commercialization within the Agricultural sector
- Ensure availability and easy access to water
- Enhance the quality of health care for Citizens of Makueni County
- Achieve economic empowerment with special focus on youth, women, and persons with disability
- Secure land tenure and urbanization
Overall, the envisioned Makueni County socio-economic empowerment focuses on ensuring an increased household income. This has been seen through the implementation of various projects including:
- Makueni Fruit Processing Plant
- Kikima Dairy Mini Processing Plant
- Administering 17,000 high breed artificial inseminations
- Putting up of modern market sheds and livestock yards
- ENE microfinance Bank and Tetheka Fund
- Facilitation in establishing 30 new cooperative societies
While the Government of Makueni County is working tirelessly to achieve the above objectives, various challenges serve as impediments to progress including low revenue collection and low allocation from the national kitty. Moreover, some departments are under capacitated, which affects service delivery to the citizens in rural areas. This is notwithstanding the political turmoil, which has bedeviled the implementation of various projects. These challenges have affected the endeavor of achieving development in the rural areas.
- Kitui County Profile
Kitui County is named after Kamba ironsmiths who occupied the region prior to the colonial period. The County covers approximately 30,496 square kilometers and shares its borders with seven counties. Kitui County has eight administrative sub-counties. They include: Kitui West Sub County; Kitui Central Sub County; Kitui Rural Sub County; Kitui South Sub County; Kitui East Sub County; Mwingi North Sub County; Mwingi West Sub County; and Mwingi Central Sub County.
Ever since the formation of Kitui County, the administrative County has had two governors. The first Governor was HE Governor Julius Malombe, while the incumbent is Charity Kaluki Ngilu deputized by Gideon Nzau Wathe.
Notably, Kitui County is the first county within the Kamba Nation to have elected a female governor and is the first county to have experienced the leadership of two different governors in the first ten years after the implementation of devolution.
- Geographical Location
Kitui County is located 170 Kilometers in the South East of Nairobi County. Its neighboring counties include Tharaka Nithi County and Meru County to the North, Embu County to the North East, Machakos and Makueni to the West, Tana River to the East, and Southeast, while Taita-Taveta lies to the South.
- Kitui County’s Economic Activities and Investment Opportunities
Kitui town has a huge potential for commercial activities and it is a financial hub for the surrounding sub-counties.
Kitui was historically known as a center for long-distance traders owing to the good relations with neighboring communities. For the people of Kitui, trade is still a major economic activity. They trade locally produced foodstuffs as well as fine art such as woodcarvings, basketry, and pottery, targeting the local and international tourists.
Tourism is a major boost to the economy of Kitui County. Mwingi, for instance, is mapped as the largest town next to the LAPSSET corridor and has major potential for tourism activities. Kitui County boasts some of the top tourist destinations in Kenya. Among the top tourist destinations within Kitui County include:
- Tsavo East National Park
- South Kitui National Reserve
- Nzambani Rock
- Mwingi National Reserve
- Nuu Hills
- Ikoo Valley
- Kulalu Ranch
- Mumoni Hills
- Kanyonyoo Sanctuary
- Ngomeni Rock Catchment and Conservancy
In addition, there are several restaurants within Kitui County offering a five-star experience. Moreover, the County has a good road network connecting it to Machakos County and Makueni County.
The County is also a hub for business ventures anchored on its natural resources. Mui Basin, for example, is a potential coal-mining region as well as for limestone mining.
- Challenges in Kitui County
Kitui County is characterized by water scarcity, food insecurity, a high rate of poverty, and environmental degradation. These challenges can be attributed to the rapid population growth and climate change.
When it comes to developments, Kitui County is way below the national average, based on various socio-economic indicators. For instance, when it comes to the Human Development Index, Kitui stood at 0.53 compared to Machakos County at 0.54 and 0.56 for Makueni County.
The County continues to experience serious water scarcity challenges owing to the diminished water supply as a result of recurring droughts. Environmental degradation including human activities like deforestation have worsened the water scarcity challenges. As the population keeps growing, the county will keep experiencing degradation of the upstream catchment as people seek to expand the agricultural land. Destruction of forests due to dependence on wood fuels and low forestation levels will have severe consequences on the ecosystem and result in food insecurity.
- Progresses Made in Kitui County
Following its mandate, as enshrined in the 2010 constitution of the Republic of Kenya, the County Government of Kitui is developing long-term development blueprint dubbed “Kitui Vision for Economic and Social Transformation”. The development plan focuses on guiding the County Government on addressing the economic and social problems facing the people of Kitui County. The long-term development plan covers various economic and investment zones as established in the year 2013. The various economic and investment zones shall include:
- Kyuso-Mumoni-Tsekuru Economic and Investment Zone
- Mui-Basin Economic and Investment Zone
- Mwingi Town and Environs Economic and Investment Zone
- Kitui County Headquarters and Environs Economic and Investment Zone
- Kanyangi-Kwa Vonza-Kanyonyoo Economic and Investment Zone
- Mutomo-Ikutha-Kanziko Economic and Investment Zone
The Kitui County Government accords priority to five pillars focused on attaining the socio-economic and political transformation of Kitui County. The five pillars are:
- Food security and water
- Universal health coverage
- Education and training
- Empowerment of women, youth and persons with disabilities
- Wealth creation
The pillar on wealth creation focuses on the expansion of the manufacturing sector in line with the Kitui Vision for Economic and Social Transformation. Moreover, the County Government focuses on supporting programs targeting value addition in Agriculture, and livestock industries.
Further, it is recognized that for the county government to address the issue of food security, access to clean water should be a priority. Therefore, programs targeting the extension of water piping, drilling of boreholes, and water harvesting require more attention.
Apart from food security and the question of access to clean water, the county government is focusing on investing in programs that promote education and training as well as the empowerment of special groups.
While the County Government of Kitui is doing as much to help with poverty alleviation, lack of enough funding is a major issue. Over the period 2014/15-2016/17, the local revenue collection averaged at about 53 percent of the annual targets. Therefore, the underperformance poses a serious threat to smooth budget implementation. Consequently, rural citizens will not receive much-needed assistance, which means they will continue languishing in poverty.
- Let us leave a Legacy
In light of the above, it is evident that despite the progresses made in Ukambani following the implementation of devolution, the economic status of the Kamba Nation still requires significant improvement. This needs to begin with a concerted focusing on improving the quality of life of the most marginalized in the region. Education, water and food security are the three priority areas of focus in that regard for Mbaitu Foundation.
At Mbaitu Foundation, we believe that by coming together, we can begin to make a dent on the root causes that hold our people back as exemplified in the popular Kamba saying, “Kyaa kimwe kiyuaa ndaa” (a single finger, cannot kill a tick). Mbaitu Foundation believes that ending poverty will require the collective coming together of every member of the Kamba Nation. By coming together, we will leave a legacy and set future generations on a better path for generations to come.
Through Mbaitu Foundation, Kamba’s in the Diaspora will have a unique platform through which they can mobilize and channel resources to Ukambani in a focused, organized, collective, and transparent manner. The objective is to share our experiences and resources (both economic and talent-wise) so as to help our brothers and sisters in Ukambani. The strategic approach right now is bringing like-minded stakeholders together to help mobilize the resources required to foster the economy of the greater Kamba nation together.
With proper economic empowerment, and supporting relevant self-help groups, we at Mbaitu Foundation are confident that the people of Ukambani have a very bright future ahead.