Makau Mutua Calls for Kenya to Change Its Name

  • An athlete celebrates with a Kenyan flag after winning a race
    An athlete celebrates with a Kenyan flag after winning a race.
  • US-based Kenyan lawyer and activist Prof Makau Mutua has advocated for the renaming of the country from Kenya to drop its colonial-given name. 

    In an opinion piece published in the Nation on Sunday, June 20, the distinguished lawyer claimed that by continually using the name, Kenyans are indirectly still living under the British colony.

    He noted that besides the country's name, our individual first names disguised as Christian names are often used to promote the European agenda in Africa.

    The accomplished professor of law noted that there is an indirect power when someone is given the power to name another person - indicating that the Europeans continue to hold some power over Kenyans by virtue of having named their country. 

    "We name our children because they are of us, and at some level “belong” to us, although we don’t own them. But they are our charges until they become adults. That’s why naming is an act of power and authority. He, or she, who names another has power and authority over that which is named," the scholar argued. 

    An image of Makau Mutua
    Professor Makau Mutua at a past event.

    "This mimicry, or proclivity for worshipping things European, is now part of Africa’s zeitgeist. Most Africans don’t even question it anymore. They have fully submitted to Eurocentricity.

    "Today, I want to address an important question about Kenya’s intellectual surrender to Europe and the West. Should the country called Kenya continue to use that name? What’s Kenya’s etymology, and why cling to it?" Questioned the professor.

    He further notes that the name of the country was first by a German missionary known as Johann Ludwig Krapf.

    Documented history indicates that during his tour in the country in the 19th century, Krapf first recorded the name as Kenia when he asked the Akamba locals to name Mt Kenya and they told him it was"Kĩ-Nyaa" or "Kĩĩma- Kĩĩnyaa".

    Kenya was initially known as the British East Africa Protectorate or British East Africa and it was not until 1920 that it was officially named Kenya.

    Krapf was travelling with a Kamba caravan led by the legendary long-distance trader Chief Kivoi.

    Kivoi provided the two names explaining that they were probably derived from a pattern of black rock and white snow on its peaks reminded them of the feathers of the cock ostrich.

    The Agikuyu, who inhabit the slopes of Mt. Kenya, call it Kĩrĩma Kĩrĩnyaga in Kikuyu, while the Embu call it "Kirenyaa." All three names have the same meaning.

    "If we are to stick with the name of the mountain as the name of the country, then it behoves us to at least be authentic.

    "Kenya is what the white man called the country. Europeans named us to demonstrate their power and authority over us. The least we can do is call Kenya the “Republic of Kinyaa”," argued Mutua.

    To justify his point, he noted that other countries had changed their names over the years including Myanmar from Burma and Tanganyika joined with Zanzibar to become Tanzania.

    South Africa's popular opposition leader Julius Malema, has equally called for a renaming of the country to a more African name - as part of a needed decolonising of the mind. 

    "South Africa, we still don't have a name until today because South Africa is not a name. It's a direction," Malema stated in the past, advocating for the country to be renamed Azania. 

    German missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf.
    German missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf.