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Is There a Yemeni Community in Kenya?

posted on: Aug 17, 2022

Yemenis in Kenya

By: Antonia Wagura/Arab America contributing writer

This article focuses on the existence of the Yemeni community in Kenya. Do they have a specific area just for Yemenis, or are Yemenis scattered and mixed with the locals? What is their way of life? How did that even happen?

Well, if you are asking yourself as many questions as I am, then this article is for you.

Where is Kenya?

Kenya is a country in East Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean in the southeast. Its neighboring countries are Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

So, a little insight about Kenya and Arabs: Arabs settled in the coastal towns of Kenya by the mid-8th century and gradually developed an Arabic-Swahili culture.

During the pre-colonial period, Bantus traded with the Arabs along the Coast of East Africa and formed a relationship. Some Yemeni Arabs permanently settled in Kenya and intermarried with the Bantus and others stayed for commercial purposes.

The geographical location of Kenya

Yemeni Arabs in Kenya

Yemeni Arabs refer to people who come from both the people’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen and the Republic of North Yemen. Yemenis who came from Hadhramaut in South Yemen are referred to as Hadhrami.

Yemenis started migrating North during the pre-Islamic era, wanting to spread Islam as well as trade; therefore, starting from 1896 till 1963, Yemeni Arabs and the locals on the coast of East Africa established deep trade relations.

Trade relations existed between the East Africa Coast and South Arabia. Traders plied the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the East African Coast in search of trading commodities and the convenience of transporting their trade items.

By the 14th century, rapid trade, immigration, and cross-cultural contacts between the two regions intensified, a civilization was born on the East African Coast, and Yemenis contributed significantly.

Unfortunately, the process was disrupted by the Portuguese. Mombasa and Pale cities became new centers of commerce, trade, Swahili civilization, coastal Islam, and resistance to the Portuguese. Like every other community, the Portuguese wanted to obtain control of the main trading towns which were Mombasa, Kilwa, and Pale.

Describes the beginning of Mombasa city, the main trade region between Arabs and the Bantus

With peace being restored by the Busaidi in the Indian Ocean and the help of the British, Yemeni Arabs settlement increased in East Africa.

Most Yemeni Arabs in Kenya live along the Coast province, and more than half live in Mombasa because that is where they mainly traded.

The language spoken on the coast is Swahili, which is 35% Arabic. Swahili is a result of Arabic, Portuguese, and Kibantu that developed to overcome the language barrier among traders.

As we all know, Arabs from the Arab Peninsula and the Middle East are the original Arabs.  However, tribes of nomads developed an Arab culture that is now widely spread to different parts of the world.

Yemeni Arab’s Contribution to Kenya

Yemenis worked in Sultan’s services in commerce and manual labor. By the 19th century, Yemenis had formed a significant section of the Arab population along the coast of East Africa. Today, the Yemenis in Kenya own businesses and work in various fields.

As the Yemenis migrated, they brought their social and cultural values. The Hadhrami played a significant role in the spread of Islam on East coast Africa. They tried to preserve and conserve their culture by keeping in touch with their homeland.

The Yemenis’ conservativeness helped to preserve and cement these values and keep their identity. However, they experienced a degree of social change which was from colonialism, through the process of assimilation and cultural interaction with the local communities along the coast.

Colonialism did not only affect the Yemeni community but the Swahili community as well. It brought about the Western culture that diluted Arabic and Swahili culture.

Fast forward to 2014, protests erupted mobilized by the Houthi rebels. The events in Yemen set off an escalation in war and violence. Since 2004, the Houthi movement has persisted in intermittent armed rebellion against Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

While Yemenis would love to enjoy peace, the situation is out of their control. The war is driving people out of Yemen, and there is a substantial Yemeni diaspora, especially in nearby countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya (Kenya is a 3hours flight away from Yemen). In addition, there is a diaspora in Western nations like the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

Is there a Yemeni Community in Kenya?

Yes, there is a Yemeni community in Kenya. The Yemeni Arabs permanently settled on the East African coast, where they brought up their families. Nonetheless, they do not occupy a specific region.

You will likely find Yemenis along the coast or in Arab-populated areas such as South C in Nairobi. Even though their culture is diluted due to interaction with the locals, they still have an Arab heritage, which they are proud of. Furthermore, they practice Arab cultural and social values.

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