Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Yesterday the United States of America celebrated its 241st birthday. This article, though, is about the motto of a country that will celebrate its 54th independence day later this year. That country is Kenya, the east African nation whose motto is Harambee.
The Meaning of Harambee
Harambee is a Swahili word that basically means “all pull together.” It is a term/concept emphasized by Jomo Kenyatta, who became the first president of the Republic of Kenya. Harambee! is the title of a book of his 1963-64 speeches.
Kenyatta (1891-1978) declared in one of his June 1963 speeches, “I therefore give you the call: HARAMBEE! Let us all work hard together for our country, Kenya.”
Wikipedia says that harambee is "a Kenyan tradition of community self-help events, e.g. fundraising or development activities.” That article goes on to say that Kenyatta “adopted Harambee as a concept of pulling the country together to build a new nation. He encouraged communities to work together to raise funds for all sorts of local projects.” 
(Kenyan Coat of Arms)
The Use of Harambee
In addition to being widely used in Kenya—such as “Harambee Stars” for the nickname of the national football (soccer) team and as “Harambee for Kenya” for the name of an organization founded in 1998 to help street children—the name/term is also used some in the U.S.
For example, in the 1980s the name of historic Franklin Park (named after Benjamin Franklin) in Boston was changed to Harambee Park, and Harambee is now the name of a section in the city of Milwaukee. Also, in St. Louis there is a Harambee Youth Training program (see here).
The first time I remember hearing the word harambee was in connection with Freedom School at Rainbow Mennonite Church (RMC). Every summer since 2007 RMC has hosted a six-week, full-day summer enrichment program for 100 children in grades K-8.
This year the name has been changed to Rainbow Summer Program, but the daily program still begins with “Harambee,” a time of “cheers and chants.” On June 11 there was a Harambee time as part of the Sunday morning worship service at RMC.
Last year the Freedom School participants were only 11% African-American, but the 10% who were Caucasian, the 73% who were Hispanic, and the others heartily participated in the daily Harambee activities.
Everyone pulling together is a good emphasis regardless of race or ethnicity.
Problems with Harambee
Since harambee was originally a Kenyan term and concept, I recently read a JL book by Jim Corrigan titled just Kenya (2005). On pages 30-31 there are two long paragraphs about harambee.
Corrigan writes that rather than the government providing much in the way of social services, Kenyans mainly “rely on their families and a longstanding tradition known as harambee.”
In spite of President Kenyatta’s emphasis on harambee, though, there is considerable criticism of it. According to Corrigan, “The critics argue . . . that precious financial resources could be spent more efficiently if they were overseen at a national level, rather than through hundreds of individual, uncoordinated projects.”
Pulling together in the spirit of harambee is certainly commendable on the local level. But trying to take care of all the social/educational needs of an entire nation by means of harambee seems quite problematic.
Surely the needs of Kenyans could be taken care of better by national programs implemented for all citizens rather than through local harambee activities that vary from place to place depending on the presence and choices of the wealthy.
Isn’t this also true for the U.S.? Why shouldn’t it be possible for the needs of people in all states and communities to profit more from nationwide programs—such as for healthcare—rather than varying from state to state?


  1. From time to time I hear some people say that it should be local Christians and churches that take care of people in their community who need help rather than the federal government. And, no doubt, local Christians and churches can and should do more to help people in need.

    But according to Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, every religious congregation in the U.S.--Christian or otherwise--would have to raise an additional $714,000 every year for the next 10 years to make up for the 2018 budget cuts President Trump has proposed.

    Here is the link to the article about this:

  2. Thank you for your insightful post, Leroy. Far too often in America, religious and/or racial/ethnic tribalism, in effect, prevents America from being a community of citizens who together strive for justice and human rights. Now is one of those dark times, unfortunately, when racial, ethnic and religious hatred is front and center.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding early this morning, Bruce; it was good to hear from you again.

      Yes, this is a time when the harambee concept is badly needed, but it is difficult because of the tensions in society. That is one reason it is such a joy to see how it is being used, effectively, at Rainbow Mennonite Church.

  3. Harambee was a good theme under President Jomo Kenyatta (I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times) - a great unifier, much like Nelson Mandela. However, as he aged, and his Presidency extended through the years, his Government succumbed to corrupt influences. Corruption has only increased through the years - his son being exceedingly tribal and corrupt. It is a natural problem for governments everywhere. I have a friend who recently ran for President with one of the lesser Parties. His aim was to end corruption much the way President Magafuli of Tanzania did early on. It is so sad to see corruption in government anywhere (and we certainly have our share here). Mottos are good, but ethical policy must rein.

    One of my favorite memories of the 4th of July was when Israel invaded Idi Amin's Uganda with the aid of Kenya on July 4, 1976 - a day worth celebrating!

    1. For Esprit de Corps, the leader will yell "HARAAAAM-BEEEEE!" And the team/crowd will respond, "EEEEHHHH!"

    2. In the Kenya I lived in, socialism would have been considered the antithesis of Harambee - it was strictly a call to work hard together and drop hatred that divides, whereas in Tanzania, Ujamaa (designed by a diplomat from Iowa) was intentionally communal (forced communism).

      Uhuru Kenyatta effectively brought an end to Harambee (nothing more than a Kikuyu tribal political yell now) with his ethnic purge of the Luo and others. Unfortunately the Hague never convicted him, because he and his government refused to attend the tribunal. A sad legacy for a good concept. Political dynasties should not be permitted anywhere in our modern era, regardless of the perceived qualities - too much baggage for even the good ones. Lessons need to be learned.

  4. Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas shares the following comments:

    "Excellent word, Leroy! Literally! LOL

    "This is the first time I’ve seen this particular word, 'Harambee.' Of course, having studied other languages, I am fond of word studies too. The idea and image of 'all pulling together' is certainly a refreshing notion in our current political and social climate. I wonder if 'Harambee' has any relation to the African word 'Ubuntu' usually translated 'humanity' or 'humanity toward others,' a term of solidarity.

    "Unfortunately, because of negative societal enculturation dynamics, the local level is perhaps the least likely place to find social justice or help. I’m thinking civil rights in the US, particularly the southern states, long after Emancipation. And the current need for Affirmative Action-like considerations 'to level the playing field.' Ideally, our common humanity, local or not, should reflect mutual trust, respect, dignity, acceptance and hospitality toward all."

    1. Thanks for your good comments, Tom.

      As far as I know there is no direct connection between "harambee" and "ubuntu," the latter being a Bantu term from South Africa--but it is a good word/concept, too.

      I have considered writing a blog article about "ubuntu," as I have been impressed by what Desmond Tutu has said about it.

  5. This is a Wonderful concept that All should implement with just"LOVE"as the driving force without Race being of Any concern.
    JESUS died for All and we should do what we All can to help&assist All those in need!
    This is what i try to do in my Ministry/Foundation.
    Thanks Leroy for your thought provoking Blogs!
    Blessings to All,
    John (Tim) Carr

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, John Tim! I appreciate your positive and affirming comments.

  6. To get a sense of how harambee and capitalism may be connected, see this recent "In These Times" article titled "Detroit's Underground Economy: Where Capitalism Fails, Alternatives Take Root" link:

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Craig. It does seem to illustrate how harambee can work in a local situation. But surely the people of Detroit need help from government programs as well as harambee, not just the later, as helpful as it is.

  7. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "Great ideas are often difficult to put into action at higher levels. Isn’t that true of Jesus’ command, "Love your enemy'? Yet it is still right to strive to do the impossible, as Gandhi, M. L. King, Jr., and others in the Civil Rights movement did. Can the world survive without it?


  8. Rachel HostetlerJuly 7, 2017 at 11:35 AM

    In the Freedom School context, Harambee is a wonderful way to start the day. Every morning for 30 minutes, children and staff come together and celebrate themselves and each other. It builds community and sets a positive tone for the day. Below are the basic components of Harambee listed on the Children's Defense Fund Freedom School website.
    • Read Aloud—Guests from the community read to the students.
    • Motivational Song—“Something Inside So Strong.” Through repetition, students believe the message.
    • Recognitions—Celebrates accomplishments.
    • Cheers and Chants—Builds self-esteem and gets the children ready to learn.
    • Moment of Silence—Personal moment of reflection
    • Announcements—Schedule changes, field trips, or special events.

    I have been told by many Freedom School staff and children that Harambee is their favorite part of the day. It's a very energizing experience and helps keep them going when challenges arise during the summer. The community lifts each other up. I wish every school/workplace could offer this!

    1. Thanks, Rachel! This is the kind of response I was hoping for.