Tanzanians and Kenyans alike love to ask me the following questions: “What is the difference between Tanzania and Kenya? Which is better?”

Despite sharing a border and a language, the differences between the countries is actually rather striking.

If you ask a Tanzanian how they identify themselves, they will call themselves Tanzanian first. If you ask a Kenyan, they will first identify their tribe. Tanzanians are polite (“Would you please bring me…”); Kenyans are aggressive and often short in their phrasings (“Bring me…”). Tanzanians have absolutely no sense of business; Kenyans will squeeze you for every shilling. Cities in Tanzania move slow; cities in Kenya move fast.

But these are just surface characteristics. The differences go much deeper than that; they go down to the roots.

Tanzania has a socialist history. As a result, the people formed a strong national identity and communicate in a national language. The large businesses were taken over by the government, and so most of the locals had no need to develop a business intuition. Even today, many people will wait until the government comes to solve their problems. They still have no idea how to run a business, and so most shops are owned by the native Indian population. For the most part, they keep the foreigners out and even charge tourists exorbitantly high prices for their visas. In Kenya, on the other hand, tribal wars have been ever-present, encouraging a strong tribal identity. In the case of disagreements, this often results in aggression, and even when there are no disagreements Kenyans can still be outspoken and aggressive. Diversity is much more apparent, and many Kenyans will even communicate with each other in English. Capitalism gave people a brief introduction to business and people caught on quickly. Especially in the cities, this is expressed both by displaying an innovative, “go-getter” attitude and by trying to cheat absolutely everyone out of a few shillings.

As for the “better” aspect of the question, that’s a tough call. My experience in every country is shaped by both my work and the people I meet. I like Nairobi for certain reasons and Arusha for others. It’s not worth it to compare them, I prefer to enjoy each for what it is.

(Photo: Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, September, 2009)