Kenya’s very own Hollywood Boulevard
Many have raised global awareness for the unique eco systems, history and culture of Kenya. Kenya is today viewed as a great tourist destination with a beautifully warm climate, coastline on the Indian Ocean and Savanna grasslands. This is partly thanks to a great host of famous faces who have been associated with the country over time. If Kenya had a Hollywood Boulevard then these names would definitely have their own golden star. Here we reveal the ‘Kenyan Hall of Fame’.
1. Karen Blixen
Author & Early Settler
Karen Blixen, pen name Isak Dinesen, is the author of ‘Out of Africa’, a memoir of her seventeen years living on her own coffee plantation in British East Africa. Published in 1937 her book was ultimately a love story, yet gave readers a unique snapshot of colonial life in the 1940’s. Blixen also gave insight to the different tribes of Kenya, gently portraying the characters in her book as individuals and free of the racial stereotypes that plagued Western literature at the time. An area in Nairobi has been named after her and visitors can see the farmhouse where she lived, with many original items still in tact.
2. Richard Leakey
Palaeontologist, Politician & Conservationist
Born in Kenya to British parents, Richard Leakey and his family were all famous for their findings relating to early man. Richard Leaky continued the family traditional of palaeontology in East Africa, making many important discoveries of his own, which has helped better our understanding of human evolution. Leaky was appointed head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service in 1989.
In that same year, together with President Arap Moi, he made a dramatic anti poaching statement by burning a stockpile of ivory. Leaky soon became a well-known activist and politician, which made him many friends as well as enemies. His passionate views on wildlife conflict may have been the cause of his plane crashing in 1993. He lost both his legs, and although sabotage was suspected, it was never proved. After entering politics for a short time Leakey has continued to this day to promote animal conservation.
3. Jomo Kenyatta
Freedom fighter and Kenya’s first President
Kenyatta might not have a Hollywood star but he does have his face on Kenyan currency. He was the first President of the Republic of Kenya when it was declared independent from British rule in December 1964. Prior to this he was the face of the freedom fight for many years and is now widely considered by Kenyan people as the founding father of the nation. His face is synonymous with a free and independent country.
4. Joy Adamson
Author, painter & conservationist
Joy Adamson was the author of novel and award winning film Born Free. Joy, together with her husband George, became adoptive parents to a very endearing lion cub, who they named Elsa. Rescued after her mother was killed, Elsa soon became a household name due to the glamorous portrayal of their life in the Kenyan bush. Together with a host of other cute adopted wildlife, Elsa was cared for in the Adamson’s home in Naivasha before being released back to the wild.
The Adamson’s were devoted to conservation and helped to revive Kenya as a world-class safari destination. Joy was also an accomplished artist, documenting much of Kenya’s plant life and traditional tribal costumes through her beautiful paintings. Some of her paintings and prints can be found at the National Museum of Kenya or Elsamere in Naivasha.
5. Queen Elizabeth II
Became Queen when visiting Kenya
Queen Elizabeth also raised the profile of Kenya when she and Prince Phillip visited Treetops Hotel in the Aberdares on their official tour of the Commonwealth in 1952. This was no ordinary visit however as It was during this time that she learnt of the death of her father, King George VI. This announcement meant that she would now be sovereign ruler of Britain and her Empire. She returned home immediately. As hotel resident Jim Corbett stated ‘she went up a tree in Africa as a princess and came back down a Queen…’
6. Wangari Maathai
Awarded Nobel Prize for her work with the environment
Maathai was a woman of many talents, a human rights political activist, a conservationist and environmentalist among other things. In 2004 she was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In doing so she set a precedent for other women in a country where they were often subdued under a patriarchal system.
Wangari also founded the Green Belt Movement for grassroots conservation of Kenyan wildlife and landscape. To complete her impressive CV, in 2006 she met President Barack Obama, whose father was educated on the same programme that allowed Maathai to study in America during her youth.
7. David Sheldrick
Inspiration behind the Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi
At the tender age of 28, David Sheldrick had already taken on the role of game-keeper at Kenya’s largest National Park, Tsavo. In this role, he confronted poachers on a daily basis and began to form close protective relationships with the elephants. Later, with the help of his wife Daphne, they studied the elephants and collected data on their feeding and behaviour. They even hand-reared some particularly vulnerable calves.
After David’s death in 1977, his wife, Daphne founded the Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi to carry on his good work. The orphanage is still a very popular tourist attraction led and managed by Daphne. It has featured on international television many times, giving the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage a global reputation for their conservation efforts.
8. Iain Douglas Hamilton
Zoologist & founder of ‘Save the Elephants’ & TV presenter
Iain Douglas Hamilton is a world-renowned zoologist, who’s focus over the past four decades has concentrated primarily on the lives and behaviour of elephant groups in Kenya. Ian looked closely at elephant choices and for this he closely studied their migration patterns. In 1993 he started the organisation ‘Save the Elephants’ which has given him even greater fame around the world. His daughter, Saba Douglas Hamilton, is also a well-known face, appearing in many BBC wildlife documentaries. Growing up with her father in Kenya, Saba became very familiar with the animals on her doorstep and is also committed to protecting them.
9. Alan Root
Photographer, filmmaker and conservationist
Alan Root is a filmmaker and conservationist who has led a wonderfully exciting career in wildlife conservation and documentary production. Alan initially became famous along with his wife, Joan, for producing a documentary called ‘Two in the Bush’. The movie depicted the couple living close to nature and had some amazing footage of their adventures and connection to wildlife.
Alan moved to Kenya as a boy and his passion for animals, flora and fauna of Kenya led to him working for publications such as National Geographic and the BBC. His films were nominated for an Oscar. In his biography, Ivory, Apes and Peacocks, this gripping read gives a thrilling account of his adventures as an intrepid explorer and conservationist.
10. President Obama
Kenya is the ancestral homeland for President Barack Obama
Kenya is the ancestral homeland of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Obama’s father Barack Hussein Obama Senior was born in Kenya, close to the shores of Lake Victoria. He moved to America as a university student after being selected as a gifted Kenyan student for a programme that funded study in the West. This is where Barack Senior met Obama’s mother Ann Dunham. Obama Senior later returned to Kenya where he was a top governmental economist with the Ministry of Transport. Barack Obama has visited his ancestral homeland more than once as his grandmother, sister and other relatives still reside here.
These figures have undoubtedly helped to shape Kenya’s history in more ways than one. Many have raised global awareness for the unique eco systems, history and culture that Kenyans are so proud of. The characters in our hall of fame have helped shape Kenya, and have contributed to making it a world-class holiday destination, which we hope you’ll enjoy.