Heads or Tails in Kenya

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by Richard Giedroyc

September 10, 2013 – Images appearing on coins have been used as propaganda ever since coins were first invented. Depictions of monarchs, their families, their favorite horses, impressive buildings, local wildlife, and just about everything politically useful have been used.
When those of us living elsewhere think of a nation in central Africa we think of wildlife. Why in the world would a central African nation depict their past and present presidents on coins instead?
Well, that is exactly what Kenya is asking itself. Kenya became an independent nation in 1966. Instead of using their coins and bank notes to promote the local economy, history, and what might benefit them through interest in the tourist trade their currency has been graced with portraits of presidents since that time.
All Kenya’s coins and bank notes issued between 1967 and 1978 depict the portrait of Jomo Kenyatta, who was the first president of Kenya. In 1980 Kenyatta’s portrait was replaced with that of Daniel arap Moi, who succeeded Kenyatta. In 2005 Kenyatta’s portrait was restored to the currency for political reasons.
When Mwai Kibaki became president of Kenya in 2002 he declared he would not allow his image to be placed on Kenya’s currency. In politics forever can be a short period of time. Only one year later a ringed bimetal 40-shillings coin on which President Kibaki is depicted was issued to mark Kenya’s 40th anniversary of independence.
Somewhere in all of the politics surrounding Kenya’s currency Article 231 (4) of the 2010 Kenya Constitution got lost. According to this article, coins and bank notes issued by the central bank may depict symbols of any aspect of Kenya, but may not depict any individual’s portrait.
Kenya is now finally attempting to enforce this provision. On August 18 Kenya Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia announced newly designed coins and bank notes will be issued in 2015. According to Kimemia, new designs reflecting the spirit of the constitution and the country’s development goals as envisioned in a modernization program called Vision 2030 will appear on the currency.
Kimemia said, “New currency with our country’s heritage as its key features will be unveiled in the next two years,” adding, “Kenyans should expect the new currency in February 2015, and thereafter withdrawal of the current currency which will be done in phases.”
Head of Communication Samson Burgei has since released a statement reading, “We are finalizing the details of the new look [bank] notes but we cannot exactly say when we will start rolling out the new currency. That will happen when tenders for new notes and coins are issued.”
New and hopefully non-human designs had not been unveiled at the time this article was being written. The Kenya Central Bank has made it public the bank is looking for designs that will emphasize agriculture, sports, tourism, national treasures, local culture and heritage, and both flora and fauna unique to Kenya.
A banking industry regulator who didn’t want his name used said the emphasis will be on elements unique to Kenya, the designs must be attractive, socially acceptable, and must be culturally relevant.
Anything more vibrant than Maria Theresia appearing on 1780-dated silver taler coins that circulated in the region during the 18th and 19th centuries or the three presidents that appear on coins of the 20th to 21st centuries will be an improvement.