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Harambee literally means "all pull together" in Swahili. Community events may range from informal affairs lasting a few hours, in which invitations are spread by word of mouth, to formal, multi-day events advertised in newspapers. These events have long been important in parts of East Africa, as ways to build and maintain communities.

Following Kenya's independence in 1963, the first Prime Minister, and later first President of Kenya, Jomo 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, pledging that the government would provide their startup costs. Under this system, wealthy individuals wishing to get into politics could donate large amounts of money to local harambee drives, thereby gaining legitimacy; however, such practices were never institutionalised during Kenyatta's presidency.

Controversy

Some conservative Christians in Kenya have opposed the use of the word "Harambee," alleging that it is derived from an expression of praise to a Hindu deity: Ambee Mata (a reincarnation of Durga riding a Tiger). The railway linesmen carrying huge loads of iron rails and sleeper blocks would chant "har, har ambee!" (praise praise to Ambee mother) when working. The first president, Jomo Kenyatta has been said to have witnessed a railway line team as it worked in cohesion and harmony. It represented the metaphor he wanted to reflect: a nation working together and communicating and sharing its load. Others dismiss such objections, arguing that this explanation of the word's origin, even if true, is irrelevant to its modern usage and meaning.[1][2]

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