SHENG: How the Corporate World Became Obsessed with the Street Language

Sheng is the fluid language of the ghettos and streets that gained currency in the 90’s and soon enough, became the modus operandi of all young Kenyans in bars and schools and streets and Churches and hangouts.

This ever-changing bhasha was founded by creative youths from the shanties and, with time, found itself in the homes of even the elite, the high-end and local political Leaders.

Because of the language’s street attractiveness and the youth’s -a constituency that corporations and political leaders can’t do without- affinity to it, Sheng has quickly become a language that most of the big heads must learn and incorporate in their daily interactions with young Kenyans to look chic and in-the-know.

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Now, Blue Chip companies have almost completely deserted English and Swahili in their online interactions with clients in favor of this street-based lingo.

Over the last few weeks, Kenyans on Twitter were left bemused after the Central Bank of Kenya – Ummm, yes – started tweeting furiously in Sheng.

Many wondered how an Institution as historically salient as the Hallowed Central Bank could stoop so low as to convey messages in Sheng.

But they did not stop – The tweets kept coming. And coming.

Never mind that they admitted to not knowing what a bunch of Sheng words meant and that they were tweeting in dated Sheng to start with.

Image result for patrick njoroge
CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge Photo/ FILE

But the fact that the Central Bank, the behemoth headed by the taut Patrick Njoroge – probably the most anti-street figure in these streets – was now indulging Kenyans in the language of the slums left many bewildered.

Central Bank is actually late to the foray.

Before they even brushed up on their sheng acumen, corporates like KCB, Safaricom, Airtel and many others had perfected the art of communicating to clients in pure sheng. Sometimes, I dare add, flawless Sheng.


Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga too, a man who, by all means, should have no business learning or conducting his business in Sheng, gained wide notoriety on Twitter for tweeting his thoughts in Sheng. Most of it, frankly, was shoddy and antiquated.


Now, as more and more eminent personalities keep rushing to the comfort of the gritty language to express themselves, there’s a new entrant into the ring. And he’s not disappointing.

Ever since he was posted to Kenya as the New US Ambassador, Mr. Kyle Mccarter has not slowed down on his zeal to show off his fluent grasp of Swahli and it’s appendage – Sheng.

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On Twitter, like all of his compatriots, the US Ambassador, again, a man who should have absolutely NO business dabbling in Sheng, tweets his daily updates in a mixture of Swahili and Sheng.

And Kenyans are not sure what to feel about that.

It’s not clear why corporates assume that the average Internet user in Kenya is definitely an avid Sheng user. Or what makes them assume that we did not learn any English or Swahili in School and thus, they always have to resort to this amorphous language to properly communicate to us.

It’s also not clear why the US Ambassador, or our so many loudmouth politicians, have to keep blathering away at us in Sheng.

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But of course, the casual observer will note that Sheng has now become a sweeping leviathan that has permeated all sections and corners of our society and, to be on the right side of the average ear, you have to dabble in it and throw in several words around before you’re phased out.

Kenyans online have not seen the last of respectable organizations and distinguished personalities talking to them in Sheng.

And Kenyans online are not sure if to find this whole Sheng spectacle amusing, annoying or just plain ridiculous.