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Return of the Diaspora, a curse or blessing for Northern Kenya?

By Suleiman Hassan.

blessingsWhen the Central Government of Somalia crumbled in the early nineties, there was mass exodus of Somalis that resulted in the biggest migration of a single community in the World.

Somalia as a result lost its best brains to either bullets or relocation to ‘better’ and peaceful places.

A similar hegira was in the offing in North Eastern Kenya until recently. While our brothers and sisters from Somalia were fleeing their trigger happy colleagues, the best brains of Northern Kenya were fleeing the ‘harsh and unproductive’ terrain of the region.

Employment opportunities were few and far between. The educated few never wanted to associate themselves with livestock rearing which formed the largest economic activity of this region, instead making it a preserve for the uneducated majority.

Social amenities such as schools and hospitals were ill equipped to put us at per with the rest of the Country.

We therefore flocked to the rest of Kenya in search of better education, healthcare and employment opportunities.

Anybody who could afford to take that route wasted no time. Those who could not afford were forced to stay put and become reliant on the ‘diaspora’ – their sons and daughters who made it to better and productive places.

The same sons of the soil whose parents endured hardships to bring them up never came back to do something about the prevailing situations until recently. They set up home in their new found areas of comfort and never wanted to associate themselves with this region again. Thanks God, blood lineage forced them to. They had to occasionally visit us for qaraaba salaan (family visits).

Government policies did not help either in uplifting a region deserted by its best brains. Successive governments made sure the status quo remained intact for reasons best known to them.

The situation was so grave that the region was used by the Government of the day as a correctional facility for civil servants. Anybody who misbehaved in the rest of Kenya was transferred here to teach him/her a lesson.

For us the Northerners, we always cried that we were marginalized by the State despite making no efforts of breaking that yoke. The leaders we elected along tribal lines ensured tumekaa hivo hivo (nothing changes) because every time they wanted our votes, they will promise to turn the sand into sugar only to forget about their promises when they found their way to the August house. We never took them to account and neither did they for they owed us no allegiance thanks to their financial and tribal muscle!

Fast forward, devolution set in and made it possible for billions of shillings to trickle down to the Counties. Then our ‘diaspora’ returned in order to help us manage our new found fortunes.

For the first time, some of our best brains came back to their home towns to take part in building their Counties albeit for their personal interests of making a fortune. Some got elected, others were appointed while many others came with briefcase companies that would carry out the actual ‘nation building’ activities.

Those who endured the hardship threw caution to the wind and welcomed their sons and daughters with open arms. We forgot our collective suffering such as lack of quality education and healthcare and instead jostled for control of the devolved funds and opportunities through clan realignments.

We shared positions along tribal lines and never considered ability and merit. The day we went to the ballot, we agreed to continue to wallow in poverty and hardship and instead make the lives of our ‘diaspora’ more comfortable.

I was privileged to traverse all the Counties in the region. What I saw made me believe that no one has this region at heart.

The slightest of development projects are initiated to create a money making opportunity for those in power, the connected few and their cronies. The end result will be substandard projects that may not last longer than the term of the incumbent regimes. This is a cycle I expect will continue repeating itself with the onset of every other new regime.

As a result, we will have nothing to celebrate after every five years. However, I expect the cries of ‘we are marginalized by the state’ to change to something like ‘we are marginalized by reer hebel (read clannism) who are at the helm at any given time.

So in order to take this region out of the economic quagmire, a complete paradigm shift is required.

For the leaders, stop the idea of creating money making opportunities. Any project you initiate must be of good quality and one that will last decades to come. Please also stop expecting returns (kickbacks) from such projects. For those of you who parachute into and out of their duty stations, please come back fully. Either remain in the diaspora or come and settle in the villages that you hail from! I was shocked to visit a senior elected leader in one of the counties in his residence only find a houseboy serving the guests. When I asked about the whereabouts of the big man’s family, I was told North Eastern was not fit for their settlement! Never mind their daily bread is generated here.

For the ‘Tenderpreneurs’, please don’t bid for any work whose skills and ability to carry out you don’t have. Put your region first. If you land that awesome contract, kindly give us quality jobs that will be witnessed by our great grand sons and daughters.

For us the subjects, let us not expect of our leaders any favors because they are our ‘sons’. Let us hold them to account objectively. Come next elections; let us elect anybody who can serve us ably and equally without looking at his tribal affiliation or financial ability. Together let us build our region!

For now though, I have no hope of seeing the situation of Northern Kenya change for the better any time soon, even with devolution!

We have let ourselves down, so did our diaspora. Northern is up for grabs!

Mr. Suleiman is a Nepjournal correspondent. He can be reached on

The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect that of


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About The Author

NepJournal is a progressive media initiative that aims to serve as the leading space where North Eastern Kenya’s leading thinkers, analysts and writers provide you, our readers, with new perspectives on all issues affecting the region. We aim to publish daring perspectives with original content, and beautifully written pieces, to give voice to writers and thinkers so as to inform, educate and empower our people.


  1. Deq Mohamud

    Mr. Suleiman, thank you for this article. I am sure you will find individuals in the middle of this mess agree with you hypocritically and this makes me sadder. What makes me even sadder is the fact that there is nothing I in particular can do about this dire situation in out counties. I know each one of us has an obligation to challenge the status quo and the rampant corruption but are either unwilling to sacrifice our comfort zone to combat this evil or are part of it ourselves. Please keep the good work of exposing these wrongs.



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