By Billow Abdi Hassan:
Among Kenya’s former eight provincial administration units is a flat, arid and dry mainly pastoral land separating the country along a 700Km international border line from the only African Union member with the longest coast line that is gradually recovering from two and half decades old civil war and statelessness. With a close to 98% ethnic Somali residents, the 127,358.5 km2 under-developed and least populated region is known for its semi-arid and hot desert climate accompanied by the little and un-reliable annual rainfall. In the nearly 53 years Kenya was a republic, the least socially and economically advanced region was known to be one of main recipients, together with Turkana, of emergency humanitarian response by both local and international agencies. By default more than 80% of the residents in this region are prone to humanitarian crisis due to their low resilience level.
I think it’s the only region in Kenya were most of socio-economic and political problems affecting societies are found. Social problems like food insecurity, malnutrition, insecurity, lack of operational and effective institutions like schools and hospitals, under-employment just to list some of the main have become chronic. In all forms of development index North Eastern region has been holding at the rare positions. Good examples are the recently abolished ranking of schools performance in the national exams, the poor roads that become impassable in the event of some rain drops and the less equipped and understaffed hospitals. But something is showing signs of coming, something like the brightness of change that will resuscitate North Eastern. It just a matter of time…I am optimistic….I am hopeful and my dear hope is not going away.
When Problems Started
The north eastern province of Kenya has gone through nearly subsequent or simultaneous crises since it was first demarcated in 1925 by the British colonial administration as the northern frontier district (s). Before 2002, I think the only time there was some sort of fairness in the country was when the British were ruling Kenya for their selfish gain; we were forced to act against the natural laws of respect for human rights and absolute fairness in all systems of governance for evenly distributed national growth and development.
North Eastern Kenya has been living a difficult life full of confusion, restlessness, instability, insecurity, neglect, depression as just some of the conspicuous ones. But there are many more that did not come into sight or our notice. Before it was annexed from Jubaland in south Somalia in 1925, the pastoral community was part of a strong and powerful social fabric that was full of social cohesion and togetherness between the numerous Somali families. Starting from 1960 when the British colonies were dissolved and the then Northern Frontier District was handed over to Kenya nationalist as its new administrators a series of disasters started for the region.
The famous Shifta war was the deadliest and disastrous form of civil unrest the region has ever come through. According to a google document I once read as literature to review, as a response to the decline by the new Kenyan administrators to give up the NFD after independence, under the leadership of the popular Northern Province Peoples Progressive party (NPPP) Somali residents objected to the new decision which give rise to the famous shifta war. Based on what I read from existing literatures by re-known writers the outcome of the said war between a state and its own people was what I call genocide. Somalis were termed as hard-to-rule ethnicity in Kenya and government machineries like military (forces) were used to forcefully suppress them. They were charged against un-committed crimes, many curfews were bestowed and their movement was restricted to their remote towns.
Somalis were considered as war-lovers by the then Kenya media, always-armed, rioters, un-patriotic citizens among others. Some of the historical outcomes of this unconstitutional classification were the Wagala and Malkamari massacres that were executed under the leadership of the second president of Kenya, Daniel Troitich. Nearly 3000 Somalis were burnt after they were submerged in floods of large drainage of a flammable substance which were later ignited in what is now Wagalla Airstrip. According to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission formed in response to the deadly 2008 post-election violence, the massacre represents the worst human rights violation that has ever happened in Kenya! I don’t know why a similar commission was not formed at that time.
It is like our colonizers knew that we won’t rule ourselves very well when they hand power to us. As the Swahili people say mtoto akililia wembe mpe (if a child cries for a blade then give it to them). We cried out loudly for sovereignty and replacement of imported and dictatorial leadership with locally breed and democratic one! We claimed we will govern ourselves better and best. When power was transferred to us, the reverse of what we advocated for in our freedom songs were rampant. Nepotism, corruption, clannism, segregation and marginalization were the seeds of the bloods we had shade. We turned against each other in what is now globally known as a cold war.
There are no arms or military presence but you are taken through automated mechanisms which will automatically put you to be part of people in lower class or second class citizens as is contemporarily recognized in Kenya. Call it economic or social war as you may like it. Basically, in this methodology you are given the least considerations in the location of national resources and the public facilities at your vicinity are least empowered or under-resourced. Then you are done and you may even remain in that situation if God does decree otherwise in your favor.
The outputs of this specialized form of war manifest themselves in many but closely related forms. Your children will not get good education, your patients will stay longer on hospital beds or even die due to lack of appropriate medical services, you take longer than necessary to travel to your nearest destination, your overqualified son or daughter does not get shortlisted. It is that you educated through selling of fire-wood or scarce milk or more worse pulling behind you close to half a ton of twenty liters jerry cans full of salty and muddy water through the support of an emaciated donkey in your ever sunny, over-crowed and un-organized markets. May be it is a common method in the fifty three states in the black continent. Call it national prevalence enjoyed by a few of the total population to make it seem simple to comprehend. That’s what people in North Eastern Kenya have lived through.
The Clouds are Gathering, the Good Signs
A new dawn with a bright future is starting to shine over the north eastern Kenya. The pro-longed period of difficult living seems to be coming to an end and the long awaited happiness is almost bursting from its constraining warehouse. When you wait for goodness for long time with patience and hope then that specific goodness will definitely come; no situation is permanent. The goodness with this world is there are signs for everything that’s in the pipeline, whether good or bad. And if you don’t know, signs for coming good things always overwhelm their counterpart.
If I use the best of my forecasting powers, people in North Eastern Kenya have only a maximum of nearly ten years from the end of 2016 to wait before living conditions turn out to be the closest simulation of the good life in haven. Some of the long awaited routes to access development will come from within the region and the others from the external environment. The next thing you will ask me is what evidence I have for that. To give you a glimpse of what I am talking about then you have to look at my justifications described in part two of this article to be published next. Keept it Nepjournal.
Billow Abdi Hassan is Food Security and Livelihoods Analyst and Researcher with interest in Developmental and Social Research. He is the founder and Executive Director of Center for Research and Prosperity (CentReP) and contributor of Nep Journal.