Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Ahmed Daud Hassan, a Somali-Kenyan from north-eastern Kenya's Dadaab
district, says he waited more than 27 years to receive his national
identification card before finally giving up.
Hassan, 52, said he stopped trying after numerous attempts to obtain
the document failed, even though it has caused problems for his five
children as well.
"Four of my children are past 18 years old and they cannot get an
identification card either," he told Sabahi. "It is a requirement that
to get an identification card, one must produce their parents'
"They all did well in high school but they cannot progress with
further education because they do not have identification to allow them
to even venture out of Dadaab district," he said.
Hassan said his freedom of movement was restricted and he cannot
rightfully own any property or vote without an identification card.
Complicating matters, Somali residents of Dadaab district often are
confused with Somali refugees who live in the local refugee camp
"No one believes us that we are Kenyans; that makes us feel like
refugees in our own country. In my life I have never left Dadaab,"
It is difficult and risky to travel outside the district without an
ID, even to seek medical attention, said 46-year-old Farhiya Mohammed
"This is like our little prison," she told Sabahi. "Those who travel
without identifications cards risk arbitrary arrests and convictions for
being in the country illegally, yet they are Kenyans."
"I did very well in high school but I could not go to university because I was branded a foreigner," she said.
After failing to get an ID card, Hussein got married and had four
children, forgoing higher education. "Unless something changes, even if
[ethnic Somali students] perform well in school, they will be just like
District residents plan to organise a demonstration after Ramadan to
press for the speedy issuance of identification cards for locals,
Government taking precautions
The government is taking precautions in issuing identification cards
because Somali-Kenyans and Somali nationals are a homogeneous community,
according to Dadaab District Officer Bernard ole Kipury.
The government has created ID card vetting committees in every
village in the region to scrutinise applicants carefully, he said.
"The committees comprise government officers, the registrar of
persons, intelligence officials and community leaders who help identify
that applicants indeed belong to the community," he said.
Under normal circumstances, processing identification cards takes at
most three months, Kipury told Sabahi, but it can take longer in the
north-eastern region because of security concerns in Dadaab and the
Some applicants will not receive identification cards if
cross-checking with refugee databases confirms that they previously
registered as refugees, he said.
Kipury said vetting committees in the north-eastern region were
underfunded compared with other regions, and he also acknowledged that
some have been disbanded because of corruption allegations.
"On some occasions, residents have reported that some of the
committee members engage in unethical practices like receiving bribes
from foreigners to get the document," he said. "Whenever we establish
illegal issuance of the cards, the process is stopped to facilitate
investigations and [form] new committees."
The committees' work, nonetheless, is vital in helping to safeguard the north-eastern region, he said.
Somali-Kenyans are 'basically stateless'
According to lawmaker Aden Keynan Wehliye, who represents the Eldas
constituency, thousands of area residents have no identification cards, a
perennial problem that has grown worse because of suspected al-Shabaab
"Since Kenya sent its military to Somalia, the government has been
suspicious of issuing identification cards on suspicion that the crucial
document will fall [into the hands of] criminal elements posing as
Kenyans to commit criminal acts," he told Sabahi.
Regional leaders have repeatedly asked the government not to use the
refugee and security pretexts to deny lawful residents identification
cards, Wehliye said, but government promises of making it easier for
north-eastern Kenyan residents to obtain identification cards have yet
to be fulfilled.
The north-east is the only region of Kenya where national ID
applicants have to undergo rigorous security procedures, Wehliye said.
Applicants must show their parents' and grandparents' identification
cards, and sometimes interviewers ask them to speak in Swahili, he said.
"It is more difficult for those living in and around the Dadaab
refugee camps to be recognised by their own government and issued with
identification cards," he said.
"Most of the residents in the region lack identity. They are
basically stateless," Wehliye said. "They cannot register as Kenyans and
they cannot even register as refugees. It is a predicament, which I
personally will bring to the attention of parliament soon to find a