Somalis in Kenya a second class citizens in their own country

By Ibrahim Rashid Hassan
Friday, January 11, 2008


North Eastern KenayNorth Eastern province or NEP as it is popularly known, occupies north eastern part of Kenya with harsh arid and semi-arid kind of climate and it’s predominantly and entirely occupied by the Somali community with mostly eighty percent of the regions population residing in the rural areas, with pastoralism being the main economic activities followed by agro-pastoralism being practiced around the two main rivers of the region; that is river Tana in Garissa and river Dawa in Mandera. But this potential has not been utilized fully by the people though they have tried their level best to do so. The reason being that the government has failed to invest in the agricultural sector of the region, and this fact is clearly shown by the absence of even single irrigation scheme in the whole region and the dilapidated state affairs of the farmers training centers (FTC’s) which would have been used to train farmers on improved agricultural skills. Hence that is why the people of the region have been forced to import almost all their household needs to the point of importing vegetables from the neighboring Central province, even though Tana River the biggest river in Kenya is passing right next to our doors.


The region has the largest livestock population hence the largest exporter of life animals from Kenya to mostly the Middle Eastern countries with Saudi Arabia taking the lions share, the current government and the previouse administrations did not improved on the above developments by investing in the region’s livestock sector by improving the dilapidated and long forgotten livestock sector that has been forgotten for nearly two decades and half, but rather are always quick to impose quick quarantine policies on livestock movement on the slightest rumors of  animal disease breakouts reported.


The rights of all Kenyan citizens are guarded and is enshrined in the Kenyan constitution and is enjoyed by all citizens of the country, but then when that right is not equally shared by all citizens one will ask himself “am I not a citizen”? And when you continue to have difficulties in access most of your basic rights like having a national identity card (I.D) and acquiring a passport then one will wonder if he is a second class citizen in his own country. This is an opinion shared by most Kenyan Somalis who have undergone the daily ritual of reporting to the district government offices concerned with l.D issuing every Friday and Thursday of the week, since only those two days were allocated for this activity as if the item is in short demand which in reality is contrary to that. The lucky ones will probably receive their I.D after one and half years and the same applies to receiving a passport with instructions to prove whether your grandfather was a Kenyan, and in a community known for their mobility pattern because of their pastoralist nature its often difficult to prove ones birthday let alone producing his grandfathers I.D card. Hence one can imagine the difficulties Kenyan Somali go through daily in order to get their basic rights as compared to other Kenyans.


I was living in Tanzania one time as a student for four years, and there is no single day the authorities their asked me for an I.D, but back home, especially during the holidays every single street you pass, day and night the police are there to ask you to produce an I.D, to prove you are really Kenyan, otherwise you are locked up in a jail until your relatives proof otherwise to the police, or be wise and give a bribe to buy your freedom. Its hell on earth when you try to travel from any part of north eastern towards Nairobi because there are countless roadblocks manned by the Kenyan police just to harass innocent NEP residents to carry their national I.D cards at all times, a policy that is selective and does not apply to other Kenyans.


Goats at NEP

NEP: Largetest livestock population in Kenya

Ignorance to the part of the Kenyan officials is to blame mostly for above mentioned problems i.e that all the Somalis are from Somalia a fact which clearly manifests itself when having a conversation with down country Kenyan who will ask you what region of Somalia Garissa belongs to when you tell them you are from Garissa, and to a large extent the fact that immediately after independence the then Somalis in Northern Frontier district (NFD) now North Eastern Province (NEP) overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining the greater Somalia, hence its this phobia that still exists, that may be one day the region will revert back to Somalia, even when the residents have no desire to so. And secondly it's because the rate of population growth in North eastern province is much higher than any other province because of high fertility rate. This has caused some unfound fears that with more population the People in NEP will have more say in the country.


The fact that NEP population is on the rise with skilled man power and a potential area for economic investment both in the livestock sector, farming with irrigation and the potential to discover oil and gas in the region has brought unfound fears that the area will bask in the lime light of economic prosperity at the expense of the formerly politically right regions especially central region. Powerful forces in politics and in the media houses have one time labeled the region "nothing except problems" in place of North Eastern Province (NEP) in an effort to curtail the progress the region has so far made.


Another front the enemy of the region were using since independence was insecurity and they were quick to point out tribal clashes and banditry to scare away would be investors, Donors and other international NGO's from investing in NEP, a policy which has worked for nearly three decades until president Daniel Arab Moi found out that, the counter-productive policies his government was using to retard development in the region will soon come out and tarnish the government’s image in a region that has loyally been stronghold of the ruling party since independence and his quick realization that his time in office as a president  is up, partly because of the constitutional two term limit and most importantly  his understanding that KANU which has been in power since independence will lose the elections to the opposition sooner than later, as it eventually did.


Therefore in an attempt to bury the conspiracy and the double game the government was playing, president MOI appointed the former deputy Rift Valley provincial commissioner Mr. Mohamud Ali Saleh a Somali native of NEP as the Provincial commissioner of North Eastern Province in 1999. Of course being a resident of the region himself he dedicatively and loyally served the region and he tried his level best  to try and bring the region out of all the mayhem and problems that it found itself was entangled with, and be in the same playing level field with the other regions of the country.


The new provincial commissioner (PC) was successful in bringing a lasting peace to the region just within the first month of his tenure and that is why NEP is now the most peaceful region of Kenya and can productively concentrate on economic development, however the government which used to give insecurity as the main reason for underdevelopment in the region has not taken any steps to initiate development in the region and there are no signs to indicate that things will be different in the second term of president Mwai Kibaki.


The region has a highly skilled labor but with low employment rate caused by the centralized system that saw most of the jobs that rightfully belonged to the residents of the region being taken away by people from other provinces and failure by the government to invest in youth affairs and lack of direct investment coupled with the failure to implement the district devolution act that would have empowered  the local people has caused the skilled labor of the region to out migrate to South Africa only to be brought back dead and in coffins. The region is the second biggest in the country after Rift valley, but rift valley has 45 districts where NEP has only 6 districts, and in a country where districts are the basis for resource allocation it can rightfully be said that unemployment was officially created in the region by the government to deny the residents their rights and a piece of the National cake.


Kenya is said to have a stable democracy as compared to other African countries, though that image has now been tarnished with the re-election of Mwai Kibaki as the president of Kenya for a second term through a massive vote rigging as claimed by the opposition and the international community, the region has also not benefited from the so called stable democracy by not electing capable people into parliament but rather voting on tribal lines even when the voters know the candidates they are electing would not fight for their rights in parliament. Voter ignorance in the region were illiteracy is extremely high was caused by lack of civic education for the public, and the fear of the politicians that if the public is educated on their rights then it will be hard for them to cheat their constituents and hence hard to be re-elected on empty promises written in English that the ordinary Somali pastoralist can not read and understand. The power of civic education in Kenya was clearly seen when people chose orange over the banana to defeat the flawed draft constitution.


Finally now that the tenth parliament is on session, and the people of NEP have now elected more responsible, capable and educated people to the parliament like Farah Maelin of Lagdera constituency and Yussuf Hajji the current minister of Defense in the current government, its expected that things will improve for the better now that we have qualified people at decision and policies making organs of the government, Incase its hard to give the residents their rights, considering them to be entitled to the universal declaration of human rights which Kenya is signatory to, will be appropriate.

Ibrahim Rashid Hassan

Email: [email protected]

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