Northern Kenya: the forgotten land of plenty.
Over the years, Kenyan government has ignored North Eastern Province predominantly inhabited by Kenyans of Somali origin. The government has treated these people as second class citizens and used draconian law that has seen thousands dead, thousands widowed and thousands left orphans.
The Kenyan government neglected North Eastern Province apparently because the natives have been ‘forced’ to be Kenyans. For one to understand the whole issue properly, it is necessary to take you back to the history of this province.
The people of North Eastern were made to join Kenya without their consent because when the Kenya government waged what is called the bandit or shift war in 1963 majority of the people of N.E province could have been happy to be allowed to join their brothers and sisters in Somalia.
The year 1963 remains memorable for the people of Northern Kenya as their men joined the Somalia-backed Northern Frontier District Liberation Movement (NFDLM) to fight the Kenyan forces that were heavily deployed in the region. The fighting worsened and the Kenyan government used very crude and barbaric methods of quelling the separatist forces including: declaring a State of Emergency in the region, allowing the military to detain suspects for 2 months without taking them to court and restricting the right to assembly and movement of the people of Northern Kenya. A ‘prohibited zone’ was created along the Somali border, and the death penalty was made mandatory for unauthorized possession of firearms. “Special courts” without guarantee of due process were also created. The northeast — declared a “special district” — was subject to nearly unfettered government control, including the authority to detain, arrest or forcibly move individuals or groups, as well as confiscate possessions and land. However, as part of its effort to reassure the public, the Voice of Kenya, the state Radio was warned not to refer to the conflict as a “border dispute”, while a special government committee decided to refer to the rebels as “shiftas” in order to minimize the political nature of the war.
The war ended when Somalia stopped aiding the NFDLM due to a Memorandum of Understanding between the two states signed in Zambia by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the then Somalia’s PM and president Kenyatta of Kenya.
The aftermath of this MoU was the beginning of a lot of mistreatment to the people of North Eastern part of Kenya. The war thus marked the beginning of decades of violent crackdowns and repressive measures by the police in the N.E province coupled with trumped-up allegations and unsubtle innuendo on the part of the Kenyan media charging the region’s almost exclusively Somali inhabitants with “banditry” and other vice
A particularly violent incident referred to as the Wagalla Massacre took place in 1984, when the Kenyan provincial commissioner Mr. Benson Kaaria, ordered security forces to gather 5000 men of the Somali Degodia clan onto the airstrip at Wagalla, Wajir, open fire on them, and then attempt to hide their bodies. In the year 2000, the government admitted to having killed 380 people, though independent estimates put the toll at over 2000.
Not until late 2000 under the administration of Provincial Commissioner Mohammoud Saleh — a Somali—was there a serious drop in violent activities, partially attributable to Saleh’s zero tolerance policy towards abuse by security forces. Ironically, Saleh himself was the target of the local police, having been arrested and booked several times during the wee hours of the night. Wearing plain clothes, Saleh was apparently mistaken for an ordinary inhabitant of the N.E province.
The Kenyan government apparently neglected the region in terms of infrastructure, education, healthcare making the region not better than Somalia in terms of development.
To start with the infrastructure, the region doesn’t have proper network roads which are essential for development. It takes you 24 hours to travel from Garissa, the headquarters of the province to Mandera, the farthest town. There is no single national school in the province and the students’ performance is so pathetic that there was only one high school student with an A (above 80%) since 1984 when the 8.4.4 educational system was implemented in Kenya and most of the schools don’t have educational equipments.
In healthcare, there isn’t a single referral hospital and most sick people go to as far as Nairobi for treatment.
To add insults to injuries, the government of Kenya formed a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) on 22 July 2009, with Bethwel kiplagat, accused of being among the masterminds of wagalla Massacre, being appointed the chairman. Calls for him to quit land on deaf ears up to date.
The list of sufferings of the people of North Eastern province is endless. But I equally blame the Somali business community from the area for they contributed to the region’s underdevelopment; so too are their leaders who pay an occasional visit to the province.
The goverment of Kenya need to whole heartedly decide to improve the lives of the people of N.E province, to market their livestocks, encaurage them do irrigational farming and also advise the Somali enterprenuers to invest in that region.
Finally what is the way out from the mess in North Eastern? The most important thing is to find young, able and educated men and women to spearhead the anticipated change that we need in North Eastern province. These youths should shun tribalism which is the root cause of the backwardness that embattled the Somalis wherever they are.
Second is to find a way that the mother Somalia can stand on her own legs such that the Somalis could be able to have two ‘nations’. this is because it’s clear in the minds of all Somalis, whether from Kenya, Ethiopia or Somalia that the common East African will assume that you are from Somalia by dint of your physical appearance however you try to refute it.