Somali community in Kenya: The Other Kenyans?
The 2010 Constitution contains strong values through which everyone, regardless of ethnicity, class, religion or identity would fairly be able to achieve their potential and respect for the community from the rest of the nation. The Constitution guarantees individuals and communities that had been denigrated in the past that they too fully belong to Kenya and should enjoy all the benefits of citizenship. One such community that has been a victim of endless political and social victimization and marginalization is the Somali Community.
Geo-Sociological Profile of Somalis
The majority of the Somali people in Kenya are found in the former North Eastern Province (NEP) now made up of 3 major counties, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera (part of the former colonial “Northern Frontier District” or NFD). Not only have the Somalis been marginalized, but there has been near conspiracy by successive governments to disinherit them of their nationality as Kenyans. In fact the running joke that has survived for decades in the 3 major counties where majority of Somalis live has been to restrict the geographical reference of “Kenya” to regions outside the NFD. In many ways, those residents in NEP never felt socially or politically connected to the rest of Kenya. The feelings might have been mutual since Kenyans from other parts of the country usually know about NEP when it comes to drought and insecurity; many consider insecurity as the major defining characteristic of the region.
Luckily, concerted effort by the community, working though all odds to educate their children and campaigning aggressively for their inclusion in formal sectors of Kenyan society has borne fruits in the last decade. We have seen more and more people of Somali ethnic background in senior positions in both government and non-governmental agencies. We also now see many leading Somali professionals and businesspeople. This has significantly boosted the morale of Somalis, especially the youth, to seek better opportunities for formal learning. However, years of marginalization still make life for the community overly difficult since basic infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, are lacking in most area where the majority of Somalis live.
The Constitution has provided an additional boost for Somalis’ inclusion within the Kenyan society. Constitutional policies that require inclusion have meant that more and more Somalis have had realistic opportunities of getting better public service jobs, while new formula for demarcating constituency boundaries have seen more representatives from Somali communities in the National Assembly. Importantly, devolution is slowly revolutionising what was the NFD. Guaranteed funds for counties have meant that significant resources for development and social programmes are being channelled to the “Somali” region.
Roots of marginalization
To understand the marginalization of the Somali community in Kenya it is important first to understand the history of the Northern Frontier District starting with how colonization set off decades of marginalization of the Somali community in Kenya. The colonial boundaries established in the 1900s did not take into consideration the different ethnic groups who were likely to be affected by the boundaries. Instead it divided communities. However, and perhaps luckily, disregarding the artificial boundaries, Somalis tried to ensure that they remained united with their kin from other parts of the horn of Africa including Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and the greater Somalia. This was made possible by their strong family ties, culture, religion and their pastoralist and nomadic lifestyles. British colonial regime enacted draconian laws to manage these communities and ensure that they did not lose control and “ownership” of the NFD to the Italians.
A report by Kenya Human Rights Commission, titled “Foreigners at Home”, indicates that the first such law was the Outlying District Ordinance in 1902 which effectively closed the NFD. Movement in and out of the area was restricted, and entry and exit to and from the region was only possible for bearers of a special pass. The Special Districts (Administration) Ordinance (1934) and the Stock Theft and Produce Ordinance (1933) gave the colonial administrators extensive powers to arrest, restrain, detain, and seize properties of “hostile tribes”. The Ordinance’s purpose was: “…to provide for the recovery of fines imposed on Africans (including Somalis) for the theft of stock or produce by levy on the property of the offender or his family, sub-tribe or tribe…”. The Somalis suffered greatly from this Ordinance.
In 1962 a referendum in the NFD on whether its residents wished to join the Somali Republic or be part of Kenya (the region called Kenya was at that time made up of three separate entities: the NFD, 10 mile coastal strip and rest of Kenya), the Somali community vote overwhelmingly to join the republic of Somalia. This democratic right was disregarded; instead, the independent state of Kenya scaled up the earlier coercive measures. For instance laws were enacted which gave the president the power to rule the NFD by decree, allowing him to circumvent the legislature. The NFD would be turned into a security zone, effectively only allowing security personnel and limited number of civil servants to enter. The inhabitants of NFD could hardly move outside the region. This opened up many incidents of physical abuse of NFD residents by the state perhaps with the worst in recent times being the Wagalla massacre, on the pretext that government was undertaking it to disarm community members in Wajir. The running government maintained that NFD was inhabited by “Shifta bandits” and this provided a “licence” to the government to engage in endless human rights abuses including the collective punishment of the community. The formal profiling and stereotyping of Somalis as a hostile community saw members of the Somali community ill treated and abused, even when outside the NFD. Unfortunately, some of this thinking persists to date and the recent targeting of Somali community members by the state during the Operation Usalama Watch is a case in point.
Security and resource allocation
Before the implementation of devolution, most resources that the government dedicated to NEP were for security operations. While devolution has ensured more money for development and social activities in the NEP, the bulk t of the resources of the national government continue to be spent on security operations. Unfortunately not to secure and protect communities as expected but to intimidate and harass them.
In fact the enactment, in 1970, of the Indemnity Act is a sure confirmation of government’s complacency in harassing communities in NFD. The Act is the State’s official policy to exonerate from any liability any security agents who committed atrocities against the community during the period between 25th December 1963 to 1stDecember 1967. Interestingly, in 2010, civil society organizations led by Consortium for the Empowerment and Development of Marginalized Communities (CEDMAC) and working with Hon. Mohammed Abdi Affey sponsored a Bill to repeal the Indemnity Act to allow for these historical injustices to be addressed and also allow the TJRC process to engage with the matter effectively but the then President Kibaki refused to assent to the bill passed by Parliament.
Since the community has been viewed as alien by successive regimes, the government introduced stringent measures when it came to the issuance of identity cards to its members. For Somalis to acquire IDs they are required to prove their citizenship beyond what non-Somalis have to. For instance whereas other Kenyans who are applying for IDs are only required to produce the IDs of their parents, for Somalis they have to undergo a vetting and screening process whereby they are required to produce their grandparents’ birth certificates or IDs or any other document that the registration officers may feel are required. Ironically these documents are demanded even though, historically, rarely were communities from the region issued with those documents. Luckily, the strong citizenship and non-discrimination and inclusion provisions of the Constitution and extensive lobbying by different bodies and CSOs have seen the official outlawing of the requirement that other documents apart from parents IDs be produced before registration. However, and in spite of the law, this practice persists till now, its more of a norm than an exception. Worse, Somali youths are constantly being required to show the immunization mark to prove they are truly Kenyans ignoring the fact that due to the historical neglect of the region most of the communities did not and still do not have access to modern health facilities and many Kenyan children in the region were never immunized in the first place.).
The Constitution and especially devolution have given the Somali community a sense that it is only a matter of time before they can fully assert their true and deserved place within Kenya. Unfortunately, even with a transformative Constitution, for Somalis, the struggle for inclusion remains a frustrating struggle because of the ingrained stereotypes that have persisted for decades.