The Age Old Alienation Of Kenyan Somalis Still Rife
By HASSAN MALIK MOHAMED
Many are the times that members of the historically marginalized Somali community in the country bewailed over being on the receiving end of prejudice and demonization from different local quarters. Nonetheless, this communal gripe does not only still exist today, but it has also repulsively evolved into a precariously ticking time bomb in spite of the apparent surge in our open-mindedness and awareness of human rights and the harmonious values in our Constitution as Kenyans.
A foremost manifestation of this aggravated anti- Somali broadsides has come in the form of propagation of a swelling histrionic notion both through mainstream and social media orifices that the community wants to ” take over” the country via a demographic and commercial upstage.
Although the community has a high rate of child births as we saw in the findings of the 2009 national population census where it recorded the highest fertility rate in the country for a decade and has as well managed to attract a significant attention over successes in individually- owned entrepreneurial ventures, these endeavors, realistically speaking, neither have the intention nor potential of launching a takeover.
The highpoint births is obviously expected in the community since there is generally a low practise of family planning, especially due to the Somali cultural and religious influence that encourages sexual reproduction in the family. The other more fundamental motivation behind the high fertility is the invariable peak in infant mortality in Somali- predominant areas that results from factors such as poverty and lack of access to quality healthcare, hence the need to compensate for the rapid infant deaths. A 2014 report by UNFPA Kenya for instance ranked the Northeastern county of Mandera with the highest infant mortality rate of 3,795 per 100,000 live births. It was followed by Wajir county with 1,683 deaths. Isiolo and Marsabit had also closely recorded an infant mortality rate of 790 and 1,127 respectively.
Thus far, I have not come across a Somali siring children for a political imperative. Similarly, marriages consummated for political reasons are a rare occurrence in the community and the practise is conspicuously confined to a tiny few power- interested elites at the local level.
As regards business wealth, it is very simplistic for anyone to draw conclusion on the community’s economic health based on the commercial assets or wealth of a few ethnic members. It is well known that the economic mainstay of the Somali tribe is livestock keeping, and not owning business stalls as is affectedly made to look even by some Somali political elites who “guard” their wealth behind this fake ‘Somali rising’ narrative . In truth, the economic status of Somalis was patently revealed in a recent survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics which positioned two of the three counties in the North Eastern region- which is notably the base area for majority of the members of the tribe- among the poorest places in Kenya. The two counties were Mandera, and Garissa which in that regard is disgracefully my home county.
To illuminate this point further, it is said that only two familial dynasties control much of the wealth and politics of Garissa county. But their tall commercial buildings and soaring political stature has never hidden or enliven the sunken eyes of many local residents who are hunger- stricken and whose struggles are time and again recounted in the national and international media houses in the hope for relevant aid. There are instances where some locals couldn’t even bear the pangs of hunger and desperately registered themselves as refugees in the nearby refugee camps, a decision that came back to haunt them later on in terms of acquiring the national identity card since their bio data reflected that they were refugees. It took President Uhuru’s directive during the later years of his first term of presidency to offer them a new lease of life as citizens.
One of those meddlers who like to spread misinformation about Somalis is an undeveloped legislator from Nyeri county who recently even went to the extent of penning an article that laughably questioned the amount of money that the government disburses to constituencies in North Eastern region, not realizing that Nyeri— and I have been to that beautiful county like two years ago– and North Eastern region are completely not on the same development wavelength owing to historical economic inequalities, which is the reason for counties in the former North Eastern province being specially entitled to a share of the equalization fund from the exchequer on top of receiving devolution monies.
Such misleading voices need to grasp that historically North Eastern region has been used more as a military buffer than a development zone which elucidates why even in our present whiles there is more presence of security boots there than development professionals and organizations.
In the context of security and particularly the advent of the war against terrorism, the Somali populaces in the country have cried foul about ethnic profiling, extra judicial killings and blanket victimization. Unease about these grievances recently pushed a group 244 Kenyan Somalis from Liboi to seek refuge in the nearby town of Dobley in Somalia. They displayed their Kenyan identity cards as evidence that they were indeed part of us, but reiterated that they weren’t going to return until their fears were acceptably put to rest. On balance, whereas most Somalis in the country do fully support the fight against Alshabab, it is however this feeling of alienation and not being trusted that “kills” the community’s social confidence which is what cooperation to solving the problem is largely dependent on.
The habit of offering political or technocratic positions in government to a few elites in the community has factually failed to substantively lessen the collective communal grievances since those who mostly get these posts end up being nothing more than myopic agents of their bellies and sometimes some of them even damage the very image of the community through their impropriety and, or incautious behaviour in public offices.
With their mission to unite Kenyans, I humbly request both the president and the former premier to importantly prioritize ending this colonial- type of suspicion and hostility towards Somalis, as if they are lesser citizens, and comprehensively institutionalize their integration into the mainstream communities.
Mr. Mohamed is a sociopolitical columnist based in Garissa town.