Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hopelessness of Kenya's Northern Regions


In 1884, in the European city of Brussels, the King of Belgium, Leopold II, chaired a lavish conference that came to be known in history as the Scramble for Africa. In this conference, European powers divided up Africa among themselves. This slicing of the African continent triggered the most repugnant territorial division in recorded history. Somalis, who had for centuries wandered in an expansive land as livestock herders, became victims of Europe's deliberate redistribution of their lands and demarcation of their borders. It was only Seyyid Muhammad Abdille Hassan, a man described by the British as "Mad Mullah", who inspired what became known as Somali nationalism and the struggle for independence-a bitter struggle for self-determination that dragged on for over twenty years until his death in the early part of the 19th century. Power struggles within the European powers led to the dismemberment of Somali inhabited lands in to five separate entities. These included French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, the Ogaden, and the Northern Frontier Districts (NFD). British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland united to form the Republic of Somalia in 1960. French Somaliland got independence in 1977 and became Djibouti. The Ogaden, a vast region predominantly inhabited by Somalis became part of the Kingdom of Ethiopia while NFD was given to Kenya despite a referendum carried out in 1953 recording over 90% of the inhabitants of this vast region voting in favor of joining the Republic of Somalia.

As the people of Somalia enjoyed peace and prosperity from the time of independence in 1960 up until 1991 when the central government collapsed, the cluster of tribes inhabiting Kenya’s Eastern and North Eastern provinces have been living under the oppressive governments of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi such that the scars inflicted on them remain visible to this day. These poor peripatetic communities who have been up to their throats for centuries became victims of orchestrated collective punishments; they endured concentration camps similar in some ways to those of Nazi Germany and Czarist Russia; they bore the brunt of repeated massacres; they saw the rape of their women; they had their material possessions confiscated at random and above all they continue to experience the same dreaded conditions to this day.

One wonders why the infamous Wagalla massacre outside of Wajir town on the bloodletting day of February 14, 1984 has evaded constitutional and legislative considerations despite the loss of hundreds of lives and the displacement of thousands. Events of the massacre painstakingly filmed by Dr Annalena Tonelli and handed over to the Kenya government seem to have been swept under the carpet and never acknowledged by the Kenya government despite outcries from all walks of life. Dr. Annalena Tonelli was immediately expelled from Kenya by the then Internal Security minister, Justus ole Tipis (unfortunately a Maasai himself) after this horrific event. Annalena Tonelli was an Italian nun and recipient of Fridjof Nanasen Award (named after Norwegian explorer) for her dedication in working with refugees in Africa. Inexplicably and apprehensively, the only witness who would enlighten how events unfolded on that fateful day in Wajir, Dr. Annalena Tonelli, was gunned down by a lone gunman in 2003 in the town of Borama in the current unrecognized breakaway republic of Somaliland. This courageous woman whose humanitarian activities did not represent any government, missionary or agency, finally got her lasting wish: her body was transported by plane and buried in the very haunting town where the dreaded massacre that she was an eyewitness to took place, Wajir. Ironically, majority of the dead in this mass annihilation belonged to the Degodia clan. In addition, the Degodia had been at variance with the Ogaden and Ajuran clans of Wajir town over land for a long time which frequently resulted in clashes that did not augur well with the Kenya government. Proliferation of small arms available to every clan exacerbated clan rivalry. Soldiers deserting Somalia and Ethiopia reinvigorated Kenya clans’ dwindling arms markets with replenishment of light weapons in exchange for money, livestock, and wives. Such worrying trends rekindled Kenya’s perception of the old shifta uprising of the sixties and seventies.

The torturous and draconian laws that exclusively applied only to the Kenya-Somali Community immediately after Kenya’s attainment of independence in 1963, was grudgingly lifted during the run-up to the multi-party elections during President Moi’s tenure of office-not as a gesture of goodwill but because of heavy pressure from within the country and by concerted efforts of the international community that demanded democratic reforms. Likewise, in the span of two decades, the town Garissa went through two devastating massacres of equal proportions. In these two horrifying events that received little international media attention, hundreds of unarmed civilians were shot to death point blank range. Ravenous crocodiles feasted on uncountable corpses thrown in to the Tana River. The collective rape of women and young school girls by the security forces left many lives in utter shock. In these two incidents, the residents of Garissa were hounded into unhygienic concentration camps and kept under guard by well armed security personnel for days without food and water until some of the frail and elderly and infant children succumbed to their own deaths. The outbreak of contagious diseases caused by lack of sanitation added to their misery. As nights fell, residents slept in the open with full exposure to blustery cold temperatures coupled with bites from the deadly African mosquitoes that cause fatal malaria. At daytime they had to endure the scorching heat of the tropical sun with no roof over their heads. Acute dehydration saw many feeble souls pass away while groaning in pain under the watchful eyes of the heavily armed soldiers. Due to government leverage over the media, little news regarding these two incidents leaked out of the country.

From these events we are able to adduce evidence of tribal hostilities, legal prejudices, political exploitation by unscrupulous Somali and non-Somali politicians, territorial ambitions emanating from scarcity of resources, and adverse living conditions-conditions dictated by mother nature in poor tribal societies whose only source of income was livestock-livestock that solely depended on scarce rain followed by intermittent drought that decimated a great many populations scavenging for the few available resources in a vast desert-whipped Somali Abbo and Somali regions stretching from the Northen tip of Moyale to the southern topography of Garissa.

Students interested in the history of NFD need exploit the atrocious wars between the Auliyan-a sub clan of the Ogaden-Somali and the heavily equipped British Colonial Administration. Names like the Sakuye and Murille may at first sound non-Somali though the vast majority of these tribes concentrate in Wajir and Mandera respectively to as far as Moyale, Marsabit, and Isiolo in the expansive Eastern Province-a land formerly known as the Northern Frontier Districts. Though little has been mentioned about the exquisite Wardey-a clan that originally owned this vast region-history students need to remember that their original name was Gabbra or Galla. Names like Hargeisa, Garbaharey, Caabudwaaq, Afmadow and many other towns, places, and villages that now form part of Somali territories, have their origin in the Wardey and Borana vernacular languages.

From the little historical knowledge we have about NFD, the first batch of men on horseback consisted of bachelor warriors who started their journey in the current Somali region occupied by Ethiopia or most likely from other parts of Somalia traversing thousands of miles until they reached areas occupied by the Wardey (Oromo) and the Malakote-people of Bantoid features who still live along the Tana Tiver on subsistence farming and fishing. These dyed-in-the-wool men intermarried with the Wardey and thereafter set up permanent settlements for Islamic religious propagation. Perhaps, massive influx of Somali migrants followed until the capture of the region was finalized before the arrival of the British and Italian colonial administrations. Tribal clashes weakened the Somali desire to form governable permanent settlements of their own. In later years, the use of divide-and-rule tactics applied by the European powers fragmented social coherence and also displaced many nomadic families settled around water holes. The birth of the nation of Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta in 1963 and the preceding Somali political irredentism of the 60s created worrying predicaments for the nomadic tribes living in the former NFD and further dashed any hopes for social equality and economic emancipation.

The creation of the Shifta armed movement funded by the Somali government placed great pains on the infant Kenya government. Land mines buried beneath the region’s rough roads placed great burden on the security operations of the Kenya government-encumbrances that prompted the Kenya government to embark on the creation of concentration camps which progressed in to permanent settlements afterwards. Despite its infancy, the Kenya government undertook tremendous efforts to militarize unstable areas and in June of 1963, even before attainment of independence, military posts had been established in the towns of Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera followed by smaller outposts set up in Buna, Malka-Mari, Gurar, and Moyale.

The main arm of the shifta movement was the Northern Frontier District Liberation Front (NFDLF) headed by guerilla fighters who were exclusively from the former NFD. Initially, the main artery that nurtured NFDLF’s ragtag fighters was the livestock impounded from the poor nomadic communities. This forceful confiscation of domestic animals is an issue of contention among the affected communities to this day. Mismanagement and embezzlement of funds provided by sympathetic foreign entities and the Somali government coupled with Kenya’s formation of close ties with Somalia’s military government in the 80s led to the collapse of NFDLF altogether. In later years, the fighting force of the NFDLF was nothing more than war-wary ex-combatants crowded in refugee camps living on rations provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees while top commanders lived in complete luxury in Mogadishu’s posh suburbs. Demoralized, a good number of the NFDLF fighters resorted to poaching-exploits that greatly reduced the rhino, elephant, cheetah, and leopard populations of Kenya’s Amboseli and Tsavo national parks.

Likewise, the Ethiopian government flexed its military muscle by clinging to the Ogaden region predominantly occupied by people of Somali extraction. To scuttle attempts at self-determination, arbitrary arrests of suspects, torture and intimidations, torching of villages, confiscation of property and killing with impunity remain a long running strategy applied by successive Ethiopian governments on the poor nomadic homogeneous Somali community even to this day.

Consequently, the use of violence and censorship of opinion by clichés of the Kenya government after attainment of independence weakened all nomadic people’s right to freewill, free movement, and hindered the formation of healthy societies. Nomadic tribes mostly affected by Kenya’s constitutional abuse included the Oromo, Borana, Somali, Korey, Ajuran, Garre, Murille, and Sekuye. Areas occupied by these nomadic tribes remain at lowest levels in education, agriculture, practical infrastructure, and delivery of health services.

1 comment:

Baqad said...

Great article. I was actually planning to write something about Annalena Tonelli and also about the Auliyahan insurgency against the British. I see you covered that plus many other things I wanted to write. The phenomenon of Somali expansionism and so many other inshaAllah. I have nothing but respect for you. Keep on the good work!