#NotYetKenyan: I Know What it Means

In remembering it all, he was moved into tears. When he was barely 5 years old, his father, and many among his neighborhood, were arrested. Some survived, and some perished, their homes turned to ashes by the same security officers who were paid to protect them.

Of course, I am referring to Mohammed Adow’s documentary, “Not Yet Kenyan,” which aired on Al Jazeera English channel last week. By placing his story at the heart of the “systematic intimidation” that Kenya’s Somali community, Adow brought out an interesting, dramatic and yet bold narrative of the tribulations the Somali community has endured over the last 50 years of Kenya’s independence.

Adow’s documentary also brought the historical context that sealed the destiny of the Somali communities in North Eastern Province (formerly known as the Northern Frontier District) to Kenya. In 1960, the people of NFD formed the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party (NPPPP) with the main objective of seceding from Kenya and reuniting with their brethren in Somalia. At the Kenya Constitutional Conference in 1962, the secretary of state for the colonies proposed that an independent commission be appointed to investigate public opinion in the NFD regarding their future. The commission visited every district in the province, and heard oral submissions from 134 delegations, besides receiving 106 written submissions.

The majority of people in the NFD were found to be in favour of secession. However, the British government was unwilling to abide by the results of the commission on the grounds that it was not prepared to take a unilateral decision on the future of the territory. The Regional Boundaries Commission, set up in 1962, recommended that the predominantly Somali-occupied districts of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera be constituted into the seventh region, and that is where the North Eastern Province was born.

The residents of NFD saw this move as a betrayal of their wishes, and thus, boycotted the 1963 elections, effectively starting what came to be known as the Shifta War. Shifta is the Somali word for “bandit,” and the Kenyan government called them secessionists, so they started cracked down on not only the secessionist forces, but the larger Somali community in the region.

Somalia broke off diplomatic relations with Britain as well as Kenya and supported the secessionists. Kenya’s newly independent government was firm in its stand that it would not cede an inch of territory. Two weeks after Kenya’s independence it declared a state of emergency over the NFD, which practically lasted for close to 30 years.

The emergency laws systematically targeted the people of NFD, which gave way to the Garissa and Wagalla massacres in early 1980s.

Most of those historical injustices occurred well before I was even born, but I have heard enough stories from my uncles, my cousins and the very ones who bore the brunt of these atrocities. It is also painful to watch and witness the continued denial of former government officials such GG Kariuki, the then powerful internal security minister when Garissa residents were killed, maimed, raped and their properties destroyed.

Its also worth to note that in Adow’s documentary he interviews Charles Owino, the police spokesman who abruptly dismisses the claims of historical injustices in North Eastern Province as an “exaggeration.” To me, Owino is either blinding himself or he is just in the footsteps of his predecessors from the previous regime led by President Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.

By denying the government’s aggression, and then blaming the locals for lack of cooperation is to create a suspicious cognitive dissonance amongst the locals to justify the aggressors’ sins. Even so, does the killing of soldiers justify the pilferage and killing of innocent women, men and children of Garissa? What about those who were held hostage and mercilessly killed in the Wagalla airstrip in 1984?

It was only last year when the Kenya Defense Forces went on the rampage in Garissa, torching the main market in Garissa, destroying property and shooting innocent men, women and children after three of their comrades were killed by unknown assailants. Whether KDF’s excessive force in Garissa was planned or whimsical is yet to be known, but one thing is certain: The army’s destruction in the livelihoods of the population in Garissa bore conspicuous resemblance to that of the previous historical injustice aimed at Kenyans of Somali origin over the years.

The week before the Garissa operation took place, over 40 policemen were mercilessly killed in Turkana County by cattle rustlers. No reports of repercussions were cited in Turkana, no deployment of KDF, no looting, no crippling of economy, no burning of houses given the magnitude of what happened in Garissa. But the operation in Garissa was different, because the population was ethnic Somalis, and because there is widespread suspicion that local Somali people will not cooperate with the authorities.

This is happening in an age when Kenya is experiencing a total metamorphosis all thanks to a new constitution, which allows for political freedom and the right to justice. It’s therefore difficult to anticipate an actual flashback of Garissa Gubay and Wagalla Massacre back in the Cold War period.

As the Somali community, we definitely do have a civil responsibility to contribute to the well-being and the security of Kenya. People of North Eastern province need to organize and cooperate with the relevant authorities in order to weed out the few that are behind the chaos. However, the targeting of an entire community is never pardonable and eventually, the government has to come out clean of all the atrocities it committed against my people.

As Mohammed Adow’s documentary underlines, we are forgiving of the past mistakes, but we are not and will never forget.

Follow Noor on Twitter @Noordinyare

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