#WalkOfHope: Why I trekked 800 kilometers

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Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on July 21, 2015, met with a group of Somali men who participated in the ‪#‎WalkofHope‬ campaign from Garissa to Mandera, aimed at creating awareness about the region’s insecurity and underdevelopment. [Photo: State House]

On June 10, 2015, I decided to join the #WalkOfHope, an initiative that was meant to raise awareness about the state of neglect in northeastern Kenya. I was made aware of the walk by a friend who was in Nairobi.

My friend informed me that the walk would kick off June 13 from the Garissa Tana River bridge, with an intention to walk to Border Point One in Mandera County, almost 800 kilometers away. I quickly accented despite knowing that it would be no walk in the park but a long distance under harsh climate and terrain.

I had the expectation that many people would turn up for the walk and stay on but that was not to be. Many did turn up at the starting line only to abandon the walk after a few kilometers with only a handful of us remaining.

I had no knowledge of my fellow walkers except Salah Abdi Sheikh, a renown author and activist who was publicizing the #WalkOfHope . I had met Salah in past events and I was sure that there was at least one like-minded person with me along the way.

An aunt of mine once called me and asked: “Nimanka aad la socoto yay yihiin?” Who are the people you are walking with? I started mentioning their nicknames only to learn that she was not interested in their names but their clan identity. I did not mind her since, as far as I was concerned, I was on a walk with like minded folks. As we trekked, I got to know and appreciate my fellow walkers as people with great minds and with the interest of the society at heart.

As for the walk itself, it is one of the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Walking under the scorching sun while fasting was quite an experience. And whenever my next of kin, especially those who doubted my sanity asked me why I was walking, I responded that I was protesting.

I have my own interpretation of what constitutes a protest or the different forms of protest. A protest can be a statement of disapproval or objecting to something. You can also protest by throwing stones or storming certain offices but we, the walkers, did it differently. We walked to show our disapproval. We were and are tired of what is happening around us.

As the name suggests, the #WalkOfHope was meant to restore hope. The people of northeastern region in Kenya had suffered in the hands of the government for a half a century and our message was one of hope that things could change, that maybe one day they may drive on tarmac roads like other Kenyans.

We did quite well in connecting with the people along the way and won the hearts of many. The trek was also to highlight numerous issues facing northeastern Kenya, issues that are not known to the rest of the country – from basic hygiene and sanitation such as clean water to education and infrastructure.

Most homes have untreated hard, salty water and an entire village would survive on a 20 liter jerrycan of water.

The walk was about self-sufficiency and empowerment of our people. We have been silent for far too long under an oppressive system. Walking 800 kilometres was not the only way to go about sensitizing the community about our plight, but it was the most practical option we had.

I had a simple question for those who asked me if I had gone mad and who thought I was wasting my time: What are you doing then about the issues we are facing collectively?

Most importantly, the walk was to bring about change. Many may wonder how. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

We felt our silence was too loud, that we are not only being faced by systematic blockage of our rights, but also negative profiling of our people, detention without due process and a general lack of justice for the Somali.

These were the main reasons that pushed me to walk.

Now that the walk is over, and the fact that only a handful managed to walk, it should not mean the end of the idea. It should be the beginning; the real walk has just started.

Many of us are online activists. We talk about our problems only in social media and we do nothing about it. When we were engaging the locals we met in the villages we told them: “Dowlad soo socoto ma jirto ee wax qabsada.” The government won’t help you, so fend for yourselves.

This is achievable. Somalis are all millionaires as every household owns over 100 camels which is quite substantial wealth. And we can build schools and hospitals if we get united.

For those of us who have time on their hands, we need to volunteer to work for the region. Teachers have abandoned schools, so bring out your pens and chalks and teach. Also we should protest any injustice be it against a Somali or anyone else.

The #WalkOfHope continues; lets keep walking!

Fuad Abdirahman is an upcoming journalist from northeastern Kenya. Follow him on Twitter @FuadRoomi.

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