Art & LifeSocietyKenya - Being and belonging

Sat,18Nov2017

Posted on Thursday, 12 December 2013 18:47

Kenya - Being and belonging

Abdi Latif Dahir is a Somali journalist based in Nairobi and a fellow at United Press InternationalAs the clouds shied away and the airplane neared the ground, the landscape below – dry, flat and monotonous – became clear.

 

The plane wobbled, took a sharp descent, bumped into the runway and came to a jarring halt. With an air of nonchalance, the pilot announced: "Welcome to Wajir International Airport."

I was in Wajir to shoot a docu- mentary about Annalena Tonelli, an Italian humanitarian worker who devoted much of her life to the Somali communities in Kenya and Somalia.

My mother's stories filled the yawning gap between the reality I lived in Somalia, and Kenya, where I was born and which I called home

In February 1984, Tonelli saved and treated ethnic Somali men who were being targeted by the Kenyan government.

Following inter-clan clashes, the tragedy of what came to be known as the Wagalla Massacre saw the Kenyan government single out thousands of Somali boys and men in the name of disarmament and hold them hostage for days, naked and without food or water.

After three days of interviewing Tonelli's colleagues and beneficiaries I left Wajir with a feeling of shame and resentment.

Resentment because here we were 30 years later and no one – at least at official levels – could be bothered to discuss one of the worst violations of human rights in Kenya.

I was also ashamed because as a Kenyan of Somali origin I belonged to both a country and a government machine that massacred its people and still would not publicly acknowledge its own brutal acts.

When we had moved to Mogadishu, my mother told us stories about the traumatic and complex struggle between people and power in Kenya.

My mother's stories filled the yawning gap between the reality I lived in Somalia, and Kenya, where I was born and which I called home.

Even as the sound of bullets went off in Mogadishu and the incessant litany of strife shaped that nation, she told us about Garissa, about Mandera town in 1985 and the humiliation encountered by many Kenyan-Somalis in 1989 when the Kenyan government adopted a screening process as a mechanism to identify "illegal aliens" coming from Somalia.

Enter the new millennium, and as the rest of Kenya benefited from the trove of democracy and multi- party politics – with youngsters in other provinces learning to manoeuvre around the tapestry of cultures, customs and technologies that surrounded them – North Eastern Province was still lagging behind in the Human Development Index.

Four presidents, two constitutional referendums and six general elections later, Kenya in its Jubilee anniversary stands as a beacon of hope among many of the countries in Africa.

A diamond in the rough, its successes sharply contrast with the institutional failures engulfing countries across the Horn of Africa.

Yet, half a century after independence, the Somali communities, who inhabit 20% of Kenya's territory, are still made to feel as though they do not belong, the 'other' in a public dis- course that has been developed over decades.●

Abdi Latif Dahir is a Somali journalist based in Nairobi and a fellow at United Press International



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