This past weekend Louis and I went to Garissa, the closest city to the Somalia in Kenya with a large Somali population, as well as a number of minority groups. According to Odindo Opiata, the Director of Hakijamii, the people living in this area are extremely marginalized, with few NGOs even working there. Much of the 10 percent of the country’s Muslim population lives in northeast Kenya.
Life here is worlds away from life in Nairobi. Dry, desert land is home to many pastoralists, camels roaming at every turn. The little agriculture that occurs must be done around the Tana River in Garissa. The small villages around Garissa town are spread out; houses are made of mud, many without electricity or running water.
Hakijamii is has just begun working with the community groups in this area, encouraging them to mobilize the same way as the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network in order to more effectively gain the government’s attention and claim their rights.
Though there are a number of community-based organizations (CBOs) in this area, we were able to meet with one, Nigateni, which was started by the Wailwana community (pop about 8,000). Nigateni, meaning “to speak” in the local language, was started when the community realized how far behind they were in development. “We have been left behind,” stated Ramadhan Divayu Babisami, the recently elected leader, or “king” as the community calls him.
During the few short hours we met with members of Nigateni, visiting their homes and watching traditional song and dance, the numerous problems they face became clear. In Kenya, the literacy rate is around 78%, though the locals in Wailwana estimated that their literacy rate was between 10 and 20%. Only one man from Wailwana had made it through university, ever. They recently sent the first woman from Wailwana to university, using pulled funds from members of Nigateni to pay for the school fees. Why is the literacy rate so low here? Once you make it past the 8th grade, school fees skyrocket and most of the Wailwana community lives in poverty, subsisting on agriculture.
Additionally, one of the villages we visited in Wailwana is located right next to the Tana River. Villagers used to live along the river to have a water source nearby. From time to time, the river would flood and destroy crops and homes. The construction of dams for electricity proliferated in the 1980s, which exacerbated the flooding problem. Dam operators will open the flood gates as the water level rises, offering two days notice for farmers to pick up and move, leaving their crops and homes to be destroyed. The government has started relocating people due to the flooding, but so far has placed them on barren land in small mud houses with no electricity. At one of the relocation sites we saw, Sama Sama, residents were forced to walk 6 km or more each way to their crops and had no nearby water source.
Members of Nigateni are realizing they deserve basic human rights and are working to change their situation. The Wailwana community no longer wants to be “left behind” in terms of living conditions and access to basic services. Hakijamii hopes to bring the CBOs of the Garissa area, such as Nigateni, together so that they can create a strong network that will be heard across the country.
Halima, who serves on the Board of Directors for Nigateni, speaks of the the challenges that women face and what her hopes are for the community:
**I would like to make a special note that The Advocacy Project was connected with Hakijamii through the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia University. Mr. Odindo Opiata, Director of Hakijamii, participated in the program and gained invaluable advocacy skills he was able to bring back to Kenya.
Posted By Christy Gillmore
Posted Jul 15th, 2010