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The Shifta War & The North Eastern Kenya

By Muturi Njeri


Barely a month into Kenya’s independence from the British in December 1963, the nascent government led by then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta declared a state of emergency and a dawn-to-dusk curfew in the North Eastern region of the country, then commonly known as the Northern Frontier District (NFD). This action was necessitated by multiple isolated attacks targeted at the Kenyan government facilities by the militant arm of the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party (NPPPP), a political party representing the opinions of the Somali people in the NFD. Over the next four years, the situation in the NFD deteriorated into a state of anarchy as the Kenyan government fought a low-key, yet inhumane, war against the Kenyan Somali insurgents seeking secession from Kenya and consequent union with the Somali Republic, with support from the latter’s government. Despite the heavy costs of the war, the nationalistic Kenyan government, under the Kenya National African Union (KANU) party, could not bear the loss of almost a third of Kenyan territory and it was only after an agreement with neighbouring Somalia in July 1967 that The Shifta War, as the conflict was popularly referred to, petered out. Kenya retained the NFD but that did not put an end to the state of dissatisfaction and marginalization amongst people in the area and the effects of that war and its outcomes are still felt to date. In this paper, I will analyze the historical context that led to the war, the nature of the war itself as well as the aftermath of the war to this day. I will argue that given the opinion of the people living in the NFD at Kenya’s independence, earlier historical factors and the costs of keeping the NFD in Kenya, it would have been more justified for the Kenyan and British governments to allow the NFD to join Somalia, even without fighting the Shifta War.

Context: Before Colonization

Map of Northern Frontier Districts

An understanding of the geographical, demographic and historical context of the NFD is of paramount importance in discussing the historical backdrop against which the Shifta War happened. Although its constituency changed over time, the NFD generally refers to the physical area of about 102,000 square miles occupied presently by the following Kenyan counties: Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit, Isiolo and Moyale. It consists of a cast, low plateau and a semi desert and therefore most of it supports little vegetation like thorn bushes which are fodder for camels, goats and cattle kept by its inhabitants as their main source of livelihood and pride. The region is predominantly inhabited by Somali people who practice Islam. However, other non-Somali people such as the Borana and the Galla also live in this region. Historians contend that the Somali people in the NFD arrived relatively late in the area. In the 16th century, they are believed to have joined Iman Ahmed bin Ibrahim al-Ghazzi as he conquered Ethiopia in a holy war after which they migrated southwards and westwards such that by the sixteenth century they had occupied the vicinity of the Shabelle River in Somalia. By the early 20th century, the Somalis had already displaced the Galla groups to the more eastern and southern parts to consolidate their dominance in the NFD. The Somali south-western migration was powered by the dynamic effect of Islam and their abilities in war and assimilation as well as the occupation of European colonial powers such as the French in Obuk in 1862. In the late 19th century, these European powers were to eventually partition the Somali people among themselves and put them under their different colonial systems, with the NFD Somali falling under the British East African Protectorate.

British Occupation and Administration: Late 19th Century to 1960


Shifta photoFurthermore, it is not possible to understand the Shifta War and the relationship between Kenya and Somalia, especially with regard to the NFD Region and their shared border, without critically examining the British occupation towards the end of the 19th century and administration of the region for the most part of the 20th century. Under the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC), the British took control of the British East African Protectorate — including present day Kenya and Uganda — in order to control the River Nile, as well as British Somaliland, between 1884 and 1895. In 1895, the IBEAC gave up its charter and territory over the East African Protectorate to Her Majesty’s government and Kenya eventually became a British colony. The occupation of the Somali-inhabited Northern Frontier District, however, proved to be a challenge for the British as the Somalis, unlike other communities in the region, had access to powerful weaponry in the form of guns and they were also galvanized by the Islamic religion and clan allegiances. Nonetheless, the British eventually secured control over the Somalis and extended the British Protectorate eastwards up to the Juba River — it was not until 1925 when the British ‘awarded’ the Italians, who then controlled the Italian Somaliland, for their participation in World War I with the area between the Juba River and the current border that today’s Kenya-Somali border came into existence. In 1902, the Outlying District Ordinance of 1902 effectively established British control in the NFD by enforcing frontier posts that were, as they argued, meant to limit raids upon the British territory by Abyssinian soldiers and also curtail Westward migration of the Somali. Like in most places across Africa, the border between Kenya and Somalia was established as imaginary meridians that gave no consideration to the rhythms of life of the people on the ground and ethnic or clan interests. The border in this case was particularly meaningless for the Somali people whose pastoralist way of life had hitherto meant travelling, limitlessly, far and wide in search of water and pasture for their livestock.

The British colonial government administered the NFD region with a very light and segregative footprint, a fact attributable to the British perception of the Somali as a threat and also due to the climate of the area which rendered it incompatible with the white settlers’ agricultural interests, and a fact that would lead to disaffection towards the British and subsequent Kenyan governments among the residents of the area and hence the Shifta War. The Commissioner of the East African Protectorate, Sir Charles Elliot, even recommended that if it were possible in 1904, the Somali-inhabited districts should have been separated to form a separate government. Even though Elliot’s recommendation was not comprehensively implemented, the way the NFD was administered, in contrast to the rest of the British East African Protectorate, demonstrated an attitude congruent with the recommendation. In the expansive area, covering over 102,000 square miles, only a paltry, less than one hundred British police were present in 1909. Instead of the heavy colonial presence in places like Central Kenya where British colonial authorities, and their local African representatives, yielded extreme power over Africans, the role of resolving disputes in the NFD was relegated to the Somali elders and headmen.

Three specific policies are critical to understanding the way the British colonial administration of the NFD created a psychological distance between the people of the NFD and the rest of the Kenyan people, thus fueling separationist aspirations at Independence: the Outlying District Ordinance of 1902, the “Closed District” Ordinance of 1926 and the Special District Administration Ordinance (SDO) of 1934. The Outlying District Ordinance, as described before, established frontier posts in order to stop the Westward spread of the Somali and reduce raids by the Abyssinians soldiers. The first administrative post was established in 1909 and in 1910, John O.W. Hope was appointed Officer-in-Charge of the NFD, which then comprised about half of the entire Kenyan territory with Isiolo as the district capital. He immediately started to enforce taxpaying to the colonial government to ameliorate administrative expenditures. This did not go well with the well-armed Somalis and the colonial government was forced to administer the region using the military between 1921 and 1926. On its part, the 1926 “Closed Districts Ordinance” sought to isolate the NFD region from the rest of the country by regulating the travel of non-residents into the area. This policy not only limited the expansion of the Somali westwards but it also prevented the formation of a common identity of the Somali with other non-Somali people in the Southern part of the Kenyan territory. To make it worse, the Special District Ordinance of 1934, was meant to hinder social interaction between different groups in the NFD. It demarcated the area into tribal zones in order to prevent Islam from galvanizing the people in the NFD against the colonial administration and, reportedly, to stop epidemics from spreading to livestock in the rest of the Kenyan hinterland. This policy of isolation only got worse as nationalistic feelings spread across the Southern part of Kenya by the 1940’s. At some point, no resident of the NFD could leave the region, which meant going past imaginary meridians marked by the Ewaso Nyiro and Tana Rivers, without special NFD passes authorized by colonial government officials as the British feared that the Somali would exacerbate political consciousness in the country. It would therefore suffice to conclude that the British administration neglected the NFD both economically and politically such that by the time they left, it was certainly the most backward and isolated portion of Kenya, without even a single secondary school.

“the Special District Ordinance of 1934, was meant to hinder social interaction between different groups in the NFD. It demarcated the area into tribal zones in order to prevent Islam from galvanizing the people in the NFD against the colonial administration…”

Despite these draconian policies that the colonial administration effected to control people in the NFD, winds of political activity were certainly blowing, especially from Mogadishu. In 1943, the Somali Youth League was formed representing the interests of different Somali clans and espousing a Pan-Somalism ideal of uniting all the Somali under one country. The SYL, even as the 1950–60 Italian trusteeship administration tried to muzzle it, spread its influence across the entire Somali-inhabited region including the NFD, where it even had offices and support from clan elders, thus raising the urge of the NFD Somali to join their fellow tribesmen and women in Somalia. The British government attempted to curtail these political developments by proscribing the SYL in the “closed district” and limiting Somali representation in national politics. For instance, the residents of the NFD were not allowed to vote in the 1957 national elections and in 1959, just a single Somali member was nominated to the legislature to “look after their interests.” Under pressure, the British administration lifted its ban on political parties in 1960. This move consequently ushered in the formation of political parties such as the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) and the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party (NPPPP). While KANU and KADU had more nationalistic goals, the NPPPP, given the separatist feelings that the British isolationist policy in the NFD had created, proclaimed its intention of seeking self-determination independently from the rest of Kenya and instead joining the Somali Republic. As the NPPPP was formed, simultaneously, the merger between the Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland was crystallizing. This integration of the two Somali Lands could only fuel the pan-Somalism feelings in the NFD. The new unity government in the Somali Republic under the leadership of Dr Ali Shirmarke proclaimed vehemently, even under its constitution, its desire to pursue the dream of bringing the remaining three Somali-inhabited territories-the NFD, the Ogaden and the French Somaliland- into the fold to create a Greater Somalia. The symbolic Somali flag at independence in 1960, with its five-pointed star against a sky-blue background, served as a reminder to the irredentist ambitions of the Somali Republic. The NFD was the fourth point on the star on the flag. Therefore, even as Kenya prepared for her impending independence, the battle lines for the NFD were starting to emerge, with the Somali Republic and the NPPPP on one side and the Kenyan nationalists on the other, and with the British as an important player too.

Also read:  Chronicles of The Wagalla Massacre

The Transition: 1960–1963

During the transition-to-Kenyan-independence period, between 1960 and 1963, more events and activities that significantly contributed to the buildup of the Shifta War happened. The first event to bring the NFD secessionist claims to official recognition was the 1960 London Constitutional Conference in Lancaster House. Here the Legislative Council representative of the NFD, Ahmed Farah, articulated the feeling of alienation felt by the people of the NFD and predicted that if the administration of the area was not reformed, then the Somali-inhabited areas would turn to Mogadishu while the non-Muslims in the area would join Ethiopia. The feeling expressed by Ahmed Farah was to be manifested in 1961 Kenya national elections when most of the people in the NFD boycotted it. Only 1,622 people registered to vote as most Somalis believed that doing so would mean accepting Kenyan citizenship, something they felt alien to. The election boycott only served to intensify the self-determination campaign in the NFD which now looked to newly independent and unified Somali Republic for support for its cause. Delegations were sent to Mogadishu to drum up support both from the Somalia Republic government and the public in Somalia. The fruits of this lobbying were visible as in November 1961, the Somali national assembly passed a resolution welcoming unification between the NFD and Somalia Republic and urging the government to use all means possible to pursue this ideal. In addition, the publicity campaign created an atmosphere of solidarity amongst the Somalis in the Republic and those of the NFD going into the Second Constitutional Conference in the Lancaster House in London.

Lancaster Conference
Jomo Kenyatta (on the left) and Tom Mboya at the Lancaster Conference |Photo Courtesy

The Second Lancaster Conference in 1962 was critical for the NFD situation as the secessionist aspirations of the people of the NFD had then reached fever pitch. As expected, the NFD representatives pushed for autonomy of the NFD and subsequent Act of Union with the Somali Republic when Kenya gained independence. The other two political parties delegations represented in the conference, KANU and KADU, despite their bitter disagreements over other issues such as how to conduct devolution, found consensus in disagreeing with the NFD delegation. They argued Kenyan concession of the NFD would jeopardize Kenyan territorial integrity and lead to a domino effect that would inspire similar secessionist groups around the country. To ease the dispute, the British Colonial Secretary resolved that an independent commission was going to be appointed to establish the public opinion in the NFD with regard to their future. Given the popularity of the secessionist calls, the NFD delegation left the conference hopeful but little did they know that the British were never going to respect their wishes.

With time, the British, in a move to protect their relationship with Ethiopia, Kenya and other African countries, seemed to be changing their position on the NFD question. The appointment of the NFD commissioners was delayed prompting resentment from the Somali Republic and growth of anti-secessionist sentiments in the rest of Kenya. With the widening gap between Kenya and Somalia, during the July 1962 Somali Republic Independence Day, the Somali Prime Minister invited the Kenyan African leaders led by Jomo Kenyatta of KANU and Ronald Ngala of KADU for talks in an attempt to resolve the matter diplomatically. The Prime Minister had tried a softer approach despite the mounting pressure by his citizenry so as to protect the floating idea of an East African federation that was meant to bring Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Tanganyika and Ethiopia together. Nevertheless, the talks yielded very little as the Kenyan leaders felt that the NFD was not an international but rather an internal issue. Consistent with this position, a new Regional Boundaries Commission was actually been appointed in Kenya to redraw the internal regional boundaries based on ethnicities even before the NFD Commission hit the ground. When the NFD commission was finally appointed in October 1962, led by a Nigerian judge, it embarked on a mission to investigate the opinion of people across the NFD through large public barazas (gatherings). Analysts, including the doyen of Somali studies I.M. Lewis, appraise the work done by the NFD commission as excellent. When the report of the commission came out, it was clear that more people in the NFD favoured secession after Kenyan independence: 62% favoured secession with the object of future unification with Somali Republic while a small minority, mainly composed of a few small and non-Muslim communities in the NFD periphery favoured unity with Kenya. While the findings of the commission had provided a lifeline for the NFD people’s dream, the fact that the report was based on the premise that no question of secession would be entertained before Kenya got independence sank the dream. This was more testimony on the unwillingness of the British government to act as an impartial arbitrator and its growing hesitance to honour the promise of respecting the opinion of the people of the NFD.

It therefore came as little surprise when the new British Colonial Secretary, Mr Duncan Sandys, announced the British decision in March of the next year. Giving more weight to the report by the Regional Boundaries Commission and overlooking the aspirations of the people of the NFD as enshrined in the findings of the NFD commission, the colonial government ruled that the NFD was to be brought into Kenyan constitution. The colonial master had blocked his ears from the people of the NFD and instead given preference his own settlers interests in independent Kenya, Anglo-Ethiopia ties as well his ties with the soon-to-be Commonwealth member, Kenya. In retaliation, the already strained relationship between Britain and Somalia deteriorated and was eventually severed on the 18th of March 1963.

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It is also important to note that the aspirations of the people of the Somali Republic and the NFD were receiving negative responses on a continental level as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was being born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963. Despite the applauses given to the call for a Greater Somalia in Tunis in 1960 at the second All African People’s Conference, Somalia Republic’s position was not gaining support in Addis. While earlier attempts had at least gained audience with the idea of an East African federation being floated, in May 1963 Somali Republic President’s warning that failure to find a solution for Somali border disputes would lead to further unrest was met with unprecedented resistance led by the Ethiopian and Kenyan delegations. The Kenyan delegation led by then Vice President of KANU, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, vowed “We in Kenya shall not give even one inch of our country to Somali tribalist, and that is final.” As winds of nationalism and pan-Africanism swept across Africa, very few were willing to listen to the opinion of the people of the NFD and the Somali Republic, let alone support them. Thus even before a resolution of inviolability of colonial boundaries was passed in 1964, it was clear that few African countries were sympathetic to the wishes of the people of the NFD and a more radical approach had to be taken if their goal was to be accomplished.

The Shifta War: 1963–1967

Chief HajjGiven the shrinking options, Britain’s decision to stop the NFD’s self-determination marked the beginning of violence that would escalate into the Shifta War. Pro-secession demonstrations were held in towns in the area with the Somali Republic flag being flown; the Kenyan government responded to the demonstrations quite violently and even arrested some of the protesters. Moreover, thirty three Somali chiefs resigned in protest against both the decision and the colonial chieftaincy which went against the Somali clanist power structure. In the next month, all political parties in the NFD boycotted national elections, again. The levels of civil disobedience skyrocketed even as the number of killings increased. The assassinations of two Boran senior officials, Chief Haji Galma Dida and District Commissioner Daudi Dabaso Wabera, was particularly significant especially after it emerged that their killers had eluded across the border into Somali Republic. The Somali Republic refused to extradite the assassins for trial in Kenya amidst a parliamentary discussion that claimed that the Somali Republic had stockpiled weapons ready to attack Kenya to force a secession. Given that Kenya had attained internal self-rule on the 1st of June 1963, the new Kenyan government was under pressure from Kenyans in the rest of the country to show its ability in protecting the country’s territorial integrity and therefore in response a police operation was mounted to secure the long border with Somalia and travel restrictions imposed within the NFD. In addition, the Kenyan government let loose its propaganda machine by distributing leaflets that claimed that people in the NFD would enjoy similar rights to all other Kenyans. This campaign was bound to fail, and it did fail, in attracting the NFD loyalty to the government because, firstly, most of the people in the area were illiterate due to colonial marginalization and also because the NFD politicians, some of whom were consequently incarcerated, were simultaneously spreading militant propaganda against the Kenyan government.

Daud Wabera
Daud Dabaso Wabera the first African District Commissioner |Photo Courtesy

Analysts consistently view November 1963 as the time when the Shifta War started formally. At this point, it was clear that the Somali Republic would receive military assistance from the Soviet Union to support the NFD secessionists. Also, the Northern Frontiers Districts Liberation Army (NFDLA) was already spreading insurgency and making strategic attacks on government installations. On the other side, Kenya had signed a pact of defence with Ethiopia, which was largely seen as a way to fend off their mutual irredentist neighbour.

In November 1963, with no signals of NFD separation from Kenya one month to the latter’s independence, the war changed from low-key to major attacks on government facilities. Guerillas who had been trained and armed by the Somali National Army (SNA) inside the Somali Republic launched audacious attacks into the Kenyan territory. For instance, on the 22nd of November, the Shifta attacked a King’s African Rifle camp in Garissa killing several policemen. The Kenyan government retaliated by sending Kenyan soldiers but again the Shifta were able to take advantage of the long and porous border and elope into the Somali Republic.

Before providing a more detailed account of the war, it is important that I discuss the goals of the Shiftas and some of the factors that emboldened them to fight against the Kenyan government backed by her colonial master, Britain. As discussed before in this paper, the ultimate objective of the Shifta was to disaffiliate the NFD from Kenya and unite it with Somali Republic. The means of achieving this goal give insights into their other goals. These goals included: forcing European administrators out of the NFD, proving the Kenyan government incapable of ruling the region so as to obtain international sympathy, preventing NFD government loyalists from getting into power and overstretching the government expenditure in the war so that it gave up the region as an economic burden. In fighting for these goals, the Shifta were strengthened by the Somali Republic’s support, their deep knowledge of the geographical terrain, utilization of the their unique clan system as well the weaknesses of their opponent, the Kenyan government. At this point in its history, the young Kenyan government was experiencing incredible challenges in other areas and therefore their attention to the war in the NFD was quite limited. For instance, the question of how to separate powers between the national government and different regions that had been a point of contention between KANU and KADU was creating tension in the government. In addition, people in other parts of Kenya, e.g. Nairobi, were increasing agitated at what they saw as betrayal of their dreams of independence as the Kenyatta government failed to address their socio economic needs. The Shifta therefore felt they still stood a chance in achieving their objectives against the weakened government through guerilla warfare.

In December 1963, Kenya finally gained independence but the NFD did not celebrate but instead continued its violent clamour for secession. Towards the end of the month, Prime Minister Kenyatta declared a state of emergency in the NFD, a dusk-to-dawn curfew and empowered the military to shoot anybody found in an exclusion zone which was defined as five miles within the Kenya-Somalia international boundary. The British military that had been left to train the Kenyan military sided with the Kenyans and together they pursued the Shifta using better technology such as aerial bombardment while the Shifta used less powerful arms from the Second World War.

The Shifta War can be broadly divided into two main phases: the pre-1965 phase i.e. before the Shifta used mine warfare and 1967–1967 phase i.e. when the Shifta used mine warfare. During the earlier phase, the Shifta adapted their strategies to their strengths and weaknesses. Since they had less potent weapons but could navigate the area better, especially during the rainy seasons, had incredible loyalty from their kinsmen and could also run into the Somali Republic, the Shifta employed psychological tricky operations. They were organized into small groups of five to eight guerillas who would lure the Kenyan officers into baits and ambush them. Attempts by the Kenyan forces would then prove unsuccessful as the Kenyan forces would not cross the border without leading to a state of war with Somalia and even when the Shifta remained in Kenya, their fellow tribesmen would loyally shield them. This stage of the war was also marred with defections by Kenyan Somali soldiers; this not only empowered the Shifta but it also demoralized the government to the extent that the it decided that to move all ethnic Somali soldiers away from the NFD in February 1964. The Kenyatta government also made attempts to break the loyalty of the people of the NFD towards the Shifta by using two soft approaches: splitting the clans and offering amnesty. While these worked to a certain extent, especially given the fact that the Shifta did not show capability of forming a functional government in the area, most NFD people remained loyal to the fighters and their cause. Nene Mburu argues that this earlier stage was meant to test the resolve of the Kenyan government and thus the guerrillas did not always do as much damage as they possibly could.


However, by the end of 1964, while the Shifta had an upper hand tactically, politically, Kenyatta did not seem to be bulging. More countries were siding with Kenya and some Shifta leaders like Ilaye Warsame had already accepted the government amnesty; therefore, if the remaining Shifta were to retain the sympathy of the residents of the NFD, they needed to deliver their promise of liberation quickly. For this reason, coupled with the fact that the Kenyan military had acquired better armoured vehicles thus making it easier for them to navigate the area, the Shifta, already reduced in numbers, introduced mine warfare. They relied on the uncertainty of locations of the mines as a psychological weapon against the military. Mine warfare was a rather new technique for the Kenyan military which had been using tactics used against the Mau Mau freedom fighters by the British just a decade before. Consequently, this posed a challenge to them by reducing their ability to traverse the area and also skyrocketing the government’s expenditure in the war up to $ 4,500,000 in 1966. The Kenyan government major response to mine warfare was to reduce Shifta support through a method that British had employed just a few years before in Central Kenya: villagization. This operation involved forcing the pastoral population into fortified villages, manyatta, and assuming that anybody found outside these manyatta, was a Shifta and could be attacked as so. The military then launched an operation dubbed Operation Fagia Shifta which was aimed at clearing off the Shifta from the entire NFD region and confiscating livestock. Nevertheless, Shifta attacks on government forces continued and reach their highest point between June and August 1967 and so did Kenyan government expenditure soar, reaching $7,500,000 by 1967.

As the support of the Shifta declined due to the worsening conditions in the manyattas, the Kenyan government attempted political means towards further weakening the Shifta. Political rallies were organized in the NFD with an aim of getting the residents to renounce the Shifta and the Somali government and instead express their support for the Kenyan government. Meanwhile, the Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Egal sponsored diplomatic negotiations between Kenya and Somalia through the OAU which culminated in a ceasefire agreement in October 1967. The Shifta activity however did not completely subside immediately as the strain that the villagization program had on the NFD people’s pastoralist way of life led the Shifta into a traditional form of raiding in order to sustain themselves. Nonetheless, the withdrawal of support from the Somali government, which had now restored diplomatic relations with the Kenyan government, rendered the secession clamour null and void and therefore effectively resulted in the end of the Shifta War.

The Aftermath: 1968 to date

One would have thought that having spent so much to retain the NFD territory in Kenya, the government was going to find ways of integrating the people of the NFD with the rest of the population. However, historical evidence from 1967 to date poignantly, and quite disappointingly, points in the opposite direction. Given the relatively little economic output of the NFD and its scattered, albeit occasionally militant, population, successive Kenyan regimes have used a policy quite similar to the one employed by the British colonizers: one of neglect coupled with sporadic use of excessive force when conflict arises. A recent documentary by an Al Jazeera correspondent, Mohammed Adow, aptly entitled Not Yet Kenyan, to a great extent illustrates the grim manner in which the Kenyan government has treated the people of the North Eastern Province since independence. The levels of infrastructural development in the area are very low and so are other the indicators of socio-economic development.

Over the years, several massacres have been committed by the Kenyan government in the North Eastern Province and thrown under the carpet as established by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), a commission mandated after the 2007/08 Kenyan post-election violence to investigate historical injustices and offer recommendations. Such merciless massacres that were committed by Kenyan state against its own people in the Northern Eastern Province include the Bulla Karatasi Massacre in 1980, the Wagalla Massacre in 1984 and the Malka Mari Massacre. The TJRC established that these massacres were aimed at, like the Shifta War responses, mass punishment of entire communities and that yet nobody has been prosecuted for perpetrating them.

The people of the NFD have also experienced a very precarious form of Kenyan citizenship and national identity. While most have resigned to the fate of being Kenyan citizens, the Kenyan government has not treated them in that regard. In Not Yet Kenyan, Adow highlights the plight of young Kenyan Somalis who are denied identity cards, a critical marker of Kenyan citizenship, by the Kenyan government thus reducing their opportunities in life. This is just a tip of the iceberg compared to the levels that the Kenyan state has gone to ensure that people living across the Ewaso Nyiro and Tana Rivers continue to say “I am visiting Kenya” once they cross these rivers. Due to fear of the effect that events in Somalia might have on the Kenyan Somalis as well as insecurity in the area, post-Shifta War governments have sought to regulate citizenship, through mass screenings, as expressed by national identity cards and passports among the people of the NFD.

The problems in the former NFD have been aggravated by the unstable situation in the former Somali Republic especially after the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991. Given the proximity of the two areas and porous nature of the long Kenya-Somali border, a lot of Somali citizens sought refuge in Kenya from fighting during the warlord and extremist regimes. It is estimated that more than 500,000 Somali refugees live in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in North Eastern Kenya alone and while most of these pose no security threat, their mere presence has been used by ill intentioned extremists to infiltrate the Kenyan society and cause damage. This security threat has been of great concern in the recent years especially after the rise of the Al-Shabaab extremists in Southern and Central Somalia after the collapse of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. The Kenyan military incursion into Somalia in October 2011 after several attacks on tourists along the Kenyan coast has further complicated the security situation. While the Kenyan military, in cooperation with African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), has been mostly successful in fighting the Al-Shabaab, it has done so at the expense of the safety of the Kenyan nation. Despite the fact that the recent Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi is the popular point of reference when citing examples of repercussions of Kenyan entry into Somalia, Adow reports that over a hundred terrorist attacks have occurred in the North Eastern Province in the past few years. Following these attacks, some responses that smack of Shifta War attitudes of mass punishment have been come into existence: Adow talks about the occasionally frosty relationship between Kenyan Somalis and other Kenyans in Not Yet Kenyan and a recent opinion article in the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading newspaper, has also warned against a governmental response to the Westgate attack that has seen Somalis and other Muslim suffer mass discrimination in the hands of the Kenyan police and immigration officials.

It is therefore quite clear that Kenyan Somalis have not really enjoyed the fruits of independence that freedom from colonization by the British was expected to bring. The Kenyan state continues to treat them in a manner similar to that of the colonizers and the unstable state of the former Somali Republic in the past two decades only makes things worse. However, at independence, when the NFD Somalis were completely alienated from Kenya and expressed their strong desire to unite with their fellow Somalis in the Somalia Republic through the NFD Commission, I am of the opinion that the British should have honoured their pledge of respecting the opinion on the ground and granted the NFD its wishes. That would have prevented the costly Shifta War and probably, albeit counter-historic, contributed to stronger Kenyan and Somali nations and a more stable Horn of Africa.

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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