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Nubians In Kenya A Fascinating Journey


When I finally get to Shaffi’s office, I’m thinking that the government’s project of upgrading slums in Kenya is good news for the people living there. Shaffi, however, does not share the same thought. Being Nubian, he is also Muslim, but unlike many who I saw on my way in kanzus, he is donning a grey suit. His office is a tiny room. A small table surrounded by four chairs takes up one corner, next to it is a wooden cabinet holding a tiny coloured television that has been switched on but is muted. “After slum upgrading, the city council is going to own these houses. This is one way in which we are being pushed out.” And it is also one of the reasons the community has taken the Kenyan government to court.

Shaffi’s voice is big and resonates around the room when he speaks of the Nubian community’s Vision 2030, which involves turning Kibera’s shacks into permanent buildings. He says they’ll seek help from donors who’ll develop the slum. Then every Nubian from the age of 18 years will get a five storey building – two storeys to pay the donor’s debt, one for the owner’s residence and the other two storeys or his source of income as he’ll rent them out. “So taking away Kibera now and doing upgrading is like killing the Nubian,” he says shifting in his chair.

But KENSUP’s plan is to have improved the lives of 10 million slum dwellers living in urban areas like Kibera by 2020, so the government will have to weigh the greater good against the Nubians’ heritage.

When asked which village he comes from, Mustafa, without missing a beat, says Kibera. In response, he’s usually told that Kibera is a slum and not a village. “But when we get the tenure, I will say I come from the Nubian village that is Kibera. If I don’t fight for the land as a youth, my children and grandchildren are the ones who will suffer,” he says with a conviction that seems older than his 25 years.

In 1917, Kibera was surveyed and gazetted at 4,197 acres. Currently it has shrunk to 780 acres, with the difference having been absorbed into neighbouring counties. The Nubians don’t care. They want the original piece of land that was gazetted. “What will happen to those who reside in the built up areas who are not Nubian?” I ask Abdulfaraj. “They will remain as lease old tenants of the Nubians,” he replies. “The remaining 780 acres we will build it, develop it at our own time. That is my community’s land, the entire 4,197 acres.”

A Look into the Future

But the tide is turning, albeit not as fast as the Nubians would like. Another milestone came in 2011, when the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child found Kenya in violation of the rights of Nubian children to non-discrimination, nationality and protection against statelessness. When these violations are taken into consideration, the Nubian children will finally be recognised as Kenyan citizens. The committee also recommended that Kenya should implement its birth registration system in a non-discriminatory manner and put plans in motion that will allow every Nubian child access to health facilities and education equal to that of children in the other 42 communities in Kenya.

Shaffi believes that the predicament of the Nubian child will be over in a year’s time as the Nubian Council is pushing the government to implement the policy changes. At the moment, their case concerning the land in Kibera is being heard by one judge, but the community has requested for a three-bench judge – a full court – raising their chances of winning the case. “Right now, I’m trying to put a permanent foundation for my three kids. I want [life] to be easy for them,” Shaffi says with an easy smile, standing as the mu’addin calls out the adhan. It’s 1 o’clock, time for him to go to the mosque for prayer.

The Nubian journey, like any other, began with a single step. With the new constitution on its side, the community has made two huge strides. Now, the government has to decide if this is the end of their quest for acceptance or if they’re still owed more.


By; Everlyne Mosongo 

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