THE FORGOTTEN FRONT

Northeastern must fight for social justice human rights

Few human rights defenders on the ground but suffering, hardship makes people more resilient

In Summary

• After decades of discrimination and marginalisation, it now time for Northeastern to emerge as a social, economic and political force to reckon with.

•  Many years of hardship experienced by communities in the region have strengthened their resilience and now make them better prepared to explore their potential.

Notheastern must champion justice and human rights.
NORTHEASTERN: Notheastern must champion justice and human rights.
Image: OZONE

The Northeastern region of Kenya has since Independence remained marginalised and considered a security risk area as part of the Northern Frontier Region.

Due to this administrative and security segregation, little in terms of development has been realised by successive governments in the region. Despite its economic, political and social potential, the region lagged behind with no serious programmes and projects engaging residents.

This situation has consequently created a rift between the region and mainstream Kenya as more and more communities from the region feel neglected by the government and perceive themselves as non-Kenyans.

The situation was exacerbated by the fall of the Somali government in 1992, which heightened insecurity in an already volatile region. With increased insecurity came worsening human rights situation. Communities were left desperate and at the mercy of their tormentors which included state and non-state actors.

It wasn’t until the advent of devolution that the people of the region began to realise meaningful development. So far, Northeastern has began opening up slowly. However, with decades of marginalisation, it remains hugely disadvantaged and requires support to uplin its economic, political and social status to catch up.

Education, infrastructure and economic projects are some of the key areas that require boosting to improve residents' livelihoods.

The national government should apply affirmative action and work with county governments from the region to introduce development projects that will uplift the living standards of the communities.

On human rights, civic space remains unexploited with a few human rights defenders actually on the ground. It is with in mind that there is now an emerging need to support social justice in the region and establish a pool of champions for human rights and the rule of law. 

Presently, human rights violations are rampant and abuses reported every other day. Being a region next to volatile Somalia, violent extremism cases are common and local communities often end up being victims of terror attacks.

As a result of this, security counter-terror operations are a regular practice. Unfortunately, as is the case with many parts of Kenya and the world, such operations are accompanied with gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and profiling.

Communities in this region, therefore, become double victims of terror and counter-terror activities. Besides terror-related human rights violations, the region has also suffered from other abuses.

Rape and defilement have been reported in various parts. Inter-clan clashes have also been widely witnessed and are still a major concern. Livestock theft and conflict over pasture have seen many killed and maimed.

There is an urgent need to open up the region and inculcate social justice and human rights among the communities. While government has neglected these people for decades, the same can be said about civil society and justice actors.

Over the years, few civil society actors have ventured into working in the region to empower the people and raise their awareness. Local activists have tried on their own to try and introduce social justice issues but with little support forthcoming, they have not been in a position to do so.

Heightened insecurity, including recent terror attacks targeting certain non-local communities,  has further exacerbated the situation. However, despite all these challenges, it is incumbent upon leading human rights organisations in the country, such as HAKI Africa, to set up base in the region and help local actors and communities to cultivate social justice to address human rights violations and abuses.

After decades of discrimination and marginalisation, it now time for Northeastern to emerge as a social, economic and political force to reckon with. Many years of hardship experienced by communities in the region have strengthened their resilience and now make them better prepared to explore their potential and become the new frontier of development in Kenya.

Social justice and human rights awareness may be what has been missing all these years to transform the region.