The curse of the borderline; where do I belong?

The curse of the borderline; where do I belong?

Monday, August 28, 2023

I have a few friends with whom we are always wading through the waters of life together. One of them has been blessed with very intelligent children. One attended a prestigious National school and now awaiting to join campus. She, like me, completed high school before attaining 18 years, she turned the other month and yes, she had to apply for her ID. All her years she has been raised in the city, she only visits her upcountry for few days with her family.

The same week she turned 18, I visited her family, and asked her if she was excited to go get her ID. Her mom smiled kindly at my ignorance and replied, “Catherine, we are border people, it is never that easy”.

They had to travel to their border home to start the process that never ends. What bothered and amused me was this; the young lady has only known Nairobi all her life, her parents already went through the vetting process to get their IDs, all the people who know this young lady well enough are in Nairobi. Yet, now she needs people who do not know her that well to confirm she is one of us? I still am trying to understand why we do not upgrade some of these processes.

After this rather new experience, being a chatty person even to strangers, I intentionally set out to ask anyone I met where they came from, most of course are from a place they do not live in at all.

And since I could not meet people from all the over 30 border points, I write without mentioning which border places the ones I spoke to hail from. I finally confirmed the adage that "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." I did not realize it is a privilege to be born in a certain part of a country and almost a curse being born in another. But should it be so in this day and age? I truly wonder.

Here below I post the conversation I had with several persons who, being from the borders, have it harder than people like me who are not from anywhere near the border.

I was born at a border, for sure in the early years of my life, I did not know that I was a Kenyan. From the simple life we led, all we know is home was where we were, nothing more. So we lived there, near the border, went to school, and even in school all we knew is we were in our village and town, we did not know of which country we were in; Kenya or the neighboring country. Personally, I knew I was in Kenya when I was in Std 5. Also, then did I know the other side was another country. But we did not see any difference of the two countries, as we shared a lot in many ways. We attended schools built by missionaries. The only government related entity was the man called chief. Nothing else near us was by the Kenya government. When joining secondary school, and you got lucky to get a school in the inside of Kenya, is when most of us would now say that they have visited Kenya. As home was in the middle of nowhere; it felt country-less. Personally, to date, it feels like we belong more to the neighboring country than our own.

I say I feel alienated by my country as for decades there are no benefits or services near me. You do not feel like you belong at all. Most of what we need is easily accessible from neighboring country than our own country. Including food products. Not only accessibility but more affordable than home. One would love to buy a lot in bulk but when coming back on the home side of the border you are in trouble, all you bought is confiscated. Another displeasure is the nightmare of acquiring a National ID in the country. We don’t get it easily. The wait for an ID is endless, you wait a year, two years and even one decides to apply again. And unlike those who are in Kenya more than us in the borders, you need your parent for the process, elders of the area, to certify that you really are a citizen of the same country you have never felt a part of. Sad really. Then you still wait even three years or more before you finally get the ID.

I am old now, yet I still feel an alien and more of the neighboring country, I have never felt like I belong in my country, even my children. And even many adults, especially the uneducated, grow old not knowing which country they belong to. Some grow to as old as 70 years with no ID. As the conversation ends, I ask my acquaintance, “what should be done differently?” “The government should do things differently, I personally agree and understand the vetting must be done, but why should it take years to issue someone a national ID ? It is not fair really”

Apart from the interaction with the communities on the other side, I don’t think there is so much difference between us and the neighbors. You get to experience their culture. I then ask, “do you feel like you are in Kenya?” “Yes” then chuckles. I had an easier time when it comes to ID, but even up to now, some communities really struggle to get the IDs. Fortunately, I don’t belong to the struggling communities. But especially the … in …, they go through a very rigorous process. For us, the … and …have an easier time, by two weeks mine was out, but I did see most get delayed, it takes even 6 months, a year and at times they never get the ID. Some stay without, but I must say things seem like they are starting to improve. I have a friend who was denied and for sure felt like he didn’t belong. Yet born and raised in Kenya.

I knew I was Kenyan when I was in lower primary. I had a good experience, but there are people I have seen nearer to the border who go through lots of hardships. We are not saying the vetting should not be done, but can’t the time frame be improved? Let the vetting be done in a short while and when everything is ascertained the ID should not again take months and years to be issued. We are generations of parents who underwent the vetting, have IDs and are confirmed citizens, why should our vetting also take ages?

At a police barrier, when coming from home, we are all asked for IDs to confirm we are not aliens, so one without is grounded in so many ways, almost like prisoners in their own country. I hope things improve. We do appreciate the police doing their work as it is through the borders that bad people with bad intentions come through, the more reason we hope the citizens get their IDs to enable them to be able to identify themselves.

Initially, we used to wonder why we were being treated like second class citizens, because I do not see people being asked for their IDs as they walk in cities like Nairobi. We have even our luggage searched. For example, you are a Cushite, you will definitely look like persons from the neighboring country.

I have crossed the border many times as I was growing up, the only rule was one should cross back home by nightfall. For me the hotel would charge more on a meal as I am a foreigner and yet after I cross home am again a foreigner in my own home. One never belongs.

In my border, it is easier to access the other country whose town is nearer than a town on the Kenya side. We have a friendly relationship with those near the border on the other side. I may not say if their experience is like ours.

I had to go to my original place of birth to get my ID. When you present your birth certificate, they also ask for your parents IDs. It is like we are not free. Then the long wait for the ID cards, and at times it never comes. Like my place, many people don’t have ID cards. Others get, others don’t. You apply again, and you again fail to get it. I mean, despite my parents having their IDs, I am still treated like an alien. Then there are cases when the ID cards finally come, the photo is yours, the name is wrong or vice versa. At times, even the date of birth is mistyped. I remember a woman almost 70 years, her ID showed she was born 1994.

It is not a pleasant feeling. It almost feels like harassment. Injustice. Even getting a birth certificate is a process. We hope the system improves for our sake.

I have deliberately left out names and places as the persons I talked to did not wish I share more.

I hope, just like them, the systems improve to make all Kenyans from borders feel at home and that they belong.

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Catherine M. Njore

Is There Any Hope for Our Country?

 All reasonable Kenyans agree that Kenya is headed in the wrong direction and that this has been orchestrated by years of selfish and glutton leadership. Kenyans are strong people and very resilient. All that we need is an enabling environment where we can prosper. We don’t need a public office. We don’t need handouts. But an environment where we can run our businesses without hindrances; an environment devoid of unwarranted state bottlenecks and unjustified tax laws pushing the cost of living beyond the reach of over 90% of Kenyans. JM Kariuki had said decades ago that Kenya has become a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars. It is truer today! We now have 50 millionaires and billionaires and 50 million beggars.

It is not that Kenya lacks resources. No! Kenya has whatever it takes to be a first world country in 10 years. All that we lack is leadership. Selfless leadership. Genuine leadership that can make real and meaningful change; seal the loopholes that make us lose 2 billion shillings a day and lower taxes. Leadership that will invest in security and make entrepreneurship thrive. Leadership that will empower youth to be self reliant and achieve their dreams as opposed to beggars waiting for handouts. Leadership that will make every single well meaning Kenyan to afford good food, access clean water and proper healthcare. Leadership that will make us dream again; dream again like our forefathers dreamed before independence. Leadership to make us reach the stars and be counted among the rich nations who do not need Western AID that comes with strings attached, but a nation that can instead also offer grants to other nations and be able to bargain better at the global assemblies. John C. Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Einstein said that We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. It is true! We need a fresh leadership. It is as obvious as day and night. That is why we need men like Reuben Kagame whose lack of physical sight has given birth to deeper insight and inspiration to make a difference. Helen Keller once said, “The greatest tragedy to befall a person is to have sight but lack of vision.” As Reuben Kagame says, because he cannot see anyone, everyone is the same. If you’re involved in corruption, no personal feelings. You just face the full force of the law. RK is not looking for wealth. He has not stolen anyone’s anything and thus does not look for state machinery to protect any ill-acquired wealth. He is, probably, our only hope for now. Let’s introspect. Let’s pray about it, evaluate our needs and we shall see that GOD has finally offered us an option. Proverbs 29:2: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”  Lipotumaini! #Lipotumaini!