East Africa: the challenge of the 21st century
Posted by African Press International on April 8, 2011
The current, and the first black President; Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on November 4, 2008. President Barack Obama who has African roots in East Africa as half Kenyan, and half American visited Kenya twice in his life. Obama’s father is from a Luo tribe; Kenya’s third largest ethnic group following the Kikuyu and Luhya. Luos make up approximately 12 percent of Kenya’s population. However, his election was an historical mileage. Barack Obama’s election was realized 105 years long later after W. E. B. Du Bois proclaimed in the introduction to The Souls of Black Folk, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line”.
According to Du Bois arguments, the problem of the color line has he lamented it-is radicalized segregation and oppression. W. E. B. Du Bois assertions are clear indicators that, the pursuit for peace, justice, equality, freedom and democracy in East Africa could likewise be a long road. This article illuminates, however, that the challenge of the 21st century in East Africa is the further marginalization within already marginalized groups. The most vulnerable to marginalization are the women and children.
Women in the 21st century face an array of issues that particularly impact their daily lives. Here, a generic overview of problems and challenges they face are presented, and how to possibly address them. The problems listed below are the most common ones faced by many women across the globe. These are:-
- Inadequate access to health facilities, education, communication and information dissemination centers
- Prevalent occurrences like droughts, floods, tsunami, earthquakes and ethnic wars
- Forced, organized and early marriages
- Unsafe female genital mutilation (FGM) practices
- The cultural practices of neck over beading which triggers exposure to diseases
- Neglect and spouse abuses which culminates from a man’s insecure attitude towards a woman
- Lack of stipulated property rights, divorce rights and equal political representation and or representation
What inspired me to write this particular article is my deeper roots both in Africa and Europe. My fortunate exposure to these two incredible worlds contributes most to the relevance of this article. The finding in this article corroborates therefore, my personal interpretations of the gender issues in these two worlds. I grew up in a poor Samburu family in Kenya. Kenya constitutes 42 tribes, and the Samburu tribe is a minority-marginalized community who are closely related to the Maasai. The Samburu tribe is part of the ‘Maa’ speaking community which is often confused by westerners to Maasai due to their similarities in the mode of dressing, culture and language.
The Maa speaking tribes are: Maasai, Samburu and Lchamus. Like the Maasai, the Samburu tribe is part of the Nilotic family of tribes who are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels for their survival. Samburu is a proud-distinct tribe, living in the north-central regions of Kenya in the Rift Valley who mainly and traditionally rely on meat, milk and blood as their staple food. They often refer to themselves as the ‘Lokop or Loikop’. The ‘Lokop or Loikop’ notion is a coined-term which may have a variety of meanings which Samburu themselves do not commonly agree on. Many assert that it refers to them as “owners of the land” (“lo” which relatively means ownership, “nkop” is land) though others present a very different interpretation of the term. However, the current population of the Samburu tribe is estimated to be around 300,000 people. ‘Wow, I suppose we need to make more babies’.
In Kenya, and likewise worldwide, politics is a game of numbers. Many Kenyan regimes are viewed to have marginalized the Samburu tribe for far too long due to the possibilities that they are few, and therefore, their votes may not count much. This is just a tip of the iceberg. The four links below illustrates better the slight differences between the Samburu and Maasai.
The Samburu people live in Samburu County and Oldonyiro division in Isiolo County. The Samburu County is in Rift Valley Province, Kenya. It currently has three districts: Samburu Central, Samburu West and Samburu East. Whereby the county covers an area of roughly 21,000 km² in northern Kenya where the Samburu tribe live. Samburu County stretches north from the Wuaso Ng’iro River to the south of Lake Turkana and also includes Mount Kulal which lies just east of Lake Turkana. The main towns in Samburu County are: Maralal , Baragoi, Barsaloi, Archers Post, South Horr, Wamba, Sere-olipi, lodokejek and Lodosoit. Otherwise, those who are mainly from Archer’s Post in Samburu East District like me, quite often tout themselves as ‘Lmuran le uaso’. As a proud community, the ‘Lmuran le uaso’ in its basic form means that they never shrink or wave back in tough times.
The current three districts in Samburu County are located several miles away from the country’s main cities like Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret and Mombasa. Despite the county being a tourist hub, the roads linking the main trading centres in Samburu County with the main cities or towns like Nyahururu and Maralal are untarmacked upto date and in pathetic conditions especially during rainy seasons. Moreso, there is still lack of electricity in many parts of Samburu County despite the Kenyan Government efforts to introduce the program for rural electrification. The importance of electricity in the world like running fans, light bulbs, televisions, ovens, air-conditioners and the use of it in the health centers is been a nightmare for the past 45 years in some parts of Samburu County.
I mean, why is it so, yet the money for shuttle diplomacy for the ICC’s deferral issue are available, while even the basic needs in Samburu County have never been prioritized for the past 45 years?
Something is definitely wrong somewhere that; the value system mapped here has been seriously lacking and/or wanting at best chronically insufficient for decades; our value system is to introduce and continue to articulate a shared/common moral purpose; that it must be compatible with a mission and vision of community empowerment aimed at self-determination in terms of resource utilization: a community respecting values.
The Kenyan federal system has overlooked and underrepresented the residents of Samburu County for decades when it comes to developmental issues, government funds and assistance.
This is evident in the lack of infrastructure and government services in the area. As the land is sparsely populated, it is often difficult to distribute any resources to remote communities. The education system is underfunded; schools lack sufficient classroom space, supplies, and teachers. Health care facilities are few, underfunded and often difficult to reach, and those available are inadequate for people requiring sophisticated treatment. Women, as their families’ primary caregivers, are saddled with the responsibility of traveling with sick members and waiting long periods of time for treatment, and leaving Wamba Hospital being the only, well equipped and the best option for acute situations in the whole county
Communication and information dissemination are also limited, since most communities do not have access to telephone lines, internet, or even a daily newspaper. Lack of access to communication leaves women without the means by which to put their rights into practice. For example, without being able to contact the police, a woman cannot file charges against an abuser.
This problem is compounded by the fact that without access to information, women have no way of even knowing what their rights are. Poor communication constrains the possibility for cooperating women’s groups to provide mutual advice and assistance. Further, there are no paved roads within the district or the surrounding areas, making transportation quite difficult. This makes transporting goods to and from markets expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting. Women usually bear the burden of lengthy travel. Being a nomadic people, the Samburu tend to settle where there is available pasture for grazing for livestock.
Those who wish to pursue tertiary education must go to cities outside the district to do so. Once educated, these people often leave their home in the Samburu district, as more jobs are available elsewhere. The Samburu people are isolated from the rest of the country and are cut off from the central decision making authorities; their particular problems are neglected and their concerns go unheard, making them among the most marginalized in Kenya. Something must be done, but differently and with the right leadership in place come 2012.
Moreover, according to the UN economic report for Africa in 2008, It says that ‘’Countries in the Eastern African sub region have made some progress in improving systems of political and economic governance, although there are still serious setbacks. There has also been progress in creating more effective and transparent systems for the management of public resources as is evident in the improvements in basic macro-economic indicators. But corrupt practices continue to exact heavy economic costs by distorting the operation of free markets, hampering economic development, and impairing the ability of institutions to deliver efficient services to the public.’’
The author of the article is Lesiamito Malino John, from Oslo, Norway. The author is a postgraduate student in Information Systems and Computing, and can be reached on Lesiamito@gmail.com