The Nubian curse: Why we still feel like foreigners

Kibos camp in Kisumu county where members of Nubian community are currently living after their houses were demolished by Kenya railways in February this year.[Collins Oduor,Standard]

At the age of 85, Mama Siama Khamisi should be sitting comfortably in her home, counting her blessings.

However, this is not the case, as she lives in an iron-sheet structure that she shares with dozens of other elderly members of the Nubian community at a rescue camp in Kibos.

She recalls vividly how her grandparents were celebrated as heroes after liberating Kenya during the first and second world wars.

“We were treated with decency and respect. We lived in government houses and enjoyed the ambience of Lake Victoria shores,” she said.

Today, Mama Khamisi is landless, homeless and helpless, and has to rely on her 67-year-old son for daily meals.

Her son, Rashid Saad, a bicycle repairer at the Kibos market, lives in another camp not far from his mother.

This family was part of the over 158 families of the Nubian Community in Kibos displaced in February this year to pave way for the rehabilitation of the Nakuru-Kisumu Railway line. At least 3,000 individuals were affected after Kenya Railways claimed they had been occupying the land belonging to the corporation.

Yesterday, Kisumu City Legal Officer Marriela Kochung said the county does not intend to move the Nubians from the land they are currently occupying.

“The county leadership saw it wise to give them the parcel for their permanent residence,” she said.

However, reports indicate that some individuals have come out to claim ownership of the land, a situation that has seen the Nubians delay in constructing houses until they get proper documentation.

They are also waiting for the outcome of a court case in which they sought to get back the land taken by the Kenya Railway Services. But when did the rains start beating the Nubian Community in Kisumu? According to Mama Khamisi, their forefathers came to the country from South Sudan during World War I.

The community was good at war, and the British used them to fight the Germans as Britain secured its protectorates, Kenya and Uganda. The Germans had secured Tanzania but still wanted to extend their authority to the other East African countries.

They fought in World War I in 1914 and World War II in the 1930s. After the war ended, the Nubian soldiers settled at the now Kodiaga Prison in Kisumu, which was a military base. They were later moved to Kogony, along the shores of Lake Victoria.

But in the late 1930s, the community moved to Nubian Estate and Kibos to pave the way for the establishment of the Kisumu International Airport.

“After the wars, some soldiers chose to return to South Sudan, while others remained in the country,” said Mama Khamisi.

After independence, the community was incorporated as one of the Kenyan tribes but were not issued with land ownership documentation. Saad says that in Kibos, the community had over 109 acres of land.

“Because of our culture of living at one place, we only occupied less than 20 acres of the land, leaving the remaining chunk, which gave way to land grabbers,” said Saad.

As at the beginning of this year, the community was occupying a paltry 14 acres of land. And in February this year, they were kicked out again, forcing them to seek refuge in tents near Kunya, a couple of metres from Kibos Market.

Their lives have never been the same, with Mama Khamisi now sharing a dormitory-like iron sheet structure with dozens of other old men and women, many of whom are sickly. When The Standard visited the camp yesterday, the old folks were weary and bitter for not having got a chance to enjoy the fruits of the war fought by their forefathers to liberate the country.

The living conditions of the elderly and children within the camp continue to worsen. Mama Khamisi says she feels like a foreigner in her own country.

Nujum Sisters, a group of women in the area, have been providing relief to the elderly and children by donating bedding, foodstuffs, medicine and diapers.

“We sometimes use social media platforms to highlight their plight,” said Hawa Abdulrahaman, the chair of the group.

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