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Kenya's Nubians: Outsiders in their own country

From David McKenzie, CNN
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Outsiders in their own community
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nairobi's Nubian community say they've faced discrimination for generations
  • The Nubians were recruited from Sudan by the British army at the turn of the last century
  • Nubians settled in a forest near Nairobi now known as Kibera
  • Government officials admit that they vet Nubians "to prove they are Kenyan"

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- It certainly isn't unique to East Africa -- it's believed there are some 15 million stateless people worldwide. But for one community in Kenya, the discrimination has lasted for generations.

For decades Nairobi's Nubian community have called Kenya home, yet today, they are still considered outsiders.

The Nubians are originally from northern Sudan and southern Egypt, where they settled along the banks of the Nile. They can now be found scattered throughout East Africa and some parts of Northeast Africa.

Nairobi's original Nubian population was recruited from Sudan by the British army at the turn of the last century. The group was part of the famed Kings Africa Rifles regiment.

They helped expand the British Empire and served in both world wars. As a reward for their loyal service, the British settled Nubian veterans in a forest near Nairobi, which they named Kibr.

It is very unsettling that you can actually feel that you belong to the place, but still suffer discrimination...
--Yousuf Ibrahim Diab, Secretary General of the Nubian Council
RELATED TOPICS
  • North Africa
  • Sudan
  • Kenya
  • Nairobi

Years on and the area is known as Kibera -- the largest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest urban slums in Africa.

The descendents of Kibr's Nubians, like Naima Shaban, struggle in the margins of society.

Her story and experiences echo those around her. She was born in Kenya, as were her father and mother, but still feels like a second-class citizen.

Shaban explains that she lost her national identity card and has been waiting for 10 years to be issued a replacement. Getting a replacement identity card is a task that most Kenyans would wait only a few days or weeks for.

Without the identity card she is on the fringes of society and cannot access proper healthcare, open a bank account or even get a death certificate.

Shaban says she can't even improve her house, built from mud, because Nubians cannot get a land title in Kibera and permanent structures are at risk of being torn down.

The Kenyan government owns all the land on which Kibera stands; however, it doesn't officially recognize the settlement, so the government provides no basic services and houses are at risk.

Nubian advocates explain that it is hard to get people to understand their dilemma.

"I graduated in 1996, and my first employment came in 2007 after 10 years of struggle," said Adam Hussein, who now fights for the rights of his community.

Unlike his college friends, Hussein had to file birth certificates, documents of good conduct and affidavits just to get a job and a passport.

Government officials admit that they vet Nubians "to prove they are Kenyan," but a decade in limbo for them can have devastating implications

"It just shattered me," Hussein said. "I actually stopped being enthusiastic about many things Kenyan. I cannot understand and nobody to date has ever explained why I had to do that."

To symbolize their plight, one community leader says you only need to look as far as the Nubian graveyard in Kibera. He explains that generations of Nubians have only belonged in Kenya when they die.

"This is one of the places where we can call our own without controversy," said Yousuf Ibrahim Diab, Secretary General of the Nubian Council.

He added: "It is very unsettling that you can actually feel that you belong to the place, but still suffer discrimination in certain aspects of normal life, to be treated as less than a citizen."

 
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