Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Am I Stateless Because I Am a Nomad?

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Am I Stateless Because I Am a Nomad?

Article excerpt

As a pastoralist from Turkana, who am I and where is my nationality, my citizenship?

I hail from the Ateker nation, an Itung'a-speaking group, bound by ethno-linguistic ties and practising nomadic pastoralism as our main livelihood activity. The Ateker inhabit the borderland area straddling four countries - Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

They occupy the peripheral semi-arid and arid borders of their respective nation-states and are arguably the most marginalised peoples there. This is also one of the most conflict-prone zones in the Horn and East Africa region, with both intra- and interethnic conflicts with other Ateker groups and non- Ateker neighbouring communities. The zone also suffers from weak or absent state institutions.

I am primarily known as a Kenyan because I hold a Kenyan passport. Yet I am a member of a group that is spread across at least four countries. So where is my real nationality, my citizenship, my state? Or rather, where is my loyalty? These are complex questions in the light of the discourse around nationality and citizenship as well as their co-relation to statelessness; in the context of a nomadic pastoralist, what benefits accrue to me from having a nationality since I move through porous borders, de-linked from government machinery? When I come across government agents such as the police, they are more often than not the instruments of persecution. As a nomadic pastoralist, I owe my first allegiance to the Ateker nation in all its manifestations across four countries.

When my people visit the modern urban centres in Kenya, they say they are visiting Kenya; and when I go to my village in north-western Kenya, they ask me "how is Kenya?" or "how is the land of emoit (the foreigner)?" There is a fundamental explanation for this in the context of how the nation-state has developed over the years. The process of denationalising other peoples, such as pastoralists, emerges when one tribe dominates politics and relegates others to the periphery. Within the context of post-colonial nation creation, pastoralists are forced into a nation, citizenship and nationality they do not subscribe to.

Back in the 1920s, while describing the Turkana (an Ateker group), a colonial administrator put it this way: "There is nothing good that can come out of controlling the Turkana; the Turkana were hut a problem that is best transferred elsewhere. …

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