Destroying What Works? Barclays and the Changing Somali Remittances Marketplace

By Emma Lochery

In May this year Barclays announced it would no longer supply bank accounts to 250 money service businesses as of July 10th – including four major Somali money transfer businesses. For most other countries that rely on remittances, there are alternatives for sending money, but Somalia is in a difficult position due to the weakness of its banking system, lack of banking regulation, and high level of need. After much protest from Somali diaspora and other civil society groups, the original deadline was extended a couple of times for particular companies, but as of mid-October only one Somali money transfer company had been allowed keep its account open pending the outcome of a court case arguing that Barclay’s decision violated competition law.

Oxford’s Horn of Africa Seminar met on October 15th to discuss the Somali remittance landscape and the challenges ahead.

Amidst the multitude of challenges facing Somalis today, money transfer agencies represent ‘what works’ in the Somali territories. As pointed out by a FSNAU report authored by Laura Hammond earlier this year, they provide an efficient way for an estimated minimum of $1.2 billion to be remitted back to Somalia every year, which is far more than what Somalia receives in international aid (on average just under $850 million for the last five years), foreign direct investment (just over $100 million in 2011), or exports earnings ($516 million in 2010). In the FSNAU study, which covered both rural and urban areas, 40% of all Somalis surveyed said they received remittances from abroad – and in urban areas that number rose to over 50%. Remittances helped meet basic needs; three-quarters of recipients said they used them to buy food and pay for services such as health and education. Three-quarters of recipients also said they shared what they received with others – demonstrating the way remittances help maintain a fragile but crucial social safety net. 93% of all recipients said they used money transfer companies to receive their money.

Money transfer companies in the Somali territories have also begun to offer more complex services, such as deposit accounts, debit cards, and credit to small businesses. They are a principal employer in the formal economy across Somaliland, Puntland, and Somalia. The bigger companies are also crucial players in wider Somali trade networks, facilitating financial transfers to the Gulf and cities in China and other trading hubs. Money transfer companies have helped to hold together economic networks, which are the mainstay of the Somali economy – from livestock to retail trade businesses. Based on informal mechanisms at first, but soon formalizing and adopting new technologies, they proved essential through the oppressive and extractive 1980s, helped families rebuild their lives amidst the wreckage of a state in the 1990s, and enabled people to survive conflicts in Somalia since then. They have been key in allowing Somali trade networks to expand and link into markets in Kenya, South Africa, and further afield. The names of the largest firms are household names – they are highly trusted brands in very insecure places.

However, the very factors behind the companies’ success are also some of the reasons for the current struggle with banks and regulators. To understand why, it is necessary to step back and look at the broader banking sector.  Since 9/11 in particular, there has been a huge growth in anti-money laundering regulations. Much of the pressure in the sector today comes from US regulators – and with operations spanning the globe, British banks such as Barclays cannot afford to ignore the changes. Last year in the US, HSBC was fined $1.9 billion by the US government for weak anti-money laundering controls in Mexico, while Standard Chartered was fined more than $300 million for violating US sanctions on Iran, Burma, Libya, and Sudan.

Money transfer businesses then find themselves in a difficult position. While the amount of money transferred as remittances is important to Somalis, for a bank like Barclays it is rather small in terms of their global business, and the small amount of profit is not worth the perceived risk of hosting the companies’ accounts.

While neither of the cases cited above involved transactions to Somalia, Somali money transfer businesses seem riskier to banks for two main reasons. First, they principally serve one country – and the less diverse a money services company’s customer base, the more risky they appear to a bank. So the reason that the major Somali money transfer businesses are so trusted in Somalia – that they are homegrown businesses with strong track records and connections at home and in the diaspora – means banks trust them less. Secondly, Somali money transfer companies generally rely on a third location as a clearinghouse – and these are most often in the Gulf States. Between a sender in London, and a recipient in Mogadishu, a transaction may also flow through Dubai, for instance. Dubai has long been a central economic node in Somali trading networks; Somalis migrated to labour in the Gulf in the 1970s, and in the 1980s, Somali businessmen took advantage of their relatively easy access to profitable and convenient Dubai markets. However the very ease of access and laxity of regulation that makes Dubai and its free zones attractive to Somali businesses makes large, global banks nervous that they might inadvertently end up flouting regulations in the other jurisdictions in which they operate – for very little profit.

To make matters worse, the UK government’s response has been rather slow and uncoordinated. The Economist hit the nail on the head with their article about the recent conference on a ‘new deal’ for Somalia in Brussels – much waffling about aid and not enough about how to fix the remittance question. Soon before the last and largest company was supposed to have its account closed, the government finally announced that over the next year it was planning to create a ‘safe corridor’ for transferring money between the UK and Somalia in partnership with the World Bank. However, it is unclear what will happen in the short-term before the corridor is set up. Questions remain as to if and when either the UK or US government will also create the regulation needed to assuage the banks’ concerns sufficiently. Somali money transfer companies have adapted to regulation before – but it is hard to adapt to regulation yet to be written.

Finally, last week’s speakers emphasized that people will find alternative means of sending money, sending cash in suitcases (risky for everyone involved and not exactly what the regulators want either…) or by using other companies on the market, many of which have a smaller geographical reach in Somalia. One company for instance has their clearinghouse in a more highly regulated location and connects with Somaliland’s mobile money system. Others are ‘small payment institutions’ (rather than authorized payment institutions), limited to remitting no more than 3 million euros a month. The largest company Dahabshiil, meanwhile, has managed to find a bank that will host its corporate client business, but not its small-scale remittance business that is so central to daily life in Somalia.

It thus remains to be seen how people will adjust to the closure of the accounts of the four major remittance firms – and what effects this will have on the overall market for money transfer businesses, some of whom are very powerful players on the Somali economic scene. As the Oxford event ended, we were still waiting to hear the outcome of the court case deciding whether Dahabshiil, the final company due to lose its account, had managed to escape the ‘final final’ deadline one more time.

This post is solely based on the opinion of the author, but we want to thank the seminar speakers who included:

Abdi Abdullahi, Chairman, SOMSA | Industry perspective

Edwina Thompson, Beechwood International | UK policy environment

Farhan Hassan, Somali Heritage Academic Network | Civil society view

Emma Fanning, Oxfam GB | Impacts on NGOs

Laura Hammond, SOAS | Livelihoods impacts

Chair: Anna Lindley, SOAS

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Youth responses to social engineering in Eritrea and Rwanda

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Opening up historical wounds in Northern Kenya: were toxic wastes dumped in the Chalbi desert in the name of ‘oil exploration’?

By Hassan H. Kochore

Last weekend’s feature story by KTN, ‘Desert of death’, told the story of cancer patients in Marsabit County, northern Kenya. Young and old, they lay on their deathbeds, having exhausted their meager resources on hospital bills. With few resources and no government support, nurse Asunta Galgitelle cared for patients with the utmost dedication and humility.

The number of cancer victims in Marsabit County has been rising for some years ; KTN and other news reports have highlighted the increasing prevalence of throat cancer in particular. Suspicion has fallen on the oil exploration wells drilled in the 1980s by oil company Amoco Kenya. The KTN report argued some of the wells do not appear to have been properly sealed and people living in the areas around the wells fear the water table has been contaminated.

The people of the Chalbi Desert have for centuries occupied one of the most unforgiving terrains of the globe through resilience and perseverance – it is deeply unjust that they could now be subjected to such a man-made disaster.

Oil Explorers

In a book chapter in 2011 , American anthropologist John Wood described how the Gabra of Marsabit district were hospitable to ‘oil explorers’.  He says, “Contrary to my expectations, the Gabra did not see oil explorers as intruders or invaders.” It seems that at worst the Gabra were indifferent to the explorers: “sure they remembered the equipment, they had watched the activity but it was none of their business.”

For their hospitality, the people of Marsabit were paid with the defilement of their sacred land. Land in Chalbi does not only support human life but is central to spirituality in the region. The whole of the Chalbi Desert and Marsabit County more widely are dotted with ritual sites; movement across the landscape is not only a survival strategy but a spiritual necessity.

Today, the people of the Chalbi desert may no longer be able to trust the land and its resources. The polluted habitat renders the population in a perpetual state of fear, not knowing when the next patient will be diagnosed with the ‘silent  killer’ or when the next herd will fall one by one having drunk the waters from the ‘cursed well’. Herds have died in their hundreds before – at Kargi in January 2008, for example. A monster has invaded the land of the nomads. Things are indeed falling apart.

#weareone

Worse still, their own government may have been complicit. Northern Kenya has long had a fraught history with the governments of Kenya, both colonial and post-colonial. In these lands, the government has long been referred to as ‘nyaap’- ‘the enemy’ in the preponderant Borana dialect of the larger Oromo language. Seeing chiefs and government health officials in the documentary pointing fingers at the government is testimony enough that government here is not trusted even by ‘insiders’.

Massacres have punctuated the history of the North — from violence carried out during the Shifta War to killings at Wagalla, Bagalla, and Turbi. Some of these were orchestrated by the government, were carried out with its complicity, or came about because of its laxity, as revealed by the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission report released earlier this year. While many campaigned to air their painful memories to the TJRC and ensured that the suffering of the past was exposed, there are no signs at present that the recommendations of the report will be considered or even discussed.

Meanwhile, Northerners continue to be neglected more widely when it comes to the provision of basic infrastructure and services like roads and healthcare – most of the cancer patients in the feature had to go to hospitals in more developed ‘down’ country areas like Meru where they deposited all their hard earned cash.

It will be interesting to see how the Kenyan government will respond to this crisis in these times of #weareone and ‘national cohesion and integration’. What measures will it take to curb this epidemic, ‘detox’ the land and try and win back the hearts and minds of the population?

Community support will be central to the success of some of the government’s regional infrastructural projects such as the multi-billion shillings Lamu-Southern-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET.) Great tracts of the railway, road and pipeline will pass through Northern Kenya. Community ownership of the project is key, and in these lands where the government is not very popular, a lot of ‘winning of hearts and minds’ will be necessary.  The oil exploitation in Northern County of Turkana will involve similar challenges. As a local lawyer said, summing up the feeling on the ground, “You cannot ignore us for 50 years then Turkana becomes the lingua franca after the discovery of oil.”

In summary, in order to redeem its legitimacy in the north, the government needs, as a matter of urgency, to begin fresh investigations into the rise in cancer cases and present a report to the County government of Marsabit, taking responsibility for any complicity it might have had in the disposal of toxic waste in the area. Without genuine efforts towards acknowledging and apologizing for its history in the region, the government will continue to alienate its Northern populations, the ‘integration’ rhetoric notwithstanding.

Hassan H. Kochore is a graduate student in African Studies at the University of Oxford.

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Pastoralism and Resilience – A Workshop

Horn of Africa Seminar Series

Oxford Pastoralist Research Day

Pastoralism and Resilience

Current Debates and Approaches to Development in Pastoralist Regions

May 31st, 2013

 12-5pm

Seminar Room, African Studies Centre

13 Bevington Road, Oxford

The recent drought in the Sahel and Horn of Africa has once again drawn attention to the issue of how pastoralist livelihood systems are responding to complex changes in the ecological, political and economic environment. At the same time donors and aid agencies are increasingly advocating for a ‘resiliency and risk reduction’ approach to pastoralist development initiatives.

The aim of the Oxford Pastoralist Research day is to bring together locally based researchers, practitioners and others interested in these communities to share ideas and experiences on what is meant by resilience and to interrogate the various assumptions and theories of change that is informing current policy towards pastoralists and the multiple challenges they are facing.

Confirmed discussants so far will cover the following issues:

Ÿ  Adaptations to drought in the Sahel

Ÿ  NGO practices in Somali region Ethiopia

Ÿ  Land rights and commercialization in the Horn

Ÿ  Herding and learning, models for appropriate education in Ethiopia.

Ÿ  Marketing

Ÿ  Emerging issues-Central Asia.

Students and practitioners are invited to join these discussions and share any aspect of their current research or ongoing project activity. The meeting is open to anyone interested in this topic.

Please register your interest or subject that you would like to present on and send this information to: kitdorey@yahoo.co.uk, angela.raven-roberts@lmh.ox.ac.uk or jason.mosley@africa.ox.ac.uk by May 5th 2013. We will inform you of the final agenda and look forward to seeing you at the meeting.

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‘Post-transitional’ directions in the Somalias — A Workshop

Horn of Africa seminar series workshop 

‘Post-transitional’ directions in the Somalias

April 30, 2013

12:00 pm

Nissan Lecture Theatre

St Antony’s College

University of Oxford

 

As Somalia’s Transitional Federal Charter was being wound down in August 2012, and particularly after the new Federal Parliament elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president in September, a surge of sentiment — loosely organised around the keyword/hashtag ‘Somalia Rising’ — was channelled into discussions on Twitter and other social media and discussion fora.  By and large, commentators focused on the positive implications of the change of leadership taking place in Mogadishu.

After the establishment of a notionally permanent government in Mogadishu, that optimism is set to be tested.  However, long-standing assumptions about Somalia may also need to be questioned, in order to gain a better sense of what has changed, what has not, and what new challenges are ahead.  Related to the question of where Somalia is headed is the question of the state of ‘Somali studies’ after two decades of reduced access for external scholars and an impaired educational environment in Somalia itself.

This workshop will consider a range of political and social dynamics, grouped around two themes — ‘Futures in the Somalias’ and ‘The Future of Somali Studies’.  In addition, we will take advantage of the occasion to launch a special issue of the Journal of Eastern African Studies, guest edited by Markus Hoehne, Effects of ‘Statelessness’: Dynamics of Somali politics, economy and society since 1991.

The workshop is open to all, and will involve a mix of academic and practitioner voices.  Please register interest (or questions) by emailing Jason Mosley, the convenor of the Horn of Africa seminar, at jason.mosley@africa.ox.ac.uk.

 

Directions to St Antony’s College:

http://www.sant.ox.ac.uk/about/directions.html

Programme

12:00 pm Doors open: Nissan Lecture Theatre
   
12:15 pm Welcome

Jason Mosley, African Studies Centre, Oxford University

   
12:30 pm Panel 1: Futures in the Somalias

Crisis and displacement; different solutions for different kinds of displaced

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

 

The role of the constitution in relieving or fostering conflict

Mohammed Seid, Independent legal scholar

 

The evolving role of Islamist groups in Somali politics

Mohamed al-Hadi, Al-Shahid Centre 

 

Whither the fourth estate is post-Transitional Somalia?

Jamal Osman, ITN/Channel 4 News

 

Chair/Discussant: Sally Healy, Rift Valley Institute

   
2:30 pm Coffee break
   
2:45 pm Keynote

 

Transitional Justice in the Somali setting

Markus Hoehne, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

 

Discussant: Lidwien Kapteijns, Wellesley College, USA

   
3:45 pm Panel 2: The Future of Somali Studies

 

Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Turn of 1991

Lidwien Kapteijns, Wellesley College, USA

 

Insider-outsider and gendered dynamics for Somali researchers in Somalia

Siham Rayale, SOAS, University of London

 

State-building in Somali Studies: Future framework

Mohamed Ingiriis, Goldsmiths, University of London

 

Chair/Discussant: Markus Hoehne, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

   
5:30 pm Reception: JEAS special issue launch

 

Effects of ‘Statelessness’: Dynamics of Somali politics, economy and society since 1991

Guest editor: Markus Hoehne, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

   
6:00 pm Dinner (optional)

 

St Antony’s College

(at participants’ own expense)

 

 

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ICES Resolution on the Graziani Memorial

It’s been a while since the International Conference on Ethiopian Studies in Dire Dawa, but we just received a copy of the resolution regarding the Graziani memorial that was passed there and thought we should share – see below, and see our own comment on the issue here.

H.E. Mr. Giorgio Napolitano,

President of the Republic of Italy,

H.E. Mr. Mario Monti,

Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy

Your Excellencies,

The 18th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies was held in the eastern Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa from 29 October to 2 November 2012. The conference brought together three hundred scholars from twenty-six countries from all over the world. It was the latest in the series of conferences first held in Italy in 1959.

On the last day of the conference, we the participants noted with great dismay the erection in August 2012 of a monument to the Fascist war criminal Rodolfo Graziani in the town of Affile. The name of Graziani is associated with the worst atrocities of Italian Fascism in Ethiopia and, earlier, in Libya, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Africans. He is remembered for vowing to deliver Ethiopia to Mussolini “with or without the Ethiopians”. He went on to fulfill that vow with indiscriminate use of chemical weapons and the massacre of thousands of Ethiopians. The notorious “Graziani Massacre” that followed the attempt on his life on 19 February 1937 was marked by brutal and inhuman killing of thousands of innocent Ethiopians. Targeted for liquidation in particular were a number of young educated Ethiopians. This was followed by the massacre in May of nearly three hundred monks and over twenty other Ethiopians in the medieval monastery of Debre Libanos. Continue reading

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Politicking about Ethiopian Cuisine with The Simpsons

By Alpha Abebe

Screenshot taken from video. Copyright: FOX Inc.

Screenshot taken from video. Copyright: FOX Inc.

As a child of the 80s and 90s growing up in North America, I was rather accustomed to hearing about Ethiopian conflict and famine on the news. However, one afternoon while my mother was watching The Young and the Restless in the living room, something caught my ear. A character casually suggested that the couple head to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. My adolescent mind was blown. How did the writers hear about Ethiopian food?! And who among them had the gumption to actually try it? Oh, and I sure hope they didn’t see the kitfo! Hitherto, I had only known Western and Ethiopian social spaces to exist separately, and the notion that the two could overlap truly fascinated me.

On November 13, 2011 an episode of The Simpsons aired, entitled “The Food Wife“. It featured a 3.5-minute segment where the family wearily stumble upon a Little Ethiopia enclave, but eventually find that they thoroughly enjoy the tastes and textures of Ethiopian cuisine. As foolishly entertaining as the show can be, The Simpsons is both a repository and icon of American pop culture and often provides great analyses on issues of contemporary global importance through satire. There’s much to learn from that two dimension dysfunctional family.

The following lines are taken from the opening scene of the segment, where Marge is horrified when her car breaks down in a dark and seedy part of town.

Bart: “Um, mom. Where are we?

Marge: “Nowhere scary” [as she hurriedly locks the car doors].

And later on in the segment when the family runs into some other non-Ethiopian characters at the restaurant:

Marge: “So did all of your cars break down?
Lisa: “Mom! They’re here on purpose. They’re foodies.

I presume that images of the neighbourhood were inspired by Los Angeles’ Little Ethiopia strip, however the details mirror similar establishments found in other metropolitan cities across North America. Fairfax Avenue/Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, the U Street corridor in Washington, D.C., and Danforth/Greenwood in Toronto. These are all small but vibrant enclaves, lined with Ethiopian restaurants, convenience stores and clubs. Continue reading

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14th Annual Researching Africa Day Workshop

Call for Papers:

Researching Africa: The Flow of Research?

Saturday, 23rd February 2013 –  St Antony’s College, Oxford 

Researching Africa Day provides graduate students with the opportunity to network with fellow researchers, exchange information, discuss research strategies and develop ideas in a constructive, stimulating and engaging environment. The workshop is open to all graduates working on Africa within the disciplines of history, politics, economics, development studies, literature, anthropology, social policy, geography, public health and the natural sciences.

This year’s workshop, Researching Africa: The Flow of Research?, interrogates the process of researching Africa. We hope to explore how research progresses, as well as examine the issues and obstacles that confront researchers at various stages. We aim to question the idea that research always follows a sequence that begins in the library and ends on the word processor. We have divided the workshop into four panels that follow the accepted chronology of research, and we invite papers that either investigate these stages (from the acquisition of material to its presentation), or challenge their relationship to one another, in order to understand the ‘flow’ of research as it actually is.

The four panels are outlined as follows:

1) Accessing

How do we access material? From gaining ethical clearance, to finding our ‘field sites’ and negotiating ‘gatekeepers’, what issues and difficulties do we experience as researchers in Africa?

2) Acquiring

How do we acquire material? From archives and life histories, to images and data-­‐sets, what choices does the researcher make in the process of collection?

3) Interrogating

How do we interrogate our material? From grounding personal experience to the application of theory, how do we make sense of what we have gathered during fieldwork?

4) Presenting

How do we present our material? From the format to the content, what dilemmas are faced and what impact do we make as researchers?

We invite papers on the panels outlined above. Presentations should be between 12 and 15 minutes, followed by a discussion between the panellists and the audience. Please send an abstract of your paper of 200 words by 25th January 2013.

We welcome participation from students beyond Oxford. While the cost of travel is not normally reimbursed, appeals for assistance with travel expenses will be considered in exceptional circumstances. We have limited funding and encourage speakers to pursue funding opportunities at their home institutions first. Accommodation for those who wish to stay the night may be available at certain colleges at your own expense.

Please circulate this announcement to colleagues as widely as possible, and address your submissions and enquiries to:

Ed Teversham, Juliet Gilbert, Khumisho Moguerane, Organisers, Researching Africa Day 2013

RAD.23Feb.Oxford[at]gmail.com 

Call for papers in pdf format.

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Ethiopia: A country suspended in time?

By Alpha Abebe

Image Copyright: Alpha Abebe

In development studies, it’s become rather stale to critique Walt Rostow – the grandfather of neoliberal ideology – and his 1960 book The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. We’ve seemingly moved past the tempting notion that a country’s health can be measured along a linear path of economic growth. And it should go without saying that it is no longer useful or appropriate to talk about societies as “backward and traditional”. And the concept of ‘modernity’ –the idea that certain countries somehow exist outside of time and are waiting to catch up with the rest – is ironically outdated itself. However, one has to wonder whether mainstream representations of Africa have moved far enough away from these stubborn tropes.

I was left wondering this very thing after reading Mary Harper’s recent piece for BBC News Africa: Ethiopia’s ‘cupcake divide’ in Addis Ababa. From the title and content of the article, one gets the impression that the author was dumbfounded to stumble upon traces of 21st century existence in the middle of Africa. Her article is framed as a commentary on the rapid industrialization in Addis Ababa, juxtapositioned against the country’s chronic poverty and political uncertainty. However, this story is buried beneath a rather colourful depiction of Addis Ababa, a city apparently suspended between two centuries and trying to decide which to settle in:

“… Every time I go to Addis Ababa, more tall, sparkling buildings take me by surprise and confuse my bearings.

Continue reading

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‘We shall return’: elections, anxiety and prophecies in northern Kenya

 By Hassan Hussein Kochore

 Hassan Hussein Kochore writes about a ‘we shall return home’ narrative gaining traction in parts of northern Kenya. People are looking north to a post-Meles Ethiopia while worrying what the 2013 Kenyan elections will bring.

In his seminal work on nationalism, Imagined Communities (1983), Benedict Anderson suggested that a feeling of national community is produced by the knowledge that all over the nation people are performing the daily ritual of reading the same newspaper.  This idea is best captured in the name of our own Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation.  In Nairobi, one can take for granted the ease with which a newspaper can be obtained from the supermarket, roadside vendors, and hawkers in traffic jams or even by borrowing it from a fellow passenger in a matatu. Many matatus these days actually have a copy of the day’s paper and if you’re lucky enough to sit next to the driver, you can monopolize it. By the time you get to your destination, you’ll have read the whole paper for free!

Then picture a place where a newspaper is hard to come by, a place where you can only ever buy yesterday’s paper, asking a shopkeeper on a Monday morning, “Nipatie Sunday Nation ya leo.” (Give me today’s Sunday Nation). Welcome to Marsabit County in northern Kenya, the nation’s ‘B-side’. Northern Kenya has historically been marginalized, closed off from the rest of Kenya and development actors like the churches. It was only after independence that the Catholic Church, for example, was allowed to build schools in Marsabit. Roads are almost non-existent, with heavy trucks – the most popular means of transport – carving out new roads for themselves every few days in the sandy landscape. It still takes two days riding on the roof of a truck to get to Marsabit from Nairobi. Continue reading

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