Kibos demolitions, Nubian community

A child heads back home from school at a site for internally displaced persons at Kibos, Kisumu County, on February 18, 2021. The residents, majorly of the Nubian community, camped at the site for nearly two weeks after they were evicted by the Kenya Railways Corporation.

| Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

The pain of the Nubian Community

What you need to know:

  • Despite living in Kenya for more than 100 years, members of the Nubian community have been through a tumultuous historical journey full of pain and anguish. 

Over the years, different groups of Kenyans have sued the British government for one reason or another.

There were maimed and bereaved families in Samburu that sued after unexploded ordnances were left behind by the British Army, only to wreak havoc later.

There were Kenyans tortured by the colonialists during the Mau Mau uprising. And now, another group has opened up a new battlefront, planning to take the British to court.

Despite living in Kenya for more than 100 years, members of the Nubian community have been through a tumultuous historical journey full of pain and anguish. 

The story of the community paints a gloomy and frustrating picture for the many of the minority group members who are struggling to find a foothold in the country and enjoy the rights as Kenyan citizens.

They were first brought to Kenya from Sudan to serve in the King’s African Rifles, a regiment of the British colonial armed forces. They were then settled in Kibera, Eldama Ravine, Kisii, Mumias and Kisumu.

They were allocated parcels of land to settle on, but much of the land has been repossessed for government projects.

Kibos evictions Kisumu

A man guards property at Kibos, Kisumu County, on February 6, 2021, following the eviction of at least 3,000 families by the Kenya Railways Corporation, in a bid to reclaim land from the Nubian community.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

"Open bias"

While the Nubians were recognised as the 43rd tribe of Kenya after the passage of the 2010 Constitution, not much has changed for the community, which continues to suffer discrimination and marginalisation by the authorities.

A representative of the Nubian community in Kisumu, Mr Abdulrahman Mohammed, 40, says the hopes and aspirations they had during the proclamation of the 2010 Constitution have turned into a nightmare as they fight for their rights and recognition.

“It takes a Nubian to apply for a national identification card or a passport to be welcomed to a world of open bias as we are taken through complex vetting procedures.

“Unlike members of other communities, the Nubians are asked for documentations that have no bearing on citizenship under the law such as grandparents’ birth certificates, title deeds and sworn affidavits,” said Mr Mohammed.

Many face substantial delays in obtaining the vital document, others never succeed in getting them at all and are basically left “stateless”.

In effect, this locks out a majority of Nubians from accessing basic services, including the right to employment, vote, buy property and acquire higher education, among other essential everyday tasks.

Mr Mohammed has a diploma in Sales and Marketing -- not a mean feat for a Nubian. After working as a salesman in one of the local industries for two years, he got greener pastures in Saudi Arabia in 2009.

“I saw this as an opportunity to improve my welfare and that of my family,” said the father of three.

Many misfortunes

But his misfortunes followed him to the foreign country 12 years later, after he was deported last December for allegedly stepping in to assist a Kenyan who was in distress.

“As one of the Kenyan leaders in Saudi Arabia, I was victimised by officials from the Kenyan embassy in Riyadh for taking in a fellow Kenyan who suffered from mental illness,” Mr Mohammed said.

After being put in detention for three and a half months, he said, he was unceremoniously extradited by the people who he says ought to have defended his action.

Back home in Kibos, the house he had worked hard in the foreign country to build was demolished after Kenya Railways Corporation officials descended on the property over what they claimed was encroachment on the corporation’s land in February this year.

Mr Shafi Ali Hussein, who chairs the Nubian Rights Association notes that the issuance of identification cards and land title deeds is the major headache the community faces.

Nubians are usually required to go through endless bureaucracy when applying for national ID cards. They are required to present a number of documents, which include the parents’ and grandparents’ ID cards.

“In the past, we would also be required to bring along title deeds before we can be registered, which was often impossible with the challenges surrounding our land," said Mr Hussein.

“I was forced to move to Milimani law courts in Nairobi after five youths in Mumias were denied IDs and asked to go for vetting,” said Mr Ali.

The matter is currently in court and the Attorney General and Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i have been listed as respondents.

“The Constitution allows anyone who has been a lawful citizen of Kenya and satisfied the conditions prescribed by an act of Parliament to apply for registration. This has, however not been smooth for us,” said Mr Hussein.

Nubian community officials

Nubian Rights Forum Executive Director Shafi Hussein and Paralegal Annette Opiyo address journalists at their Kibera offices in Nairobi on May 11, 2021.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

No government jobs

Members of the Nubian community have complained of missing out on government jobs as a result of their ethnicity.

On the issue of land, Mr Hussein said members of the community were allocated land in Eldama Ravine, Kisii, Mumias, Kisumu and Kibera in Nairobi during the colonial era, but much of it has been repossessed for government use.

“If one is discriminated against when acquiring land and citizenship then they are as good as the walking dead, because their social life is doomed.

“I am now planning to move to court to sue the British who brought us to Kenya and left us in the hands of a government that has never cared about us,” said Mr Hussein.

At the Environment and Land Court in Kisumu, Justice Anthony Ombwayo ruled that the rights of more than 3,000 residents were infringed by the eviction without an offer of alternative shelter.

For Mr Mohammed has now joined thousands of other jobless Nubians as he struggles to eke a living for his young family.

“My deceased brother, Ismael Akhmed Babala, who retired in his Kibos home in Kisumu, worked in the government for 36 years,” he said.


Originally from Sudan, the Nubian people were brought to Kenya more than 100 years ago, and were known to be fearsome warriors.

The British recruited them in large numbers in the military to help protect the newly acquired territories leading to the source of the Nile.

As was to be expected, the Nubians proved to be excellent soldiers and some even rose to junior officer levels. The British military did not repatriate them back to Sudan, and instead dispersed the community into Kenyan territory.

When the British colonial authorities started categorising Kenyan tribes, they deliberately left out the Nubians, whom they considered a detribalised community rather than a Kenyan tribe.

Consequently, Nubian villages sprung up in various parts of the country, the most well-known being Kibra (today’s Kibera) meaning “forest” or “jungle” which was established on the outskirts of Nairobi in 1904.

Other villages were located in Kisumu, Kisii, Meru, Mombasa, Iten, Bungoma, Isiolo, Kibos, Mazeras, Kibirigo, Migori, Katumo and Mogotio.

The British, however, ensured that Nubians could only build temporary structures on the land allocated to them by denying them title deeds.

These events and decisions are the genesis of the Nubians’ “temporary” existence in Kenya, which in effect, rendered them stateless to date.

Mr Hussein says he is planning to sue the British for abandoning them in a strange land and subjecting them to insurmountable suffering.

“I am now planning to move to court and sue the British who brought us to Kenya and left us in the hands of the government that has never cared about us,” he says.