KENYA-SOMALIA: Continued border closure hurting livelihoods

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Faith Karimi considered herself a moderately successful trader, exporting vegetables from Kenya to Somalia. Her lucrative trade, however, ground to a halt in January when the Kenyan government closed the border, fearing that escalating unrest in Somalia would spill over into Kenya.

"I am struggling to sell second-hand clothes and my three colleagues have gone back home to try their hand at farming," said the mother of three, who lives in Garissa town, the administrative headquarters of Kenya's Northeastern Province, which borders Somalia.

"We lost a lot. The border was closed without any notice. We could not even collect the money for the goods we had supplied to traders in Somalia," said Karimi.

Asha Abdi Hersi used to make a tidy profit importing clothes and livestock from Somalia. Since the closure of the border, however, she has had to eke out a living selling khat, a mild narcotic, chewed mostly by members of the Somali ethnic group in the Horn of Africa.

She described the closure of the frontier as punitive, saying it had reduced many families who depended on cross-border trade to destitution.

"The government should give us food and school fees," said the mother of six.

A transporter, Abdirizak Ali Hussein, complained that his lorries were now idle and that he had even been reduced to cannibalising the vehicles and selling the parts to feed his family. "For the first time in my life, I recently took relief food provided to poor families in the district. I was ashamed and embarrassed."

Hassan Abdille, chairman of the Garissa district chambers of commerce and industry, said hundreds of families in the Northeastern Province had lost their livelihoods because of the border closure. Insecurity in Somalia did not warrant a total closure of the border, he said.

Siyat Dagane, a councillor from Wajir district, said prices of commodities, especially food, had risen because they were now being brought in from farther away - the capital, Nairobi, and other areas of central Kenya - instead of Somalia.

The closure had also denied Kenyan livestock traders access to markets inside Somalia, according to Adan Dualle, chairman of the local livestock traders’ association.

Local officials early in 2007 estimated that at least 2,000 children from Somalia who attended schools in the Kenyan border districts of Mandera, Ijara, Wajir and Garissa were forced to drop out when the border was closed.

Source: IRIN
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