So, I’ve got this Google Alert on all things Dadaab. Today’s news about MOOCs in Dadaab and a classic reminder that the camps are still here raise some interesting, and expected, dilemmas I’m struggling with here.
First, the LA Times piece
“He did not come here by choice. Nobody does.”
Everyone who came to Dadaab had a decision to make before arriving here. There are always choices, even if they aren’t very good ones. I think the point the article is making is more that nobody wants to stay here. The article describes how the temporary camps turned into semi-permanent ones due to the continued violence in Somalia. It touches on the international and Kenyan national laws which institutionalized the camps to be the place they are now. Technically, the camps are still temporary. I’ve been interviewing some people for some research here, and while the full findings are not public, anecdotally (for what it’s worth) I can say that I haven’t met anyone who plans to stay a refugee. Staying in the camps is staying in one place, it’s continued paralysis.
Even for me – Expat Visitor – there’s a lot of waiting around here in Dadaab, waiting for a convoy, waiting for a driver, waiting for an email, waiting for a response. But refugees in Dadaab are pro’s at waiting. In a conversation, I realized the double bind that many young refugees are in, that they came here as children, they went through the camp system. They always thought they’d leave, but in the meantime life happened. There was no planning for the future, because it wasn’t guaranteed. They were waiting for something to change. They got married and had children. And now, 20+ years into their stay at Dadaab, they can’t go back, they can’t move out, and there’s very low chance that they, and their family, will be reunited through resettlement. That’s not to say that I haven’t met some who would go back to Somalia if they were certain of work. It may not be for those looking for university or those with young children (particularly women), but it’s an option for some.
On the issues of jobs for refugees, the LA Times piece says:
“Kenyan law makes it difficult for refugees to obtain jobs, which means the vast majority have to rely on food aid. The law also restricts their movements outside the camps, constraints that have tightened amid a government crackdown on Kenya’s Somali community since a deadly attack in Nairobi last year by the Somali militant group Shabab.”
According to Human Rights Watch, falling back on national security concerns, the Kenyan government has effectively discriminated against all individuals with refugee status in the country, forcing them to return to camps in Dadaab or Kakuma.
The LA Times piece also talks about the Big Dream, resettlement to the West. Trapped between a Somalia that is unwelcoming and potentially deadly, Kenya that is unwelcoming and restricted, the dream of many is to get a scholarship or some other path to resettlement in the West. In 2010, almost 10,000 people were resettled. The odds are better than winning the lottery, but it would still take 30+ years to resettle everyone in Dadaab, if the current trend continues.
So yeah, “Aid groups are involved in every aspect of life here,” which perpetuates a cycle of dependency, entrenches the camps, and makes it impossible to move out or go back. But I’m not saying aid groups are the bad guy, nor is the government of Kenya. It’s, unfortunately, more complicated that that.
So what’s going on in education? The LA Times piece puts it this way:
“Children are getting an education,” he said of young refugees. “They have diplomas and degrees. But where are you going to apply it? Where are you going to test the fruits of your education?”
Truth, and this is the link to the MOOC article. There are opportunities, not a lot, and not enough, but there are educational opportunities. But after the degree, what next? MOOC’s have potential, but as the article points out, you still need to get the learners to a computer center, which is harder and more expensive than one would imagine. Building centers within the camps also works, but requires security (costs), infrastructure (costs) and staff (costs).
So it’s a rock and a hard place, Kenyan national policies, a struggling Somali state, and an unlikely wait for resettlement. I wish I had a solution that I could package and post in a blog. That would be great, right?
Finally, to clarify, since I live in the compound described in the LA Times piece (and nicknamed Geneva from the team I’m working with) : we have several main attractions, my closest one has a big screen and Guinness, which is usually cold. There’s also a great little spot in the UNHCR compound that has a nice pool table, a neighboring NGO also has a pool table (though its a bit wonky) and I’ve heard there are a couple other places to hang out that I haven’t been to yet. Oh, and don’t forget the ice cream joint across the way. Strawberry and vanilla swirl, anytime you want it (within reason). And lastly, the path around the compound is 1.5 miles, not three.