Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Wearing a green skirt, white trousers, a white blouse and a green veil, 13-year-old Zahara Abdi hastens her steps as she walks across the Mandera border point to Kenya. Weighing heavily with a paperbag full of books, she joins hundreds of other children from Somalia in uniform blowing dust with their plastic sandals as they troop from their war scarred state to seek for education across the border.

Zahara, who is a student at Arid Zone Primary School in Mandera District, says she hails from the Somalia border town of Bulla Hawa, about 500 metres from Mandera town.

"We don’t have educational opportunities back home because of the war," she shyly says as she mingles with dozens of other children crossing the border early in the morning. She says many of her schoolmates walk for very long distances from the interior of Somalia to seek for education in Mandera town.

However, Zahara, like the thousands of other Somalia nationals who seek education in the country, is not registered as a foreign pupil as is required by the Kenya’s Immigration Act.

No records of aliens

The Act stipulates that every foreign pupil should be registered and issued with a pupil’s pass upon payment of Sh2,000. Each school, through the head teacher, is supposed to register and submit the names of non-citizens in their schools.

The immigration office in the province says it has no records of the aliens in schools within its jurisdiction.

"No single foreigner is registered with the Government as a foreign pupil in the province yet every morning they cross from Somalia and Ethiopia into Kenyan schools," an Immigration official in Mandera who did not want to be identified said.

The official blamed the provincial administration and education officers for failing to register the aliens.

"The situation in North Eastern Province is chaotic in terms of registering aliens compared to other border towns," he noted.

The North Eastern Deputy Provincial Immigration Officer Nichodemus Muinde declined to comment on the issue.

"Going by the procedure we are not allowed to speak to the media. Any matter should be referred to our headquarters in Nairobi," he said.

Though the students may be drawn to the country by the quality of education, CCI investigations established that many may be looking for an easier way of acquiring Kenyan citizenship and securing jobs in the country using school certificates acquired in Kenya.

In North Eastern Province and parts of Eastern Province, the registration of persons officers demand parents’ identification documents and school certificates from those seeking national identity cards as proof of their nationality.

Some of the foreign pupils register for primary education when they are over age at a time when they are about to get to 18 years.

Dangerous trend

"Enrolment without proper government documentation of who is in the country is setting a dangerous trend in terms of security," Hassan Hussein Abdille, a resident of Mandera says.

"The teachers could be breeding dangerous elements in their schools who will cause trouble at a later stage," Abdille adds. Besides, the Government is using millions of shillings on educating foreigners, which should be going to Kenyan students.

In Mandera East, District Education Officer Mr Phillip Chuma admits thousands of Somalis are enrolled in local schools. He, however, noted that they were yet to be registered with the Government. In January, 826 pupils from Somalia had been admitted in the district alone though the Immigration Department had not registered them, Chuma explains.

He said aliens are enrolled because it is difficult to differentiate between genuine Kenyans and Somalia nationals.

"Some unscrupulous Kenyan parents keen to benefit on some monetary rewards accompany the aliens claiming to be their parents," Chuma says.

Mandera East District Commissioner Francis Lenyangume says an educational sub-committee had been formed to look into the issue. The subcommittee comprises his office, the District Education office, the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Immigration and other education stakeholders.

"We are concerned because the matter touches on national security," Lenyangume said.
Over the years the deteriorating security situation in the district has been blamed on foreigners.

Security threat

"The committee will carry impromptu registration even in secondary schools to net the foreigners," the DC said. "I am new in the District and we will do everything accordingly."

The North Eastern Provincial Director of Education, Pascal Makiti says the Government started registering the foreigners with the Ministry of Immigration this year. The registration forms (form 8) for a pupil’s pass are supposed to be signed by the head teachers before they are handed over to the Ministry of Immigration.

"Previously we were not registering foreign students as a policy because we did not want to discriminate children along nationality lines. Under the Children Act every child has the right to education and Kenya is a signatory to the UN conventions on child rights," he says.

The Government spends Sh1,026 per child in a year in the free primary education. This means it is spending millions of shilling to offer free primary education for Somalia nationals who are in class. It has also emerged that the aliens also benefit from bursaries since most perform well in school.

North Eastern Provincial Education Office reports that more than 200,000 primary school going children are yet to register in schools. The province, which has 321 primary schools, registered 109,929 pupils in primary schools at the beginning of the year, which accounts for 24 per cent of the total school going children.

To boost their school enrolment, some schools along the border encourage foreigners to enrol so they can benefit from free primary education funds.

Head teachers bribed

The Government disburses the fund on the basis of the number of pupils in a school.

Mandera District, which has most of foreign students, has 35 primary schools. The district was allocated Sh21.2 million this financial year to cater for the free primary education. In Mandera Central Division alone, there are 13,608 pupils who include unregistered Somalia nationals.

Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Hussein Mohamed said if there is a law that requires foreign pupils to be registered, it should be followed to the letter. He, however, denied knowledge of Somali nationals registering in schools in his constituency, which also borders Somalia.

Somalia’s Bulla Hawa District Commissioner, Ahmed Mohamed Yusuf Burkus says there are more than 3,000 students from Bulla Hawa District who cross to Mandera town every day in search of education.

"They go in shifts. There are those who go in the morning and others in the afternoon," he says.
He, however, could not tell whether the parents are forced to pay for their children to study in Kenya.

Investigations by CCI established that some school heads at the border could be receiving bribes to admit the foreigners without alerting the Government.

No vacancy

Some parents of the foreign children claimed they bribe school heads with up to Sh5,000 per term to maintain them in the schools.

"I paid Sh4,000 to get enrolment for my child. I pay the headmaster between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000 per term. I can’t question lest my child is sent home," said Hassan Birik, a Somalia national living in Bulla Hawa.

"I am not a Kenyan so I’m not entitled to free education. I just want my child to get education," Birik explains. "To Kenyans it is free but we have to pay for the children to be allowed to learn."

Parents from Kenya complain that often their children are deliberately denied enrolment.

"I went to register my child in one of the schools but I was told there was no vacancy despite the government’s instruction that no child should be turned away," Yussuf Abdille said. "I was forced to enrol my child in a private school where I’m now paying," he said.

Dujis MP Aden Dualle says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be responsible for the education of foreigners seeking refuge in the country. He says they should be educated in a refugee camp like Dadaab in Garissa.

Dualle noted that the Kenyan government only provides syllabus for the schools run by the UNHCR.