“I regret being in Dadaab”: Omot Ojulu

Dadaab, September 21, 2013 (GSN) - Dadaab, which is home to an estimated 463,000 Somali and others refugees, has since November 2011 recorded a series of abductions and road-side bombs, which the Kenyan police attribute to people linked to Somalia's insurgent Al-Shabab group.
It is another year in Dadaab, one that finds me still struggling for a better life, a better future and of course freedom; freedom to live independently and to decide the path that will shape my ambitions.


I really regret being in Dadaab indeed. I believe if I had been in Gambella, Ethiopia for the past ten years, I would have either been graduated from College or even got my master degree by now.  My future has been ruined by being in Dadaab.  The past year has been quite tough and very scary with unprecedented grenade explosions, killings and rigorous police operations; Dadaab has never been the same again. 


I remember one morning in late December 2011 when the police entered the residential blocks and started beating people; I heard people screaming and policemen shouting. I saw many people running behind our fence as they called out for me to follow. My mother was frightened, she was scared for me. From the look on her face I could tell how helpless she was feeling as she grabbed her falling wigs. I did not run at first, until I saw the police beating an old man. 

I wandered through the residential blocks with other colleagues the whole day, returning home in the evening.

I took my notebook and camera to document the aftermath of the incident. What I saw was horrifying: women complaining of attempted rape, a mother whose youngest child was beaten in front of her, injured men sleeping on mats in their houses with no medical care, shops that had been broken into and businessmen who had lost their savings. 

I feel that Dadaab does not offer full protection for refugees; it has become a place where anyone can be targeted. Refugees fear an unknown enemy and the sad thing is that even when the police offend you, you cannot talk about it. Fear has engulfed the whole camp; I feel unsafe.

However, these days it is getting calmer. Aid operations are resuming and there has been no terror incident for quite some time now; I pray that the situation remains the same.

Stalled dreams 

Despite all this, 2012 is showing promise and I am very optimistic that I will achieve my dreams even though the so-called scholarship that I got from the Canadian government last year did not work out.  I was extremely excited having been sponsored by Canadian government; I thought I had regained my identity at last but what followed was disappointing. The programme was cancelled for reasons that were not clarified.   

Meanwhile, since 2011 over 1,000 students have been taken from Gambella region to enroll in post secondary school to study different field across Ethiopia, so they can go back to Gambella and build social, economic and political development. But none of the Gambella Dadaab youths have been given the opportunity. I really regret being in Dadaab.

Rebuilding Gambella Region

Anyway, I am glad that at least there is some development in Gambella despite the complications in its administration and that will never kill my spirit to dedicate my skills to rebuilding my home State.

In the recent past, there has been a shift in focus among the Gambella Dadaab youth which I also strongly feel. We need to go back to Gambella to bring about the change the Gambellans people are yearning for. Some years ago, most of the youth wanted to resettle either in America, Canada, Australia or Europe to escape the harsh conditions of the region; the encampment policy and the limited opportunities. 

However, these days almost all the educated youths are willing to go back to Gambella region to take part in the reconstruction of their region as resettlement chances become slimmer. 

The main evening talk at the tea and coffee shops among my friends is about Gambella these days. Our attention is now focused on the hope of stability in Gambella and I find comfort in that. I want to back to Gambella, my home state, was a dream and a choice I always wanted to achieve. I wanted to live on the soil of my ancestors away from the congested refugee camps of Dadaab and far from the tall buildings of Nairobi that hosted me temporarily.

Empowering refugees 

After living this long in a refugee camp, since 1997, how am I preparing to be a future leader of my country? Is there a long-term vision for refugees to be trained as leaders rather than just calling for donations to feed them? As the international community gathers to stabilize Gambella, what plans does the UN Refugee Agency have for Dadaab refugees who are supposed to go back and rebuild their home country? How much capacity do we have to run our own development programmes as managers to steer the fallen nation towards success? I think we had better learn how to fish instead of waiting for free fish.

I am asking these questions because I hear them every day echoing in my mind and from my friends too. 

The writer can be reached @ Omot Ojulu, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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