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Adam Hussein Adam (1934-2016)

Volume 13, Issue 2  | 
Published 30/11/2016
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This month, the Makonde people – who were brought to Kenya in the 1940s to work in sisal plantations at the coast – trekked from Kwale to Nairobi and accomplished a long-awaited victory. After an audience with the president, they were promised the documents of citizenship, and they received a national apology for their stateless status over the last number of decades through the denial of ID cards.

The Makonde story is more than a story of triumph. It is also a story of how the colonial category of tribe has continued to enslave many Kenyans, over 50 years after independence. Being a member of an ethnic group outside the so-called 42 (now 43) ethnic groups recognized by the Kenyan state is a condemnation to modern day slavery. Without the all-important ID card, Kenyans cannot open a bank account, buy a sim-card, own property, access employment, or education and other social services.

If anyone articulated the indignity of living stateless in Kenya, it was Adam Hussein Adam. A fourth generation Kenyan Nubian, he was one of the lucky ones to get an ID, thanks to his admission to a national school. But that was not enough. He was denied the opportunity to play in the national rugby team because he could not get a passport without providing the birth certificates of all his parents up to his great grandparents. The delayed acquisition of a passport meant that he could not travel abroad where he had been offered employment. But Adam was not one to give up seeking justice. He eventually filed a case seeking the High Court’s interpretation on the Kenyan nationality of Nubians. The High Court ruled that he present 120,000 signatures from Nubians with accompanying documentation of their identities. As Rasna Warah said in her tribute to Adam, the ruling was absurd because ‘these were the very documents that were being denied them and for which he had gone to court in the first place’.

I was fortunate to hear Adam’s story from Adam himself. I met him when he took a seminar I offered on African political thought, in which I hoped to equip participants with theoretical tools besides ethnicity with which to discuss politics.

I treasured Adam’s friendship. Adam consoled me that I was not crazy to think the way I did. Every time we bumped into each other, we talked at length about the need for Kenyans to understand that some of our people have genuine complaints about ethnic discrimination. So at the end of 2012, I invited Adam to talk about marginalization to our university community. At the time, I had dreams that Kenyans could be taught to think politically and socially, and having a talk by Adam would be a start.

But it wasn’t that easy. When the day came, we were an audience of about five. I was embarrassed, but Adam told me not to worry; five was good enough.

And when it became clear why, I was blown away.

Adam truly believed in Kenya and believed that Kenyans from ‘mainstream’ tribes would do the right thing. He felt that if he could tell one more Kenyan to care about the marginalized, he had made a difference. He was not bitter, despite all that he had been through. He was hopeful. He told us that the majority can guarantee the rights of minorities, since the majority has the clout and presence which minorities don’t have. ‘If the majority does not desire justice,’ he said, ‘the minority will suffer’.

Adam truly believed in Kenya, more than many of us did. He embraced all Kenyans, even though Kenya did not embrace him. His friendship gave me hope that we could fight for a better nation together. There was so much to do in raising awareness about the marginalization and statelessness of many Kenyans. His sudden departure therefore left such a deep void. He died just before the Makonde finally got citizenship. When I read about it, I wished Adam was here to see it happen. I can imagine that we would have seen his cheerful smile yet again.

We must honour his faith and openness by remembering him and continuing the struggle.

Wandia Njoya

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 December 2016 23:22