Soudanese soldiers were incorporated into the British Army in the late 1880s and brought to Kenya in the early 1900s. They served for the British Army in the King's African Rifles during World War I against the Germans, and in World War II in places like Somalia, Abyssinia, Madagascar and Burma. Nubians played a vital role in the defense of Kenya and the development of East Africa. Unable to return to Sudan, the Nubians and their families remained in Kenya and in 1912, the British government
designated some 4197 acres of land for the Nubians to settle on. In 1917, the British gazetted it as land for the Soudanese askaris and their dependents. The land was located outside of what would become the city of Nairobi. The Nubians named the land, Kibra, or 'land of forest'.
The British colonial government categorized tribes in Kenya and designated the 'Kenyan tribes' to live on land called 'Native Reserves'. Nubians were intentionally categorized as 'Detribalized Natives' by the Colonial government and not a tribe native to Kenya, which denied them the right to claim land on 'Native Reserves'. Over the decades, this designation has been used to exclude the Nubians from Kenyan society as well as any rights to the land of Kibra. In 1955, only 3000 people, mostly Nubians, lived in Kibra. Over the past 40 years, hundreds of thousands of rural migrants have flooded into Nairobi seeking jobs and Kibra has been the land where they’ve been encouraged to settle. Eventually, the Nubian village of Kibra would come to be known as Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa.
Since Kenya's independence, Kibera has been contested land. In 1971, a Bill requiring the government to demarcate and title land parcels in Kibera was passed yet was never implemented. Nubian claims to title deed for land in Kibera have never been recognized. Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of people living in Kibera, including the Nubian community, continue to be considered squatters, even though they settled on the land of Kibera generations ago.
Having lived in Kenya for over 100 years, the Nubian community in Kenya has historically been denied recognition. Before Kenya's independence, many Nubians carried British Colonial passports and had birth certificates that stated their nationality as British. After independence, they have been one of Kenya's most invisible and under-represented communities economically, politically and socially. Most of the Nubians were not recognized as citizens of Kenya after independence. Up until the most recent census conducted in mid-2009 the Nubian community was not a formally recognized tribe of Kenya. They were considered as 'Other Kenyans' or simply 'Others'.
Because they were not recognized as a tribe in Kenya and because their claim to land in Kibera has been contested by successive governments, the Nubians have been unable to fully participate in Kenyan society. In addition to their struggle to secure land rights, obtaining important documents needed for everyday life like National ID cards and passports has been a challenge for
For years, Nubian youth have had to go through a nationality verification process called 'vetting'. Vetting is a process where Nubian youth at the age of 18 are interviewed by a panel of officials to which they must prove their connection to Kenya. Nubian youth have commonly had to present any number of documents, including grandparents' birth certificates. Vetting has been a requirement for a Nubian to obtain a National ID card. While members of Kenya’s recognized tribes receive their ID cards in only a few days, or at most a few weeks, many Nubian youth have had to wait years and some have yet to be issued IDs. Nubian youth say vetting is the primary reason why they lack documentation or National ID cards. As a result, unemployment is a common challenge among Nubian youth because without an ID they cannot secure even basic formal employment. In addition, this has also led to difficulties in their freedom to travel and to access higher education. In recent years, a more flexible approach by the authorities has helped ease some of these restrictions.
Nubians consider Kenya to be their home and Kibera their ancestral homeland in Kenya. As one Nubian elder says, “My rural homeland happens to be in the capital of Kenya.”
Over the years the Nubian community has strived for recognition in order to contribute to a country and society they have lived in for over one hundred years. This exhibition, aims to inform people about the Nubian community’s history in Kibera and it’s contribution to the development of Kenya. It aims to help promote the dynamic and rich heritage of a community few are aware of and it intends to help tell the story of one of Kenya’s communities who, as one Nubian elder described is, “being squeezed into extinction.”