‘Marsabit is not Kenya’

Sarah Hirdo Marsabit

In May, Tabitha Muthui, AID staff member based in Nairobi, visited Marsabit in northern Kenya to explore the possibility of establishing a project similar to Manna Microfinance there.

Christianity on the Decline

Marsabit is the largest county in Kenya. Its major town Moyale borders Ethiopia to the North and it takes 12-14 hours to travel there by bus from Nairobi. Although the land is vast, it is only home to roughly 300,000 people including Cushitic-speaking Rendille, the Gabra and the Borana Oromo. Close to 40% of the people living in Marsabit County are Christians; 32% are Muslims while 28% adhere to other religions. However, Christianity is on the decline due to the rising influence of Islam from nearby Somalia and Ethiopia. The majority of the population (roughly 80%) are nomadic pastoralists (herding livestock from pasture to pasture) while others are subsistence farmers, business people or salaried employees working for the government or NGOs.

Tabitha Marsabit
Tabitha and a Christian member of the Rendille people
Population Marginalised

Recently, the Kenyan government built a tarmac road linking Kenya to Ethiopia which has facilitated smooth travel between villages in Marsabit. However, the population has virtually no access to electricity and the area is on the whole marginalised in comparison to the wider country. It is not common for children to own shoes, drink clean water or have enough light for their homework. In fact, ‘Marsabit si Kenya’ is a saying in Kenyan Swahili which means ‘Marsabit is not Kenya’. This is due to the considerable underdevelopment in comparison to other parts of the nation and with the current economic crisis, there is no sign that this will change.

Drought and Gender Inequality

Marsabit is also one of the driest counties in Kenya with temperatures ranging from 28C to 35C. It receives very little rain and due to climate change, this is actually decreasing. During drought, many elderly or vulnerable people die because those fetching water have to walk 14km. In fact, many young girls travel to fetch water thus missing out on school; a large proportion cannot speak the national language of Swahili as a result which exacerbates gender inequality.

Girls collecting water Marsabit
Girls collecting water in Marsabit
Business Opportunities Amid Challenges

Despite the challenges faced by the people of Marsabit, the area is ripe for business. Marsabit Town is slowly transforming into a business hub with goods brought in from Moyale or Isiolo. People are gradually learning through experience to become traders without any training on profit or cost of production. However there are challenges from armed groups, cattle raiders and communal conflicts arising from the water shortage.

Furthermore, spiritual challenges pose a significant threat as young Christian men in Marsabit are under threat from groups such as Al-Shabaab looking to recruit them for jihadist training in Somalia. These young people are often tempted away through material gain as the Church is unable to support them.

Foundation for Growth

Anglican International Development plans to collaborate with the Diocese of Marsabit to establish a new microfinance programme, based on the same model as Manna in Juba, South Sudan. This will enable business people like Elizabeth Adija Ndmise to access enough capital to expand their enterprises:

‘As a Christian trader in Marsabit there are no institutions for financing traders, the institutions available have heavy interests which we cannot repay. We are requesting for a small financial lender who can charge minimal interest.’

Elizabeth Adija Ndmise
Elizabeth Adija Ndmise

Please pray for this work in its embryonic stages – that progress would be swift so that the population of Marsabit have a foundation upon which to build their economy.