Refugees walk away after receiving food at Kakuma camp on June 7, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile”, said the Argentinian intellectual Ariel Dorfman. Today, 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes, 22.5 million (50 pc) of them being young people under the age of 18 years.

Over 30 million (46 pc) of the world’s victims of forced displacement are in Africa. And nearly a third of these are displaced in the Horn of Africa, including 3 million refugees and 4.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Refugees are part and parcel of the larger problem of the youth bulge, undeniably a ticking time bomb that Africa must address. An estimated 56 pc of the 489,000 refugees in Kenya are young people under the age of 18.

We are rightly reminded that a bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to the new country of asylum. Great men and women like Illan Omar were once refugees.


In 1991, at the age of nine, Ilan and her family took shelter in Kenya’s Dadaab camp before migrating to the United States in 1995. On January 3, 2017, she assumed office as America’s first-ever elected Somali-American Muslim member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

President Barack Obama may be right when he argues that “A nation ringed by walls will only imprison itself”. But surging right wing populism and “fortress West” (anti-migration laws and policies and high walls) have shrunk the asylum and limited opportunities for refugee resettlement to wealthier countries of Europe and North America.

Despite this, the need to include refugees in development underpins the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SSGs), especially Goal 4 on refugees.

Furthermore, humanitarian- development nexus is the core of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrations as well as its Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), adopted in September 2016, as a model of durable solution to the global refugee crisis.


However, the real game changer is the development-turn in the thinking about regionalism and pan-Africanism, championed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at the dawn of the new millennium.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken the mantle of the new development thinking now propelling pan-Africanism, redefining citizenship and transforming refuge.

“The free movement of people on our continent has always been a cornerstone of Pan-African brotherhood and fraternity”, he proclaimed during his inauguration address on November 28, 2017.

Kenyatta has committed his country to building a “more integrated” and less balkanised Africa to enhance mutual security and promote development.

Citizens of African countries can now obtain visas at any port of entry to Kenya. And citizens from the six East African Community (EAC) member states only need identity cards to access the benefits of citizenship in Kenya!


Today the lynchpin of developmental pan-Africanism is the African Union’s Agenda 2063, adopted in 2013, which is inspiring a spectrum of homegrown solutions, strategies and frameworks to advance refugee welfare and integration.

On March 25, 2017, Kenyatta hosted the Special Summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees and Reintegration of Returnees, which agreed upon the Nairobi Declaration and its Plan of Action as a new regional deal for over 7.5 million victims of forced displacement in the IGAD region, especially Somalis.

When the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons in the IGAD Region finally comes into force, refugees will readily access the benefits of the new spirit of “cosmopolitan citizenship”.

“Education”, said Nelson Mandela, “is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Education has always been one of the fundamental human rights provided for in all core documents, including the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; the 1969 African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa; the 1989 Convention on the Right of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.


Both Agenda 2063 and the Nairobi Declaration (2017) give pride of place to education as a powerful tool to involve refugees in the development process.

It was the subject of the Regional Ministerial Conference on Refugee Education, the first-ever thematic meeting on refugees in the IGAD region, jointly convened by Djibouti, IGAD and international partners from December 12-14.

The conference highlighted the acute problem of access to education opportunities by refugee children and youths in Africa.

Here, refugees are five times more likely to be out of school than the global average. A recent UNHCR report on education entitled Left Behind: Refugee Education in Crisis (September, 2017) reveals that only 61 pc of refugee children in Africa have access to primary education, way below the 91 pc global average.

Even more worrying is the low level of refugee enrolment in secondary school, which stands at 23 pc compared with 84 pc globally.


Kenya has one of the region’s highest levels of refugee enrolment in education. As of December 2017, of Kenya’s 488,698 camp-based refugees in Kakuma and Dadaab camps as well as the Kalobeyei Settlement, 166,946 or 84 pc of all refugee children in Kenya, are enrolled in School. The vast majority of them are in the primary and secondary school-going age bracket of 6-18 years. Plans are under way to establish a technical institute in Dadaab, providing access to refugees.

“There are 16 pre-primary, 24 primary and six secondary schools in Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement with a total enrolment of 94,500 learners”, the Principal Secretary for Education, Dr Belio Kipsang, told the Djibouti conference, adding: “The Dadaab refugee complex has 32 pre-primary, 32 primary and seven secondary schools with a total population of 70,405 learners”.

Turning the refugee youth bulge from a ticking time bomb to a development opportunity requires commitment to the spirit of responsibility sharing and investment in quality education, skills training and access.

Prof Kagwanja is IGAD’s Consultant on the Implementation of the Nairobi Declaration on Durable Solutions for Refugees and Reintegration of Returnees in Somalia. This article is based on his participation in the “Regional Ministerial Conference on Refugee Education”, Djibouti, 12-14, 2017.



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