Throughout much of the 20th century, the Northern Frontier District (NFD) was a part of British East Africa. From 1926 to 1934, the NFD, comprising the current North Eastern Province and the districts of Marsabit, Moyale and Isiolo, was closed by British colonial authorities. Movement in and out of the district was possible only through the use of "passes". Despite these restrictions, pastoralism was well-suited to the arid conditions and the non-Somali residents—who represented a tiny fraction of the region's population – were relatively prosperous, whereas the Somali owners of the land were calculated in underdevelopment. Anthropologist John Baxter noted in 1953 that:
The Boran and the Sakuye were well-nourished and well-clothed and, though a pastoral life is always physically demanding, people led dignified and satisfying life... They had clearly been prospering for some years. In 1940, the District Commissioner commented in his Handing Over Report: "The Ewaso Boran have degenerated through wealth and soft living into an idle and cowardly set"...
On 26 June 1960, four days before granting British Somaliland independence, the British government declared that all Somali areas should be unified in one administrative region. However, after the dissolution of the former British colonies in East Africa, Britain granted administration of the Northern Frontier District to Kenya despite a) an informal plebiscite demonstrating the overwhelming desire of the region's population to join the newly-formed Somali Republic, and b) the fact that the NFD was and still is almost exclusively inhabited by ethnic Somalis.
On the eve of Kenyan independence in August 1963, British officials belatedly realised that the new Kenyan administration were not willing to give up the historically Somali-inhabited areas they had just been granted administration of. Somali officials responded with the following statement:
It was evident that the British Government has not only deliberately misled the Somali Government during the course of the last eighteen months, but has also deceitfully encouraged the people of North Eastern Province to believe that their right to self-determination could be granted by the British Government through peaceful and legal means.
Led by the Northern Province People's Progressive Party (NPPPP), Somalis in the NFD vigorously sought union with the Somali Republic to the north. In response, the Kenyan government enacted a number of repressive measures designed to frustrate their efforts:
Somali leaders were routinely placed in preventive detention, where they remained well into the late 1970s. The North Eastern Province was closed to general access (along with other parts of Kenya) as a "scheduled" area (ostensibly closed to all outsiders, including members of parliament, as a means of protecting the nomadic inhabitants), and news from it was very difficult to obtain. A number of reports, however, accused the Kenyans of mass slaughters of entire villages of Somali citizens and of setting up large "protected villages" – in effect concentration camps. The government refused to acknowledge the ethnically based irredentist motives of the Somalis, making constant reference in official statements to the shifta (bandit) problem in the area.
Read more about this topic: Shifta War
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