Forgotten in the forest: A plight of the Watha community


As the world strives in modernization and basking in the glory of civilization, one may not easily believe that there is a community which is detached from the rest of the world and which has not yet tasted the fruits of devolution since its inception in Kenya. 

A journey into the interior of Kilifi County will however prove of its existence.

It is a community whose members do not know who the reigning president is or the name of their Governor. They have no representation in leadership, not even a chief and depend on leadership from other communities.

Tucked away from the daily politicking and shenanigans that will trend for hours on social media, where everybody’s voice is heard at the click of a button, the Watha community continues to be voiceless.

My expedition in search of the Watha territory begins at 9 am in Kilifi town. We drive out of town and branch off at Kibaoni headed towards Ganze. The ride on the Kilifi- Bamba road is different compared to how one feels while driving on the newly tarmacked roads in town-thanks to devolution.

As I reach for my seat belt my colleagues quickly tell me to expect a bumpier ride ahead. The drive to Bamba has no hitches and nothing much to talk about except for culverts constructed on areas one would not expect. El-Nino must have been felt in these areas. 

The moment we passed Rima Ra Pera primary in Dangarani, things begun to take a different shape.

First was the loss of communication networks on our phones. The wide earth road changes into a narrow road sandwiched between thickets. The road can only be identified by tyre marks left behind by trucks ferrying charcoal from the hinter land. One can easily mistake the road for a sweet potatoes bed or a ploughed farm.

The vehicle keeps on grinding on objects beneath it. Making me wonder if we will arrive safely and how we will call for help if anything is to go a miss, considering that there is no network coverage.

The mode of transport along this road is mainly overloaded motorcycles for the fortunate and by foot for the less privileged. 

We come across Midoina primary school then Dhaladho ECD centre and finally we arrive at Jira Primary the furthest located school in Kilifi County. 

The intensity of the midday sun would make one think that it had been brought closer to earth. This is the condition residents in this area have to bear with everyday. The land looks dry and thickets dominate the landscape. We are only a few Kilometers away from Tsavo East National park.

We are shown into an office and it is at this point that we seek to find out about the Watha community. The deputy head teacher tells us that we are already in their territory since a fraction of the pupils at the school is from the Watha community.

We ask if we can speak to their elders. Something the teacher promises to organize for us. After a while we drive deeper into the village. The community has gathered at a burial ceremony. It is here where we find some members of the Watha tribe.

We request to speak to a section of them. At first they hesitate then consult each other in their native language before accepting to speak to us.

“We are a marginalized community. We neither have a chief, a councilor nor a member of parliament. We are just destitute people without a representative in leadership,” said Galgalo Guyo one of the elders of the Watha tribe.

He said the village has not seen any developmental projects in the area funded by the government. All they know is an organization called world vision which has been introducing them to a food security and sustainable project.

The tribe depends on hunting wild animals and gathering wild fruits, roots and honey for its daily survival is believed to be the native owners of this land. A land they have lived in and hunted for decades.

This is a practice that has distanced them from the rest of the world for decades. This is because most of the time they are in the forest hunting. It is a situation that is making them to have no permanent homesteads.

Lack of formal education is the reason behind their misrepresentation in the leadership structure according to Guyo.

“We have no leaders because our education level is very low. The post that anyone of us can hold is that of a village elder for it requires no academic qualification,” he said.

The Wathas however, are trying to catch up with the rest of the world but they are faced with myriad of challenges. 

“We want education for our children but we have no money to educate them. The level of education we can afford is up to primary. We want modernization and development. We are therefore pleading with the government to also look at our welfare like the rest of the communities in the country,” added Guyo.

Another challenge facing their long search for equality is the ill treatment by neighbouring communities which treats them as outcast.

“They call us “Waria Ngulo” a term we don’t know what it means and we don’t want to be associated with. When we take our girls to school, instead of seeing them as human beings they treat them like sex objects and finally impregnate them,” said Jumwa Bajila an elderly woman among the community.

She added that despite raising concerns with the involved communities there are no actions taken to solve the vice which cuts short many dreams of the girls in their tribe.

Her sentiments are echoed by Wario Hindi an elderly male who said it was very easy for the neighboring tribes to get married to their women but very difficult for them to get a woman from other tribes.

“Women from other tribes despise us so much. They want nothing to do with us. We are patient people and that is the reason it has not brought any conflicts between us and the neighboring tribes,” said Wario.

Worst still is faced by the women when they are due to deliver. The area has no health facility and the closest is located at Midoina, more than ten kilometers from Shirango village.

“When a woman becomes pregnant it is like risking their own lives. This is because when it is time to deliver we either lose the child or the mother,” Said Hadiwa Abajila who is among the lucky women who have made it through labour and child delivery.

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She further said that most of the times women loose children because of the adverse conditions that they are exposed to when they deliver on their way to the hospital.

This is an experience that most women do not want to encounter in their lives hence making them to prefer giving birth at home rather than going to hospital.

“We are advised to go to hospital when we are sick or giving birth but we depend on traditional medication since we are far away from the dispensary which at times does not have the required medication to treat some ailments.” averred Hadiwa.

Having had a firsthand experience of the scorching sun and the smell of dry land in the area, it is evident that they lack access to clean water. This is something that Guyo quickly confirms.

“We do not have access to clean water. The water we drink is from rivers or from water pans that world vision has encouraged us to build.  The sources of water are very far and women can only make a single trip every day,” Guyo confirmed.

In a shocking revelation however, the Watha elder affirms that they vote after every five years but since time immemorial they have not seen the president or the governor visiting the area.

“The good thing we can say about the government is that we vote after every five years but we have not seen the benefit of casting our vote since independence,” said Guyo.

The tone of our conversation quickly changes as we draw to the end. People who were once worried upon seeing us carrying all sorts of gadgets begin to be jovial and break down into songs and dances as we conclude our interview.

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