Elly Omondi Odhiambo is from the Kanyamwa clan of the Luo tradition,a people of Western Kenya.
He has studied,worked and lived in Northern Ireland for nearly twenty years.He has researched and co-written several migrant-themed commissioned reports including Africans West of the Bann and Voices from the global South. He worked on the social and health care needs of migrants in northwest Ireland.
In Kenya, Elly worked did research work and capacity building promoting corporate responsibility and philanthropy.
He wrote a play Did You Come By Boat(2010), which toured the Northwest including the Playhouse theatre in Derry and received good reviews. He has written hundreds of articles in local and international media.He previously contributed opinion articles to the Sentinel in Derry under the tag Out of Africa. Elly has co-founded and chaired migrant community organisations in the North of Ireland.
He currently works in mental health and contributes weekly articles in Belfast Media Group.
NOTHING really big has happened to justify Brexit. For example, we haven't seen any saving of the sterling pound economy from wastage. This was one of the major claims of the people who wanted the United Kingdom to leave the EU.
THE legal situation in the case of the young Belfast boy Noah Donohoe is still not convincing. Some politicians have made the right decision to oppose the PSNI’s formal request that was granted by the courts that they hold on to sensitive information surrounding the death of Noah. Councillors in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council passed a motion with no dissent that the public interest clause should be withdrawn from Noah’s case. The police have consistently argued that the release of this information may harm public interest and therefore they asked the court to maintain something oddly called public interest immunity.
IT is one of those things in life that you believe that you have woken up on the right side of everything, that you have made the right decision to leave your country of birth with excitement to join a university in Northern Ireland – an experience many in struggling economies will not have. You realise that nothing is constant. This is the feeling a soft-spoken Nigerian student had when she landed in Belfast in this, 2022. Accommodation was a problem, as it is for many people now in the North. At her new house, an Airbnb, she was welcomed by two dogs. The student was reassured that those dogs don’t bite, they are timid fellows. She is not afraid of canines anyway, but in her culture, pets living in the house is not as common. The landlady was friendly the first few days, after that it turned very comical and then mean. The racist language towards her was repetitive and unbecoming. Should she stay on or leg it? There is no better way of showing your disappointment than by being straight about it. So she told her landlady that enough was enough, no more humiliation. No-one likes to be bullied and an ignorant, racist verbosity can define a person. It happens like this: Some people can be practising discrimination in their private sphere but the people who know them, family and friends, will not believe that they are indeed men or women of the ‘I don’t like you because of the colour of your skin’ persuasion. This is why it is difficult to fight racism, because it is contained in closets that others don’t know about. There is a hierarchy of racism and discrimination. Not many people in the North will want to be identified by either. So what is the problem? Burden of proof, racism in the closet and other competing campaigns against inequality informs the future of peace and quiet for the victims who have to endure this skin-deep thing. To say that racist feelings are perceptions by the victim is a lie that has been built over generations by politicians and governments who will go the extra mile to rely on the burden of proving whether what was uttered or done was offensive. There is an African saying from the Shona community and it goes: “A womb is an indiscriminate container, it bears a thief and a witch.” Fair enough, that sounds graphic, but it also means that same racist human being was not born like that. So no excuses. International students bring over £26 billion to the economy in Britain and Northern Ireland, these students bring big investment. We have seen new buildings mushrooming in university towns all over and it is a record effort being carried out to satisfy the needs of the students. I am glad that the student finally got a university apartment to live in. •WE know that the Earth provides for those who nourish it. It is said that the war of the stomach is fought and won with the hoe or tractor. But is it that simple? Not in the Horn of Africa, which has been experiencing extreme hot weather and famine in the last three years. This column spoke about the famine in East Africa and four Irishmen – Fra, Francis, John and Robert – showed what the Irish people are known for the world over: Humanitarianism. They said that they wanted just one person or one family to benefit from a donation of theirs that would face-off with this scandalous famine. Their gift to the dying poor will go to a family with very urgent needs. •GOVERNMENT, oh dear! Can the St Andrews Agreement of 2006 be recalled or the people consulted now so that a government can be established? There is no meaningful devolution now in Northern Ireland because no-one seems to care about it any more. On the other hand, it is fantastic that the slated Stormont elections will not happen because the people have said that it will be a waste of money. Some of us are looking for jobs to do, to make things better here for you and for me, but others don’t want to look themselves in the mirror and say, enough is enough let’s do some work. •All self-respecting people in society must continue to demand justice for Noah Donohoe and his family.
“MY mother worked as an NHS nurse for 45 years after she left Mauritius for the UK in the 1960s. My father (of Asian origin) left Kenya about the same time, thanks to the offer of a British passport during the political turmoil in Kenya.” That's Suella Braverman in her own words. She is the British Secretary of State for the Home Office. This is the department that is in charge of making decisions about the lives of immigrants who have come here on different types of visas and, of course, refugees and asylum seekers. Braverman went on to say: “The best thing about being an MP is the chance to serve and say ‘thank you’ to the country I love, which has offered my family and I so much security, opportunity and warmth.” I wonder if it is selective memory that has nothing to do with the Minister because it was her South Asian parents who migrated from Africa and not her, so being of a second or third generation, she is immune from being criticised about her recent comments on sending people to Rwanda while their asylum cases in the UK are being attended to.
KASHINDO David, what a force in the boxing ring – and in real life! Kashindo has never lost a fight since entering competitive boxing in Belfast two years ago. He has nothing to defend because no-one is coming for him yet.
THERE is something deadly happening in Africa right now, truth be told – let’s call it the Great Political Famine.
ONE needs an encyclopaedia now to know the cultures of Ireland – North or South. Something called the Irish culture is now debatable in every sense of the phrase.
THE fact is, compared to other parts of the UK, Northern Ireland citizens receive more than they pay to the government. The business and other rates in Northern Ireland are harsh, but not as brutal as what they have to pay in Britain. The council tax collector in those English shires and towns has to shine their annoying torch over the people, this in places where failure to comply may attract bailiffs. Many people of the anti-migrant hue of thinking get excited by the question, how much does the Home Office spend annually on services to asylum seekers? In most cases those against the investing of these monies by the Home Office as per international laws of asylum and refuge are afraid to admit that they are mostly ignorant. They also lack sincerity about wartime Europe when millions of people around this continent sought refuge – and who can say that this will never happen again? We have already seen what is happening in Ukraine, another topic that is misrepresented by commentators who make ridiculous conspiracy theories. They will also argue that Northern Ireland is being swamped by Ukrainian people. They will punish our ears, if we listen, with high decibel noise about these migrants who have made sure there are no school places. They are coming here with strange languages and our teachers cannot even understand what they are saying. They are littering the streets with their ethnic leftover foods. We have no hospital appointment slots left because some person from country A or B has grabbed the only one left. These strangers are determined to get our doctors and nurses busy because they produce more children. The anti-migrant racists will explore that thing about housing. Yes, that one – that we have given them our homes and now they are taking over our villages before they become our high sheriffs. Only a fool will believe the lies of the anti-migrants who even say that gas, electricity and oil hikes are because of these asylum seekers. Some things just need basic thinking and not alarmist toxic messages. Yes, the food and other basic commodity prices have been hiked all over the world, but here we are mostly blaming people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is this racialised thinking that must be stopped. The people of Northern Ireland do not pay the Home Office any money to run the affairs of asylum seekers housed in hotels. firstname.lastname@example.org
SOME time around September 2007, a call came to my desk when I was doing research work on migration at Magee Campus.The man introduced himself as Paul from the Northern Ireland Office. He said that he had heard me speaking on a BBC Radio Ulster programme that morning. He was interested to know if I could leave a specific date open. I said that would not be a problem. Of course I did not hear from him for over two months, because security checks were being done on me, I think. Then, in late October, I received a special invite from her Majesty the Queen to a Commonwealth reception that was slated for November 12, 2007.
I HAVE travelled home to Kenya. My paternal village is a small quiet place called Mirogi. It is near Lake Victoria, some twenty five minutes from Homa Bay township. I was trying to find any connection between Belfast and this, my rural place where I visited grandfather Ombija. The closest thing would be the Nile tilapia fish sold in the stalls at St George's Market or sizzling hot in some restaurant of exotic dishes. Grandfather Ombija has a spiritual thing that many Belfast ones also share: the rosary. Ombija and the holy rosary are inseparable.Think of a 21st century person with their cellphone – totally connected. This village used to be majority Catholic, they have Mirogi Boys’ and Girls’ schools. These two high schools are run by the local Catholic administration and public service teachers. The community has maintained its unique, quiet presence in the region but since my last visit in 2015, some few disappointments have come to fore. For example, it is very hard to believe what has happened to the local homes, architecture and social mannerisms. We used to have mud-walled, grass-thatched huts in both rich and poor homes. It was a symbol of Luo tribe traditions stretching back hundreds of years.
I WOULD say that there are many unofficial galleries of African art in many homes in Ireland. I can't explain this movement enriching the homes of many people here. Was it possible that Irish people were caught up in many ornamental fashions and African art became one of them? You know – the way a whole working class street where I live choose to buy the same type of blinds for their windows and after two years it is all change? Were the new collectors of African craftware even a phenomenon, or did people become tired of the same old flags, murals and bric-a-brac that represented the old Northern Ireland? I do think that some of the owners of these pieces of African art travelled to Africa as holiday-makers, missionaries and other pursuits that brought them in touch with the continent. I met this interesting African masks collector who has a long list of art in his man-shed. He is a bit of a hoarder and absolutely nothing wrong with that. He has a crocodile mask from Ivory Coast, a wooden ‘aban’ mask from Ghana and a weird ‘komo’ originating from Mali.
THE DUP is letting down the side that is the north. It is contradicting the first letter of that acronym DUP by refusing to accept that its opponent Sinn Féin carried the day in the Stormont elections in May. In many countries this outright blocking of democratic rule can have serious consequences. The DUP must find a way to drop some of their post-Brexit demands and form a government with Sinn Féin. Many people are in environments where they have to work with a difficult and annoying person they can't stand (this is not a suggestion that Sinn Féin is a difficult partner, by the way). The DUP has to stop pretending that they are doing anything other than avoiding the backlash that may follow if they work with Michelle O'Neill as First Minister.
IRELAND has always been a home to refugee populations. For many generations, Ireland has received so many people from around the world. Some stayed on and others left for pastures they presumed would be greener. Can you think of a place greener than the Irish landscape? Nevertheless, people flee to certain desirable destinations depending on what lies ahead of them. In some c. For example, the years of the Troubles in the North would prevent them from sailing to the docks of Belfast or Larne. After the Vietnam War, the Troubles in the North were at their peak but refugees escaping that country by sea ended up here. In 1979 and 1980, the largest group of the Vietnamese refugees was resettled in Craigavon.
SOME people ask this important question: Why do race and race relations feature a lot in your writing? This is why – the problem is in fifth gear, it is not slowing any time soon. This column will make nil references and reports on racism when the problem has disappeared in the day-to-day language of the North. We must report things as they are and examine them without any bit of anxiety about a backlash. It is also fair to report without a biased opinion about any case. So last week, there was yet another difficult story about a victim of a racially motivated attack in Belfast. A young African man who lives in the Graymount Parade area of North Belfast arrived home in the early hours and found graffiti daubed on the outer wall of his property. It is not the whole of Graymount Parade that is racist. It is not all the people of Northern Ireland that are racist. There is something, though, that is wrong with the system. Some people are not happy when Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland just want a bit of happiness among citizens of this country and those who came from other countries. State agencies, especially the PSNI, are not doing enough to curb racially motivated crimes. This 26-year-old man is one of many cases of people in Northern Ireland who are suffering quietly under this sombre cloud of hate crime. Many have moved out of here; in the past, people have even taken their own lives because of the desperation. I have been writing about race relations in North Ireland and Britain for as long as I can remember, over 20 years – that includes radio shows, community workshops and those elitist academic platforms where theory spars with practice for whatever reason. Scholars can use their knowledge and privilege to fight systemic racism that rears its very ugly ahead in the halls of power, mostly in and around government and other public institutions. When scholars are successful in doing this, their theories against bigotry can only be tested by the advice and reports they contribute towards otherwise known as commissioned publications. In 2002, the writer Paul Connolly produced an article, ‘Racist Harassment in the White Hinterlands: Minority Ethnic Children and Parents’ Experiences of Schooling in Northern Ireland’. In that report, 32 children and 43 parents chosen from the then largest minority ethnic groups in Northern Ireland – Irish Travellers, Chinese, Africans and South Asians – were interviewed. These were very thorough interviews. There were stories of direct and indirect bullying, subtle and direct teasing, and many parents felt that although some schools were prepared to put in place zero tolerance and were acting firmly, others were actually part of the problem, often turning away from the victims instead of listening to their experiences. Twenty years on, these things are still happening in many schools. Northern Ireland, a small place, has really done good things to make foreigners move in and live here. It is something commendable. Over the last few years, thousands of refugees have come to settle here from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and many other countries. In December 2021, a resettlement programme for nearly 150 Congolese refugees from a camp in Tanzania to the UK and Ireland was stopped because of the rising cases of racial attacks here. Some of the refugees were to go to Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland and the rest were to come and start their new life in Northern Ireland. For a country that has endured a very disturbing war for over four decades, when there came a peace dividend, to receive new faces would have been a good thing, not a bad thing. To the bigoted people who are obsessed with skin colour, the question is: Would you also visit a tanning studio to make yourself look like me? Or would you email@example.com
Northern Ireland. We are all aware of something called state benefits. I spoke to a group of young Africans who were sitting outside their hotel accommodation. For data protection reasons, it is not fair to name the street or hotel. I wanted them to tell me exactly what was in their mind now that the cost of living crisis is affecting so many people in their day to day lives. People are struggling with living costs and because it is impacting on many, there is less time to think about how and where does someone get their next feed? In this candid conversation, some of them were relieved that the people of Northern Ireland are doing their best to support them. Others blamed themselves for the unforeseen future they have, they are not even allowed to work. It is the moral duty of government to allow refugees to work even before their residency permits have been approved. The law should be changed urgently to allow them to work. Many of the asylum seekers have tremendous skills which they can inject to the economy. Seeing them sitting there killing time with a coffee at the cafes of the Botanic area, it may look as though they are happy, but they feel abandoned in their quest to be doing something like everybody else. Imagine you going to a foreign country. You land there, the border agent tells you in a nuanced way that he or she does not want you in their country. You arrived in a dinghy made in, you guessed it, China! All you did was to run away from your dictatorship country; not that there are no despots here in the Ireland and the UK, but you walked the desert, conquered it and floated in some inferior vessel to get across the English Channel. Just a reminder: The British and the Irish should be the last to lecture anyone about illegal migration. The two nationalities have roamed the world for centuries with or without the permission of their host community. Last week a boat carrying 80 migrants landed in Dover. In the background, the British government was insisting on sending asylum seekers to Africa – to Rwanda. That failed because some compassionate legal minds on the bench thought Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Office Minister Priti Patel’s policy of deportation to Rwanda was nonsense on stilts. If Downing Street was a pair of legs, let us just admit that the left side does not know what the right side is doing. So, the hotel accommodation migrants are feeling very frustrated that that they must wait for as long as it takes before they are allowed to work. And in between, they are robably narratin their long journeys to each other. Elly Omondi Odhiambo firstname.lastname@example.org