We have detected you are using an outdated browser.

Kindly upgrade your version of Internet Explorer or use another browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

Alexander Otuka: My Community Based Attachment Experience at Dadaab

When I was informed that I had to complete 200 hours of community service before I graduate, I did not think I would be working with refugees far from home in one of Kenya’s North Eastern counties; Dadaab. The 200 hours community service is part of the Strathmore University’s Community Based Attachment (CBA) program which is mandatory for all full-time students.


I was privileged to undertake my CBA project with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), an international non-governmental organisation that specialises in providing protection for refugees. I was interning as a protection attaché. I picked an interest in this type of work after I studied about refugee issues during a moot court competition that focused on refugee law. 


Contrary to my initial expectations of Dadaab’s harsh environment, the living and working standards of employees in the various NGO’s are commendable. Resources such as water, electricity and internet access are easily available to NGO employees. However, this is only limited to the United Nations compound where all NGO offices and living quarters are contained. The town itself resembles many rural towns found in the rest of Kenya against the backdrop of desert-like landscape.


I worked in the DRC’s protection department as part of the prevention team. Protection; which involves safeguarding refugees from physical harm as well as violations of their rights, might appear to have very little to do with my career as a lawyer, but I was able to apply my knowledge to help solve a social issue that was plaguing the work of NGO’s in Dadaab and other refugee camp sites in Kenya.


My project with DRC involved tackling the problem of Maslaha-a cultural form of traditional justice system practiced among many Islamic communities, including in refugee camps mainly the Somali communities. Disputes are solved through a Maslaha mediation committee made up of religious elders, community, and tribe leaders of the community.  The practice has been a challenge for NGO’s since the elders believe they can handle major crimes such as murder, robbery with violence, sexual offences, and cases of sexuality and gender based violence. This practice is against the Constitution and other laws, therefore must be dealt with at the national court level.


During the project, I met with the Maslaha elders to educate them on the Kenyan law and explain how they, together with the NGO’s, could work together to streamline the national justice system and the practice of Maslaha.


In addition to this project I also worked in other areas; I visited refugee camps, helped NGO community workers with issues they faced in the camps, and attended inter-agency meetings to discuss NGO coordination on protection work. I also had the opportunity to visit a Safe Haven – a protection area for women and children who would otherwise be at risk in the refugee camps.


The CBA was an intense enlightening firsthand experience which has made me more sensitive to the diverse issues that face refugees. Although it was challenging, I am grateful for the opportunity I received as a result of the CBA program.



Article by Alexandar Otuka, Strathmore Law School student.