Google+ Followers

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Xenophobia becoming a reality in Kenya | The Star

Xenophobia becoming a reality in Kenya | The Star

How to be a Somali in present day Nairobi? A summary by Hassan Ismail.
 1. Leave your laptop and the heavy backpack you use to carry it either at home or in the office. Laptop bags increase the already intense glare of a thousand eyes filled with suspicion.
 2. Go home early.
 This is the shortened version of must-dos compiled by Hassan, a peace and conflict consultant for his friends, family and himself to be what he terms as “conflict sensitive” at a time where everyone around them seems to view Somali-Kenyans as suspect number one.
 “Yes, we are treated with suspicion, we feel all eyes are on us and it has changed our whole way of life” explains Hassan “It affects me, my children and my friends.”
 Although his friends and family are willing to make some adjustments, Hassan says the Somali community feels besieged and is growing more watchful.
In their present day circumstance, Hassan says there are echoes of the brutality historically meted out on country men and woman who have for a long time been treated as if they were far apart from other citizens.
 Early in Kenya’s history there were the Shifta Wars. In 1969, the then government ordered the systematic removal of Somalis from several parts of the country. Many were forced to flee to neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda. Also in 1969 there was the Makaibari Massacre where hundreds of Somalis were killed including Hassan’s own uncles. In 1981 the Garissa Massacre and in 1985, the Wagalla massacre.
 “Because of these historic events that have happened in North Eastern Kenya, we feel that at any one time anything can happen to us," Hassan says.
 He says part of the problem is that other Kenyans do not understand that Somalis born and bred in the North Eastern part of the country are Kenyans just like them and should be accorded the same respect as other citizens.
 “ Somalis are one of the first who lived Nairobi, so when you look at Eastleigh and parts of Embakasi it’s not that Somalis have arrived just the other day, they were here in 1902 when the railway was being built. The Somalis are as much Nairobians and Kenyan as any other person. Unfortunately this history is not disseminated to the other Kenyans. So that in itself is a big challenge.” Hassan says.
 He recalls a common phrase uttered ‘jokingly’ by his friends from other communities “If you do not like it, then go.” Hassan wonders where a native of Mandera who has barely seen Somalia is supposed to go should the situation get worse.
 He adds that as a conflict analyst and a Kenyan who grew up in Mandera he understands that Kenya has for the past 23 years been bordering a failed state and has borne much of the burden of accommodating its displaced citizens.
However, he believes that the Kenyan government failed to come up with a policy on how to accommodate the different types of refugees coming out of Somalia.
 “There are those who are business men who wherever they go to they will participate in development, then there are political leaders who after the collapse of Somalia came here and they received protection from the government and spoke on political issues. The political group are back in Somalia now, because the country is stable. The third category are the displaced poor whose majority are in IDP camps in Kakuma and Dadaab. It is very difficult for a political leader or a rich businessman from Somalia to be bundled and put back in a camp and assume that they will stay there. So this is one of the issues, we have a policy gap and this is one of the areas the government of Kenya failed to address. What has happened is that if you are a businessman and have come to Kenya with a visa, you are arrested by a Kenyan police officer who will just get hold of it and tear it apart. The problem is we have given our police a free pass in handling the Somali community.” He explains
 He believes that Usalama, the goverment’s security operation to flush out terrorists that kicked off in early April is not helping the situation.
The fact that it concentrates in areas with the largest Somali population gives the impression that to be a terrorist is to be Somali and vice-versa.
 “ The Kasarani Concentration Camp as well. Yes I will call it that because if you take 4,000 people and hold them in a stadium anything can happen somebody can shoot anybody. It is one of the most illegal processes that the Kenyan government has used. If you see the entire government structure from the President to his cabinet secretary saying that what is ongoing is good yet people are suffering and you do not want to hear what the community affected has to say it amplifies our fears and a feeling of lack of belonging. What makes it worse is that other Kenyans feel that what is happening is right.” Hassan says.
 As a Kenyan-Somali Hassan feels that he is trapped between two threats; first there is the al-Shabaab that targets the general population and then there is security agents who seem to be specifically targeting Somalis.
 “We wonder who should we co-operate with. This is going to end up into further radicalization of youth and sympathisers. That is the bottom-line.” Hassan affirms.
 Ahmed Maalim who works with the Qatar embassy in Nairobi, fears mostly for his female relatives, university students who go out in the full hijab and buibui.
 “I am frightened something might happen to them” he explains “I also cannot stand this, being discriminated against or treated differently because of my looks.”
 “Whenever I get into a public vehicle I see people looking at me strangely. Yes I might look different from the majority of Kenyans because of my skin colour and my dress but it makes one very uncomfortable to be stared at strangely from his fellow country men and women. One incident that was particularly hurtful happened in a bus, after an ambulance rushed past us. The conductor joked that perhaps the ambulance is carrying bhang, then one passenger said that maybe it is carrying ‘wariah’ (Somalis). Everybody in the bus laughed. I felt bad and I was the only Somali in that bus.” Ahmed adds.
 For fear of sounding alarmist, Ahmed warns that the Kenyan- Somalis will one day say “no more!” to the discrimination. He believes that there is a need for dialogue and a call for peaceful existence before things get out of hand.
 Adan Mohammed has experienced xenophobia more overtly than stares and off hand statements.
 On Monday last week, the winner of Uongozi, a reality Tv Show on leadership that ran on NTV in 2013 boarded a Number 48 matatu at the Odeon bus terminal. After a few minutes the seven or so passengers who shared the vehicle with him alighted and collectively stared at Adan.
 “ I was dressed in a simple shirt and tie, I was not wearing a Kanzu or any other attire. But when I entered the matatu the other passengers came down. I immediately remembered the bus bombings in Nairobi and Mombasa over the weekend and my mind clicked on what they must have been thinking. So I alighted. I was afraid they might lynch me or steal my valuables because I was carrying my laptop in a bag. I left and walked some distance, when I looked back everyone entered the matatu. So I took a taxi to the office” Adan explains.
 The incident has startled Adan into an identity crisis. The Uongozi winner whose winnings funds a water project in Mandera, beams with Kenyan pride.
He shows off a bracelet beaded with the colours of the Kenyan flag and gives anecdotes of amusing ways he tried to market the country during his visit to six countries in six continents, also a part of his winnings that ended just a week ago. He is always thought of himself as just Kenyan, but the incident has jolted him into thinking of himself in terms of his Somali ethnicity.
 “I am a Kenyan born in Mandera, I have never been to Somalia. I have never seen what racism or xenophobia is until now and I have been to several countries like Switzerland and the UK. At that moment I was sure that I was a Kenyan and I started to think of myself in terms of a Somali, and I found myself having to reassure other Kenyans of my Kenyanness and that we are one” he explains.
Adan uploaded a video on Youtube to reach out to other Kenyans and to send the messages of oneness to the rest of the country. He says he cannot blame them or the passengers who alighted the matatu in fear of him on that day stating that it is a confused moment where Kenyans have had to come to terms with terror attacks, one after another in a very short span.
However he does agree with Hassan that the security operations may have amplified the suspicion of other Kenyans towards members of the Somali Community.
 “First of all, we fully support the government’s efforts to flush out these inhumane guys. The Islam I know does not advocate for the killing of innocents. It is like killing the whole of humanity. However how the government is going about it is wrong” Adan says “A terrorist is a very clever person if he sees the government singling out Eastliegh and other estates with Somalis he’ll simply stop going to these areas .I don’t who funds them but these guys are able to live in Muthaiga, Karen and other affluent places .The government may not see it as profiling but the way it is being done is profiling of Muslims and Somalis.”
 He adds that the media is not helping saying that news reports perpetuate the message that those carrying out the bombings are solely Somalis.
 “We have seen Omondis, Kamaus, Wafulas and people from other communities being arrested. Yet when the news is reported they say a ‘Kenyan of Somali origin.’ Why aren’t the ethnicities of criminals from other communities mentioned whether it is terrorism or anything else? Why haven’t they told us the ethnicity of the people who manufactured this illicit brew that has killed over 80 people?”
However, he says that the young Muslim leadership has not helped the situation either. Adan says they have complained about current situation without offering solutions while leaving older Muslims to engage with the government.
 “ We young Muslim leaders have to cleverly work with the government and show it that what it is doing is wrong while also providing alternatives. But that is only if the government wants to engage us. What has happened has taught us young leaders to come together to preach cohesion and to find a space to discuss these issues.” Adan says.

No comments:

Post a Comment