Are Kenyan Somalis Foreign locals?

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Parts of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city there has been under effective police occupation for the past couple of weeks in a crackdown.

The Eastleigh suburb of the city is predominantly populated by members of the Somali community and is associated with brisk business and underhand dealings. Its also a police and other security apparatus favourite in terms of crackdowns of terrorist activity.

A grenade attack on a hotel about 2 weeks ago in the area resulted in one of the biggest operations on illegal aliens in recent history. Over 2000 people were netted and detained at the Kasarani Stadium which was gazetted as a police station for this purpose.

The public has been divided on the issue especially with the Westgate Mall terrorist attack still being fresh on their minds. There is a general desire for the government to get on top of the security issue in the country but opinion differs on how exactly this should be done.

A little background of the context of it all is important at this juncture.

The North Eastern Province of Kenya is almost exclusively inhabited by Somalis. This region has in the past had armed conflict with the Shiftas where there was a claim on the Northern Frontier District. The arbitrary borders drawn by the British did not help matters with clan territories often straddling the border. The region is sparsely populated and extremely dry. Low population = low govt revenue from taxes = poor representation = poor investment by the govt = poor policing.

These factors added up to making the Kenya -Somalia border almost nonexistent. The fact that Somalia has not had a functional govt for over two decades meant that the only authority interested in securing the border was Kenya. Add to this the population of the Daadab refugee camp that is still operational and we are looking at a region inhabited by communities that feel they do not belong to the country and thus resistant to whichever incumbent government is in power. The alleged Wagalla massacre is a good example of the kind of repressive action that was taken against ethnic Somalis.

Somalia 1935 (Photo credit: Fiore S. Barbato)

The Kenyan Somalis are thus only Kenyan by matter of geography but their heart and soul is back in Somalia. Eastleigh is thus a mirror image of the Norh eastern province in terms of its relation with the rest of the country. Most Somalis work, live and play here and thus the area is the first port of call for the authorities when the ugly head of terrorism raises its head.

To be fair, they rarely come up empty with regular finds of ammunition, IEDs, and radicalized youth all in tow. The latest arrest seemingly targeted those without Kenyan identification papers with those found deficient getting deported. We are yet to see the result of this latest swoop and whether it will actually reduce the crime/terrorism rate or its more show little acting as is a government norm nowadays.

Another curious affair is the behavior of the elected leaders with the government in power at the time. For the most part, most Somali politicians allign themselves with the powers that be and one would thus assume that this would protect the community from attack or discrimination. This is hardly ever the case and one is left wondering exactly why they do this. Could be self preservation or having little choice. Flag bearers from the region have held key portfolios in the Cabinet, Parliament and Judiciary. None of these seem to assuage the conflict though. It could be that this association keeps the government under control and vice versa.

The Ongoing crackdown can be viewed by some as some form of Xenophobia but I do not believe so. The Somalis are among the most integrated ‘Foreigners’ around and aside from their religion, share alot of cultural values with the rest of the dominant tribes of the Inland. Their business acumen is appreciated by all as is their humility and patience in their dealings with others. In short they are pleasant guys to be around and the only reason there is acrimony towards them is due to the terrorist attacks and claims that they host the perpetrators. Whether there is truth to that remains to be seen but the message is clear from the authorities, Expose the radicals or else.

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