Somalis in Kenya: How long will the Welcome last?

Finger pointing has turned to fist fights as Kenyans visibly becoming frustrated of frequent grenade and small bombs terrorists’ attacks in the Country are turning their anger on the fast growing Somali community in Nairobi.

A Kenyan against Somali war is playing out in a neighbourhood in the capital city after a terrorist attack on a bus on Sunday the 18th of November left seven people dead and tens more injured. The bus which was heading towards Kariobangi, an informal settlement was attacked in Eastleigh an area dominated by Somalis. Police reports say the powerful blast that ripped apart the Public Service Vehicle, could have been caused by a hand held grenade or an improvised bomb planted in the bus.

As the smoke cleared and bodies moved from the scene, scores of people who had gathered around started pointing fingers at Somalis, accusing them of bringing terrorist group Al-Shabaab into the country which was to blame for the many attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa and have majorly been targeting Churches and Pubs.

The shouting’s and accusations suddenly turned violent as Somalis were spontaneously attacked by the gathered persons mostly who come from the neighboring areas including the sprawling Mathare slums, Mlango kubwa and Huruma all of which harbor poor and low-income earners.
The day after the attacks witnessed a whole day of fighting as Somalis also decided to arm themselves with swords and knives. There were no serious casualties but many Somali owned shops were looted and property destroyed. An attempt to burn and loot a Mosque were thwarted as anti-riot police swarmed the area.

Were all these happening as a result of locals getting fed up with Terrorist attacks?? Is it only because of Kenyans frustrations over Somalis on their presumed support and sympathy of Al-Shabaab?? To a large extent it is due to the loss of life and especially of persons who come from local communities but there is also another underlying issue, Socio-Economics.

Somalis in Eastleigh are far much wealthier than their local counterparts who are living either in the vast estate or in adjacent neighbourhoods. Fifteen years ago the area was inhabited by different communities including Kenyans of Somali origin. Due to the latter, most Somali refugees coming into the Country went and settled in Eastleigh.

Suddenly there was a huge demand for housing and rent soared as the Somalis paid whatever Landlords wanted. Many locals were thus thrown out of their houses as greedy Landlords wanted to cash in too. Massive soft and hard evictions took place as more and more Somalis came into the City. Locals were forced to move to adjacent slums or other informal settlements.

Slowly Somalis started buying off houses and buildings at an “ask any price and I pay’ then converting them to highrise apartments, flats, shopping malls and classy hotels. On the streets it was claimed that terrorist organizations and Piracy money was linked to this phenomenal growth.

As Eastleigh was transformed completely into a small Somali Business and residential hub thus the nickname “Small Mogadishu,” locals were left to fend off by being employed as casual laborers mainly carrying heavy loads and under un-informal condition that they were to be Muslims or convert to Islam.

The sudden opulence and wealth of the Somali brought in other businesses too as all major banks and financial institutions rushed in to open branches and accounts tailor made for them. Through a project known as Public-Private partnership development, almost 95% of public economic, Health and social utilities were sold to Somalis. Even Public officials and members of the provincial administrations were not spared as their offices were sold off.

All these left a sour taste on locals and pockets of anger started developing and plots of revenge and taking back “What’s ours” frequented the lips of persons evicted or economically thrown off Eastleigh.

In January 2010, there was a demonstration in the Central Business District of the City by Muslims against the Government for arresting a radical Muslim cleric Abdulah El-Faisal. The demonstration turned violent when hawkers, traders and others attacked the demonstrators thinking it was a Somali only issue because they were the majority. One person was killed that afternoon and fingers were pointed to the Somalis who enraged the locals more by flying an Al-Shabaab flag.

The attacks after the Sunday blast were not targeted at Muslims per-se but at Somalis who are accused of bringing to the Country a Terrorist Organization that went as far as recruiting hundreds of local Youth and also causing serious Socio-Economic deprivation of so many ethnic Kenyans. If the Somalis and locals won’t get into an integrating process sooner rather than later the battles soon will turn to an all-out war played in the streets of Kenyan cities and towns. Many Somalis will be on the run again as many ran from Somalia because of being persecuted by Al-Shabaab itself.

Robert Ochola
Robert Ochola, born and raised in Nairobi the Capital City of Kenya. I am an upwardly mobile Journalist with a bias towards the truth and real issues that affect the real people. I have a strong willingness and professional capacity to effectively investigate and report problems and successes on the African continent and beyond.

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