Kenyan Somalis in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Between Business and Stereotypes
In our quest to know how the Somali community felt about the Kenyan military invasion in Somalia, we met with Yahye Jama, a Somali refugee in Nairobi: “It is something we are welcoming because Al-Shabaab is not a threat only to neighboring countries like Kenya, but also to the republic of Somalia.”
The Kenyan census of 2009 reveals that there are about 2.4 million Somalis who are Kenyans by birth and live in large estates in Nairobi, such as Eastleigh, South B and South C. They own big businesses in Nairobi and surrounding areas, therefore contributing immensely to the economy of Kenya. Eastleigh has developed as a world of its own within the capital city of Nairobi. Losili is a regular customer of Eastleigh shops: “I was in Eastleigh one year ago and when I came back I was surprised to see five star hotels which were not there before!”
To most residents they have nicknamed Eastleigh as Little Mogadishu. It is a home to around 350,000 Somalis. In this vastly growing estate there are huge malls which draw people from all walks of life. Some come from as far as Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo to trade.
According to Professor Macharia Munene, a senior lecturer for international relations at United States International University, “the population of Eastleigh has been rising rapidly since 1992 when Siad Barre brought disorder in Somalia. It beats logic to explain how the population rose so much in 20 years.”
I met with a young Maasai, a watch man at the Hongkong Mall in Eastleigh, who has been living in Tanzania for the past three years. He stated is not scared by the current conflict in Somalia, because the government of Kenya has stepped up measures to ensure there is maximum security.
A United Nations report revealed that Al Shabaab influence and support was not limited to Somalis. It said that today most youths from Kenya constitute the largest and most structurally organized non-Somali group. Apparent proof of this came last year when a 28-year-old Kenyan man convicted of grenade attacks in Nairobi was a non-Somali Muslim-convert from western Kenya. Another grenade attack followed a few weeks later in a Nairobi church, killing one person and injuring at least 15 others.
The tension between other Kenyans and the Somali community has a long history. Its roots date back to Kenya’s independence from colonial rule in 1963. A four-year conflict called the Shifta War followed, which broke out as Kenyan Somalis fought for separation from Kenya and unification with the rest of Somalia.
That so-called ‘betrayal’ has not been forgotten and Kenya’s Somalis have been regarded with suspicion and neglect ever since. According to Ibrahim, a resident in South B, “we were the first people to migrate to Kenya before any other ethnic group and we have all the rights to call ourselves Kenyans. Nobody should link us to the outlawed Al-Shabaab terror group.”
To most residents of Eastleigh it is their prayer that the government of Kenya should handle it with sobriety and treat them as other Kenyans.