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Kenyan-Somalis speak out

Members of Nairobi's Kenyan-Somali community share stories of fear and discrimination.

Last updated: 15 Dec 2013 10:00
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Abdikadar Mohamed - "It's not safe to be on the street at night"
Abdikadar is concerned that if corrupt immigration officials issue false documents, it will make it impossible for the police to tell who is a citizen and who is illegal [Will Swanson]

Born and raised in Eastleigh, the heart of the Kenyan-Somali community in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, Abdikadar Mohamed has just completed his degree in economics, and is waiting for his certificate to arrive in order to apply for work in business and commerce.

A young Kenyan-Somali, Abdikadar has witnessed the nightly police operations in Eastleigh. "It's not very safe to be on the street at night, because you're a Somali."

"They are targeting the refugees that are coming to our community. If they did it with a good spirit it would have been nice. But they don't select, they generalise," he says.

"The only option that they have is to tighten the border. The immigration officials should be strict with whoever they're giving the documents to and fight corruption in the government."

Abdikadar is concerned that if corrupt immigration officials issue false documents, it makes it impossible for the police to tell who is a citizen and who is illegal.

"The police should work with the Somali community, the original Somali-Kenyans, so that the community can flush them out. Because they know them."

Abdikadar says that it is only a small number of Somalis that are creating problems, and the government should focus on those people, rather than the wider community.

"The refugees from Somalia, some are very hard working. They come here and open shops and generate revenue for the government. But the government doesn't see that," he says.

"So they generalise, even the Somali-Kenyans are in trouble."

Abdiwahad Mohamed - "Nobody will ask whether you are a Kenyan"
Abdiwahad, a Kenyan-Somali, is concerned about how others view his community [Will Swanson]

Abdiwahad Mohamed owns and operates a public transport bus, locally known as matatu, in Eastleigh. Each day his blue 29-seater bus emblazoned with the words 'Swag Missile' plies the number 9 route, ferrying workers from Eastleigh into Nairobi's central business district.

He remembers the week of the Westgate incident, in which 61 civilians were killed. The Somali armed group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.

"People did not come out, I think for almost a week. The people I used to carry, they were fearing," he explains.
 
The week following the Westgate incident, Abdiwahad noticed that almost half of his regular passengers stayed at home in Eastleigh.

He says that much of the Somali community feared they might be targeted by other Kenyans, angry at the Westgate attack and al-Shabab.

A Kenyan-Somali himself, Abdiwahad is concerned about how others view his community in Eastleigh.

"The other communities, they cannot differentiate us. For example, during the night time the police just come and take the people to the police station," he said.

"But the problem is, one is a Somali, and one is a Kenyan-Somali. Nobody will ask you whether you are a Kenyan or from Somalia."

Dahabo Yussuf - "I've never even been to Somalia"
Dahabo no longer allows her children to leave the house at night for fear of arrest [Will Swanson]

Mother of five teenagers, Dahabo Yussuf sells shoes and handbags at her stall in the busy business district of Eastleigh. She is an ethnic Somali and a Kenyan citizen who has lived for most of her life in Nairobi.

"The biggest problem I'm facing as a Kenyan-Somali, [is that] once you have a title as a Somali, the police don't care about your ID," she says. "You are a Somali, there's no difference between Kenyan-Somali, and Somali-Somali."

Dahabo has experienced this discrimination first hand. In October this year, she was caught up in a police arrest on the street outside her home.

Leaving her apartment in a hurry one evening to purchase some goods from a nearby store, Dahabo forgot her national identification card.

But the police were waiting in the street below and detained her as she approached the store.

Dahabo was put in the back of a police van with a number of other Eastleigh residents who were also detained in the street. All of them were ethnic Somalis.

Not Yet Kenya - Extra

At the police station, Dahabo was questioned by police officers about being a member of the armed group al-Shabab. Without her national ID card, she was held at the station.

"I'm speaking fluent Swahili, I'm a mother. I can't be al-Shabab," she told them. "I've never even been to Somalia."

An hour later, her son arrived at the police station with her ID card and she was soon released.

But the incident left her worried about her own children, especially her sons who are now 17 and 18 years old. 

Dahabo no longer allows her children to leave the house at night time, for fear of arrest.

"My boys are grown up, and one of them now has their identity card. But I'm scared that they might be arrested. After seven [in the evening], I tell them not to go out," she says.

"If we need to buy something, I'm the one to go out. The boys who are grown up are kept inside the house because they are Somalis."

Abdinasir Issah - "There's no trust anymore"
Abdinasir feels that he is at a disadvantage when looking for work because he is an ethnic Somali [Will Swanson]

Abdinasir Issah is studying information technology at an institution in Eastleigh. When he graduates he hopes to work in the IT sector in Nairobi, managing business database servers.

"During the day I go to a cyber cafe here in Eastleigh Mall, looking at job agency websites for jobs that will match my CV," he says.

However, Abdinasir feels that he is at a disadvantage when looking for work in Nairobi, specifically because he is an ethnic Somali.

"Actually, I think there is a big disadvantage affecting us. If a recruiter sees your CV and your Somali name they ask 'Who is this guy?' There's no trust anymore," he says.

"They may have this mentally that maybe we're spies or trying to get some information, especially if I want to work on information servers. It's a bit tricky."

Abdinasir is also concerned that non-Kenyan Somalis who obtain their national identification documents illegally are giving other Somalis a bad name in Kenya.

He believes other Kenyans do not know whether they are real Kenyans or not, and that brings distrust.

"You end up feeling, like 'Oh my god, how can I get a job?' Maybe I'll apply for a job at a Muslim company. With the same religion, they don't have those fears."

Shamsa Ali - "I'm scared of these policemen"
Shamsa feels insecure in her community after an encounter with the Kenyan police  [Will Swanson]

Shamsa Ali is a young businesswoman who moved to Eastleigh in May. After working with various companies she set out to become a business owner herself. 

But in the last few months, things have been getting worse in Eastleigh. 

With the Kenyan army fighting armed groups in Somalia, and a spate of attacks at home, Kenyan security forces have become increasingly heavy-handed in their efforts to weed out al-Shabab fighters and operatives hiding in the Somali community.

And now many ethnic Somalis with Kenyan citizenship feel they are getting caught up in these security operations.

"Some Somalis have been getting really badly harassed, you know?" says Shamsa. "You don't have to judge all the Somalis, most of the Somalis are good."

"Even I've witnessed [it] out of my window. I've seen it. The policemen came and just grabbed some boys from the street three days ago."

"They were just sitting around the front of their house, having fun and doing some jokes."

"Some don't even ask you about your ID and documents. They just come and grab you, put you in the cars. It's not good."

Shamsa has also had an encounter with the Kenyan police and now feels insecure in her own community. 

"Because I'm asthmatic, I wanted to grab some medicine from the pharmacy. At the corner there was a big car full of policemen, they came from the car grabbing some people from the area and then a big man, a huge man came and held me like this."

"I said 'What's wrong with you? Just leave me, this is my ID. I'm just getting my medicine here'. And he said, 'OK, go and get your medicine and go home'."

"I was defending myself because I was speaking fluent Swahili. If I was not speaking Swahili they would have just grabbed me and thrown me in the car," she explains.
 
"I don't walk around in the night time. It just happened to me once. Even if I'm Kenyan I'm scared of these policemen."

Mohamed Adan - "Historical injustices have not been addressed yet"
Adan supports a strong police presence in Eastleigh, saying that the refugee community has created problems for Kenyan-Somalis who have a legal right to live and work in Nairobi [Will Swanson]

Eight years ago, Mohamed Adan moved to Eastleigh from Wajir, a majority Somali area in North Eastern Kenya. 

A retired school teacher, Adan taught in Kenya's public school system for 20 years. 
 
He now spends his days passing time, chewing the stimulant miraa leaf and chatting with friends, often about the injustices faced by his community.

"We have a history in this country that from independence, the Somalis have suffered a lot of problems," he says.

"Historical injustices have not been addressed yet. The community feels they have not been given their liberty, their citizenry rights."

Yet Adan also supports a strong police presence in Eastleigh. He says that the refugee community has created problems for Kenyan-Somalis who have a legal right to live and work in Nairobi.

Adan believes that some Somalis from outside of Kenya take advantage of the high level of cultural hospitality awarded to others within their extended community.

"You give him accommodation, he stays with you in the community, for two weeks or a few months, and probably his stay here may not have been in good faith," he says.
 
"That someone you have been keeping for months, the next day you hear he has been caught with intention of causing harm to Kenyans."

Adan wants the police to work more closely with the Kenyan-Somali community, to improve both their relationship with the community and security.

"They [the police] have to be professional in their jobs. If they just discriminate and round up everybody it creates bitterness. As a Kenyan-Somali you feel very bitter about it."

Faisal Sheik Ali - "I don't belong here"
Faisal hoped to start a new life as a taxi driver in the US, but his attempt to seek asylum there failed [Will Swanson]

Faisal Sheik Ali (not his real name) has it good in Nairobi. His father is a wealthy contractor and businessman in Eastleigh. However, Faisal felt the need to strike out on his own, heading illegally to the US in late August in search of better opportunities.

"Life here is a bit difficult. It's 50-50. You're either down or you're up. But going to America there is a guaranteed good life compared to here in Kenya," he says.

A high school dropout, Faisal hoped that he could take a job as a driver in the US, an occupation he had been told would be a good way to make a living.

Faisal paid people smugglers to organise a circuitous route through Dubai, then South and Central America before crossing over the border in the US to claim asylum.

But his plan hit a problem in Panama, when authorities there discovered his fraudulent documents.

Faisal was returned to Kenya and arrived back at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Monday, September 23, two days into the Westgate siege that was unfolding on the other side of town.

"When I came out of the flight, I was met by the police. I was arrested and taken to the police cells in the airport," he says. "We were kept in the airport for five good days."

At the same time, Kenyan government officials announced that they had suspects in custody at the airport in connection with the Westgate attack. Faisal believes that he was one of those suspects.

"They asked me several questions, whether I had ever been to Somalia, do I know anything about Somalia? I said no. Then they asked me whether I knew anything about Westgate. I said no."

"I didn't know what was happening. I had never heard about the Westgate attack," he says.

Faisal was later released without being charged. He says he was shocked when his friends told him about the attack.

"After that incident, I don't feel like being in this country," he says. "I don't belong here."

 
Al Jazeera Correspondent can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1130; Wednesday: 0100; Thursday: 0600.

Watch more Al Jazeera Correspondent 

 

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