Foreigners pay price for Kenyan attacks

Somalis in Nairobi’s Eastleigh say police have over-reacted with arrests and harassment after recent bombing attacks.

It’s Saturday night, a few minutes past 9pm, and Eastleigh’s once-bustling 7th Street is deserted.

Shops should be doing brisk business, tea stalls should be crowded and soft music should drift from the numerous Khat parlours lining the street.

But since April this street, like the rest of this area in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, has been anything but normal.

Stray dogs scavenge in the piles of rubbish left uncollected. Street children sleep on the pavements and in front of the shops that have closed early. Police officers hang around to stop people for their ID cards. Those who do not have an ID card pay a bribe or face arrest.

The nights in this part of Nairobi have been turned upside down.

Following last month’s deadly attacks here and in Mombasa that left at least a dozen people dead, the Kenyan government started a crackdown on foreign nationals.

Eastleigh is known as Little Mogadishu for its large Somali community. The government says it harbours criminals, supports fighters from al-Shabab, and creates insecurity in the country. More than four thousand have been arrested since the swoop dubbed ‘Usalama’, which means “peace”.

Eastleigh residents voted overwhelmingly for the government just over a year ago. Now they feel it has placed them under siege.

Community leaders say business is down more than 75 percent because of the police operations. They say customers avoid stepping out for fear of been arrested, even if they have the right paperwork. Traders claim they are been punished for the actions of a few criminals.

Locals here all have stories to tell about police harassment. Some have been detained for days despite showing having Kenyan papers.

Those arrested have been taken to a national stadium where rights group say conditions are appalling.

Late on the same Saturday I was in Eastleigh, Nadifa Abdi, a pregnant Somali woman, suffered serious injuries when she fell from a third-floor window while attempting to hide from police.

Abdi told local reporters that she has the legal papers to stay in Kenya but police officers never accept them and demand bribes. She had no money left and was forced to flee – it wasn’t the first time they came knocking at her door late in the night, she added.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the president, has said the crackdowns will continue. Despite the arrests of thousands of foreign nationals, no al-Shabab fighter has been caught or sleeper cell found in Eastleigh.

Last Wednesday a car explosion in the city killed four, including two police officers. Hours later, police found a car laden with explosives abandoned in a busy street in Pangani neighbourhood of the city.

As the crackdown continues residents feel they have nowhere to turn. Eastleigh and Somalis find themselves caught between two extremes: they have suffered the most in the violence and the bomb attacks, and are now suffering from operation “peace”.