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Somali Refugees: Victims of both the terror of war and the war on terror

I have been following up
what’s unfolding in Kenya,
more so on the fate of the
Somali refugee community
in Eastleigh, in the capital
city of Nairobi after the
barbaric shooting incident
in a church in Mombasa,
which was closely followed
by three explosions all
within Eastleigh’s 12th
Street. I have been
following on the reaction
to the whole situation
online on news sites,
forums and blogs. Sadly
what comes through from
most of these quarters is
sheer ignorance about the
predicament of the Somali
refugees in Kenya, a
misunderstanding of the
concept of terrorism and
how to stop it, and finally,
the question of religion in
the entire debate.
My heart weeps for all the
victims of the terrorist
activities that have been
visited upon Kenya. If my
counting is right, there has
been over 80 terrorist
attacks on Kenyan soil
since 2011. The cost of the
lives lost, value of
property destroyed, as well
as the reputational risks
that both Kenya and
Somalia have suffered in
their efforts to restore
peace and order in
Somalia have been
enormous.
Home away from Home
Of all the states of the
world, Kenya has perhaps
borne the heaviest burden
of catering for Somali
refugees. The Daadab
Refugee Camp in
particular,
notwithstanding its low
quality of living, stands as
the largest refugee facility
in the world, and has
played host close to a
million Somalis for over
two decades.
The Eastleigh district of
Nairobi, on its part stands
out as the economic hub of
the Somali community in
Kenya. Nairobi Central
Business District
Association (NCBDA)
recently reported that the
collective value of
investments in the city by
Somali businessmen based
both in Kenya and in the
Diaspora is in excess of
$9.3 Billion.
This fact is brought home
more powerfully by the
total transformation that
Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb
has witnessed over the last
two decades. The area has
grown from a dilapidated
neighborhood to an ultra-
modern city within a city,
characterized by a 24
hours economy, thanks to
the massive investment by
the Somali refugee
community. Today,
Eastleigh is also popularly
referred to as ‘Little
Mogadishu.’
Kenya also played the all-
important role of
incubating Somali’s
Government at a time
when national leadership
in Somalia was in the
hands of warlords. It can
still be recalled that a new
Somalia Transitional
Parliament was
inaugurated in Nairobi in
2004, after which Abdullahi
Yusuf was elected
president of the budding
Nairobi-based Transitional
Federal Government.
More recently, when
Somalia’s political stability
was getting increasingly
undermined by the Al-
shabaab terrorist network,
Kenya sent her troops
across the border to
support Somalia in its
efforts to root out Al-
Shabaab. A major victory
in this regard has been the
liberation of the port of
Kismayo by Somalis with
the support of Kenya as
part of AMISOM. Before
the liberation, Kismayo
served as Al-Shabaab’s
economic lifeline. Since
then, a Somalia federal
state with an interim
Jubbaland Administration
has been established
consistent with Somali’s
new interim constitution
and in support of
Somalia’s Federal
government. Jubbaland
has already contributed
significantly in Somalia’s
peacebuilding and
reconciliation efforts.
Indiscriminate Security
Roundups
However, there is a
fundamental fact that I
would wish to explain to
the Kenyan government
that the reason there are
so many Somali refugees
in Kenya is because the
Somalis were running in
escape from the terrors of
a civil war that burnt
Somalia for two decades. If
Somalis didn’t value peace,
as some supporters of the
current operation argue,
then why would they run
away from the civil war in
a country they love so
much? The objective of
Somali refugees in Kenya
and Eastleigh in particular
hasn’t changed. They are
there in a quest for peace,
a more dignified life,
better education for their
children, and a deeply
seated hope for return to
Somalia soon, now that
there are credible attempts
at rebuilding the country.
It thus breaks my heart to
see the kind of
indiscriminate rounding
up of Somali refugees and
locking them up in dingy
police cells without access
to the outside world that
has been taking place in
Eastleigh over the last few
weeks. The Safaricom
Stadium-Kasarani was
quickly gazetted as a police
station so as to
accommodate screening of
over 4,000 Somali refugees
that had been rounded up
in the police swoops. It’s
the kind of pain that you’d
experience if you saw your
neighbor and his children
suddenly descend on your
beautiful kids with untold
bullying, ridicule and
unkindness for the simple
reason that one of your
children has misbehaved. I
would have no problem if
the neighbor decided to
isolate the indiscipline
child, but there isn’t a law
in Kenya or any other
civilized state that
advocates for punishing
someone for crimes
committed by others.
While Kenya has every
right to protect its citizens
and everyone else within
its borders from acts of
terrorism, the use of
government machinery to
instill terror in the hearts
of innocent refugee women
and children on the basis
of their ethnic profile, as
has been witnessed in
Eastleigh, has attracted
condemnation from
international circles,
including the Human
Rights Watch and the
UNHCR. And keeping to its
tradition as the most
corrupt institution in the
country, the Kenya Police
once again stood out for
its extortionist tendencies
during the swoops. As it
turned out, most of the
Somalis arrested and
brutalized in the operation
are law-abiding and
innocent civilians.
A major reason why I refer
to this kind of operation as
lacking in understanding
on the dynamics of
terrorism is the fact that
not a single terrorist has
so far been nabbed in the
operation as far as I know.
None of the 4,000 refugees
that have been arrested
have so far been directly
linked to terrorism unless
the Government is holding
back such information.
About 80 Somalis have so
far been deported to
Muqdisho for being in the
country illegally, a move
that has been faulted by
the UNHCR, which argues
that such people should be
allowed to make requests
for asylum, not deported
into a country that is still
experiencing violent armed
conflicts.
Poor Investigation And
Conviction record
That Kenya has a poor
record of investigation and
conviction of terror related
criminals is beyond doubt.
Despite display of heavy
military equipment
following the West Gate
mall attack in September
2013, there hasn’t been
any successful convictions
of the terrorists or their
accomplices. The attackers
who barbarically sprayed
bullets at worshippers in a
church at Mombasa
haven’t been brought to
justice, and the script is
the same for almost all
other terrorist attacks
whether in Nairobi,
Garissa or at the coast.
This makes me believe that
even the current swoops
could be intended to give
the citizens a feeling that
something is being done
about the rampant
problem of insecurity. As a
I said earlier, Kenya has
all of the legitimate
reasons to undertake
security operations which I
fully support, but the
question is how?
I must admit that I am not
an expert on anti-
terrorism, but it appears to
me that more brain and
less brawn could be all
that Kenya and most other
countries currently
struggling with terrorism
need to win the battle.
With a more intelligent
security unit, and more
patriotic police officers
(incorruptible) manning
the check points on the
routes through which
terrorists smuggle their
tools of trade into the
country, I believe that the
Government of Kenya can
easily take on the agents of
terror more effectively and
at a lower cost and with
lesser disruption of
people’s lives than the
current operation has
already achieved or hopes
to achieve.
Terrorism and Religion
Finally, I have seen the
issue of religion drawn
into the war on terror both
in Kenya and across the
globe. On quite a number
of online forums, I have
seen the close association
that people have been
drawing between Islam as
a religion and terrorism.
With this close association,
a terrorist attack gets
interpreted as an attack
from the religion of Islam,
and a hunt for the
attackers quickly getting
interpreted as a hunt down
for Muslims.
But let us bring in some
logic here. If the word
“Islam” means peace, then
anyone propagating
terrorism contradicts the
true teachings of Islam,
and by his very deeds
negates Islam.
Second, though a terrorist
might subscribe to a
certain doctrine (in most
cases false interpretations
of the Holy book), this
does not mean that all
Muslim faithful
misinterpret the Quran,
and are therefore
terrorists or potential
terrorists.
From these two simple
arguments, it is clear that
an attack from a terrorist
should be taken for what it
is, and not ascribed to an
entire religion or
community that has
suffered enough of such
attacks too. Likewise, a
hunt for the attackers
should be conducted with
the same kind of
understanding, and not be
misinterpreted (either by
the victims, authorities,
Muslims and other
religions, or by any other
quarter) as a hunt down
for a particular religion, as
that’s a misrepresentation
of facts.
Having said that, I must
add that the Somali
community in Kenya has
the responsibility of
helping to make Kenya
safer as the current
situation is hurting
everyone. Given their vast
investments and
contribution to the
national economy, a
peaceful Kenya would be
to their interest as an
enterprising community.
As such, the Somali
community and the
Muslim community in
general can play a greater
role in helping expose
those who are threat to
peace and instability in
Kenya and everywhere
else.
When all is said and done,
I believe the ultimate
solution to the problems
facing the Somali refugee
community in Kenya will
come to an end if we
support current efforts at
rebuilding our state of
Somalia. By setting aside
once and for all the
sectarian interests that
have all along placed a
stranglehold on Somalia’s
neck, we have, like all the
nations of the world, a
chance to build a
prosperous country that all
Somalis both at home and
across the world will be
proud to call home. Hamse Warfa
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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