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Ethnic profiling of Somalis endangers this community

By Billow Kerrow | May 3rd 2015 | 3 min read

Kenyans reacted angrily to the xenophobic attacks on African immigrants in South Africa last month, terming it barbaric and primitive, and condemned the black South Africans who savagely killed and maimed their brothers. Equally, governments reacted with shock, and faulted the Government’s slow response to perennial attacks.

In Kenya, some political leaders are stoking fire by ethnicising terrorism, a situation that may ultimately lead to xenophobic attacks, and the government seemingly tolerates it. A month after the Garissa attack, the Government is yet to give identity of the other three terrorists, all presumed to be non-Somali Kenyans.

In the Mandera massacres, the two masterminds of the attacks arraigned in court were non-Somali Kenyans. But some leaders have solely blamed the Somali community for the attacks in the country. This week, a Senator alleged that a disproportionate number of Somalis have been recruited in Parliament, posing imminent risk of terror attacks.

The Speaker allowed him to single out an ethnic community discriminately, contrary to the provisions of the National Cohesion and Integrity Act. The effect of that statement is to ethnically victimise the Somalis working in Parliament, placing their lives and reputation at risk.

But such prejudicial statements of hate and discrimination are not the preserve of MPs.

The Government too has often held the community collectively liable for the actions of its criminals. Operation Usalama Watch in Eastleigh last year led to thousands of Somalis being rounded up indiscriminately and quarantined in Kasarani.

Earlier, Somali businesses were accused of using proceeds from piracy to grab all real estate in Nairobi, distorting the market. The Government then ordered an audit of all Somali properties and assets in 2011. Long after piracy has ended and Somalis quit real estate business, the property market prices have more than trebled; wasn’t it xenophobia then? When census results were published in 2010, Government attempted to cancel the figures for North Eastern districts because Somalis looked too many!

The Government suspended issue of ID cards collectively to the Somalis in most parts of North Eastern in the past two years ostensibly to limit its access to foreigners. In Nairobi, every Somali seeking a passport or its renewal goes through an extensive, discriminative vetting process that takes months, regardless of whether you are a government official or an ordinary citizen.

In the aftermath of the Garissa University College attack, the Government shut down all Somali money transfers indiscriminately. Kenya Revenue Authority officials too raided several key legitimate multinational Somali businesses as part of the official harassment.

Ultimately when facts will be submitted to the Senate, I am certain the proportion of Somalis employed in Parliament will be significantly lower than our entitlement based on population proportion. Last year, the Public Service Commission published the ethnic representation in public service.

Somalis had the highest deficit in proportion to their population, among all the 42 tribes in Kenya. It had 1,752 employees out of the 236,000 in public service. As the sixth largest tribe in Kenya, they ought to have had over 15,000 according to the report. But courtesy of the official discrimination and years of emergency rule in the region, Somalis lost out.

Somalis, being Cushites, are the earliest inhabitants in this country. They are not anybody’s guests and will go nowhere. Calling them terrorists will likely breed xenophobic attacks. Let’s stop it.

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