‘Just learn to live with us peacefully’

Mohamed Amin, a Kenyan who was born in Nairobi and has never been to Somalia and has no relatives there but is still treated as a Somali who migrated to Kenya.

Hudheifa Aden and his friends were walking to a prominent barbershop in Nairobi’s Central Business District for a shave.

As they approached the elevator, they saw a white man who was waiting for the elevator. They stood behind him and when the elevator arrived, he told them to go in first.

“He did not get in yet there was space since we were only three people,” says Hudheifa. “He politely declined and said he will board the next one.”

Such an incident might seem normal to anyone. Some might even assume that the person was waiting for someone else or was just passing time.

But for Hudheifa and his friends, that incident just added salt to a big wound in the psyche of Kenyan Somalis who suffer social discrimination on a daily basis.

Such an incident is one in a series of many that the Fourth Year law student faces while running his errands in the city of Nairobi.

It gets worse when there has been a terrorist attack in the country. Kenyan Somalis watch the scenes with horror, but at the same time fear the backlash from fellow citizens who discriminate against them in public places such as malls, and when they are seeking jobs or want to transact businesses.

The biggest entity that discriminates against them and punishes them collectively is the government.

Two weeks before the elevator incident, Hudheifa was enjoying himself in a restaurant at an upmarket mall.

On his way out, he saw a hawker with an assortment of goods, including shoes which he liked, so he approached him.

Had had enough

They exchanged pleasantries, and then started haggling over the price.

They could not agree on a favourable price so he decided to walk away.

He had barely gone four steps when the hawker said something that left him wondering what crime he had committed.

He was baffled and wondered whatever happened to peaceful co-existence between citizens with different ethnic backgrounds.

Kwenda huko, Al Shabaab wewe!” (Go away, you Al Shabaab),” the hawker, who sounded like a Tanzanian, had said. This is the worst stereotypical statement Kenyan Somalis have become accustomed to. Hudheifa had had enough and he was not going to let this man get off lightly as he had done in previous incidents.

He confronted the hawker and challenged him to show his Kenyan identity card.

Hudheifa’s argument was that a foreigner cannot suggest he is not a Kenyan, yet he was born and bred in Kenya.

Hudheifa, 23, was born in Nairobi County and his parents believe in the rule of law, and respect as the driving force that enhances co-existence between different communities.

“My father would ensure we stood every time the Kenyan flag was being raised as a show of respect. I think this is where my love for the black-red-green-white flag grew in me,” he says.

Amina Farah is also another Kenyan who has been ethnically profiled by other Kenyans.

Her main worry is that many Kenyans who wish to spread hate speech have taken advantage of social media space in trying to convince Kenyans that all Somalis should be rounded up and taken back to Somalia.

“Online hate-speech should be curbed so that we do not become statistics of xenophobic attacks,” Amina says.

Born to Kenyan parents who have never known any other country as theirs, Amina has been working with other communities to make them understand their rights as Kenyans.

“I believe in oneness,” she says. “And educated Kenyans should be the force that would oversee a more united country.”

She has been involved in an online campaign which seeks to make people understand Kenyan Somalis and blames the media for portraying her community negatively.

Denied right to belong

Amina, who is pursuing her Masters degree at United States International University-Africa has often engaged in debates that address the issue of Kenyan Somalis.

Often times, Kenyan Somalis receive a blanket condemnation — and they are told they should all be held responsible for the terror attacks in Kenya.

“We have to educate the non-Somalis who do not understand the Somali story,” she says.

“Somalis have often been subjected to ethnic profiling because of a rotten few. Every market has a mad man.”

Somalis who were born and bred in Kenya are discriminated against daily by government agencies.

Many of them are not issued with national Identity Cards even when they submit all the requisite documents. Security analysts argue that such acts whereby the government denies its own citizens the right to belong is a reason the youth feel marginalised, and disenfranchised and can easily join groups with bad influence.

It took Mohamed Amin close to a year to get a national Identity Card, an important document that proves that he is a Kenyan.

Mohamed — a second year student at USIU-Africa — has often  found himself on the wrong end of ethnically-charged debates which degenerate in to “us against them” especially after terror attacks.

Even though he has spent all his life in Kenya, amongst people from different communities and cannot even speak Somali fluently, he has been victimised “for being a part of the terrorism problem”.

“I once boarded a matatu which was not going to my destination by mistake, and had to disembark.

“A female passenger then shouted at the conductor to ensure that I had not left any explosives in the bus,” says Mohamed, 20.

“I understand the emotions that come after terror attacks but people should know that we are also human beings and get traumatised when those attacks are carried out.”

Mohamed argues that many Somalis have heavily contributed to the political and economic development of this country and they should be treated equally just as other Kenyans.

Shorter working hours

What Hudheifa, Amina and Mohamed have experienced are just but a few of the injustices many Somalis who were born and bred in Kenya go through at the hands of civilians and government officials.

Innocent Somalis, who mean well for this country cannot run their errands and earn their livelihoods peacefully because they are condemned collectively with the Al Shabaab whenever their is a terror attack.

What is not known by many Kenyans is that after terrorist attacks, Somalis who live in North Eastern Kenya do suffer socially and economically. Non-locals run away and businesses close leading to job losses which in turn affect the economy.

Curfews imposed by the national government means a reduction in the working hours as businesses operate for less than six hours,  yet the whole country is pushing for a 24-hour economy.

Not all hope is lost for Hudheifa, Amina and Mohamed and many other Kenyan Somalis who have never known any other country as theirs.

They pray that the Kenya flag will be a uniting factor — and Kenyans will learn to live as brothers and sisters. They also pray for an informed nation, a country where people will lean on each others’ shoulders in times of need without bothering about their ethnicity.

A country where the system, especially that which is charged with issuing national identification documents, will treat all Kenyans equally and process documents for a Hudheifa, an Amina, a Mohamed in the same period as they do for an Onyango, a Musyoka and a Wanjiru.

Tracking the Big Five
Sunday Magazine
By Ferdinand Mwongela
18 hours ago