Government, media guilty of xenophobic attitude towards Somalis
By Billow Kerow
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that over 412 people have died, and nearly 112,000 displaced in inter-communal fighting in Kenya this year. Many more have died due to terror and other criminal attacks directed at individuals.
Insecurity is now on the front bane in the country. The Police appear to have lost the battle, and at the height of the Tana Delta killings in September, they publicly asked the Cabinet to sanction the use of excessive force ‘lest they end up in The Hague’. The result was claims of police brutality, harassment and torture of the innocent men and women. In Parliament, Garsen MP Danson Mungatana even accused the General Service Unit of razing houses in some villages.
In their usual attempt to save face, police were resorting to violence against the civilians they were meant to protect. Soon, Tana Delta residents fled the area en mass to escape the police operation.
After the Baragoi killings, Turkana villages in Sugutta Valley have been evacuated as residents flee the much anticipated security operation after Cabinet sanctioned the use of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).
In Garissa, the security forces unleashed terror in the town after several officers were killed by terror suspects. The KDF denied it as usual but their soldiers caused the mayhem all the same.
The County Commissioner confirmed in media reports that the soldiers razed the town to avenge their colleagues’ deaths. The PM said as much after his visit. The area MP recounted in Parliament how he escaped execution by the soldiers by a whisker. And a Defence Assistant minister unwittingly tabled evidence that the operation was indeed sanctioned by the Provincial Security Intelligence Committee.
So, why would the Government resort to the use of excessive force and collective punishment? I am not a security expert but I do not see how beating up local folks in those towns and villages and torching their premises would endear Kenyans to the security officers, or indeed enhance the resident’s patriotism.
When you enlist as a soldier, you place your life on the line to protect ordinary citizens. But when the soldier embraces collective guilt, to whom will the citizens turn for protection?
The Garissa incident was bizarre. The officers who destroyed the city in broad daylight did not conceal their boiling, instant anger, following the slaying of their colleagues.
But it was misplaced. The unparalleled destruction of property by the officers, and the random shooting and maiming of the civilians revealed a much wider, sinister scheme to brand the residents collectively as terrorists’ sympathisers. Was it xenophobic?
Certainly, the mayhem in Eastleigh was driven by xenophobia. Some media billed it as a “protest march by residents against Al Shabaab sympathisers” in Eastleigh and “angry youths protesting terror attacks”.
Some papers even wrote “deadly explosions have now angered locals who turned against the Somali community”.
Nairobi area police boss simply dismissed it as “thugs out to rob”. NCIC Chief Mzalendo Kibunjia termed it was “rival gang” fighting inter-communal violence.
But Eastleigh residents believe they are increasingly becoming victims of xenophobic attacks. I actually believe that certain elements in the Government and even the media are guilty of this xenophobic attitude.
In recent years, Somalis have been profiled as terrorist sympathisers, foreigners behind insecurity and piracy money-launderers behind the property boom.
Just before the Somalia invasion, Internal Security minister Katoo ole Metito announced in Parliament that the Al Shabaab had its head in Eastleigh and the tail in Somalia. Referring to that statement, a journalist wrote this week that “true to this statement, weeks after its tail has been neutered with the capture of Kismayu, Eastleigh remains defiant.”
There has been dozens of armed attacks and explosions in recent years across the country. To the best of my knowledge, no Somali has been charged and convicted in relation to any of these attacks.
Regrettably, the Government, the media and some Kenyans think they are the bad guys.
The writer is a former MP for Mandera Central and political economist