December 05, 2012
Since terror attacks attributed to al-Shabaab started being carried out in Kenya about a year ago, Somali Kenyans have faced unjustified negative stereotypes and ethnic profiling from members of the country's other communities, Eastleigh residents say.
Abdisalan Moulid Abdi, 33, is an ethnic Somali who lives in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighbourhood, a fact he says makes him liable to be stopped by police for no reason.
"The attitude of security officers is that if someone is Somali, then he must be an al-Shabaab militant or sympathiser," said Abdi, a property development agent.
Abdi said officers accost him on the way to work, at his office and when he heads home. "I have been stopped by police on numerous occasions," he said. "Even after producing my identity card on request, they said I had forged the document. In some instances, the arresting officers demanded I bribe them for my release."
"The other communities erroneously link us with al-Shabaab and we face open hostility in social places and public transportation systems," he said. "We are regarded with suspicion whenever a terror attack is carried out in the country, which is something that endangers our lives and property."
On September 30th, an angry mob armed with sticks and stones attacked Somalis living in Eastleigh after a grenade attack on St. Polycarp Church killed one child and injured nine others. At least 13 Somalis were injured and property was destroyed in the riot, police said.
On November 19th, inter-ethnic clashes broke out in Eastleigh after an explosive device was thrown into a minibus the day before in a suspected al-Shabaab attack. Protesters targeted Somali residents and looted Somali-owned shops, drawing an indiscriminate line between al-Shabaab and ethnic Somalis.
Hussein Issa Ahmed, a retired teacher in north eastern Kenya's Garissa District, said the Somali Kenyan community is saddened but no longer surprised when it faces backlash from security officers and other communities. "That threatens peaceful coexistence," he told Sabahi.
Harassment from security officers is common whenever they carry out raids to hunt for suspected al-Shabaab militants, Ahmed said.
"[Somali Kenyans also want] al-Shabaab to be hunted down because it is part of the reason why we are facing security threats," he said. "But when the Kenyan security forces and others profile us, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place."
Aden Duale, a member of parliament representing Dujis, said it has become routine for police to detain Somali Kenyans near the scenes of suspected al-Shabaab attacks.
"Al-Shabaab membership transcends one ethnic community," he told Sabahi. "Some of those arrested in connection with the grenade attacks come from outside the Somali community."
"Somali Kenyans support the war on al-Shabaab militants, so the war should not be used as an excuse to harass and profile the Somali community," he said.
In a May 2012 report, Human Rights Watch said the Kenyan government should take responsibility for persistent abuses by aggressive security officers against ethnic Somalis.
"Police roundups and extortion of money from those who cannot produce Kenyan identity cards have been regular features of Eastleigh life for many years," the report said.
Profiling Somali Kenyans does not help in the fight against al-Shabaab but rather hinders it, said Khalif Abdi Farah, co-ordinator of Northern Forum for Democracy.
"Security agents should strive to win the hearts and minds of the community," he told Sabahi.
However, Kenya's Defence Minister Mohamed Yusuf Haji, a Somali, denied that the state engages in community profiling.
"These are normal security operations. Most of the searches are intelligence-based and on several occasion they have borne fruit," he told Sabahi.
He said a parliamentary committee is compiling a report on alleged abuses by security forces, and the recommendations will be tabled in parliament next week.
Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said violence against Somalis is unacceptable.
He said police attempted to use restraint to control the mobs attacking Somalis in Eastleigh in November, but eventually had to use tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd.
"We will not accept wanton targeting and destruction," he told Sabahi. "We are vigilant so that terrorism activities do not degenerate into sectarian or tribal violence."
During the skirmishes, police arrested more than 100 non-Somali Kenyans and brought the situation under control, he said.
In response to the recent violence, Kamukunji parliamentarian Yusuf Hassan Abdi, who represents Eastleigh, has started holding meetings with religious leaders, women, youth and other constituent groups to promote dialogue and peaceful co-existence.
"Acts of violence and stereotypes need to be eradicated through everyone's participation," he said. "My aim is to show all communities and different religious groups in my constituency that the criminal acts of a few individuals with extremist views do not represent or speak for the larger community to which they belong."
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