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Is Operation Usalama Watch a Somali Gulag?

By Billow Kerrow.


Hon. Kerrow

Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta was in Kigali where he apologised to Rwanda for Kenya’s silence and failure to intervene and stop the 1994 genocide. The Rwanda genocide was triggered by ethnic profiling of the minority Tutsi community following a spate of attacks.

Ultimately, when a missile hit the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, it was instantly blamed on the Tutsi and the mass killings started spontaneously. Years later, French judicial investigators concluded that the missile that sparked the genocide was in fact fired by Hutu extremists at Kanombe Military barracks.

Before President Kenyatta’s departure to Rwanda, the government ordered the most dreadful exercise of ethnic profiling of the Somali community in Eastleigh on grounds that they were responsible for the spate of attacks in Nairobi. Last month’s explosion in Eastleigh that triggered the profiling was blamed on the community, even though no evidence has been adduced in this regard.

The community has been stigmatised and portrayed as “terrorists” by the xenophobic narrative of the State, and other Kenyans psyched against them. God forbid, should any other explosion occur tomorrow, ordinary Kenyans may turn on the Somalis!

I am not an alarmist but many prominent Kenyans are already forming that unfortunate impression. A couple of weeks ago, the Managing Editor of a major Kenyan newspaper opined in his column that “every two-bit Somali has a big dream — to blow us up, knock down our buildings and slaughter our children.” The social media is awash with similar mindsets that blame Somalis for all the terrorist actions, notwithstanding the painful reality that more Somalis have died in these attacks than any other community.

In early 1950s, thousands of Kikuyus were detained in concentration camps by the colonialists following attacks by Mau Mau. Uhuru’s father was one of the victims of this horrendous action by the British, and survivors are still seeking remedy in Britain.

Today, thousands of Somalis are held in similar detention camps at various police stations and Kasarani stadium in Nairobi undergoing profiling. The script is the same; the actors are different. The British Gulag policy that incarcerated Kikuyu’s is now the government’s prescription for Somalis.

Regrettably, the government seems to be reading from Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s script. In March 1967, Jomo’s government ordered police into an Isiolo mosque in which seven respected Muslim worshippers were massacred. The government told Parliament the dead were thugs the security forces were pursuing. In February this year, the government ordered police into Masjid Musa in which seven worshippers were killed. The government told Parliament that the youth were Al Shabaab sympathisers. The Isiolo conflict then was an attempt to economically disenfranchise the community.

To most Somalis, the police action in Eastleigh aims to disenfranchise the community economically by disabling its main business hub. At the height of the 1960s Shifta war under (Jomo) Kenyatta’s regime, the government targeted the Somali economy too by decimating its livestock. A 1971 UNDP/FAO report reveals that in Garissa and Isiolo alone, camel population reduced from 200,000 to 6,000, and sheep and goats reduced from 500,000 to 38,000 at the height of the conflict.

It is a strategy the colonialists used too; before the Second World War, Somalis were not allowed to own shops, and were not allowed to engage in livestock trading. As the conflict escalated, Jomo told Somalis in Northern Kenya to “pack up and go but leave us the land”. Is today’s persecution a precursor to the same narrative?

Terrorism is a global scourge affecting many countries and ours is no exception. Blaming the Somali community collectively is wrong and will create more resentment towards the State and radicalise its youth. We went into Somalia to pursue Al Shabaab knowing there will be a price to be paid. And that price should be borne by all, not the Somalis alone. Uhuru owes us an apology too!

The writer is a political economist and Mandera County Senator


– The standard

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1 Comment

  1. Lawrence Archie Gitonga

    Kerrow is misleading! No one has blamed the Somali community! Far from it! As evidenced by the many Somalis who still are operating freely in Kenya. I witnessed this in my neighbourhood South C last night! HSM is a Somalia phenomena that operates in Kenya through sleeper cells and that is what the government is after. A man of Kerrows standing should weigh his words before speaking!


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