Friday, January 11, 2013

The Cost of Harassing Somalis In Kenya Over Alleged Terrorism

Kenya: The Cost of Harassing Somalis Over Terror

By Guled Mohammed, 9 January 2013

Somali entrepreneurs in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighborhood are fleeing en mass from Kenya and withdrawing billions of shillings from local banks to invest back home in Somalia and other neighboring countries like Uganda that are not hostile to the Somalis claiming some police officers are harassing them and robbing them off their properties in the name of fighting terrorism amid a spate of grenade attacks that has hit the area.

I hope the new Inspector General of the Kenya Police Service is reading this piece because from my understanding I believe his junior officers are yet to grasp that they are no longer the dreaded Kenya Police Force but rather a police service that ought to serve the public - including foreign investors like the Somalis or any other community or visitors to this country.

The economic consequence in figures of such irrational mass victimization of the Somali entrepreneurs is said to be a direct loss of approximately between Sh10 to Sh40 billion so far .

Mind you, many more others are contemplating leaving which means that figure is likely to rise. If you include thousands of jobless Kenyans working for or with the Somalis and the hundreds of empty buildings and loss of income to landlords then you have a crisis at hand.

Close to 10 banks with branches in Eastleigh neighborhood are getting worried as hundreds of their clients continuously withdraw their monies.

Landlords in Eastleigh are also worst hit by the massive exodus of Somalis leaving behind empty apartments and shops that few Kenyans can match their massively inflated rates.

The commercial flights operating between Nairobi to Mogadishu and Kampala, business has been brisk as hundreds of Somali entreprenuers leave Nairobi.

The recent spate of insecurity in Nairobi's Somali-dominated Eastleigh neighborhood and North Eastern province is believed to be the cause of the latest renewed police harassment ideally targeted at undocumented ethnic Somalis from Somalia.

However, a few corrupt officers are taking advantage of the situation to extort from genuine Somali businessmen their hard-earned monies and properties.

This time round, the extortion from the few corrupt police officers has gone overboard as they have pursued the Somali entrepreneurs into their houses robbing them off precious jewelry, foreign currencies as well as electronics including expensive phones, laptops and other personal accessories.

Some of the policemen have even gone to the extent officers of forcing Somali residents to produce receipts for their TV sets and other electronic in their homes. Surely, how many Kenyans have receipts for their TV sets? This is pure malice only aimed at harassing people!

Undocumented Somalis are being forced to part with between Sh10,000 to Sh50,000 to avoid imprisonment and deportation. Such arrests become so common in Eastleigh that the policemen can be seen even during the day extorting money from the same person or people.

Eastleigh Somali enterprenuers recently met in Nairobi with Minister of State for Defence Yusuf Haji and several members of parliament from North Eastern province to voice their concerns over the police harassment.

Minister Haji is said to have advised the entreprenuers and the public in Eastleigh to cooperate with security agencies to stem out insecurity in the area and encouraged them to report any corrupt officers who harass them by forwarding their names and employment numbers.

The only problem is, most of the policemen operating in Eastleigh hide their employment numbers even though there are required to display the badge. They even refuse to give names because they know their corrupt ways in against the law.

Kenyan Somalis and other nationals who are legally in Kenya have not been spared either. They find themselves being arrested, harassed and threatened to be put behind bars on suspicion of being Al-Shabaab, a militant movement in Somalia that cuts across tribal and nationality lines including even Kenyan non-Somalis!

What the policemen do not seem to understand is that majority of the Somalis in Kenya loathe the Al-Shabaab and many of these undocumented Somalis in Kenya fled their home as a result of Al-Shabaab brutality. You can imagine what will happen if they loose their income and are forced to return to Somalia!

Police swoops of undocumented alien's happens everywhere in the world. The only difference in Kenya is that these swoops have become cash cows for a few corrupt officers who have set shop in Eastleigh to unnecessarily harass the Somalis.

It is therefore no wonder that no major arrests or prosecution of the grenade-throwing assailants in Eastleigh is yet to be witnessed. The real culprits behind the insecurity and particularly the recurrent grenade attacks in Eastleigh and North Eastern Kenya must be apprehended and the police need to work with communities living in all affected areas in order to fish out the bad from the good.

Mass harassment of the public or extortion is not the right way to handle such sensitive matter. We need to attract investors but not scare them away as a few corrupt officers -- who ought to protect and preserve the rule of law -- are clearly doing from their greed and selfishness.

Guled Mohammed is a communication expert on the Horn of Africa.

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