Tension Runs High In Kenya's 'Little Mogadishu'
Publisher: NPR, National Public Radio, USA
Author: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Story date: 20/11/2011
Language: English

LINDA WERTHEIMER: With the recent cross-border military operation into southern Somalia, the spotlight is falling on a neighborhood in Kenya's capital called Little Mogadishu. It's home to thousands of Kenyan-born Somalis as well as Somali refugees. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.


OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: This is Eastleigh. It's a busy little corner of Nairobi. It's called Little Mogadishu and you can understand why. All the signs of the shops is written in Somali. You have restaurants with Somali names and you have veiled women, you have men who have just come out of the mosque, wearing long robes.


QUIST-ARCTON: So, we've come to find out from them whether with the Kenyan military incursion into Somalia, whether they feel that fingers are being pointed at them.

ADEN DUALE: If you have a criminal, look for individual criminals because sometimes we hear it's very easy to assume all Somalis are al-Shabab.

QUIST-ARCTON: Aden Duale is a Somali-Kenyan member of Kenya's Parliament. He's concerned by what many consider a blanket threat by the government here after the abduction of foreign tourists and aid workers. Kenya blames al-Qaida-linked Somali al-Shabab insurgents, who are fighting their own administration in Somalia, and now Kenyan troops in the south. The anti-Western al-Shabab group warns that Kenyans will taste fire for their government's military operations, prompting an aggressive official Kenyan response.

The security forces have vowed to smoke out those who back Somalia's militants and Kenya's Somali community feels it is the target of the crackdown.

DUALE: We want the government to distinguish between the criminals and the ordinary citizens. That distinction should be very clear.

QUIST-ARCTON: The Kenyan MP's concerns are echoed in Little Mogadishu, which is a mix of Somali-Kenyans like him, and many Somali immigrants living here. After the Kenyan army crossed into southern Somalia last month, Nairobi was hit by a wave of grenade attacks and insecurity. Somali refugee, Munyadeen Roble, says he senses growing Kenyan hostility.

MUNYADEEN ROBLE: We Somali refugees here in Kenya, we came here to get peace. It is good for us to have a peaceful Kenya. Kenya is our second country. Before these attacks, we were not feeling as foreigners. But now we feel as foreigners. Increasingly, I see Somali phobia.

QUIST-ARCTON: So, how is this anti-Somali sentiment manifesting itself among the residents of Kenya's Little Mogadishu?

ROBLE: Like when you are walking on the streets of Nairobi, or when you are in a public bus, people will look at you bad and then say, hey, Shabab. Hey, is that al-Shabab? This man, is he al-Shabab? Is he going to do something? So you feel bad when people is talking to you as al-Shabab. Like a group which you do not support, a group which made you flee from your country, yeah?

QUIST-ARCTON: Ahmed Aden is Kenyan of Somali origin. He says he's being marginalized by his own government and police force, and believes they're not doing enough to protect the Somali community.

AHMED ADEN: Indeed, yes, I feel that whether I have the right identification, whether I have the citizenship, they do discriminate me; I feel I don't belong here.


QUIST-ARCTON: But not the entire Somali community in Kenya is feeling put upon. After Friday prayers, residents of Little Mogadishu gather to eat and to drink camel's milk. A group of veiled women is selling the frothy, white liquid on what passes for a sidewalk along the hectic, noisy and dusty main street in Eastleigh. Most were too shy to talk. But 16-year-old Somali schoolgirl Layla Ahmed, wearing a fluffy, white hat and a serious smile, readily shared her views about al-Shabab and the Kenyan military adventure.

LAYLA AHMED: We are happy that they are getting al-Shabab out of Somalia. People are running from there and we are grateful to Kenyans if they are helping us to get al-Shabab out of our country.

QUIST-ARCTON: The Kenyan army has not indicated how long it will remain in southern Somalia. But the Somali and Kenyan governments stress they're working in tandem to restore peace to chronically unstable Somalia and drive out al-Shabab insurgents from both countries. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Eastleigh, Nairobi.

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