[Dehai-WN] Nation.co.ke: How Shabaab war is changing life in Eastleigh

[Dehai-WN] Nation.co.ke: How Shabaab war is changing life in Eastleigh

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2011 13:49:21 +0100

How Shabaab war is changing life in Eastleigh

By Daniel Wesangula dwesangula_at_ke.nationmedia.com
Posted, November 28, 2011 at 18:00

In Summary

* Residents say the perception of the area as hosting militants and
frequent security operations have opened up new realities in social and
business relations

Kassim Abbas Rahim started living in Eastleigh about 40 years ago. He
arrived there as a 25-year-old named Marcus Ouma, and met and fell in love
with a Kenyan Somali woman. He converted to Islam and married her. They have
three children.

But he is now in a quandary. The war against the militant Islamist group
Al-Shabaab is bothering him. Not that he is against it but he fears for his

Even though relations between the Kenyan Somalis and other tribes living
there are still cordial, the war against the Shabaab by the Kenya Defence
Forces and the Somalia Transitional Federal Government forces has opened up
new realities.

"For the first time, I heard the last born, a daughter, referring to her
maternal uncle as a Somali. I didn't know what to say to her," says a
perplexed Rahim.

The war and the uncertainties of its consequences have drawn the attention
of Kenyans to ethnic differences. There is more than clinical interest.

"This whole Shabaab thing is not only about insecurity," says Rahim. "Our
soldiers may be fighting with Al-Shabaab in the bush - and we wish them
success and victory - but after all is said and done, right here, in this
concrete jungle, we wonder if we will be able to survive the peace that will

War on terrorism

Rahim fears that if the war on terrorism ever moved into his neighbourhood,
fresh wounds would be opened in a society already stretched to the limit in
terms of tolerance.

"If, by chance, something was to happen to my Somali neighbour and he is
whisked away in the middle of the night by the police, he may think that, as
the only non-Somali in the flat, I had something to do with his arrest. When
he comes back, will he trust me again? Will we relate as we used to before
this whole Shabaab business?"

He is not only thinking about surviving peacetime but also a possible post -
Al-Shabaab attack in Eastleigh.

"I am not God. Neither am I the devil. But, if something were to happen -
God forbid - what would we wake up to in Eastleigh?"

Ever since it became famous for its textile and furniture markets, there has
always been a certain romance, even mystery associated with Eastleigh. For
almost half a century, tribes have coexisted like kindred. They still do.

Henry Magomere, an electrician who has lived in Eastleigh for as long as
Rahim, has seen the estate undergo a metamorphosis, especially in the last
two decades.

"In the beginning, the relationship was that of landlord and tenants, where
Kenyans of Somali origin were the tenants. That changed. Somewhere in the
history of this place, property changed ownership. Dynamics shifted.
Relationships evolved," says the 65-year-old electrician.

But, for the first time in decades, Kenyans are changing the way the look at
the commercial hub east of Nairobi that has been described by the Internal
Security assistant minister Orwa Ojode as harbouring the head of Al-Shabaab.

And after the multiple grenade attacks in Nairobi and other areas such as
Garissa, coupled with the numerous threats and terror alerts issued by the
government, anxiety is seemingly creeping in Eastleigh.

"We have known all along that illegal activities go on in Eastleigh. We just
haven't been able to prove it. Now, after all these years, the government
has come out to tell us what we have known all along," says Magomere.

"We watched, in less than 20 years, as foreigners took over our
neighbourhood. Nobody asked questions. What makes the police think that the
questions they are asking now, that they should have asked decades ago, will
have answers?" the old man says as he unscrews the cover of an old TV on his
workbench. He fishes around for spare parts.

Magomere has been an electrician for nearly half a century. As he continues
to work, his mind wanders off to last week's demolitions of houses near the
Moi Air Base.

"If it is to secure our borders, I have no quarrel with anyone. Let those
concerned do whatever it takes to keep us safe," he says.

Long-time friends

Magomere and Rahim have been friends for a long time. They came to the
satellite city about the same time. The two friends, who fondly refer to
each other as ndugu (brother) and crack jokes that only they understand,
have had the best of their years in Eastleigh.

But, lately, the two men have become increasingly anxious and fear that
worse days may lie ahead.

The war on terror is also slowly tightening a noose around the once booming
wholesale and retail business in the area.

"Ever since the incursion, business has gone down drastically. And the
statement given by the (Internal Security) assistant minister Orwa Ojodeh
made things worse. What the government succeeded in doing was to create
panic among both Eastleigh residents and those who do business with the
community," says Hassan Guleid, the chairman of Eastleigh Business District

Guleid says sales have gone down as a result of several things.

"Once people were told about Al-Shabaab threat, the shoppers shied away. As
a result business people reduced the amounts of imports coming into the area
and some even opted to relocate to other parts of the country. Those who had
stock in their premises disposed of them at throwaway prices while those who
were initially planning to invest here are holding on to their resources,"
he says.

He proposes a solution.

"If the government knows these Shabaab operatives, it would be better to go
for them. The perception that Al-Shabaab is inseparable with Somali has
already been created. This perception has spilled over to relating the
terror group with Kenyan Somalis as well," he says.

Media bias

Rahim accuses the press of bias in reporting issues around property
ownership in what has become a city within the city. He says the press went
overboard on the supposed acquisition of property by people of Somali origin
whose nationality was in question.

The media, he says, unfairly suggested that Somalis were unfairly pushing
other Kenyans out of the property market using money from piracy.
Then there was the Grogan land dispute, which he says almost turned into an
"us-versus-them" confrontation.

"The worst was the visiting Jamaican cleric (Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal).
People in Nairobi automatically thought that everyone associated with
Somalis was the cleric's sympathiser," he says.

Ultimately, when the enemy is driven from within our borders, it is the
shattered image that will remain to be repaired.

Magomere says things will not be bad and that, although there is some
tension, the bond in Eastleigh is too strong to be broken by "meddling of
outsiders" - be it Al-Shabaab or the intelligence agencies.

His sentiments are shared by the Eastleigh North councillor Mohamed Robow,
whose ward hosts Eastleigh's business hub.

Up in flames

"Why would people think that if anything happens Eastleigh will go up in
flames? This is not Somalia. We have Kenyans from all over the country
living here as brothers and sisters. None of them would want any form of
disorder to visit their homes," Robow says.

"All of us, regardless of our tribe will stand by each other and fight them
(Shabaab) off."

But others say something will have to give and life as many knew it may
never be the same again.

"Why? Because the social dynamics have shifted. The most basic element of a
relationship - trust - will have been eroded," says sociologist Loice

Her sentiment is echoed by Stephen Mutoro of the Kenya Alliance of Residents

"The relations between non-Somalis and Kenyan Somalis may be affected. There
is bound to be mistrust. It may affect business and social relations to the
extent they will neither buy goods and services from either side and stop
socialising for fear of being marked as suspects by police," says Mutoro.

He says his organisation is aware of the growing tensions in Eastleigh and
is working with community-based organisations to forestall any fallout.

"This is the only way the war will be won. By changing the mindset of our
people as well," he says.

The chairman of Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council, Sheikh Juma Ngao,
was among the first Muslim clerics to go public about the possibility of
recruitment of Kenyan youth into the militant group.

He named several mosques in Nairobi and Mombasa as recruitment centres.

According to the preacher, the majority of the recruits came from the
Eastleigh area, were taken to Somalia after being brainwashed and convinced
they were going to fight a holy war.

"The solution lies in civic education. We need to tell our boys and those
rigid in their religious interpretations that no holiness can be found in
the Somali conflict. It is political and tribal," says Sheikh Ngao.

He says two possible scenarios can emerge from this war.

"We can either turn on each other on the flimsy reasons of the politics of
them-versus-us, or we can emerge from it as brothers united in diversity,"
he says.

The preacher hopes that Kenyans will be mature enough to know that not all
Somalis are Shabaab members or sympathisers.

"Through their business leaders and their representatives in Parliament, our
Somali brothers have expressed their support for the government efforts to
purge terrorists. It will take a Kenyan of special character to raise his
arm against his friend just because someone thought it wise to choose
destruction as a form of expression," he says.

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