Yesterday it was Asians, today it is Somalis, Tomorrow it could be You

By Rasna Warah

Somalis on social media are saying that since the bus explosions in Mombasa and Nairobi last week, it has become difficult for them to take public transport.

One ethnic Somali woman was thrown out of a matatu and asked to prove her “innocence”. Other Somalis have been forced to take taxis because buses and matatus are not allowing Somalis to travel in them.

It seems we have learnt nothing from the 2007/8 post-election violence. Then, people from “a certain community” were pulled out of matatus and hacked to death. Thousands were forcibly evicted from their homes. Young men from other ethnic communities were shot dead by security officers or targeted by militia. Women were raped for belonging to the “wrong” tribe.

We promised ourselves that we would not allow that kind of violence to occur during the 2013 election. And, thankfully, that election, despite all its flaws, did not witness bloodshed or mass displacement.

So why has violence against the ethnic Somali community become acceptable now? Do Kenyans always need a real or perceived enemy who can be blamed for all the country’s problems? Are we too afraid to see that the enemy lies within our borders in the form of corruption, lack of accountability, injustice, prejudice, bad leadership and a warped sense of entitlement that has seen this country divided along ethnic lines?

Today it is the Somalis. Yesterday it was the Mungiki. The day before, it was Kenyan Asians.

In a blog posting that went viral last month, blogger Aleya Kassam wrote: “I watch this inane swoop of alleged illegal immigrants and victimisation of Somalis in the name of quashing terrorism, and it chills me to the core. It is illegal. It is unconstitutional… It could be us. It has been us before.”

Kenyan Asians

Aleya was referring to the 1982 coup attempt when several Asian women were raped and many Asian businesses looted. In the 1980s, Asians were scapegoated as sleazy. They were accused of dominating the economy.

In the 1990s politicians openly talked of expelling Asians, which brought back memories of Idi Amin. Asians retreated into their ethnic cocoons and kept quiet.

Kenyan Asians didn’t even speak up when some of their members colluded with senior government officials and politicians to loot public coffers. These tycoons, as they were called, spoilt the name of the entire community.

The Asians did not ostracise or disown the tycoons; on the contrary these tycoons were envied for their cunning and connections and even invited to functions as guest speakers.

No one even spoke up for David Munyakei, the clerk at the Central Bank of Kenya who unearthed the Goldenberg Scandal. When the story of the scandal emerged, Munyakei found himself behind bars on the charge of violating the Official Secrets Act. The Central Bank fired him and he died broke and broken-hearted at the age of 38.

Despite a commission of inquiry some years later, not one of the architects of the biggest financial scam in Kenya’s post-independence history — which cost the country some $1 billion (Sh86 billion) — has been convicted or jailed. Most are still considered respectable members of society.

We are our own worst enemy. We sing the praises of thieves and liars and then look for scapegoats to blame for the rising cost of living and insecurity. We believe that economic growth and membership at exclusive clubs will cushion us from violence, terrorism and prejudice.

Orem Ochiel, writing for the New Inquiry couldn’t have put it more succinctly when he said: “We must care about our political condition, not because of the economy, but because we receive the understanding that the violence we see meted out with impunity, to others, could just as easily be turned against anyone else.

We must see the fragility with which our houses are built. We must notice that there is no peace without justice, without a Kenya that can be embraced by all of us within these borders.

“To say, believe or accept that the middle class is safe is to ignore how precarious any status must be when hung between great poverty and absolute wealth.”

Sunday Nation, May 11th 2014

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