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By: Abdikadir Okash
He represents a collective image of the now growing number of Eastleigh’s labour force: a middle-aged man, eyes cast down, a sweat edging beneath his earlobes, laughing sheepishly at a colleague passing jokes, anguish written into his face.
Meet James Ongoto, a loader at Eastleigh’s 7th street. “I have been coming to this job station for the last four years,” he says. Sitting around him are men of his ‘profession’, who say their only means of living was deprived by the same people who ‘should have created jobs for them’.
Mr ongoto and company were mildly referring to the recent operation stepped up by the government to flush out illegal immigrants and ‘terror elements’ living in the Eighstleigh estate of Nairobi county. Codenamed Operation Usalama Watch, the operation came at high price for the business community in the bustling hub.
From hawkers shouting out their wares to shopping malls streaming with human traffic, the area has now been reduced to a shell of its former self thanks to bad media publicity and unfavourable senior government rhetoric.
Months after the operation was scaled down, WAJIR TIMES returned to the area to assess how the operation has affected the business environment and the cycle of dependency.
Stories abound of business loss, reduced rental house occupancy and business on the brink of closure due to reduced customer loss. Casual labourers, like Ongoto, have virtually been reduced to jobless because there is no much of stock to offload. The situation is so gloomy that businesswoman Shukria Abdullahi, a women’s shoe dealer at Garissa lodge, says she feels alone in the business because most of her business colleagues have relocated to other countries.
“It’s like they saw no business prospect here in Kenya. They moved to neighboring countries like Uganda, Burundi because they felt more welcomed there,” she says amid a tinge of regret. Is she too planning to relocate? A pause, then a vigorous headshake. And quietly: “I cling to the hope that everything will be fine.”
Her brother Abdullahi Osman, she says, was arrested and held up at Pangani police station for days while in possession of valid identification cards. “He left immediately he was released because he felt threatened,” she offers.
The operation has mounted heavy toll on Ms Selina who does laundry for tenants at an apartments along the 8th Street at a cost ranging from sh100 to sh200. Now, she says, she hardly gets a customer. “On a good day I would leave with at least four hundred shillings at the end of the day. But following mass exodus of the tenants to other estates, I consider myself lucky to receive sh100 in a good day,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by James Kuria, a caretaker at an apartment in Eastleigh’s Section Three suburb. He said a quarter of the tenants either moved back to the refugee camps or have relocated to other neighborhoods of the city. He blames the security forces for the inconvenience.
“On average day at the height of the operation, police would conduct more than three rounds of swoops mostly during night hours,” he says. He justified his tenants reaction to the humiliating situation because they too were humans after all, he says, but regretted the manner the operation was carried out.
As indication of the slouch in business, sources in the banking industry say that the more than eight banks operating in the area have been hard hit as a result of the security swoop. “Before the operation Eastleigh branches used to transact over 240 million a day, but that has now been reduced to less than 6 million a day,” says a bank manager who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to divulge details of that nature.
”It’s true that Eighstleigh branches have seen daily transactions going down although no account was closed due to the effect of the operation,” Kenya Bankers Association chairman Habil Olaka told the media in late May.
Then was the operation counter-productive?
“I would not say it was entirely counter-productive,” says Eastleigh North ward member of Nairobi county assembly Osman Adow. He said the goodwill by the government to hunt for unlawful emigrants was hijacked by ‘men on the ground who manipulated the directive to enrich themselves through extortion.’ He added that the operation lacked any sense of direction ‘because terrorist would have left by the time of launching the swoop,’
A damning report releases by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) on 14th July accused the police of grossly violating the constitution by flouting fundamental rights of detainees. The monitoring exercise also established that there was no proper co ordination between the different units of the police force. For instance, the report said that a building would be separately searched by different police offers during the day and night inconveniencing the occupants.
The monitoring group received complains that the police officers were receiving bribes and some officers were not even on uniform and did not carry with them any identification document while executing the swoop. Chairman Macharia Njeru said his team was investigating at least 29 cases of extortion incidents in the operation.
“Detainees and members of the public complained of harassment, being roughed up, inappropriate touching and demand of receipt for household items such as electronics. Failure to produce them resulted in the confiscation of the item, illegal arrests or extortion,” he said while releasing the report.
As business slowly picks up and Eastleigh sluggishly reels back from the shock, casual labourers like Ongoto and Ms Selina are left to adapt to the prevailing situation and hope for return to normalcy.