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Ken Opalo: “Who exactly is scared of Somalis? And why are top officials in Uhuru administration pushing it?”



By: Ken Opalo

Over the last few months, I have seen sporadic instances of senior politicians – most of them alumni of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration – spewing vitriol specifically targeted at Kenyans of Somali origin.

Whether it is complaining about alleged Somali takeover of businesses, migration into certain parts of the country and demographic change, or the spectre of “insecurity,” the rhetoric has been alarming in its acerbic tone and unabashed tribalism.

Which begs the question: Who exactly is scared of Somalis? As a country, we need to ask this uncomfortable question and then educate our fellow citizens.

Before going further, it is worth noting that our Constitution guarantees individualised membership in the political/moral community that is Kenya.

Our citizenship is not mediated by our ethnicity, religion, or place of origin. Which is why it’s absurd that elected officials would single out individuals merely on the basis of the accident of birth.

Be that as it may, let us interrogate the fear of Somalis as a community.

Few other communities have chosen to remain loyal to the Kenya Project despite repeated rejections like our fellow citizens with links to the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) – a category that includes much of the northern half of the country.

Historical government neglect of these regions has often been punctuated with unimaginable indiscriminate state-sponsored violence and dispossession.

In the specific case of Kenyans of Somali origin, they have also had to deal with the added burden of having to prove their loyalty to a country that has historically only engaged them through collective brutalisation – from the “Shifta War” to the contemporary fight against terrorism.

To be blunt, Somalis are here to stay. Kenyans who, through the accident of birth, happen to be ethnic Somalis are just as Kenyans as anyone else.

They have no apologies to make for being privately successful, or visible in public life. They also do not need to be victimised as scapegoats for failures of the government to provide security in the North Eastern.

Those targeting Somalis hope they can activate laten inter-ethnic suspicions and keep us cocooned in our respective ethnic pens.

Kenyans of goodwill should reject their mediocrity and embrace the idea of a cosmopolitan Kenya strong in its vibrant diversity. All 55 million of us are here to stay, wapende wasipende.

The writer is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University. This article previously appeared on The Standard newspaper and it’s digital outlet. 


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