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Salah Abdi: Seven reasons why Somalis are considered economically prosperous and politically successful in Kenya



By: Salah Abdi Sheikh

Let me tell you why Somalis are considered economically prosperous and politically successful in Kenya. And I hope this shuts up the ethnic bigotry that has been doing rounds in this country for awhile now.

1. Somalis are capitalists when earning. Everybody must own something. When a child is born, the parents tie the dried out and fallen umbilical cord on the neck of a cow, a goat or a camel. 15 years later, this kid will be owning a sizable herd of livestock. You get a good head start. This ownership came to town with shrewd business strategy and entrepreneurship. I started my business at River Road when I was 2nd year University. I had one employee when I was a student. You cannot compare me with my friends who were breezing and clubbing. After graduation day, I went to check on my tiny office while my friends were in cybercafes formulating CVs. I owned a Desktop Publishing business which helped them print their CVs.

2. Somalis are socialist in consumption. You work hard to earn but you must uplift your extended family. I am always looking for an opportunity for a kid who left a CV in my office without even seeing me with a note that he or she is a 4th cousin through my mother or our fathers were friends or came across me through social media or a fellow form NEP. I have absolutely no choice but to call all my contacts and set up something for this young desperate kid. Do not get me wrong, I employ people based on qualification, an my staff include Kenyans of all extraction, but I am part of a community and I have to contribute to that community.

3. Kenya never cared about Somalis for the last 60 years. NEP received KSh. 180 Million in Development from 1962 to 1992. The government killed more Somalis than all other communities in this country put together. We suffered in concentration camps and Police swoops for decades.

When you are a marginalized community considered as immigrant, you have to survive by bootstrapping. Somalis are excellent bootstrappers. We survive by our wits. Somalis use what is available to them to make do. Unlike some communities that shun competition and hoard information, a Somali will howl like hyena on seeing an opportunity. They do not hoard information or keep business secrets. Wariahe believe everyone will receive what God provided and there is no obstacle in the path of God’s providence.

4. Political conformity has worked in favour of Somalis. Somalis blow with the political wind wherever it blows. Any government that is elected is their government. Somalis do not see the tribalism and nepotism of the president as an issue and will do business with whoever is in power at that time. They are largely unaware of the national psyche and operate in that small lane of business, government employment and government tenders. Nothing else concerns them. This is a survival strategy. It has worked wonders as crumps that fall off the high tables can only be grabbed by those with open mouths underneath it.

5. The Somalia and Diaspora influence is also important. Somali diaspora remits a huge amount of money and investment into this country. The primary customer of Somali real estate companies are Somalis. Also in the areas of wholesale, retail, apparels and even fast foods, Somalis are the primary customers to their own businesses. Whenever I am in Mombasa, If I stay at a Somali establishment, I don’t find other customers, their customers are primarily Somalis. I run a business consulting firm, 90% of my customers are Somalis. I train businesspersons in my own language. That creates an economy largely independent of the other influences.

6. Somalis are consumerists. You can sell strips of watermelon in Eastleigh and make enough money to survive. This makes the money circulate faster and businesses survive and thrive.

7. Corruption has played some positive role for marginalized communities. If you cannot get your right, you can commoditize it, trade in it and if grabbed from you, buy it back. Somalis are corrupt to the core thanks to the Registration of Persons and Immigration Department. Somalis could not get IDs and Passports for many years. They discovered that one could actually pay and be served in these departments. Remember we howl when we see an opportunity. So we created business opportunities as middlemen with these departments. Obviously this framework is applicable to all government services.

Today, you will see a Somali middleman in all government services. You cannot blame Wariahe for learning this game. Corruption is the worst crime, worse than murder, but as a marginalized community, who cannot access government services without paying for it, Somalis have applied purely business concept of brokerage and arbitrage to it and it has worked.

If I need a passport for my son to purse his education abroad. I first have to pay someone to process his ID and then pay for another to process his passport. Yes, I am entitled to this service but I cannot be a smart ass about that otherwise he will grown old on the waiting list. In this country, nobody is entitled to anything as a right. You get what you can afford.

I could continue but by now you are too bored with them and moved on to something else.

Salah Abdi Sheikh is a Management Coach and a Consultant. 


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