As one of Africa’s most ethnically diverse cities, Nairobi is a magnet for those seeking a better life. Kenya’s capital exudes an entrepreneurial spirit that helps ensure the nation remains a place of innovation and creativity. Education is valued and the vast majority of people are eager to make the most of a generally outward looking country, one eager to be the dynamo of the region. That said, to those prepared to look as well as see there are also a number of disquieting features that indicate serious weaknesses that have the potential to gnaw away at the heart of the Kenyan dream.
Recent events in Eastleigh are in many ways symptomatic of these weaknesses. When the Police and Armed Forces consciously set out to round up individuals like cattle in the name of a so-called security operation, then we are aware that the State has contempt for the rights of the individual. No amount of sophistry, semantics or half truths will mask the fact that arrests have been indiscriminate and that innocent people have suffered on the Orders of the State; for the Police and Armed Forces do not move without the blessing or say-so of the powers that be. The Authorities excuse their actions claiming that such action is necessary to deal with those who are in the country illegally, or may be subversive elements intent on perpetrating acts of terror. If this is the case why are the same Authorities not arresting individuals, owners of companies and prestigious institutions and dare I say it Heads of Government Departments and Ministers who employ and take advantage of individuals who may be in the country illegally?
Before action can be taken there needs to be proof. The Police and Security Forces make mention of an attack, before a proper investigation has taken place to prove it was precisely that. In these challenging times it is far too convenient to blame every explosion or incident on the likes of al Shabab. The vast majority of people in Kenya of Somali heritage are law abiding individuals and yet all too often the Somali community and those from other countries in the Horn of Africa are stigmatised. Derogatory remarks are made about ‘the Goat People’ and if Kenya is truly to live up to its democratic and pluralist aspirations such racism and xenophobia must end.
The arrest of over 400 individuals has been defended by the likes of Anthony Kibuci, Nairobi’s Provincial Police Chief; yet what has actually been taking place is an extensive trawling exercises that would appear to have an ulterior motive. People including women, children and the elderly have been held in conditions which in a time of war would be deemed a contravention of the Geneva Convention – with in many cases no food, limited or no access to water etc. As if this were not bad enough, there are reports of individual’s families having to buy their freedom. Such extortion of Kenyan nationals, foreigners and the vulnerable seems to have become something of a tradition in the run-up to Christmas. These modern day fishers of men, women and children sully the good name of Kenya.
No one doubts that there are legitimate security concerns throughout the region, but by seeking to demonise Somalis and others is both simplistic and dangerous. In the post 9/11 world it has become far too easy for governments to pander to the fear agenda. 2010 has seen Kenya take a bold step forward by endeavouring to embrace a new constitution; it would be a tragedy indeed if before the ink was really dry those meant to be the guardians of the State were allowed to undermine social cohesion and trust.
If cast iron evidence can be found for genuine wrong doing then let the Law follow its course, not as an instrument of Government, but as its pure impartial self. As for the people of Eastleigh and similar such communities, let us not forget that like Mary, Joseph and Jesus they have found themselves in a neighbouring country due to circumstances beyond their control. All the great faiths speak of charity and neighbourliness, and at this time of year it is all the more important to seek the truth and not rush to judgement. One thing is for certain and that is that Nairobi is a better place for its diversity.