Somalophobia and Kenyans’ Lust for Impunity
“Bomb them like Gaza”, a Kenyan Facebooker rants. “Wipe them out, that’s the only solution”, another raves. “If you rattle a snake, be prepared to be bitten by it”, another sheepishly quotes an already nauseating absurdity once brayed out by a colonial home-guard-cum-minister. Yet another screams: “It is time to let these people go. Their province is only dragging down our economy”. This is merely a miniscule sample of the genocidal discourse rushing through the veins of the social media sites such as Facebook and blogs and even in the online publications of Kenya’s mainstream newspapers. These are some of the alarming comments Kenyans have been making in the wake of two criminal incidents widely – but noticeably without evidence – attributed to the Somali fanatics, Al Shabaab. In the first incident, a bus was bombed in Nairobi’s Eastleigh and in the second, armed men shot dead KDF soldiers in Garissa. The reactions to both attacks have been just as shocking as the attacks themselves. Sections of Eastleigh became war zones as Somalis came under instant attacks from hordes driven by sheer hatred and ignorance. In the latter case, and just as spontaneously, a contingent of KDF soldiers descended on Garissa residents shooting, looting, raping and setting an entire market ablaze. Lives of innocent people were lost, livelihoods destroyed and a people’s trust in their government shaken to the core.
The comments sampled above come against the backdrop of these two incidents, and an optimistic observer might wish to brush them merely as a flash flood of emotional human reaction to what has been a string of terrorist attacks against civilian targets. But that is not what this is. This is much more toxic than a harmless cathartic discourse. This is hatred; raw, chilling and blood-curdling. And it has been systematic in its evolution; progressing – in the last decade- from incipient mistrust through silent, yet palpable intolerance to full blown Somalophobia bordering on genocidal animosity. If you think I am being dramatic, read through any Facebook thread about the current security issues in Kenya, including the two incidents mentioned above, and you will easily come to the conclusion that seven out of every ten comments are criminally hateful. And what makes it even more appalling is the fact those making these shockingly belligerent comments are young, educated Kenyans, many of whom must have had either classmates, work colleagues or neighbors who are Somali. Young Kenyans, who ought to be sentries for constitutionalism and rule of law, are openly calling for the application of brute force and communal punishment against an ethnic minority.
The Garissa Halgan Quran House Resort Hotel is engulfed in flames, in Garissa, Northern Kenya, Monday, after Kenya Defense Forces swept into Garissa, Kenya, beating people and burning property as they went Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Daud Yusuf)
Kenyan media: sensationalist ignorance
Mainstream media outlets have been equally revolting in their coverage of issues related to Somalis. At their best, they are guilty of blacking out the Somali segment of the Kenyan society, treating it as just an annex of Somalia, resulting in a situation where the average Kenyan is ridiculously ignorant about North Eastern province and the Somali citizens. At their worst, the Kenyan media houses have spearheaded a noxious campaign of misinformation, anemic coverage, reckless rabble-rousing and inexcusable mendacity. When rogue military units were rampaging through Garissa and the residents were cowering indoors, major newspapers were relaying a despicable, fabricated story about confrontations between police and gangs. A prime time Television newscast was polling: “Do you think Garissa is an Al Shabaab hide-out?”. Another was asking its uninformed audience: “Do you support the KDF operation in Garissa?” . Kenyan soldiers, like wild jumbos driven berserk by the demons of Musth, are savaging a hapless civilian population and setting a town on fire and this is the best Kenya’s prime journalists can come up with? How can anyone fail to see these journalists as conniving instruments of systemic anti-Somali xenophobia?
For all intents and purposes, the Kenyan media have perennially contributed to the misrepresentation of the Somali, perpetrated the stigmatization and disseminated the ignorance and misinformation that currently drives the pungent fumes of hatred. Even though our province has the lowest crime statistics in the entire nation, news outlets have always sought to fabricate a thick, mendacious layer of instability over it.
Nairobi’s Eastleigh has been a major artery of commerce, largely due to the Somalis’ entrepreneurial skills and industry. With appropriate government investment, Eastleigh would probably have competed with the Nairobi Central Business District. What ought to be a success story has been twisted by the Kenyan media as they continue to weave fictitious realities of tax evasion and pirate enterprise. Even though Somalis in Nairobi have been building shopping malls and estates long before the bubble of piracy, that unfair epithet has managed to stick, and the Kenyan media bears a huge chunk of the blame. An entire community’s industrious spirit has been trashed, and this created an intoxicating and irrational perception among other Kenyans that Somalis are a parasitic people who blossom to the detriment of others. For the millions of paupers who subsist in the slums hugging Eastleigh, this fictitious vampire community has become a target of misplaced rage.
Rioters attack ethnic Somalis in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Has anyone ever seen hordes of Kenyans spontaneously ganging up against a single community before this incident in Eastleigh? Kenyan tribes have always had their fair share of communal tension and scenes of Kikuyu fighting Luo, or Maasai fighting Kikuyu have not been unheard of. But it is unprecedented that groups of multi-ethnic Kenyans go on a rampage against one community. The reason for this is that Somalis, even those who are Kenyan, are actually deemed foreign by the rest due to the jaundiced media coverage. Every time a theatrical piece of nonsense is presented by a Kenyan journalist, the disgruntled population watches and listens.
On a different note, did you realize that Kenyan journalists have this unspoken rule not to mention a subject’s tribe? You always hear and read things like: A man has been arrested along Tom Mboya Road after he robbed a motorist. Or Wachira was gunned down in a bank robbery. Or ‘two people were arraigned in court for drug smuggling.’ Subjects’ ethnicity hardly ever gets mentioned, unless they are Asian or European or, yes, Somali. ‘A Kenyan of Somali origin was arrested for firearms possession’. ‘A Kenyan of Indian extraction was charged with tax evasion’, ad nauseam. How the Somali became as exotic as the Indian or European is a question that apparently never registers with these journalists.
Impunity is Kenyan!
As the Kenyan public imbibes this unhealthy dose of bigotry, a beast is being created out of the Somali; a foreign-born, tax evading, grenade-hurling ingrate. Meanwhile, the ‘real’ Kenyans are becoming inebriated with this pathetic nonsense so much so that they are willing to vent their frustrations, born out of poor governance and a dysfunctional economy, on the Somali population. They are the victims of a nascent but classic culture of scapegoating, not dissimilar to the xenophobic Western societies which veer to the extreme, foreign-bashing right whenever economic realities bite. Too bad that Kenyans in the Diaspora, who must have experienced what it feels like to be at the receiving end of such myopic simple-mindedness, now squelch in the same slimy victimization of Somalis.
But perhaps, the most absurd irony in this entirely disheartening trend is the fact that Kenyans, especially the internet savvy, educated urbanites, come out time and again as simplistic, intolerant and obscenely in love with rogue power, its instruments and application. They bring out the absolute truth in Joseph de Maistre’s quotation: “Every country has the government it deserves”. Too many of them never look beyond the miserable headlines they see in their bland papers and television coverage. Too many of them propagate tribal hatred against the Somali community. Too many of them have been cheering the criminal bestiality visited upon the Somalis of Garissa and Nairobi by insane KDF personnel and hooligans in Nairobi. And these are the same Kenyans who will always whine about impunity as their government trashes human rights and the rule of law. Folks, you deserve exactly that. The average Kenyan (at least the one of FB and other social sites) has this innate, lurid love affair with the prescription of brute force at the expense of law and order. They revel and trumpet when KDF and the Kenya police mete out appalling treatment on civilians. Education does not seem to help; at the TV rooms of university student hostels, at least during my undergraduate days, students would be ecstatic and delirious at scenes of police brutality and mob [in] justice aired on TV.
Someone needs to remind these people that constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law do not, like manna, fall from Providence; they are cultivated. And they are not irrigated with the bilge water of tribal animosity that flows through your veins. Good people, spare us the hypocrisy and cease crying about impunity, for you are the essence of impunity.
And I refuse to treat all this anti-Somali hysteria as harmless shop-talk, for I have every reason to believe that the person who is screaming: “bomb them like Gaza” will, given the opportunity, kill me without compunction.