Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hounding Somalis Hurts Terror Fight

This article first appeared in Kenya's The Star newspaper on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - where Guled Mohamed is a news contributor.

There is a new joke in Kenya these days which seems to belittle ethnic Somalis. If someone wants to express his dislike or ridicule for something, she or he will call you Al-Shabaab. Perhaps Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia’s team need to remind Kenyans that such reckless utterances amount to hate speech and can put Kenyans behind bars.

Ethnic Somalis living in Kenya, whether they are legally Kenyans or not, have found themselves in an awkward situation recently. Their miseries during these hard economic times has been compounded by the grenade attacks in Nairobi which were quickly blamed on Al-Shabaab, even though the attacks do not conform to its normal style of retribution.

The grenade attacks have unearthed a very disturbing vilification of the mostly peaceful Somalis in Kenya irrespective of their nationality. Sometimes it seems that it is being driven by unknown individuals feeling threatened by the growing business influence of the hardworking Somalis positively contributing towards the Kenyan economy.

Such illogical targeting of the Somalis is likely to cause more harm than good especially during such a sensitive operation involving Kenyan intervention in helping the Somalis fend off the al-Shabaab menace. The Somali public in Somalia is tired of Al-Shabaab and has even come out to express their support for Kenya’s intervention despite a diplomatic goof by their leadership.

As the Kenyan military continue to scatter rogue elements of al-Shabaab in Somalia, it is very important for the public, and various government arms to positively contribute towards this gigantic war against a very canny and highly volatile militant group that has eluded many international efforts to eradicate it.

The Somali speaking people in Kenya, whether citizens or not, are the primary victims of the uncouth Al-Shabab and they loathe it more than other Kenyans. Many hardworking Somalis from Somalia living in Kenya, who have heavily invested in Kenya, were actually directly or indirectly forced to flee their country by the Al-Shabaab militants who emerged from years of lawlessness and lack of an effective central rule in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab is a terror organization whose membership cuts across the entire globe as with one seemingly 'madman' called Elgiva Bwire. The attacks should therefore not be viewed as an intrinsic Somali problem.

Our collective efforts in seeing the demise of Al-Shabaab will depend a lot on how we treat the innocent Somalis who have lived in Kenya for the last two decades. We should desist from using this unfortunate situation to settle political or economic scores. President Kibaki explicitly warned against such behaviour during his Mashujaa Day speech.

It is very easy to play into al-Shabaab hands by condemning innocent Somalis trying to eke out a living in the safety of Kenya. Ongoing police swoops across the country mainly target undocumented Somalis living in Kenya, many of whom are poor and hungry refugees. Some police officers are very corrupt. In Nairobi’s Eastleigh as well as other Kenyan towns, innocent Somalis continue to suffer as a few dishonest officers take advantage to milk the helpless Somalis of their legally hard-earned money.

This dangerous precedent will only create a hostile and uncooperative population who are otherwise very vital in helping to fight a common enemy. Logically your enemy’s enemy is your friend. This is the sort of relationship we need to cultivate. Yet in the current jungle rule, some innocent Somalis have been publicly harassed.

Somalia is currently going through a radical surgery with renewed hopes of lasting peace following the recent military defeatsof Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu and other strategic towns across Somalia, including the Kenyan military surge in the south. The Somalis in Somalia, I believe, will be happiest when and if the Al-Shabaab menace is finally laid to rest.

As is the case with our recent tribulations in Kenya, we and the rest of the world will also smile when that moment comes, this is eminent, but that victory will depend on how we jointly fight this monstrous gang and as such, hounding of innocent Somalis is a distraction from the real battle that we should focus on.

Guled Mohamed is a media consultant.