The Somali community is currently going through a rough time in Kenya, and it is not the first time. The colonialists did not care about them at all and never bothered to develop North Eastern. This non-developmental policy seeped into the post-independence governments and the region continued to be isolated from mainstream government development. In the 1960s the Kenyan government literally went to war with the Somali during the ‘Shifta’ insurgency; and in the 1980s there was the Wagalla Massacre. Today they are bearing the brunt of the Kenyan anti-terrorism effort.
However the Kikuyu, who the Somali tend to identify themselves with at least economically, (and are blaming for their current woes), have also had some tough moments. In the 1950s they were herded into concentration camps as colonialists fought against the Mau Mau insurgency. In the 1980s they were isolated from government development under the ‘siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya’ policy, and violently uprooted from parts of Kenya. A few years ago they had another ‘moment’ as the government fought the Mungiki through an attrition policy that was so pervasive the only reason it was not called genocide was that the government was led by Kikuyus.
This common history has made both communities similar in many ways; socially, politically and economically, by making them inward-looking. They have both learnt how to ‘take care’ of themselves, from within themselves. This is how they are both extremely tribal, socially; fiercely homogenous, politically; and fundamentally capitalists, economically. Money is a major factor social, political and economic factor to both communities, as they use it as a means to attain and sustain power.
However they have a fundamental difference on nationhood.
The Kikuyu have taken their history as what gives them the right to consider themselves more ‘Kenyan’ than any other community in the country. In ways that I have only come to understand recently the ‘Kikuyu past’ is the basis of the attitude that drives the community to want to ‘own’ and control Kenya in every possible way; socially, economically and politically. The community’s socio-political leadership has a primal conviction that there must always be a Kikuyu voice in power to ensure state policy benefits the community, and ensures that past experiences never recur. Of course this desire tends to make them want to make Kenya into their own ‘likeness’, which extremely annoys other Kenyan communities. But the community has generally accepted this as a price worth paying.
The Somali have taken their history and used it to develop a diametrically opposite narrative.
Socially the Somali believe that what has happened to them gives them the right to isolate themselves from Kenya, and identify themselves with the regional community. They have thus encouraged the perpetuation of the ‘Kenyan-Somali’ and ‘non-Kenyan-Somali’ identity as a means of communicating that ‘we are all Somalis first, then respective nationalities second’. This is how in Migingo, despite everyone being mainly Luo the Kenyan-Ugandan divide is distinct; in Eastleigh the Somali, whether Kenyan or otherwise, is a distinct identity from other Kenyan communities there.
Incidentally the argument some Somali leaders in Kenya use to explain how cross-border ‘blood’ relationships are stronger than ‘artificially created’ national ones is rubbish. The Luhya have a kingdom that cuts across East Africa. In fact former Vice President Moody Awori’s brother is a Uganda citizen and former MP there. The Luo, who are widely represented in East Africa, and despite the many years of socio-political and economic marginalization by consecutive Kenyan governments, have never confused their blood ties with their national ties.
Economically Eastleigh, the Somali equivalent of Thika to the Kikuyu or Kisumu to the Luo, is most probably more attuned to the economy of the Somalia state next door, than it is to Kenya’s. Then there is the rumour that Kenyan Somalis do not use mainstream financial systems because they do not want their money supporting the Kenyan state.
Politically Hon Aden Duale and his colleagues from the Somali community are right. Kenyans are their tribe first; then Kenyans second, politically. But these leaders must realise that no (other) Kenyan community, or its leadership, ever defends criminal malcontents among them, when such are suspected of terrorism against the community or other Kenyans. In the Mungiki, SLDF and MRC problem the respective communities gave up their fellow tribesmen to government. The Somali leadership must therefore decide whether they are for what is in the nation’s security interest or not.When questions are raised about Kikuyus and Kenya they become hardcore nationalists. The Somali community must learn that it is their choice to validate their citizenship, or not. They must also learn that we do not have Kenyan-Luhyas/Luos, or Uganda/South Sudan-Luos in Kenya-speak. They must therefore stop referring to themselves as ‘Kenyan-Somalis’. It perpetuates a myth that they are more loyal to non-Kenyan Somali than they are to their Kenyan non-Somali brothers, and such multi-nationalisation of tribal identifies complicates intra-national issues, especially on security.