For the past couple of years, there have been several catastrophic terror attacks in Kenya. We all mourned. We all showed our solidarity. Both Kenyans at home and abroad.
But the aftermath is usually different for ‘different’ Kenyans. Those who lost their kin have it the roughest; the pain of saying goodbye to a loved one is immense — especially knowing that the perpetrators of the cowardly act are waiting to do the same thing to other people.
Knowing that, even if those who carried out the act are dead or in prison, their bosses are still out there, rejoicing, praising their god for helping them to kill a Kafir — when they are the ones disobeying God by killing.
The second group consists of the rest of the Kenyans, whose lives are disrupted for several hours, terrified by the ordeal, some scarred for life, others too scared to even leave the house for days as they see ‘terrorists’ everywhere due to the trauma. Possibly real, for we all look alike and they can’t tell us apart.
After an attack, on home soil and abroad, a pattern emerges: Scrutiny and harassment of the Kenyan Somali community. Many of my friends usually tell me how they feel that they are treated as second-class citizens.
“That might be a little too harsh to say”, I’ve always said. But it took me a long time to get my ID and even longer to be issued with a passport. This despite presenting my parents’ birth certificates, IDs, copies of my two brothers’ passports, my high school certificates and admission and scholarship awards letters to study abroad.
My passport took two months longer than those of my three friends from other parts of Kenya with whom we applied together, on the same computer. Did I mention the ridiculous interview by 10 or so elderly Immigration officers who asked me if I knew my assistant chief’s great-grandmother?
If you are a Hassan or Halimo and happen to be in town during a terror attack, your parent or relative will call you and ask: “Are you safe?” and “Oh, thank God! Did you carry your ID?” The too paranoid ones will pull you out of the university examination room and order you to take a Uber home right away since “today is not the day even an ID older than the country itself will protect you”.
While these ‘minor’ acts of police harassment are part of a Kenyan Somali’s daily life (plus over 10 checkpoints on the Nairobi-Wajir road, random raids in Eastleigh ... I won’t even get into Wagalla Massacre), all major terror attack result in large-scale harassment.
In 2014, months after Westgate, 4,000 Somalis were detained in Kasarani stadium in an operation to weed out illegal immigrants. Some reports then said only about 300 were found to be illegal immigrants, even as the rights of bona fide citizens were violated that day.
As I watched the local news on my laptop during the attack, I cringed when a reporter asked a survivor if the attacker whom he claimed to have seen “looked like a Somali”. His “No” answer drew disappointment and all manner of suggestive questions.
This time, however, seems different: Quite many non-Somali Kenyans are showing solidarity with their Somali countrymen and women. I believe they have realised that Somalis, too, are part of the greater Kenyan community and desire just what the other Kenyans want: To live happily and love their country!
Mr Salat is a public policy student at Duke University, USA. [email protected]