Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Little Mogadishu

By Deborah EgboPublished April 21, 2014

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With continuous relocation of Eastleigh inhabitants to Somalia, and an increase in Al Shabaab presence in Nairobi, the Kenyan government is faced with the task of maintaining peace in the small Somali settlement.
By Deborah Egbo, 4/21/14

Eastleigh, a Somali settlement in Nairobi and major trade district in East Africa, is popularly known for its cheap and low quality clothes, sub-par hotels, and Khat hawkers. However, over the past few years it has also been a major target for terrorist activities, as well as a home and a recruitment haven for Al Shabaab. Although commonly referred to as little Mogadishu because of the huge Somali influence, it was previously inhabited by Asians, a few Somalis, and wealthy North Africans, and was created as an Asian settlement by the colonial government in 1921. Likewise, as a result of increased instability in Somalia, it has become home to several urban refugees as most camps like Dadaab are full beyond capacity.

The Kenyan population is primarily Christian and for several years have had a peaceful relationship with their Muslim counterparts. However, since the increase in terrorist attacks on churches in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya, there has been an increase in mistrust for the Muslim population. The mistrust is even greater for the Kenyan-Somalis who are predominantly Muslim. Although there is enough evidence proving that Al Shabaab is responsible for the terrorist attacks in major Kenyan cities, Kenyan Muslims are still being discriminated against because a minor sect supports Al Shabaab and provides manpower and logistics for their operations.

In response to several attacks on churches and non-Muslim communities, the government has adopted harsh treatment against the Muslim population. They are increasingly segregated and often victims of police violence. The government has even taken a step further by asking all Somali urban refugees to either return to Dadaab, the official refugee site, or return to Somalia. This government action has not only increased the amount of bribes extorted from Muslims, especially Somali immigrants, but also resulted in a large movement of Somalis back to Somalia as conditions are becoming increasingly favorable there. The efforts of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the joint military effort of majorly four African countries (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) have been successful in fighting against Al Shabaab; as of last year, Al Shabaab has lost most of its major strongholds including Mogadishu. The effect however, of these efforts is an increase in the number of Al Shabaab terrorists in Kenya, who gain entry into the country through the Dadaab camp. As Eastleigh is already an established Somali settlement, they naturally settle there.

It might seem that the movement of Somalis back to their homeland is profitable to both for the Kenyan and Somali government. The harsh reality however is that it is creating a favorable environment for Al Shabaab. Those who can afford to pack up and go start a new life in Somalia do, leaving behind those who at the moment cannot afford to. Those who remain are also constantly being harassed by the Kenyan government. The combination of both creates a favorable environment for the recruitment of new Al Shabaab followers. Studies of countries that have been previously occupied or are currently occupied by terrorists show that people are more likely to join such organizations when there is no money and they are being oppressed.

With continuous relocation of Eastleigh inhabitants to Somalia, and an increase in Al Shabaab presence in Nairobi, the government is faced with the task of maintaining peace in the borough. Their success would be based on the level of discipline in the police force, and their ability to prevent segregation of Muslims in the country, specifically Somali Muslims.