NAIROBI—For days, Mohammed Farhan could not sleep, just waiting for the security officers’ knock on the door. And when he got tired, his identification had to be in the open, where security officers could see it.
“I was forced to sleep with my identity card on the neck, so that when the police officers come, they could not disturb me while I am resting,” he said.
Farhan is the vice president of YUSOM, a Somali youth organization that mobilizes young people and empowers them economically. He found himself between police officers, who were carrying out raids in Eastleigh, a business district of Nairobi dominated by people of Somali origin, and his family and friends, some of whom could not speak English or Kiswahili fluently.
Besides being a translator for the community in Eastleigh, he also visited the Kasarani Sports Complex on the outskirts of Nairobi, where those netted by the police sweep were being screened. He took food, water, and medication to the detainees, who were held for many days before being released or deported.
The Kenyan government’s security operation was a response to recent terrorism activity in Nairobi and Mombasa, for which radical Muslims from Somalia likely are responsible. But Farhan accuses the police of being motivated by the desire to extort money more than the desire to identify and arrest criminals.
“Criminals belong to no community, they should look for them and arrest them,” he said. “We are ready to assist (the police), but when anything happens, they claim it is the Somali community.”
As a result of the recent sweep, business has been affected in Eastleigh, one of the city's business hubs, with many Somalis opting to leave and go to Uganda, Ethiopia, or back to Somalia, he said.
“Initially, it was too difficult to get a shop or house in Eastleigh, but now it is so easy,” Farhan said. While we spoke, someone called to tell him she wanted to sell her possessions in Eastleigh and leave. Farhan told me he has met many Somalis who want to move out of Nairobi.
The Kenyan government’s deportation of refugees has been brutal: Some weren’t allowed to carry anything with them, some having only flip-flops and kanzus (a long robe, worn mostly by Muslims), and nothing else.
Farhan fears the recent sweep on Somalis may have a negative effect and worsen the already tense relations between Kenyans and the Somali community, making Somali’s the enemy and turning the situation into a community conflict.
I asked him about claims by the Kenyan government that radical Muslim clerics are radicalizing young Muslims. His answer was sharp and brief. “If the government knows that, why can’t they arrest them?” he asked. “We are ready to assist the government, to go to all places, if they give us the clues they have.”
But right now it will be difficult to convince Somalis to support government efforts to tackle crime, illegal immigration, and terrorism, he said. “At the moment, we have a very negative attitude, people don’t want to talk to the police. … The government must improve relationships with the Somali community for them to see police as their friends,” he said.