When you meet the next Somali or Muslim, hug him; he’s also a victim

2014-05-25 01:00:19

Dear Kenyans, today if you meet a Somali or a Muslim, say a cheery habari with a warm handshake or, indeed a comradely hug, if you can. You must do that for two very important reasons.

First, as a way of saying sorry for the atrocious way in which we have behaved in the face of terror attacks in this country since September last year.

When Westgate went down, as they say in the street, and the grenades went off and then there was all that talk about VBIED(vehicle borne improvised explosive device) driving around the cities with military grade explosive capable of flattening a block, I think we all responded by looking around for the enemy and going into a defensive, psychological crouch.

In so doing, we have committed a grave injustice to innocent Kenyans and Somalians who are as much of victims of terror as the rest of us.

Just look at the maths. There are, at best, 5,000 Al Shabaab fighters in Somalia, possibly supported by around 700 members of sleeper cells in Kenya.

In total, we are talking about a terrorist infrastructure in Kenya and Somalia numbering about 10,000 bad people.


The population of Somalia is about 12 million and millions more in Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. Compared to the universe of the Somali population, Al Shabaab and its sympathisers are but just a drop in the ocean.

Chances are that the next Somali you meet has absolutely nothing to do with Al Shabaab and is as much in danger of being blown up in a grenade attack as you are.

Therefore, if you have profiled him or her, then he or she is a victim twice over. This is not only unfair and unjust, it is also an unhelpful reaction based on blind fear.

We must also make an effort to understand the circumstances of Somali émigrés in our midst. The bulk of them are running away from a violent and dangerous place.

They are seeking a safe haven where they can do their little businesses and raise their children in safety, maybe until they can go back home.

For Kenyan Somalis, the émigrés are aunties and uncles and other members of the extended family. It is Murang’a and Nyeri families or Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia families or Siaya and Homa Bay families but with an international border, between.

This is not to say that immigration law should not be followed or that people should help foreigners fabricate citizenship. The point is that seeking refuge is not a crime.

It is also a fact that there are millions of Kenyans with close family relations across borders. The bond that exists between such families is normal and should not be criminalised.

The second reason we should embrace our countrymen, Muslim and the Somali included, is that this is the only way to beat terrorism.


The diabolical mind that designed and funded this terrorism has only but one purpose: to turn Kenyans against each other.

That mind knows that a modern state with a military and police, such as they are, cannot be defeated by a ragtag army of fanatics, however evil. A country can only be defeated if it is turned against itself.

I was horrified to learn that Somalis are now increasingly afraid for their safety in some parts of the country. They fear that if attacks continue, then other Kenyans might turn against them.

This is an intolerable state of affairs and we must come to our senses.

We all win when everyone feels safe and a strong sense of belonging. Marginalising and profiling Kenyans is, in the long run, unjust and counter-productive.

I have taken the trouble to listen to a lot of angry people, read, reflect and understand what is going on about this terrorism thing. I think you should too; it will change your views.

I was heartened by the views expressed by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in an interview we published recently. Unlike a band of politicians from his party who were shouting that they are more important than the country, Mr Odinga was measured in his comments, especially on the big issues facing the country.

It will take the joint action of leaders and a coming together of Kenyans to save our country from the conflagration now consuming much of Africa.



Runta Kama-Xıshoono