The following post is adapted from an assignment for my class Human Rights in the African Context. All Yalies, if you have the opportunity, please take this course as Soo-Ryun Kwon is a fantastic instructor.
Like the rest of Nairobi, Eastleigh, a largely Somali neighborhood often called Kenya’s “Little Mogadishu”, has flourished as the rest of the country’s economy has thrived. However, the economy is not the only thing booming in the Green City in the Sun. On April 1, 627 people died following bomb blasts in Eastleigh that were suspected to be the work of al-Shabab sympathizers. The following day, the Kenyan police launched a large-scale counter-terrorism operation called Rudisha Usalama (“restore peace” in Kiswahili).
Since April 2, more than 4,000 people, many of them of Somali origin, have been arrested as part of Rudisha Usalama. In visits to Pangani police station in Eastleigh on April 4 and 8, Human Rights Watch found hundreds of detainees packed into cells designed to accommodate 20 people. Forced into unsanitary conditions and detained beyond 24 hours without arraignment, such treatment violates both Kenyan law as well as international laws including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While some of these detainees will be eventually released, hundreds of Somali refugees face a catch-22 because many lack valid papers as registration of Somali refugees has essentially slowed to a trickle since 2011. These refugees have an uncertain future: the vast majority have been rounded up and taken to Kasarani football stadium for holding. Kenyan activists on Twitter have aptly summed up the situation with #KasaraniConcentrationCamp.
The government crackdown on refugees continues to escalate. The recent Eastleigh arrests are the latest in a series of assaults on their dignity and freedom of movement. Calls for forced movements of urban refugees to camps have resurfaced in the past few days – a direct violation of freedom of movement. In cases in which refugees have actually been deported without recourse to asylum is a clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone of international law and a prominent feature of the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. While that document signaled a new era of progressiveness in matters of refugee issues and cast Africa as a leader in the field of refugee affairs, the recent events in Kenya have set back the continent’s progress on this matter.
Rudisha Usalama kwa nani? Restore peace for whom? As a woman falls unconscious in Kasarani stadium after losing consciousness from hunger, fright and anxiety and ababy is left to die as police seize its mother, we must ask ourselves whom we are really helping. Despite the searches, the arrests and the deportations, no terrorists have been uncovered and no more explosives revealed. Instead we must turn to the question of who were are hurting. The answer is all of us.
While the global war on terror remains a challenge across the world, mass arrests and ethnic profiling is unlikely to prevent future attacks or keep Kenyans safe. Terrorism is a terrible; yet even more terrible are the fear-driven actions that such fear compels us to take. Alienating the Somali community through ethnic profiling for the sake of the “security of the nation” only leaves Kenya more insecure and more fragmented across social lines. State security need not come at the expense of human rights.
Instead of allowing violence to beget more violence, Kenya requires a concerted, coordinated approach from all levels of the government bureaucracy to end the ongoing arbitrary detention and abuse of Somali-Kenyans and refugees. The call for an end to state human rights violations must come from the highest office of the land to ensure that resolving the situation becomes a priority for the Kenyatta administration. The president must compel the Interior Cabinet Secretary to respect the July 2013 High Court ruling that forbade the forcible return of refugees to camps. Instead of continuing a system of mass arbitrary detention and deportation, undocumented people should be permitted to file asylum applications. Lastly, police and security forces should be held accountable for the documented incidences of brutality. If it truly wants to restore peace, Kenya’s government should tread carefully for “violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause.”