Intolerance of ethnic Somalis in the East African country of Kenya has been on the rise this year, a trend that became painfully clear on Monday as rioters went on a violent rampage in a mostly Somali neighborhood.
Kenya is home to an estimated 2.5 million people of Somali descent. Many of them live in Eastleigh, a bustling suburb of Nairobi that is commonly referred to as Little Mogadishu. There, a deadly grenade went off in a minibus on Sunday, killing at least nine people.
Though the perpetrators of this violent act have not yet been identified, some Nairobi residents were quick to target the Somali-Kenyan community. Those residents gathered for riots on Monday; angry mobs rushed through the streets of Eastleigh to damage property and disrupt local businesses. “Somalis must go!” they chanted.
An Eastleigh trader named Abdulahi Hassan complained about the rioters to Agence France-Presse.
“Three of my relatives have been taken to hospital after they were beaten up,” he said. “We are being accused of causing insecurity and bombings, yet we don't know who is doing it. Let the government protect us.”
Riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas to contain the clash.
In Kenya, tolerance for the Somali-Kenyan population has been waning since the rise of al-Shabab, an insurgent Islamist group that had thrived in war-torn Somalia in recent years. Kenyan troops have played a major role in the regional efforts to defeat the insurgents; they were instrumental in ousting al-Shabab from Somalia’s port city of Kismayo this September.
But even having lost its last major stronghold in Somalia, al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has promised to keep launching attacks against its targets. Gun and grenade attacks have indeed become more common in Kenya since its troops joined the fight against al-Shabab last year.
And as Monday’s riots showed, some Kenyans are failing to differentiate between Somali insurgents and the general Somali population.
Raising the stakes is Kenya’s own history of tribal rivalries, which could be inflamed by a national election scheduled for March of next year.
The last presidential election, in 2007, stirred up tensions over ethnic differences; the country erupted into violence in January 2008. Clashes eventually killed about 1,500 people, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. This time around, security officials are keen to prevent a similar tragedy – but the riots in Eastleigh raise new fears that inter-ethnic conflict could threaten stability.