, NAIROBI, Kenya,Dec 13 – Bustling with business, the Kenyan capital’s Eastleigh district is dubbed “little Mogadishu” after the anarchic capital of Somalia, where so many here fled from for a new, more peaceful life.
But the largely ethnic Somali and vibrant economic hub faces tough times after a string of attacks blamed on Islamist militants, with the community battered by a harsh police crackdown to root out a hard core of insurgents.
“Ethnic Somalis, irrespective of which passport they carry, have become a target for armed thugs across Kenya,” said Abdi Aynte, an independent analyst, and himself a Somali who spends much time in Kenya.
Kenya has suffered a series of attacks — including grenade and bomb explosions — regularly pinned on members or sympathisers of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab.
But heavy handed crackdowns risk alienating both ethnic Somali Kenyans and refugees, many of whom fled war-torn Somalia to escape the extremist rule of the same militants they are now viewed as potential backers of.
“The people of Eastleigh are first attacked by bombs, and then mistreated by security forces, who round up people and arrest them indiscriminately,” said businessman Mohamed Hirsi, who imports perfume.
On dusty, bumpy streets hemmed in by high rise buildings, crowds haggle at street markets selling fried spicy snacks, heaps of bananas and piles of melons, with traders from across East Africa coming to Eastleigh to strike deals.
Last week two separate attacks — a roadside bomb and a grenade hurled into a mosque — killed six, while last month a bomb on a bus that killed nine people sparked violent anti-Somali demonstrations.
“The people of Eastleigh are first attacked by bombs, and then mistreated by security forces, who round up people and arrest them indiscriminately”
Kenya hosts over 516,000 Somali refugees, the vast majority in the world’s largest refugee camp complex of Dadaab in the remote northeast.
But more than 2.3 million Kenyans are ethnic Somalis, some six percent of the population. Their traditional homelands make up around a fifth of the country.