Approach any group of Kenyans in Nairobi today and casually introduce the topic of Somali nationals and their increasing economic influence in the city. Then, just stand back and watch raw emotions on display.
Call it pirate, khat or whatever kind of money, but one fact that nobody can dispute is that the Somalis (whether Kenyan or from Somalia) are awash with cash these days.
And, they are not afraid to flaunt it.
I heard a story recently of this plot owner in up-market Nairobi who was looking for a buyer. A lawyer got wind of it and introduced his Somali client (young man in his 30s, limited Swahili) hereinafter referred to as Purchaser, to the old property owner (Vendor).
Lawyer: Sir, we have word that you are selling this plot and would like to declare our interest.
Vendor: Yes, you are right. The property is up for sale, but I am yet to get a professional to conduct valuation for the plot. I suggest you give me until the end of next week to conclude that process first?
Lawyer: (consults client) How much, roughly, would you be looking at getting from this transaction?
Vendor: Off the top of my head……about Sh50 million.
Purchaser: (After getting translation from lawyer) No ‘broblem’ for Sh50 million. Take Sh100 million… cash, tomorrow!
Within the next twenty four hours, the plot had changed hands.
This story is replicated in many areas of Nairobi, Mombasa and other Kenyan towns. In Eastleigh, there have been allegations of grabbed plots, business people buying individual floors of buildings and so forth.
Come to the City centre and most new businesses are owned by members of the Somali community – from forex bureaux, to cafeterias, mobile phone shops to electronic shops.
This begs the question; are we witnessing a new chapter in the history of Kenya? Shall we look back, many years from today, and remember when the Somalia crisis led to an influx of enterprising people into our country, and who will by then be wielding a lot of economic power?
The fact of the matter is that Nairobi’s economy is increasingly being controlled by Somali immigrants, many of whose source of wealth is questionable bearing in mind the turmoil in their country.
Perhaps it is time for Kenyans to think of how to deal with this situation, by either seeking ways of tapping into this vast wealth, or securing the economy against any future capital withdrawals when peace returns to Somalia (which we hope will be soon).
My fear is that if we don’t openly acknowledge what is happening now, there may come a time when xenophobia will take root in Kenya. Going by our demonstrated hatred for our own neighbouring tribes, I shudder to think what xenophobia could do to our well-meaning foreign visitors.