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Kenya Activist Warns Against Creeping Xenophobia

  • Peter Clottey

Mzalendo Kibunjia, chairman of National Cohesion and Integration Commission, calls on citizens not to label Somali immigrants as al-Shabab

In Kenya, the chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) warned that branding Somalis living in Kenya as supporters of al-Shabab could incite xenophobic attacks against them.

Mzalendo Kibunjia urged Kenyans not to grow intolerant of Somali communities in Kenya.

“It is very important that we do not have xenophobia against Kenya-Somalis,” says Kibunjia. “Sometimes it is very difficult to differentiate between Somalis-Somalis and Kenyan-Somalis and that is why we have to be very aware that we do not do things that will make the Kenyan–Somalis feel they are not wanted in this country.”

Some Kenyans have expressed concerns sympathizers of al-Shabab have infiltrated Kenyan society and could carry out the group’s terrorist activities. They cite as an example a bomb suspect who claimed he was working for al-Shabab.

Kibunjia said bolstering security in Kenya is not the sole responsibility of security agencies, and that civilians should play a part as well.

“If you live in a community where there is al-Shabab [operatives] you cannot say they are so benign you cannot see them,” said Kibunjia. “If you live in an area where there are some people who want to attack Kenya or want to harm Kenya, then even if you are a Somali and you know this man is Somali then it is your civic duty to report to the authorities.”

The size of the Somali population in Kenya has continued to grow. Contributing factors include the continued lack of an effective government in Somalia, and the recent influx of Somalis crossing the border into Kenya to seek food, water and needed medical attention.

Kibunjia said Kenyans should desist from engaging in activities that make Somali immigrants feel unwelcomed. He says the NCIC has stepped up education campaigns across the country about the dangers of xenophobia.

“Our country needs to be peaceful it needs to include everybody…particularly when we have general elections next year, which will be an unprecedented elections in this country…where we have six positions where people are campaigning for,” said Kibunjia.