‘I feel like a dreadlocked Kikuyu youth in post-Mungiki Murang’a’

It is really disturbing to be told by a brother that you are not a brother anymore, to be chased away from a house you have always called home, to be accused of doing injustice to a brother you have always regarded in high esteem.

It is really disturbing, too, to watch as a bunch of lunatics high on some potent pseudo-religious intoxicant hijack a whole doctrine and turn every dogma you have believed in upside down.

It is really disturbing, but, brothers and sisters, it is happening.

I want to write about what is going on in Kenya today, but before we get to that, allow me to digress a bit.

It is important, I think, that I tell you who I am before we get into this story, because only that way can you understand my frame of mind.

My name is Osman. Osman Mohammed Osman. I am a Kenyan — forget all that ‘Kenyan-Somali’ nonsense bandied around of late — and if there is anyone whose heart beats for the good of this nation, that person is me.

Quite distressful

That said, I must say that the past two weeks have been quite distressful for me.

Even as I confess my Kenyanness, which I swore long ago to uphold and respect, I am now torn between confessing my patriotic allegiances and my ethnic affiliations.

When the government announced a crackdown on illegal immigrants in Kenya, who are suspected of being behind the wave of terror activities in the country of late, all eyes turned on Eastleigh, the ‘Little Mogadishu’ located on the outskirts of Nairobi that is believed to be the epicentre of lawlessness and wayward religious indoctrination.

And here, as anyone would expect, they found hundreds of people who either did not have valid identification documents, or were in the country illegally.


Most of them were Somalis who had somehow sneaked into the capital either from refugee camps in the north, or directly from their war-torn nation. And then the stereotyping and finger-pointing started.

Soon this degenerated into an us-against-them derby, and I, Osman Mohammed Osman, became guilty by birth, blameworthy, censurable and untrustworthy for having the ‘wrong’ ethnic identity.

But why me? Why us? What have I done to be lumped together with the swash-bucklers who shot a bullet into the head of a toddler?

I did not emigrate to this beautiful nation, friends! I was born here 20 years ago in a small maternity hospital in Thika town, now part of Kiambu County, to an army officer who has gallantly fought for this nation for about 30 years now.

Over the years, I have watched my father serve his country with diligence and dedication, and I think that some of the passion I have for this land is borne of the patriotism the good man planted in me early in life.

Back in the 1980s, my father made a decision that affected, for the better, the trajectories of many who looked up to him for guidance and love.

The son of a pastoralist farmer in the harsh Kenyan north, he grew up tending to the camels and goats of his father, my grandfather, and many expected that he would follow in the footsteps of all that had gone before him and acquire a flock of his own.

Travelled to Nairobi

But the man had other ideas, and so one day he climbed into a bus and travelled to Nairobi in search of a better life.

As fate would have it, the military was planning a recruitment at about the same time, and so a few days later he ran and jogged and jumped and did all that they do in army recruitment drives.

He cleared the hurdles and was recruited into the army, and after training they posted him to Thika, where he started a family and watched us grow into what we are today.

As such, I have stronger associations with the Kikuyu and Meru and Embu and Kamba neighbours I grew up with than with my Somali kith and kin. Thika is my home, for here is where they buried my umbilical cord all those moons ago.

I am, therefore, as tethered to this ground as anyone born here would be.

But the last 14 days have planted in me this trepidation, this foreboding that maybe I do not belong here, that maybe my links with Thika are not strong enough.

Yet, deep inside, I know I am right, that I have a right to be called a Kenyan, to be identified with my nation rather than the shape of my nose and the language I speak.

I get a bit uncomfortable when you give me that weird look on the streets, because what you are doing is telling me that I am guilty until proven innocent, that I am a prisoner of your misjudgment in my own home.

Mohamed Khalif, a good friend of mine and also the son of a military officer, walked into a restaurant early this month to watch a football match and probably grab some coffee.

A few seconds after settling in, a waitress approached him and coolly asked for his ID card, which he declined to produce because the good lady was not a security officer.

They had a verbal altercation during which Mohamed tried to convince the woman that there was no requirement for him to prove his nationality before he was served, and in the end, the waitress just got fed up and blurted it out: You are a Somali, she said, and that makes you suspect.

Should he? Must he?

Now, Mohamed could perhaps have avoided all this by either staying away from the restaurant completely, or reaching for his wallet and producing his ID as asked. But should he? Must he?

As his father dodges Al-Shabaab bullets in Somalia, where he has been holed for the past several months, Mohamed is being asked to prove his Kenyanness, his innocence and his allegiance.

And that, folks, is the dilemma we Kenyans of Somali descent now find ourselves in.

I know there are a lot of emotions regarding the ongoing security operation in Eastleigh and other parts of the country, and I want to make it clear here that I, and a number of fellow Somalis that I know, support it through and through.

I find it rather callous and outrightly beastly for anyone to commit the kind of atrocities that we have witnessed in various parts of the country of late, and I think it is only right that we weed out these miscreants.

But, folks, spare us the finger-pointing, because I don’t want to feel like a dreadlocked young man in Murang’a at the height of the operation against Mungiki adherents.

I want to be viewed as a brother, to be able to walk into a restaurant, order some coffee and watch Manchester United lose.

I want to celebrate the wins of this nation with you, and to cry with you when the need arises.

I don’t want to keep looking over my shoulder every time I sense some commotion behind me, or to endure those disapproving stares when I board a matatu. Because that would be just wrong. Too wrong and too hard to bear.

Nothing to do with loonies

My name, the shape of my forehead, or the texture of my hair have nothing to do with the loonies shedding innocent blood in the name of religion.

Every market has its own mad man, but that does not mean all men in those markets are mad.

The Islam I know, the Islam my dad introduced me to, and the Islam I profess does not preach the hate coming from the mouthpieces of al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda and their off-shoots and sympathisers.

I have never, in the 20 years of my life, shed innocent blood for any cause, and I doubt whether there is any indoctrination, whether religious or otherwise, that can cause me to do that now.

As such, I view terrorism as any level-headed man would; with the disdain it deserves.

So, can Osman, a Somali, feel safe in the company of Oluoch, a Luo? Can Kilonzo, a Kamba, embrace Patel, his Indian friend?

I believe in brotherhood, probably because I grew up in a military camp, interacting with men and women from all manner of social and ethnic backgrounds.

Let us, then, not be divided by evil foreign characters who have no idea what brotherhood, in the true sense of the word, means.

Let us not be divided by a people with religious militancy boiling inside their bowels and bullets shooting from their illegal Kalashnikovs.

Our national anthem pleads that we should dwell in unity, peace and liberty, that justice should be our shield and defender.

I hope those words mean something to you, that the dreams and aspirations of our ancestors will pull a chord inside your heart, and that I can lean on your shoulder at the greatest hour of my need.

This was orignially published on April 15, 2014, in the Daily Nation

— Osman Mohamed Osman is a First-Year student at USIU-Nairobi.