THE FUTURE LIES IN INTEGRATION, NOT SEGREGATION
Black Hijab’s twirl waist high to the beat exposing long tapered legs, some draped in colored tight fitting polka dot or black leggings that reach the ankle of half a dozen Somali girls. A lanky, well-built young man in his twenties dances with all the intimacy of body contact the dance calls for with one of the beauties. A decade ago, this was unheard of; any form of contact between Somali women, more so unmarried at that and male “Ngumbao”, the contemptuous term for the other Negro races who spot ‘hard hair’ on their heads was capital.
Over the last decade, strides were been made in assimilation of the Somalis with the mainstream tribes in Kenya, yet these strides are not yet near the half mark of the journey. Intermarriages between the Somali community and the rest of the Kenyan tribes remain common as the unicorn and the cultural wall still stands unabridged. This though belies the fact that while boys, as per many cultures have the freedom to roam outside the family domain, girls are prone to remain indoors. It is those girls confined within homestead by kin and kith that remain in the narrow confines of culture; and know least about the world around them, gesticulating at the shopkeeper downstairs when they get a cherished outing to buy milk.
From the sidelines, lanky Somali boys watch on, gleefully laughing and poking fun at the few mistakes the girls make on the floor. That is their only way of getting back at the girls they feel are betraying their traditional way of life. It is not only in dance the boys are alienated. While many of girls converse with ease to a larger audience in Swahili, Kenya’s national language, the boys animatedly engage only with their own in the guttural Somali tongue served with a smattering Swahili.
They are perhaps the last true sentinels of their strong yet eroding culture, these boys. In lieu of school, they play street soccer in unruly gangs when not engaged in their kinsmen businesses or Madrassa. They are in a world of their own. Most of their parents are migrants who took over the Indian section of the colonial era, Eastleigh, and turned the once sprawling wooden market on the edge of the city into a world class business hub.
The dance practice session draws to a climax, the dancers thin out of the stage to rest on the ringside seats; they have not yet mastered the art of the more intricate dance steps. A tall doe eyed girl, body covered save for her face dances on with the young man. They make a complimenting pair, effortlessly moving in tandem with the salsa beat, the same way astute Somali business-men have gelled into the Kenyan markets.
The Somali explosion into the local market has been met with a raised eyebrow and much suspicion. Their economic might is not only felt in the Eastleigh section’s of the city where they set famous complexes such as Garissa, revolutionizing the way business is done; with buyers able to get all their textile needs under one roof and at cheaper prices.
The interweaving culture and business, the Somali palate is the new in for many an upshot out to get the best life has to offer. From Al-Yusra adjacent to Nation headquarters to Rayan just opposite the I&M towers, the Somali cuisine, served at a price fair, in large helpings and consumed by scooping food with your bare hands, leaves you licking your fingers.
While others crave the best things in life, the Somalis live the life. Trade is their way of life, and rarely will you find even the least endowed wearing second hand clothing. The more affluent are statements in grooming and smart dressing with a splash of silver and gold jewelry.
The latest census puts the Somali as the one of the largest tribe's in Kenya with over 2.5 million people, a double jump since the prior census. This fact was disputed by sections in the government and a recount ordered. We are yet to get the result. This should come as no surprise. One of the eight parliamentary seats in Nairobi’s capital is held by a man of Somali origin, and to underscore his win, his closest rival was a Somali too, a signal that the community is ripe to play into the major political leagues in the country.
More visible is a group of highly educated young men in the current parliament from the vast north eastern region undertaking the task of nation building with a zeal and dazzle that puts a mark of appreciation on skeptics. In a country where heads of public institutions are being vetted with a strictness that would make it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than an incompetent official get into office, the country has trusted into the hands of this able brainy chaps the duty to steer constitution and electoral affairs. It is a show of faith that the community has finally arrived.
All is not that rosy either. With Kenyan defense forces taking battle to neighboring Somalia land to drive out Al Shabaab and help a nation that has known no peace the last twenty years, every time a threat or grenade goes off in the capital city the culprit that picks the tag of suspicion is the Somali nation. This is notwithstanding the fact that most of the would be bombers are young men from other tribes of Kenya, indoctrinated by the lure of money to commit atrocities. Even the Al-Shabaab, like the Somali fraternity in Kenya, has left the dirtier and menial work for the other tribes.
The Somalis cannot be ignored. They are here to stay, with them their share of culture and an ingrained sense of honesty that makes doing business with them easier. Their word is as good as their bond, a plus when dealing business with them, and a complete contrast from Kenya’s other equally enterprising tribe, or so the stereotype goes. From their ornate architecture to a sense of swag in dressing and a penchant for the best of upholstery, cuisine and forms of entertainment, it is through integration, not segregation that our country will move to greater heights.