November 2012, NAIROBI (AFP) – One side surges forward only to retreat under a hail of stones then the opposing side advances and comes in for a flurry of stones – in Eastleigh, a quarter of Nairobi that was the scene of a deadly attack, youths of Somali origin Monday battled Kenyans from other communities.
“Those Somalis are terrorists,” say the youths on one side, lumping together the Somali refugees and Kenyans of Somali extraction who together make up the majority of Eastleigh’s inhabitants.
“They have money and they are bankrolling the Shabaab,” say several members of the group that calls itself the “Kenyans”, referring to Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists.
For the “Kenyans” the Somalis are to blame for a blast Sunday in a bus in Eastleigh that killed nine people.
But for many Somalis in Eastleigh the bus bombing is a mere pretext for non- Somali youths from the slums on the other side of Juja Road to come and steal.
“Since the blast they’ve seized the chance to come and loot. These are not local kids. They’ve come especially to steal from us,” said Mohamed Noor Ismail, a 36-year-old trader who is patrolling an Eastleigh street, a whip in his hand.
On First Avenue stones are still flying as the rival sides charge forward and retreat. In their ranks are children looking barely 10 years old.
A young woman in tight jeans and a low-cut pink top runs forward clutching a stone in one hand and her shoes in the other.
Rioters try to tip over a bus whose windows have been broken.
Thirty minutes go by before the paramilitary police GSU unit, which has been patrolling the district, actually intervenes. The opposing sides are separated with teargas.
The mere sight of the GSU has any group of young people taking to their heels. Somalis are also patrolling their district, armed with machetes, clubs or iron bars.
Down a dirt road one of their victims, a young man of about 20, kneels in the dust moaning for help, blood streaming from a large machete gash to the back of his skull.
“He’s a street kid. They found him stealing,” said a voice among the bystanders, some of them lost as to what to do about the boy, others looking on with a degree of satisfaction.
Earlier the looters seem to have had a field day. Once the pitched battle is over Gain Wamuyu can only survey the damage.
“They’ve taken everything,” she sighed in resignation in front of the stall where she sold cigarettes, sweets, biros and phone cards, now reduced to some empty shelves and a broken pane of glass.
Calm returned slowly to the area. Parents grasp firmly by the hand the children they have collected from school, pulling them along as quickly as their legs will go.
The riots in Eastleigh left six people seriously wounded, according to the Kenyan Red Cross, which also counted “a large number” of people with less serious injuries.
The police will be deployed “until the situation returns to normal”, Nairobi police chief Moses Nyakwama Ombati said.
By mid-afternoon a semblance of calm had returned. Cars and minibuses again started venturing out and traders reopened their premises even as the acrid smell of teargas remained.
But some protestors still felt frustrated. On the “Kenyan” side of Juja Road youths accused the police of having sided with the Somalis.
And tensions remained.
“Take your veil off!” a group of “Kenyan” protestors shouted at a Muslim woman, before chanting at another groups of Somali women: “We’re in Kenya here!”