Whenever I venture out for my exercise walk in Nairobi, I can’t fail to notice a large group of foreigners assembled outside the United Nations High Commission offices.
The men, women and children I see are mostly Somalis, but in the gathering is also a sprinkling of tall, dark people I suspect are from Southern Sudan. From the look of things, these people are refuge seekers having fled their war-torn countries across the Kenyan border.
For more than twenty years since the overthrow of Siad Barre, Somali refugees have streamed into Kenya to escape atrocities at home. With a long porous border, it has been easy for them to sneak through, obtain Kenya identity cards through nefarious means and live relatively normally in any part of Kenya.
Those who have entered as refugees for purposes of asylum seeking are either directed to designated camps or are given permission to live in towns to await the evaluation of their status by refugee authorities.
The same has applied to southern Sudanese aliens and those from as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, who at one time or another, have found themselves in Kenya.
I have also travelled from Nairobi in planes that were half filled with African refugees on their way to different parts of the world having been granted asylum there.
Kenya too, in a small way, has contributed to the world refugee population. A considerable number of our citizens including scholars and politicians left the country in the 1980s and 1990s to escape political suppression. Also, when we have had tribal clashes and politically instigated violence, Kenyans have crossed the border into Uganda and Tanzania in search of peace. Some of them are still out there living as refugees.
Life in a foreign land – especially for emigrants on the run – is traumatic. Uprooted from familiar grounds where one has always enjoyed family support, exiles often go through difficult times trying to adjust to strange cultures and new surroundings. Some acquire depressive tendencies that lead to violence and criminal behavior.
The reason why I am dwelling on this matter is because sometimes Kenyans forget that words they utter in the heat of political or social discourse have the potential of provoking ethnic violence and plunge the country into anarchy.
I have seen many postings in the social media and listened to many political speeches in recent weeks that go beyond the simple definition of hate speech. They are explosive, reckless and dangerously inciteful.
It is very easy to drop ethnic or religious epithets without care. But remember, it is such remarks that have sent citizens of other countries into refugee camps. Kenya is not an exception. Give it a thought.
And that is my say.