NAIROBI, KENYA – A ramshackle bus snakes its way out of the business district in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
Most of the windows are broken, and women pull scarves over their heads to shield themselves from the wind blowing into the bus. Music plays at full blast while two conductors shout at the top of their lungs, beckoning people to enter the already-full bus.
“Eastleigh, Garissa Lodge,” they shout, holding onto a metal rail on the bus’s door.
Garissa Lodge is a business district with nearly 40 multistory shopping malls in Eastleigh, a suburb of Nairobi. Each mall contains tiny shops, most owned by Somali nationals. Small-scale entrepreneurs, locally known as “hawkers,” buy goods from the malls at wholesale prices then retail them in the streets.
The bus enters a dirt road, a detour from the main road to Eastleigh, which is under construction. A man enters the bus with two bags and squeezes them under a seat.
Pauline Awiti, another passenger on the bus who has been quiet, stares at the two pieces of luggage and shifts uneasily in her seat.
“Since the day a bomb exploded in a bus plying this route in November last year, I’m very cautious,” the heavily built woman says.
Awiti, a clothing retailer, says she suspended her monthly trips to the neighborhood for two months because of frequent attacks that police have attributed to al-Shabab, a Somali militant group. She only decided to make this trip when she completely ran out of clothing to sell in her shop.
The dirt road proves to be impassable as the bus encounters a series of craters filled with sludge. The two conductors order everyone out of the bus, forcing the passengers to cover the rest of the journey, about a kilometer, on foot.
Garisssa Lodge is a beehive of activity. People unload goods from lorries, porters carry goods around the market and customers move from one mall to the other. Small-scale entrepreneurs take over the streets, hawking goods from wheelbarrows and makeshift stands of wooden tables under large umbrellas.
But a series of attacks has interrupted trade at Garissa Lodge during the past six months, driving away customers and Somali business owners living in Kenya. Police have linked the attacks to al-Shabab but have not arrested anyone yet in connection with the attacks. Somalis in Eastleigh allege that police are rather using the attacks to detain and extort money from them. Police respond that officers are acting legally. Some Somalis blame the attacks on rival business areas, but a committee of government officials and business owners has yet to complete its investigation.
Eastleigh has been a bustling business area since the early 1990s. Garissa Lodge serves as both a market and a living space. Most of the residents are Somalis from Somalia or northern Kenya.
Somali nationals entered Kenya as refugees after war broke out in their country in 1991 following the collapse of the Somali government, says Mohamed Mohamud Gutale, the organizing secretary of Eastleigh Business