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 SAMANTHA  SPOONER: Dadaab -  a place of hope and fortune?

SAMANTHA SPOONER: Dadaab - a place of hope and fortune?

Dadaab is a town turned refugee haven in North Eastern Kenya. During this time of famine and drought in the Horn of Africa, the world has watched as thousands of Somalis poured over the border and into the refugee camps there. The hope for a better future is what has brought people there, and with successful businesses, schools and continued instability in Somalia, Dadaab will keep them.

By Line : Samantha Spooner

Posted : 21-11-2011

Last Modified : 23-08-2012

Samantha Spooner: Dadaab – place of hope and fortune?

Dadaab is a town turned refugee haven in North Eastern Kenya. During this time of famine and drought in the Horn of Africa, the world has watched as thousands of Somalis poured over the border and into the refugee camps there. The hope for a better future is what has brought people there, and with successful businesses, schools and continued instability in Somalia, Dadaab will keep them.  

The town has hosted three refugee camps since the early 90s; Hagadera, IFO and Dagahaley. As new refugees flooded in, they started to settle in an area of Dagahaley known as Bula Bakti (crudely translated as “carcass dump”). These refugees are now, slowly, being relocated to an area known as ‘IFO extension’, calling it an ‘extension’ is a clever way of trying to deflect the fact that Dadaab is growing, a new refugee camp is coming to life. 

Al-Shabaab 
As of July 2011, Kenya registered 366,776 Somali refugees. Watching the new arrivals going through the reception process (registration is not possible due to the high numbers), it was surprising to see so many young men coming in. This brought about questions of why these men are fleeing and discoveries that people are running from the radical group al-Shabaab just as much as they flee from famine or drought. 
Abdikadir Aden Ali used to work in a tobacco company in Jilib, southern Somalia. When al-Shabaab banned the selling and smoking of cigarettes in various districts, Abdikadir was one of those who lost his jobs when the tobacco factories had to shut down. As the family’s main bread-earner he turned to selling Khat, a popular plant whose leaves act as a stimulant when chewed. However, al-Shabaab also banned the sale and consumption of Khat and Abdikadir was forced to flee Somalia out of fear of persecution.

For some when they compared motives for why they fled Somalia, al-Shabaab came out on top. Ibrahim Bashir Hassan described how al-Shabaab were “slaughtering people like animals.” His brother was one of their victims, he owned a small shop and was killed by the radicals who “wanted to collect his wealth”. Al-Shabaab are intimidating people into giving them money and goods, “if you don’t give them they will not leave you alone,” said Hassan. He went on to talk about members of his own community in Somalia who are recruited by al-Shabaab and in the same day ordered to carry out ‘wealth’ collections or even kill.

Veils 
Xiltiro Hassan Hussein is a young woman who was also driven out of Somalia by al-Shabaab. Her and her husband would make a living off the trade of Khat but fell on hard times when it was banned. They tried to farm but with the current drought it was impossible to yield crops, let alone make money which Xiltiro urgently needed. Al-Shabaab have a strict dress code for women and order them to wear thick and broad veils, unable to purchase the veil she decided Kenya was the best option. If she had stayed she would have faced severe punishment. 
Aniso Sabriye Ali is another young woman who left because of al-Shabaab, for different reasons. Aniso had married one year ago and ran a small shop on the outskirts of Mogadishu with her husband. Fighting between al-Shabaab and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) came to plague the area in which they lived, her husband was shot in crossfire and died in her arms. At six months pregnant she fled the country and came to Kenya.

Successful business

What many of these new arrivals hope for is the life that some residents of IFO, Dagahaley and Hagadera have carved out for themselves. In these long-established camps, businesses have flourished and livelihoods have been created out of virtually nothing. New arrivals start their trade with what few possessions they have, be it rations or a few clothes items.
Ali Dhux Mohamed is one such example. He has lived in Dagahely for 20 years and earns a good living as a shopkeeper in the refugee camp. Trucks bring his supplies from Mombasa which he sells, although he also said that he gives away foodstuffs to new arrivals. A noble act, though the new arrivals are quite a distance from his shop which is located in the souk-like market place of Dagahely. Despite running this successful business Mohamed continues, like most refugees who arrived since the camp’s inception, to take rations.

For the new arrivals, starting a business is more difficult, the ability to succeed often based on the initial possessions you have. Abdi Hamid Mohamed sits under a scraggly tree in IFO extension, in front of him lie about 30 mobile telephones that are attached to various strip-plugs and in the background a small generator whirs away. Mohamed was fortunate enough to have enough money to purchase the generator for $100. He charges 10ksh to fill up a person’s battery. 
There are also those who deliberately come to Dadaab to start businesses. Issack Mohamed Hanshi had been a tailor in Somalia since 1979. He came to Dadaab in 2009 to start up his tailoring business, coming to Kenya was more profitable than Somalia.

Integration 
But it isn’t just foreigners who come to Dadaab to eke out a living. There has been a huge influx of Kenyans into Dadaab since the camp’s inception in the early 90s. Kenyans have the added advantage of being able to travel and they run most of the ‘car hire’ businesses in the area. In times of drought, these are extremely lucrative as they are able to charge up to 10,000ksh a day. 
The non-governmental organisations, media and refugees offer a variety of business opportunities to Kenyans, making integration of the refugees very peaceful. In fact, in an interview with senior Sergeant Wanyama, acting officer in charge at the Dadaab police station, he said that Kenyans in Dadaab are “happy” to have the refugees there. It was even more interesting to note how Kenyans themselves refer to the refugees who have been there since the 90s as “locals” whilst calling themselves the “people from up-country”. 
There are however detectable tensions. Senay Gebrish is an Eritrean refugee living in Dagahaley, there are approximately 50 households there. He talked of the difficulties the Eritreans experience living in Dadaab, because of their religion. He said that because he is Christian, the Somalis call them “gal” - the enemy of God, the barriers of entry into any form of business is high and unlike the Muslim communities, they are unable to make a living and rely solely on relief food.

A bleak future?
For the thousands of refugees in Dadaab that were raised, schooled and married in this town, it is home. Their families and friends live there which makes it even harder for them to consider living anywhere else. However, with the thousands of refugees coming in every day, questions on how they might survive in Dadaab emerge. The pressures are already starting to tell on the 80 or so “Tin-Smiths” who make doors, ovens and even chicken coops out of discarded oil tins. The inability to travel suffocates their business as there is increased competition over resources and no way of acquiring more. 

For now, the main issue Dadaab is dealing with is trying to ensure the new arrivals get shelter, medical attention and food. However, future issues of integration, competition over resources and crime are not far behind.

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