“Kasarani Concentration Camp”: A Global Issue

In the past month, the Twitter hashtag #Kasaraniconcentrationcamp has become a repository of information, argument and emotion on the current crackdown on ethnic Somalis in Kenya. Named after the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, now a detention center where those arrested in the crackdown are held, the hashtag began as an attempt to raise awareness about the under-reported plight of the detainees. People who post to the hashtag are located all over the world. Those in Kenya often share their experiences of fear and/or harassment, or comment on the mood of a place: the strange quiet of the predominantly Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh, or the sudden noise of home invasions by antiterrorism police in South C. Others post links to news reports and blogs dealing with the issue, or express their views on security, citizenship, and human rights. A few users, of course, come to show support for Kenya’s “anti terrorism” project, but the general tone is one of concern for those harmed by it.

The name “Kasarani Concentration Camp” is significant: it contains a cry for global recognition. By suggesting parallels between the situation of ethnic Somalis in Kenya today, and the situation of European Jews during the Holocaust, the hashtag reflects an attempt to leap over barriers of time, space, ethnic and religious difference, and appeal to a shared, global commitment to human rights. Surely innocent Somalis, like innocent Jews, should be saved. Surely something should be done before it’s too late — before the world finds itself apologizing for failing to get involved, as happened last month during the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

Although the hashtag has attracted some media attention, it’s unlikely to provoke an international response to the persecution of Somalis and Muslims in Kenya. This is not because the situation has nothing to do with the rest of the world. It’s because the opposite is true: “Kasarani Concentration Camp” is a global issue.

It’s global because illegality is global. By “illegality” I mean the criminalization of migration: the creation and maintenance of national borders and the nationalistic rhetoric that goes with them, which stresses keeping “others” out. In Kenya, we are seeing the criminalization of refugees, who are pursuing their right to seek asylum, and also of Kenyan citizens of Somali ethnicity, who may never have set foot in Somalia. Though many aspects of this situation are unique, developed over decades of fraught history in the region, the criminalization of immigrants and their descendants is practiced all over the world, wherever there are borders. Global structures of illegality make it hard to advocate for the rights of people who are perceived to be in the wrong place. Illegality sticks to such people; they become illegals, walking crimes. We forget that migration is a human right.

It is global because the War on Terror is global. Can Kenya’s anti-terrorism project be considered a local matter, when it’s being supported by Western nations, particularly the U.S., which has contributed tens of millions of dollars to Kenya’s Anti-terrorism Police Unit? The War on Terror provides excuses for human rights violations all over the world, from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay. The normalization of such violations, bolstered by media representations of Muslims as violent and underserving of fair treatment, has created a global climate in which abuse in the service of counter-terrorism is deemed acceptable, and even encouraged as “necessary force.” This is why the appeal to the world’s humanity encapsulated in the phrase “Kasarani Concentration Camp” rings out with such pathos. Stranded at the crossroads of illegality and the War on Terror, the detainees, who are among the most vulnerable people on earth, are burdened with a double criminalization. Under these circumstances, the world’s indifference will be difficult to shake.

As the nature of the challenge grows clearer, the hashtag has become quieter. People are tired, and bitter, and afraid. Sometimes they come to the hashtag to speak of silence. Sometimes they merely keep track of the days. Day 33. Day 34. Day 35.

It is clear that for now, we must expect more terror: more deadly blasts, more state violence. For the relationship of terrorism and the War on Terror is not one of opposition. Rather, it’s an intimate relationship, a perfect symbiosis in which each side feeds the other the bodies of innocents.

This is why the impulse behind the #Kasaraniconcentrationcamp hashtag is important: we need alternate ways of making transnational connections. We need as many as we can get. We cannot leave the practice of global thinking to terrorists, counter-terrorism experts, world leaders and corporate managers. We need to imagine connections that seem impossible. Imagine, for example, a global coalition of illegal people, one that would put the detainees at Kasarani Stadium in touch with anti-deportation movements in other countries. This may seem laughable, but we need impossible ideas if globalization is not to continue to be, as Arundhati Roy describes it, “a light which shines brighter and brighter on a few people and the rest are in darkness, wiped out.” It’s my hope that WaryaPost.com will provide one more space for the small lights.