"Hal lug ayeynu ku taaganahay," Somali refugees say. “We stand on one leg.”
This effective metaphor conveys the precariousness and volatility that permeate the daily experiences of refugees. “Standing on one leg” implies the possibility of falling, but also the potential to move. It is a state of suspension, where every signal must be caught and decoded, because from that may depend safety and survival, for oneself, one’s family, one’s livelihood. Indeed, the idea of contingency was at the centre of my research proposal when I first came to Eastleigh, the Nairobi estate dubbed “Little Mogadishu” for the conspicuous presence of Somali people, either refugees or Kenyan citizens. I was thinking of the contingency which has been defining Somali mobility patterns since the Somali state collapsed in 1991. Yet, in the months ahead, the concept acquired a dramatic actuality.
Indeed, these are tough times for Somali refugees in Kenya.
|Kisenyi. Photo by author.|
Financial practices have a crucial role in decision-making strategies against this volatile background. The long-established hawala system enables businessmen to move capital to new areas where trade opportunities are flourishing, such as Kampala, Kigali in Rwanda, the DRC border and, until recently, Juba in South Sudan. At the same time, the usage of Safaricom M-Pesa mobile money across borders facilitates the transfer of small amounts to sustain students and small businesses between Kenya and Uganda. The way the two infrastructures are used and interwoven reflects the importance of cultivating multiple financial options to respond to unpredictable situations.
|Eastleigh. Photo by author.|
I got in touch with him after the Kenyan police launched the crackdown. He told me that he had been arrested by the police and forced to pay the equivalent of 50 USD to avoid deportation to the Daadab refugee complex. Now, he was planning to follow his brother to Kampala, where in recent years a new Little Mogadishu has grown in the slum of Kisenyi. He was confident that in Uganda he would be able to rely on his hawala account and even to expand his customer base in the country and in neighbouring countries.
Read more in Gianluca Iazzolino's final report, "Contingency Routes: Somali Flows and Transnational Spaces between Kenya and Uganda."