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In an effort to understand how attacks by the al-Shabaab insurgent group within Kenya and the subsequent Kenyan incursion into Somalia impacted Somali businesses operating from Kenya, Somalia Report's Shiine Omar conducted interviews and research throughout the region.
Many Somali business people from the border area or in Kenya's largest cities, including Nairobi, are fearful of conducting business in Somalia or traveling to the country for a variety of reasons. Many expressed their worries that Kenya or Somalia may accuse them of supporting the terrorist group if they try to send money to their families or conduct financial transactions. In addition, vendors that used to operate for lower cost in the border areas have fled the area and now businessmen say they cannot sustain their small businesses due to al-Shabaab threats.
Abdinasir Ahmed, a Somali businessman who owned a fresh milk corporation in Nairobi, told Somalia Report that he transported his goods from Nairobi to Garisa and Wajir three times a week and said that times have changed since Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia. "Now we are fearful because the Kenyan police have put so many more checkpoints in the region. They stop you and interview you asking several question to guarantee you are not al-Shabaab or supporting them. This takes a lot of time."
He added that he used to regularly travel throughout Kenyan and Somalia to visit members of his families, but was forced to stop when the Kenyan forces entered Somalia. "I totally decided to stop traveling to Somalia and even locally here in Kenya because of the difficulties with checkpoints and suspicions," said Mr. Ahmed.
Mukhtar Ali Said, a Somali-Canadian real estate broker in Nairobi, told Somalia Report that his industry has been hit hard by the incursion. "I used to do well selling land to the real estate builders, but now business is going down. Land is not longer being bought and sold because there is so much suspicion against the Somali community. As a result, people have stopped investing the land," said Mr. Ali.
Ali Aw Yussuf, a Somali businessman who exports coffee from Kenya to China and imports clothes, said he reduced his travel overseas after the Kenyan government put pressure Somali communities and put more focus on their finances. "My assets are going down because I used to export coffee to China and made millions of Kenyan shillings every year. To get around this, I was forced to ask my Kenyan friend to do my traveling for me since he can travel more freely," said Mr. Aw Yussuf.
An employee of Qaran expresses Hawala in Mombasa, told Somalia Report that there are far fewer customers sending money to their relatives in Somalia because they are fearful that the government will accuse them of sending money to the militants. "We collect the files for the security forces. They government asked us to us to limit sending money to Somalia and work them to identify which customers are sending money to the Islamist militants," she explained.
Osman Ali, a Somali businessman in Nairobi, expressed his support for the operations. "I will work with the Kenyan government to ensure the security and fight al-Shabaab because this government welcomed us and they are friendly people even if it is hard that government to suspect us al-Shabaab supports but we must show them how much we are against them," he said.
Ugas Farah Ugaas Abdi, a Somali traditional elder and businessman in Kenya, urged support, not fear, of Kenyan forces. "My messege to Somalis living in Kenya is that we must work with the government towards peace of the region and in their operations against this common enemy. This activity is good for our life and our people who works here and live to peace place," said Ugaas farah.
In his research Shiine Omar concluded that the majority of people interviewed by Somalia Report believed the Kenyan incursion into Somalia was necessary, while a minority believed Kenya had no right to invade a sovereign country. Meanwhile Somali politicians generally supported the Kenyan move, but also urged them not to suspect all Somalis of causing insecurity or legitimate businesses will be forced to close, further hampering the Somali economy.