South Sudan's growing xenophobia to Kenyans worrying
A community development consultant based in South Sudan in a story published in the widely-circulating Sunday Nation this week intimated that Kenyans seeking investment opportunities or jobs in that country have abused the hospitality accorded to them, resulting in several killings.
The consultant suggested several Kenyans are in South Sudan illegally and lacked the necessary permits, leading to their mistreatment and in a number of instances, eventual murder.
If that were the case, why not deport them instead of killing them? Is this fair for a country that continues to warmly host thousands of South Sudan refugees?
The sad stories of foreigners, mostly Kenyans, being subjected to hostility in South Sudan and sometimes returning home in body bags should be a cause for alarm. After hosting them for decades, they are sadly paying us back with seeming disdain that has little regard for the rule of law.
Xenophobia seems to be steadily taking root in Africa’s newest nation, as the hosts growingly perceive foreigners are encroaching on their territory and taking up their jobs. Even humanitarian workers are not spared in a country where civilians still possess firearms given proper disarmament is yet to be carried out since a bloody civil war ended.
Several Kenyan investors have trooped back home with wrenching tales of being robbed of thousands of dollars in South Sudan. In as much as the South Sudanese may have legitimate grounds of protecting their resources, beatings, harassment, imprisonment and chilling killings should have no place in relations between the two countries that have hitherto enjoyed a mutual friendship.
Some of the narratives are not for the faint of heart.
The August murder of Dr Joseph Matu at Torit National Security Station within the Eastern Equatorial State, 170km from Juba, for operating a pharmacy illegally though he had documents to prove otherwise is a recent example. His body had deep cuts and appalling bruises all over.
Kenyan teacher Tabitha Musangi was shot in the head after the taxi she had hired failed to stop while guards were lowering the country’s flag at the John Garang mausoleum. The late Garang's son Majok Garang who accompanied her body back confessed that there are many cases of Kenyans dying in unclear circumstances in South Sudan.
Peter Kimani, an electronics repair man, also joined the growing list of Kenyans killed after being arrested for allegedly failing to repair a customer’s camera. He died in prison while waiting to be arraigned in court. His body also had brutal bruises all over.
As these type of cases continue to rise, one wonders what authorities in the host country are doing to curb the situation. The only time the Kenyan government acted was when it penned Juba a protest note this year. Little has been heard of the matter since.
Following recent uproar over deaths in unclear circumstances, Kenya's Foreign Affairs minister Sam Ongeri told parliament that 24 Kenyans had been killed in South Sudan since 2008, with some victims shot summarily by trigger-happy security agents. These were only the reported cases, as most incidences go uncaptured.
To show the injustice, it is worth briefly highlighting just three recent positive gestures Kenya has extended to its neighbour.
After the 2011 referendum, Kenya pledged over $2 million to train civil servants in South Sudan to help towards setting up functional institutions. Kenyan authorities had also set up several polling stations in the country to accommodate the more than 70,000 dispersed Sudanese living here.
The Kenyan government served as a mediator and guarantor to South Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended decades of war in Sudan in 2005 and paved the way for the 2011 referendum. As such, South Sudanese would be the last anyone would expect to mistreat Kenyans.
Some there have sought to justify this by branding our men as robbers and tagging our women as harlots. Yet, those who have encountered Sudanese in Nairobi and other upcountry estates have unsavoury tales to tell as well.
They are increasingly earning a reputation for arrogance, ostentation and tendencies towards violence. They have few qualms flaunting their wealth as they play loud music in the dead of night in residential areas, zooming by in their four-wheel drive guzzlers. Some of their teenagers will insult you at leisure. The other day I run into one at a shopping mall who not only bamboozled me out of his way but also topped it up with a middle finger salute. Some incidences of robbery have been reported as well, yet no Sudanese have been harmed in retaliation.
And it is not only Kenyans who are complaining; Ugandan motorists who ply the Juba route in July staged a strike to protest what they said was mistreatment by South Sudanese security forces at the border. Law enforcers who should protect these helpless foreigners have chosen to turn a blind eye.
As the South Sudan government remains mum, Nairobi needs to firmly remind its once-needy-brother-turned-tormenter that its hardworking citizens must be protected at all costs.
Citizens of the two nations also need to find a way to co-exist peacefully because Kenyans will continue living in South Sudan, and vice versa, the chilling tales notwithstanding
-The writer is a journalist based in Nairobi.
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