In a wealthy suburb of Nairobi there is a nightclub called Casablanca. It is owned by an Italian (probably part of what is called the Malindi mob), decorated in Arabic style and has a crowd of western businessmen, aid workers, some wealthy locals and high class prostitutes. In a corner, puffing on their water pipes, drinking an occasional beer, there is a crowd of young Somali men, some working for the current government in Somalia, some doing lucrative business in the war thorn country and others supporting the radical Islamist rebel group al Shabaab. They visit the place quite frequently and they feel at home they say, because the combination of crowd and environment resembles the countries where they grew up in Europe, North America or Australasia. There is a huge fellow who used to be a real talent in ice hockey until the day that he could no longer stand the fact that Somalia was going from bad to worse and he simply threw away his national passport and went back to a Somalia that he only knew from tales from relatives and through the catastrophic images in media. Naturally, due to his comprehensible size, he has since been hired as body guard to politicians and other strongmen in Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country. Currently he is looking for a new job and in the mean time hanging out with likeminded friends at Casablanca. Likeminded; yet some of them support the, in the West (but also in Kenya), much feared al Shabaab.
By his side, sipping on a beer sits a tall good looking fellow, dressed like a typically globalised posh urbanite. We could call him the “disillusioned European”. When he was in his late teens he fled from the war and sought refuge in a European country. He was first placed in a midsized city. When he arrived, he remembers, he was met by a social worker who drew him to a flat. Despite being exhausted he looked around in his new home and found fresh food in the refrigerator. He checked the phone – it worked. The next morning the social worker came back and gave him a check of the equivalent to 450 USD. He looks at it with surprise, but having been taught never to accept money from strangers he turns it down and states that he would rather want a job. After two weeks he is given a job at a halal butchery. Here he starts the integration journey and he does it well. He talks about his local girlfriends and the mild skepticism he meets from their fathers and he talks about his big love. About how her parents struggle to make them not leave the provincial city to settle in the capital – they even buy a flat for them. The love is broken. She stays behind and he moves on. There he settles in a suburb full of immigrants – he likes it there. He starts at the university and to make ends meet he makes extra money from among other things DJng.
When he works extra at a warehouse he hears his boss repeatedly saying “the black lad works well”. After years of studying, combined with working, he ends up with two master degrees, one in agronomics and one in development economy. He gets married to a Somali woman and within a few years they become a European norm family with two children. As the younger son starts kindergarten he arduously protects a little girl from the other kids in a way that catches the staff’s attention. They contact the social authorities stating that the child needs psychological attention and they ask whether they flog the child, or if the husband beats his wife in front of the child. The authorities start with their usual prejudices. Although this is far from the only case of prejudice that he talks about, it is by far the most serious one as it implicates his children and his role as a father. Yet he explains a lot about everyday racism in the European country – and always careful to point out that it is due to cultural ignorance rather than hardcore racism (and some incidents are very funny and we end up laughing a lot). He starts to work in the foreign aid circus, among other places in Asia, where he is horrified, but also slightly amused, by how his new countrymen frequent prostitutes as it so much opposing what they preach. Throughout his Asia years he has got Somalia on his mind. When things do not work out with his wife and he still has six months paternity leave, he leaves for Nairobi. Under this period he establishes a good network of expatriates and starts doing consultancies for INGOs and UN agencies. His work focus is the crisis in Somalia. The money he is making is good, but every time he is critical to what the organization is doing he is asked to keep quite. In the mean time he gets a yearly invitation to the embassy of his European country in Nairobi to celebrate the national day. “Waving with the flag appears false” he says, especially since anti-immigrant parties are increasingly setting the political agenda in the country. And the feeling that native citizens wants to get rid of people like him is indeed easy to understand and clearly alienating.
Many of his friends have given up their new citizenships when returning to Somalia or to neighboring countries, but the disillusioned European has kept his. But by part seeing, part participating in the INGO and UN circus on Somalia he becomes increasingly critical and bitter. They manage to solve no problems, have no visions and appear in the end only to work for the big money they obtain and mingle with nobody than themselves. He slowly removes himself and starts what he says “fixing Somalia in his own way”. An overarching goal is to find a power that can unify Somalia. He has saved a substantial amount of money (according to him close to 280.000 USD). Initially he invests a lot of his money in a political candidate who ends up unjustly being blocked from participating in the 2009 Somali presidential elections taking place in Djibouti. Due to this failure he no longer believes in the grand political game orchestrated by the West. Instead he sees the radical Islamist al Shabaab as the only hope and he is currently informally supporting them both morally and financially. His brother, a person who is in and out of Holland, typically dressed in robes and with a long beard, is a great al Shabaab supporter for its religious message, but for the disillusioned European al Shabaab stand as the hope because they takes Somali politics beyond the clan system and have the potential to counter the utterly corrupt and malfunctioning Transitional Federal Government and the surrounding political play. Supporting radical Islamists doesn’t radically change his lifestyle however: He is still sipping his beer together with his Somali friends; predominantly men, but also a few women at Casablanca – the white house – a tiny piece of the West, fashioned in eastern style. Betwixt and between, in Africa, but amongst white humanitarian workers, one foot in radical Islam and the other in the white house.
This story was recorded in Nairobi in 2009