Eastleigh – the Nairobi suburb sometimes termed ‘Little Mogadishu’ for its large Somali population – wouldn’t strike many as a choice holiday destination. While it boasts fine hotels, excellent food and a vast array of shopping opportunities in its 40 or so malls, its often sewage-flooded roads, crowded streets, and dangerous reputation seem to preclude it being added to any tourist itinerary.
The edition of the Rough Guide to Kenya that I took along for my first spell of research in 1999 did mention the possibility of staying in Eastleigh, but recent editions have expurgated the estate, such is its notoriety, while the UK and US governments explicitly advise its citizens against visiting it.
This reputation as a place to be avoided is constantly reinforced by the negative press the estate garners, much of it sensationalised; in particular, the claim that Indian Ocean piracy spurred the suburb’s economic boom owes more to lazy journalism than actual evidence.
It is undeniable though that Eastleigh has suffered much in the last few years from insecurity, including several grenade attacks in late 2012 that led to a number of deaths and sparked riots in the estate. Such attacks continue, the latest involving an explosive device planted on a matatu plying the Eastleigh-City Centre route that resulted in six fatalities and many injuries. These assaults are allegedly orchestrated by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab in retaliation against the Kenyan Defence Force’s ongoing operations in Somalia.
Eastleigh residents themselves bear the brunt of such insecurity, and also suffer under the actions of the Kenyan security forces. Furthermore, Eastleigh has been even more susceptible to security operations since the tragic events at the Westgate shopping mall. Indeed, ever since the armed siege in September in which at least 67 people were killed in an al-Shabaab attack, Somali refugees have become yet more suspect in the eyes of wider Kenyan society and Eastleigh has been seen more and more as a potential base for radical Islam; round-ups of refugees and suspected illegal aliens have picked up in pace as a consequence.
Given all this, it might seem surprising that Eastleigh is a holiday destination of choice for many each year.
Eastleigh’s First Avenue.
The majority of Eastleigh’s holidaymakers come from the West, but they are not your stereotypical tourists; they are mostly visitors from the Somali diaspora. Of course, as a crucial hub of Somali international business networks, many coming to the estate do so more for business than pleasure. However, they do not account for all visitors and in my time in the estate numerous diaspora Somalis – referred to as ‘diasporas’ in the estate – would tell me they were there on ‘holiday’.[More]