JULY 21, 2010: Stigmatising Innocent Somalis Will Not Help

Stigmatising Innocent Somalis Will Not Help

SOURCE: The Observer

The terrible events of July 11 when bombs exploded in Kampala, killing at least 74 people, have predictably left many Ugandans angry.

It's normal that in such situations, reason is overtaken by emotion. Because those behind this crime are believed to be the Somali extremist group Al Shabaab, some Ugandans have subjected Somali Ugandans or Somalis living here to stigma.

Some Ugandan Muslims, especially those who dress in ways that show their faith, have also come under similar treatment.

As one writer who has faced this treatment put it, it is not the best time to be a Somali in Uganda right now. In fact, many Somali children didn't go to school last week for fear of reprisals.

This is unfortunate because Somalis have lived in Uganda for ages without any major race related problems. Some of them were born here and have never been to Somalia. Others have become a fundamental part of the Ugandan economy as investors.

To associate all of them with terrorism is therefore unproductive. Collective guilt is a backward mentality because it seeks to punish people for the sins of their compatriots. We cannot be seen to be holding every ethnic Somali responsible for the evil actions of their wayward countrymen who orchestrated the Kampala attack! It is not right.

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Most Somalis living in Uganda are good and law-abiding people. Ordinary Ugandans should leave it to the security forces to weed out the rotten tomatoes.

On the other hand, we must be sympathetic to the security forces when they target certain communities in their search for clues. Last week in Kenya, hundreds of ethnic and Kenyan Somalis were rounded up at night and screened for wrong elements. It could not have been a good experience for those targeted, particularly the innocent ones, but then security officers have a duty to protect the people from the kind of carnage that Uganda experienced on July 11. In the course of such operations, innocent people are likely to be inconvenienced.

However, in such situations, the security forces have a duty to exercise restraint, professionalism, and work within the acceptable human dignity parameters.