Over the past 20 years, the geopolitical landscape of Somalia has undergone multiple shifts, reflecting the complex and dynamic nature of conflict in the country. Warlordism, general anarchy, Islamic militancy, banditry, piracy, a series of foreign interventions, drought and famine have all played a major roles in creating a tragic context of ongoing insecurity and displacement. Yet durable solutions continue to remain elusive, in part because the government and international community continue to favour repatriation over local integration and resettlement and, in part, because policies continue to be informed and influenced primarily by sedentary theories and understandings of the way in which people organise themselves and perceive their situation. As a result, Somali refugees have effectively had their lives put on hold, with minimal effort being made to find alternative interim or long-term solutions.
The paper begins with an overview of Kenya’s role as a refugee hosting country and its refugee policies and laws. It will consider how these policies have changed over time, from the relatively tolerant policies of the 1960s and 1970s to the more restrictive policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Drawing on research conducted among Somali refugees in Eastleigh in September and October 2011, the paper will then discuss the life of Somalis in Nairobi and their sense of belonging to the city and country, particularly how their cultural identity may have changed over the past two decades due to their exile.