Somali Immigrants 'Litte Mogadishu' Transforming Kisenyi

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In short
According to Kenyi, the Somalis have impacted on the property rates in the area because they rent whole buildings at a relatively higher price and insist that they have facilities like toilets and bathrooms. As a result, the houses in the area are getting better and better.

Thousands of Somalis fleeing over two decades of violent conflict in their motherland have created what they fondly call Little Mogadishu in Uganda, their host country.

Little Mogadishu is part of Kisenyi slum in Kampala home to most Somalis, refugees and Ugandans of Somali-origin. Little Mogadishu is literally the area surrounding Malinga Road in Kisenyi, part of Central Kampala.

Thanks to Uganda’s favourable laws and policies on refugees many Somalis are resettling here. Since the Somalis are a closely knit people, the new comers go where their kin and kith live and those happen to be in western parts of Kampala with Kisenyi as the favourite.

Jamal Abdurrahman, who runs Kisenyi Supermarket on Malinga, says Malinga Road and its neighbourhood is now fondly termed Little Mogadishu because of the many Somalis living and doing business there.

The Somalis have literally taken over the area. They rent most of the houses in the neighbourhood for both domestic and business purposes.

Along the about half a kilometer road are forex bureaus, supermarkets, retail shops, internet cafes, eateries, food stalls, music shops and much more all run by the Somalis. This trend continues on all adjoining streets.

Walking on Malinga Road as well as other streets one cannot but acknowledge that this area is the domain of Somalis.

The lingua franca on the streets is predominantly Somali. The hustle and bustle is just like that on any busy Kampala streets, except that most of the walkers are of Somali origin, with just a sprinkling of locals.

The Somali women unmistakably dress in hijabs but most of the men dress casually with a few in kanzus and caps.

Abdurrahman says life in Little Mogadishu is very good, and hastily adds that it is better for him than Nairobi and Mogadishu. He says what he enjoys most about Kampala is freedom and peace.

Mohamed Kadri, a young Somali who says he came to Uganda five years ago, says as long as there is violence in Somalia he is not ready to leave Little Mogadishu in Kampala for the Mogadishu in Somalia.

Like Abdurrahman, Kadri says what he likes about Kampala is peace, harmony and freedom to do whatever one likes. He says he moves freely and has made many friends, both Somalis and Ugandans.

Kadri says the local communities are generally accommodative although once in a while there are minor conflicts but which do not spiral out of control.

The Somalis also have their own mosque and a headquarters where their leaders and a council of elders sit. The Somalis have a clear but strict hierarchy dominated by a council of evasive elderly men who seem to overbear on every aspect of their lives.

Asked how Little Mogadishu is, the LC1 chairman of Kisenyi II village Swaib Kenyi expressed surprise that the area is now called that and asked when that name was coined. He said as far as he knows the place is still called Kisenyi II.

Kenyi, himself a Ugandan Nubian, says the Somalis are law abiding and do not like interfering with the lives of the locals. He says as the number of refugees’ swells in the area crime rates are not rising because Somalis are disciplined.  

Kenyi says initially the Somalis used to careless about the environment but with time they are mindful, pointing to the relative cleanliness of the area as testimony to that.

According to Kenyi, the Somalis have impacted on the property rates in the area because they rent whole buildings at a relatively higher price and insist that they have facilities like toilets and bathrooms. As a result, the houses in the area are getting better and better.

He says local building owners and business people like them because they have money and pay well, although some locals feel they are being crowded out of what they used to call home.

Kenyi says although the Somalis leave in their own circles, they contribute money for community initiatives like clean water, roads and security.

He says because they are carefree with money and phones, local riff-raffs tend to take advantage, snatch them and run away. He advises them to become vigilant because Kampala is not like Somalia where such petty thieves are unheard of.

Kenyi credits the Somalis with the increasing development in Kisenyi, citing the mushrooming new modern buildings as testimony to their impact.

The LC1 chief says culturally they have had no much impact because they tend to live in cocoons with no real cultural links with the locals. He says although they come from different clans who are warring in Somalia, in Kisenyi they all live as one.


About the author

David Rupiny
In his own words, David Rupiny says, "I am literally a self-trained journalist with over 12 years of experience. Add the formative, student days then I can trace my journalism roots to 1988 when as a fresher in Ordinary Level I used to report for The Giraffe News at St Aloysius College Nyapea in northern Uganda.

In addition to URN for which I have worked for five years now, I have had stints at Radio Paidha, Radio Pacis, Nile FM and KFM. I have also contributed stories for The Crusader, The New Vision and The Monitor. I have also been a contributor for international news organisations like the BBC and Institute for War and Peace Reporting. I am also a local stringer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

I am also a media entrepreneur. I founded The West Niler newspaper and now runs Rainbow Media Corporation (Rainbow Radio 88.2 FM in Nebbi). My areas of interest are conflict and peacebuilding, business, climate change, health and children and young people, among others."