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Al-Shabaab rules Kenya, believe it or not!

An incident outside Kibuye Catholic Church in Kisumu last Sunday made me realise just how deeply Al-Shabaab controls our lives. I had just stopped to take a picture of the  old lovely Church to add to my portrait collections when a huge crowd from the opposite market started screaming and shouting that I was Al-Shabaab. I narrowly escaped lynching and almost lost my camera to a hawker. It was only my Press Card that saved me. “That is the media. She is media!” They exclaimed, letting me live another day to tell my story, but not before roughling me up!

Telling them that was my hometown and my local Church made matters worse. The unreasonable crowd, now baying for my blood informed me that the police had alerted everyone to note that locals who had been away from home for a long time were the greatest suspects. I must have gone for training in Somalia, they alleged unfairly, pretending that they were not aware I worked in the city, 399 km away. They did not want to hear this and warned me about bragging that I had a job in Nairobi. “We don’t have jobs and we don’t care. We want Al-Shabaab and we got one!” They chanted.

As KDF soldiers fight it out in the war zones of Somalia and young soldiers risk their lives at the battlefront, Al Shabaab continues ruling our lives. Things are no longer the same. You cannot stop at a beautiful spot and take a lovely picture, no memories of your travels. Just taking photo shoots  causes suspicion and may land you in a terrorist’s cell. You may then be taken to court and accused of plotting to bomb the place. Before you know it, you may be branded  a terrorist.

The Al-Shabaab have made our lives uncomfortable. We are all suspicious of one another, of our friends and colleagues at the office. According to terror alerts issued by the Government Police Spokesman, Al Shabaab could be the innocent looking housemaid or shamba boy you have employed in your home, it could be the neighbour next door, it could even be your pastor at the Church or your doctor at the hospital. It could be your best friend or brother. Our Wednesday night out with my group of friends has died a natural death as we avoid public places where Al-Shabaab could bomb. We all go home early and prefer to stay indoors as a security measure. You cannot get into any building without being frisked and contents of your bag emptied.

Al-Shabaab has invaded our privacy. A woman’s handbag once a very personal and private item has become privy to every Tom, Dick and Harry guard in town. Everywhere you walk into, women guards have the authority to go aprowling into your handbag…just in case you are Al-Shabaab carrying a bomb instead of a lipstick and sanitary pads. At the Kencom Bus Stage, you can no longer jump into your bus. The guards must peep into your handbag and search your body in case you have hidden a bomb under your armpit. And some of those searches, especially by homosexual or lesbian guards can be quite dehumanising, especially when you are not one. Traveling by public means, buses or trains is a total scare. Our privacy has been invaded and all because of Al-Shabaab.

Important people who refuse to be frisked risk losing their jobs. The most important woman in the country risks losing her job because of  Al-Shabaab induced security frisks at the Village Market. We are terrified…so terrified of this Al-Shabaab business.

Al-Shabaab, whoever you are and whatever your business, why make innocent people suffer just because you are fighting for your  cause? With Al-Shabaab around, it is no longer business as usual. This is no longer the Kenya I knew!

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