Despite valid security trepidations, the Kenyan government directive to counter terror known as ‘Operation Usalama Watch’ has made the Somali community previously known as excellent business people, creators of small companies, employment and opportunities for investment an easy target. This is because they are now being associated with a new set of images of violent crimes in Kenya. This research paper is based on a study carried out among Somali urban refugees in Eastleigh. The main objective of this study was to investigate the factors that have caused a shift by the Kenyan government to relabel Somali urban refugees as a security threat despite their economic contribution to the country. Drawing on a document analysis and qualitative field research, this study considers the reaction of the Somali refugees to the label of security threat and uses the theoretical approach of labelling, refugee governance to comprehend the Kenyan’s government’s narrative towards Somali urban refugees. By examining the existing policies and practices of the Kenya government in relation to the issue of Somali Refugees we see the dilemma faced by both the refugees and the government regarding security and economic benefits. Ultimately, the study highlights the necessity for directing focus towards the refugees being part of the development agenda with the government investing in their businesses and supporting their plans to be integrated into the Kenyan society or go back home and a need for the government to alter its counter-productive measure of encampment of refugees. Meanwhile, there is need to expand the evaluative space to take into account the value of refugees to the Kenyan economy as well as relational outcomes.

Somali Refugees, Security, Economic Asset, Urban Areas, Policy, Kenya
Bergh, Sylvia, Hintjens, Helen
Individual Study Programme (ISP)
International Institute of Social Studies

Odero, Cynthia Achieng. (2015, December 11). Economic Asset or National Security Burden? Rethinking Kenyan Government Policies Towards Somali Urban Refugees. Individual Study Programme (ISP). Retrieved from