Why It’s Hard To Board A Bus In Nairobi Today If You Look Like A Somali

A day after two deadly attacks on public buses, riders begin profiling each other.

On Sunday in Nairobi, explosions tore into two buses, killing at least three people and injuring more than 80.

Carl de Souza/AFP / Getty Images

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NAIROBI — A pair of deadly bombs exploded Sunday on two packed buses here Sunday, killing three people and injuring 86.

While bus blasts aren’t rare in Nairobi, Sunday’s explosions come at a time of heightened tension about terrorism and ethnicity.

Kenya has been rooting out illegal immigrants, especially in Nairobi’s big Somali neighborhoods, because it considers them a terrorism threat. Somalis have been rounded up in house-to-house raids to have their residency papers checked, and some have been reportedly held for as many as eight days in a local soccer stadium. Many Somalis and Kenyans of Somali heritage have complained of feeling profiled since the terrorism crackdown began a month ago.

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Monday, it’s pretty hard to board a bus in Nairobi if you look Somali.

Twitter users report seeing Somalis kicked off buses, or buses emptying when Somalis get on. (For my fellow Americans, alights means “gets out.”)

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Somali woman thrown out of 105 matatu was ready to prove innoncence, but citizens would not listen #ThikaRoadBlast via @shecyclesnbi

— Ma3Route (@Ma3Route)
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@Ma3Route @shecyclesnbi @IGkimaiyo @joelenku @OleItumbi is this the Kenya we want?

— Brejin Rey (@UncleRoots)
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My Kenyan Somali Colleague and I have boarded a number 48 Matatu to Kileleshwa and everyone else in it just alights! Wahh! ok! @Maskani254

— Jabu ™ (@its_Jabu)
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“I felt very embarrassed, helpless. I went out and looked for a taxi to come to the office.”

The winner of Kenya’s first political reality TV show, Uongozi, called for unity after he boarded a matatu, a public minibus, for his morning commute and watched everyone else get out. “When terrorists see us divided like this, they feel very happy, and they get encouraged to do all kind of attacks. Please, let’s be tolerant to each other and coexist as one, [as] indivisible Kenyans.” YouTube

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Kenyans of all backgrounds responded with disapproval.

@mohamedkiongozi @Uongozi254 We've never met. I apologise on behalf of all fair minded people. Turns my somach to think of such pain. sorry

— linda bookman (@lindabookman)
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@mohamedkiongozi was ethnically profiled today. This is someone I personally know and it makes me angry. Why are we turning on each other?

— Ronald Mackio (@mackio_)
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@mohamedkiongozi @Uongozi254 I am so sorry for that. Nobody deserves that kind of treatment. So unfair.

— Bridgit Kiki (@bridgitkiki)
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And there were some calls for wider action – by Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and by ordinary Kenyans.

An address by @UKenyatta needs to be made to the nation. Subjects: security, xenophobia, unity. Should be done in the next 24 hours. #Kenya

— Ian Cox (@IanECox)
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If Kenyans of Somali origin cannot peacefully board a mat without fear or prejudice, then as a nation we should have a #WalkToWork campaign

— Jabu ™ (@its_Jabu)
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Jina Moore is the international women's rights correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Nairobi. Moore has reported from Liberia at the height of the Ebola crisis and on women’s issues around the world.
Contact Jina Moore at

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