Beyond the Failed State: Capital
Mobilization, Investment and
Entrepreneurship among Somali
Refugees in Nairobi, Kenya
Kenneth Omeje & John Mwangi
School of Humanities and Social
United States International University
Nairobi, Kenya
Specific Research Objectives
(1) How members of the Somali refugee community
source their business capital.
(2) The history, structure and culture of the
entrepreneurship of Somali refugees in Nairobi,
- the role of traditional community values and
kinship networks in business conception,
apprenticeship, capital formation and issues of
credit, investment, and supply & distribution of
Specific Research Objectives
(3) The nature of social relations between the
Somali refugee business community and the
Kenyan stakeholders.
(4) Any gender dimensions in the Somali refugee
business profile, especially the role, activities and
challenges of Somali women.
(5) Any transnational dimensions in the Somali
refugee business operation and their dynamics.
Study Background and Justification
► People
fleeing war from the failed state of Somalia
have accounted for the largest number of refugees
in Kenya since the start civil war in Somali in 1991.
► There are over 1 million Somali refugees in Kenya;
most of them are in refugee camps in some
government designated border outpost.
► The refugee crisis is aggravated by periodic
incidents of drought & famine in the region.
► The refugees in camps fit into the traditional image
of refugees.
Food Insecurity & Refugee Crises in the Horn
of Africa
Study Background and Justification
► There
are between 150,000 – 200,000 Somali
refugees settled in Kenyan capital city of Nairobi.
► The refugees in Nairobi are mostly concentrated in
the famous Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh - ‘Little
► Eastleigh is a densely populated suburb with
practically little or no state presence save for
occasional intervention of security in the name of
anti-terrorist clampdown.
Study Background and Justification
► Kinship
networks and clan solidarity underpin
social order among the Somalis in Eastleigh.
► Ironically, the same clan-based social structure
that underpins social order in Eastleigh is at the
root of the continuing civil war in Somalia.
► Eastleigh is not just a Somali refugees’ haven, it is
one of East Africa’s fastest growing and most
globally connected trading centers.
Study Background and Justification
► Dominant
narratives on refugees from fragile and
failed states in the Africa are largely focused on
negative stereotypes that tend to perceive
refugees as:
► poverty-stricken, and unwanted parasites that
bring undue pressure on meager state resources;
► perpetrators of organized crime and anti-social
Study Justification
► The
prolific business exploits and
transnational entrepreneurship of the large
number of Somali refugees in Nairobi seems
to shatter this well-entrenched conception.
Fieldwork Methodology and Progress Made
Our fieldwork data collection is essentially based on semistructured in-depth interview and non-participant observation.
► Fieldwork was completed between March and August 2011.
► Two Kenyan Somali female university graduates were recruited
to join the project team in the fieldwork.
► Pre-fieldwork [consultative] visits were made for
reconnaissance and sensitization of targeted audience.
► The research audience included:
(a) Somali refugees of various generations and business clusters,
as well as those not yet in any venture,
(b) Kenyan police officers with experience in refugee policing and
deployment in Somali suburb of Eastleigh,
(c) Members of the rival Indian business community in Nairobi, &
(d) Some of the local Kenyans that live and work with Somali
refugees in the Eastleigh and the adjoining suburbs.
Fieldwork Methodology and Progress Made
A total of 136 participants were interviewed using
convenience and snowball sampling methods.
About half of the sample were ethnic Somali refugees
At present, we are the early stage of data interrogation,
interpretation and analysis.
Fieldwork Challenges
Difficulty in getting some of the respondents to
speak on some of the seemingly sensitive issues.
► Frequent interruptions in the course of the
interviews essentially because we conducted all
interviews during the respondents’ working hours.
Figure 1.
Chase Bank in the Main Street of Eastleigh Nairobi, Kenya.
Figure 2
Fresh fruit hawking along the walkway of shopping
malls in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 3
Financial institutions and modern shopping
malls along a dilapidated murky road in the
Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi
Figure 4
Modern shopping malls amidst dilapidated
road infrastructure in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 5
Madina Mall, a famous shopping mall in
Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 6
Street hawking in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 7
Pedestrians and Shoppers in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 8
A public service bus manoeuvres through a murky
road in Eastleigh, Nairobi.
Figure 10
A new business site under construction along a
murky road in Eastleigh.
Figure 11
A modern shopping mall in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 12
Shoppers and Traders in Eastleigh, Nairobi
Figure 13
Back street hawking in Eastleigh.
Figure 14
Women traders and shoppers in Eastleigh.
Figure 15
Women street traders display their wares in
Eastleigh, Nairobi
► Thank
you for your attention.

Beyond the Failed State: Capital Mobilization, Investment and