Kenya hosts hundreds of thousands of people who have fled neighbouring countries. The government has long seen refugees as a possible national security threat, feeding a long-standing history of prejudice and xenophobia against the Somali community. The targeting of the Somali community came to a peak during Operation Usalama Watch in 2014. Amnesty International documented how thousands of people were arrested, harassed and ill-treated, had money extorted, or were rounded up and forced into camps. Hundreds of people were simply kicked out of the country.

A collaborative project by Amnesty International, the Xavier Project, PAWA254 and the Refugee Consortium of KenyaI Define Me challenges the negative labels imposed on Somali refugees in Kenya in a context of xenophobia, prejudice and assumptions. 

Kenyan photographer Armstrong Too created innovative portraits of Somali refugees in Nairobi which allow the participants to share their experience and capture the essence of their identities without revealing their faces. Many of the images show participants holding an object that represents their occupation, what they sell to make a living, an interest, something important to them – such as a football, clothes, street food or books.

I Define Me seeks to draw out the common experiences shared by Somali refugees and others. The exhibition has been shown at various locations in Nairobi, including at a community debate in a low-income area of the city where participants shared their similar experiences of police harassment. Viewers are invited to respond to the exhibition by reflecting on how they define themselves and how they feel about identities that are imposed on them. Get involved using the hashtag #IDefineMe.

For more details and related stories please see: 

Article: Kenya: Somalis trapped in ‘catch-22’ amid crackdown on refugees

Article: Somali refugees unlawfully forced out of Kenya 

Report: Somalia: No place like home: Returns and relocations of Somalia’s displaced