East Africa: Welcome to Eastleigh, Kenya's Most Unlikely Holiday Destination

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Somali music and the arts are found there too, some organised by the likes of Eastleighwood, a youth group promoting peace through the arts whose networks stretch from Eastleigh to points around the globe. Their events always feature singing by members of the group including Qaali Ladan whose songs are appreciated by a global audience on Youtube. Somali music and dancing are also common at the larger hotels, especially during the frequent weddings held in Eastleigh, which themselves attract guests from throughout the world.

Thanks to this rich cultural environment, Eastleigh is more homelike for some diasporas than their actual homes in the West, and it is a place in which many feel comfortable and content, despite the dirt and very real security issues. While Somalis talk of suffering from buufis - the desire to emigrate to the West - and despite the fact that Eastleigh is a place where many live in hope of resettlement, those who secure resettlement often desire to return, albeit temporarily and with the security of a Western passport.

Furthermore, Eastleigh does not just offer them the company of friends and relatives, and familiar sights and sounds; it also caters to tastes developed in the West. Restaurants in Eastleigh offer much in the way of diaspora food, including pizza and burgers, while supermarkets stock sweets and other Western treats.

Several of these businesses are at least part owned by diasporas. A restaurant that I frequented, for example, was run by a man who had spent many years saving up while working long hours as a limousine driver in Arizona. With connections in Eastleigh, he invested these savings in the restaurant. Such investors know the tastes of visitors from the West and cater to them.

Indeed, while older diasporas coming to the estate are attracted to its Somali-ness, younger diasporas there find that familiar Western food helps them adjust to an unfamiliar place. This was the case for young Somalis I met in Eastleigh sent there for dhaqan celis, which can be translated as 'cultural rehabilitation', a key social institution in the Somali diaspora. Some were youngsters from the US and UK whose parents worried they were becoming too Western and needed to improve their Somali language and become better Muslims. One young lad from Arizona told me how is mother had tricked him into agreeing to go by telling him that Eastleigh "was just like the USA." For him and other such diasporas, a milkshake and pizza can make a very unfamiliar place feel a little less so.

Of course, Eastleigh will be forever a place of commerce, and one that generates much wealth for Kenya: its remarkable economic transformation has not only enriched and sustained Somalis in the estate - many of whom are Kenyan nationals - but also spurred wider economic growth in Kenya, generating employment, raising tax revenue, and supplying textiles and clothes to Kenyan retailers dotted throughout the country. Many a retailer in Kakamega, Marsabit and Meru can testify to that.

But the economic impact of these diaspora holidaymakers on Kenya's economy should not be underestimated either. This point was made to me recently by a Somali taxi driver I met when visiting Chicago. He lived in Eastleigh as a refugee until 2003 when he was resettled in the US, and visits the estate when he can for a holiday. He emphasised that thousands of Somalis like him travel to Kenya to meet up with family and take a break from often hard lives in the West. He also stressed how each such visitor gives much to the Kenyan economy, beginning with a $50 fee for a visa and continuing with all the expenses of the stay there, as well as that spent on more stereotypical tourist activities such as visiting the National Reserves in which diaspora holidaymakers do tend to engage.

After years of infrastructural decay, there are signs that Nairobi county authorities are finally getting to grips with Eastleigh's roads, with both local MP Yusuf Hassan and Nairobi governor Evans Kidero chivvying contractors to speed up relaying the main thoroughfare of First Avenue, a road that often more closely resembles a river. As a business hub that contributes so much to the Kenyan economy, it clearly makes sense to ensure it has good roads and security. But the fact that is also a hub - a somewhat hidden and perhaps unlikely hub - in Kenya's main industry of tourism should further encourage positive engagement between its residents and the state.

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