Divided By War, United By War: Story Of Somali Refugee Players In Kenya

AFTER escaping the violence back home, where the radical Islamist group Al Shabaab wanted to kill their passion for the sport, youth full Somali refugees continue to pursue their dream of playing in the big leagues in Europe. As they dribble the ball in the rugged and tiny play fields in Eastleigh estate of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, they hope that one day they will be celebrated like Somali-born Manchester City midfielder ABDISALAAM ABDULKADIR IBRAAHIM.


Hundreds of Somali youth refugees living in the Eastleigh estate of Nairobi see the long day as boring, sitting in makeshift restaurants alongside the streets, talking about the world cup games, and arguing who and why, with hope of finding a role model to emulate.


However, a number of them wake up everyday with the passion of playing football. Players with smiley faces dressed in football kits of European clubs are a common feature in the streets as they head to local playgrounds in Eastleigh and its neighbourhood.

These youths talk and play football, hoping to one day get a breakthrough and be great soccer players in Europe. For them it’s all about football; they have forgotten the trouble back home.

FIELD OF DREAMS: A playground near Eastleigh

Abas Abdulkadir, 17, dressed in his favourite Manchester United jersey, left his home in Mogadishu, Somalia late 2009 after he escaped from the deadly clashes between extremist militias and Somali government troops backed by African Union peacekeepers.  He says his constant now is his ball and he believes that one day, he will be a great soccer in Europe.

“When I am playing football I am dreaming that am in my home, but when the game ends I am come to my senses that I am still refugee. But at least it’s safe here”

“The biggest thing that any athlete dreams about to is to become great and famous,” He adds.

Abas and other Somali youths play in very poor, rough and tiny play ground, lack of necessary equipments; they play with old football boots and jerseys. However, they have incredible spirit. The boys have also a football club -Somali Diaspora Community Football Club. The club gets little support from Somali Embassy in Kenya. The Somali team often competes with other Diaspora football clubs in the city.

A large number of Somalis, including elders and prominent businessman watch their matches on weekends at Burhaan estate, a play ground in Nairobi’s Pangani area.

Far from the conflicts in Somalia, where people are divided along clan lines, the youngsters in this suburb are united by football.  From the different clans and regions, they gather and play ‘the most beautiful game on the earth’.

Radical Islamist group Al-Shabab id the main obstacle to peace in Somalia. The word ‘AL-SHABAAB’ loosely translates to ‘youth’ in English. In sharp contrast to the Al-Shabaab Ideology, the Somali youth here have decided to bring peace and stability in their home country.

“Without football, we would not exist as a community. For the last two decades, only the people who were sharing the best and the worst were the players; we don’t care about clan politics – we just love football” said Ahmed Omar Amin,  a refugee soccer player who lives in Eastleigh.

Despite the violence at home, the boys still have found memories of Somalia. “We used to take care of each other, think of and for one another, and share the best and worst at home, we wanted to bring peace through football unfortunately, some radical youths who don’t care about life came and destroyed our dreams,” one of the boys told me.

Challenges back at home

Kids used to play with a ball made of socks and neatly woven, that was not expensive, and with passion they use to play in makeshift playgrounds.

On the fateful day, when the Islamic Union Courts took over the control in Mogadishu, in 2006 this changed; youths playing soccer became the main targets as were the fans who came to cheers on. Some were killed while others were arrested by the Al-Shabaab militias.

Liibaan Ali Ahmed, 23, survived after Islamist militias fired at a cinema hall where he was watching football game between Manchester United and Chelsea in the Somali capital in 2006.

“We heard the gun shots, and then everyone around us was scampering for safety, luckily I escaped unhurt but two of my friends were critically injured, I escaped from the cinema unhurt” Liibaan said.

“It was the darkest and worst day of my life,” he cried.

Death is just an inch away from you in every step you make in the Somali capital Mogadishu. In June, two football fans were killed and 30 others were detained by Hizbul Islam, another extremist militia group, while they were watching world cup match in Afgoye town, about 30 km south west of the capital.

Despite the challenges of living in a foreign land, Ahmed and his friends have their hopes and dreams alive. They draw their inspiration from Abdisalam Abdulkhadir Ibrahim, the Manchester City football club midfielder in England.  Ibrahim has Norway citizenship; he left Somalia after the government collapsed in 1991.

His younger brother, Abdikarim Abdulkhadir Ibrahim, 14, has joined the club after signing a one year contract. They are the sons of the renowned former Somali soccer referee Abdulkhadir Mohamed Ibrahim (Adday). No doubt the two youngsters are role model for Somali youths both inside their homeland and the Diaspora, who have been longing for young role models.

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