Kenya Asians, widely regarded as the backbone of the country's commercial sector, have had enough of being attacked by violent criminals on the streets and politicians from soap boxes. Unless the authorities show they can tackle crime, they say, they might be forced to quit the country. The implications could be disastrous for Kenya's already shaky economy.
There is growing climate of fear among the economically crucial Asian community in Kenya. Asian businesses are seemingly targeted by armed robbers, while the police make little impact in cutting crime. Mounting evidence that police officers actually carry out many of the robberies, vicious verbal attacks on the Asian community by senior politicians and rumours of increasing numbers migrating all add up to serious racial and economic trouble.
A series of meetings between interested parties has done little to either cut crime or reassure the businessmen. Instead, increasingly inflammatory official statements only serve to highlight the relatively high standard of living enjoyed by the community in comparison with other Kenyans and hint that they are disloyal Kenyans for complaining or fleeing.
The murder of Batu Shah seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back. On 9 October a seven-man gang had walked into Arvind Textiles to rob Shah. He made the mistake of resisting and was shot. His assailants disappeared among the crowds.
The next day more than 300 Asian traders in Kirinyaga and River Roads shut their shops and, accompanied by a sprinkling of African traders and hundreds of their employees, marched the Nairobi streets to the Central Police Station. One trader, Matu Shah, told reporters, "Our lives are in danger. Gunmen casually walk into our shops and rob us in broad daylight. Then they saunter out with their loot and melt away into the crowds."
The demonstrators held a three-hour meeting with the officer commanding the Central Police Station, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Bernard Mucheke. They claimed that his officers were colluding with the robbers. They said there were an average of three robberies daily but sometimes there were as many as eight in a day. They had lost millions of shillings and tens of lives but feared the situation would worsen with Christmas holidays and the millennium celebrations.
As they talked, robbers struck at a wholesale shop on Du Bois Street, barely 800 yards away.
The futility of the meeting was further exacerbated by the murder later...