Using ethnography from 1987–88 and oral histories collected in 2006–8, the chapter describes Somalia’s civil war through the experiences of three families in Banta from before the arrival of war, through the war, to their flight to Kenya as refugees. The people in Banta’s region were particularly vulnerable during the war because of their minority status. Somalia’s political history, reviewed here, demonstrates how civil wars are often localized expressions of destructive global dynamics created through colonialism, Cold War geopolitics, foreign aid, and militarization.
The Humanitarian Condition
After an overview of the history of the legal creation of the category of “refugee” and the creation of the international refugee regime, the chapter reviews the history of refugee resettlement in the United States. The discussion reveals that the humanitarian management of refugees is centrally about policing their mobility in order to protect state sovereignty. Suspicion and doubt pervade the administration of refugee mobility, and refugees are expected to demonstrate a particular kind of innocent, vulnerable, docile, and dependent subjectivity in return for receiving assistance. This chapter reviews the assessment by the U.S. government and UNHCR of Somali Bantus (Somali minorities) as worthy humanitarian subjects for whom a special P2 (persecuted minority) resettlement program is created. The U.S. media heralds the program as rescuing a group described in U.S. news reports as primitive, former slaves who are among the most persecuted people on earth.
Becoming Somali Bantus
This chapter focuses on refugee agency to explore how refugees find and create spaces for action, collaborate with activists to elude and challenge structures of control, and articulate an alternative politics of identity and self-determination beyond their identity as exemplars of “bare life.” The chapter recounts the process of ethnogenesis through which Somali Bantu refugees in Dadaab consolidated an identity that would gain traction, while lobbying for resettlement in countries they selected, cultivating support from UNHCR staff, intervening in refugee verification procedures, taking on new family configurations, and accepting as their own generalized stories of suffering. Because the refugee resettlement process demands a particular identity, refugees create identity doubles through the resettlement process.