brad brace

4/24/2008

Mercy: false hope

Filed under: global islands,government,human rights,kenya,wealth — admin @ 9:31 am

Mercy: completely forgotten

Mercy, 25, is a Kamba from south-east Kenya. Her husband was “an excessive drunk” and violent, so she left to live alone with their two children. She is sometimes forced to resort to ukahaba: “taking up with any man and going with him as long as he can feed your children for the day, or pay their school fees.” She is aware of the risk of HIV and AIDS but says this is “the reality” of being jobless.

She worries about security in Kibagare, the behaviour of young people and the rising incidence of rape, due partly to the increasing abuse of marijuana and alcohol.

Her children are her main concern and she longs for the opportunity to have some vocational training or a loan to start a business. “If…I am given a good foundation…I am convinced – without any doubt – that I could change my life and the future life of my children.”

I left Kitui (south-eastern Kenya) and came to live here in Nairobi in 1999. I am now 25.

When I got to Nairobi, I worked as a maid for a while, then I got married. My husband and I were blessed with two children, a boy and girl, but we did not stay together for long because he was an excessive drunk and he would beat me so much. So I decided to leave him and live alone with my children… When I left this man, he continued being a terrible drunkard, and he was hit by a car one day and died.

The harsh reality of unemployment

I raise these children on my own, with many problems. At first I was still working as a housemaid for a Nigerian family, but then they returned to their home. So now I depend on any casual labour I can find to feed them. Mostly I find temporary work washing clothes, but if I don’t get that I take up with a man, as I cannot watch my children die of hunger…

I live in a small room which I rent at 700 shillings a month, but it’s not easy to make the rent money… It is this situation that forces me into ukahaba, even if there are problems ¬ like diseases such as AIDS. I don’t have any other option. This practice of ukahaba means taking up with any man and going with him as long as he can feed your children for the day, or pay their school fees… I just have to do that so I can get food, rent and school fees for my children… This is the reality of not having a job.

I just pray to God that I get a good job or that as young people we get a good project, such as keeping chickens. Whatever kind of job really, so that I leave prostitution alone… Also if I could get a good man we can live together as husband and wife – that would be great.

Poverty undermines cooperation
We do not have [self-help] groups — those that exist are [older] women’s groups and their lives are much better than ours. We cannot work together because our problems [are so bad that] everybody can only be concerned with their own house. So now, even if you call a meeting it’s difficult to get enough people. Everybody follows their own path and thinks you will just waste their time — they do not see that any good results might come of it. I would like to have a group, but there are many different opinions on that.

The [only] organisation that I’ve seen helping people is the Catholic Church. It helps the very old women, especially those who have been left with their own children’s orphans. But even then it’s not all of them who are helped — just a very few.

“We have been completely forgotten”

Other private organisations or government agencies do not come here, they just get us together and take pictures and promise to return – but they do not. I don’t know if they feel that our problems are just too many, I don’t know…

Nowadays, we feel like everyone who comes here are liars and they just give us false hope…
because it seems that there are people using us for their own benefit. There are so many who have come here, taken our pictures and done things like that, but then they disappear, so we wonder where do they go? It looks like we have been completely forgotten…

We even wonder if we are wanted in this world – because of the conditions we live in, which truly are not fit for humans. And we wonder when will this situation change or will we die in this state? We also wonder if our children will also be poor like us, because they have no foundations upon which to build a future.

“Life back home is very hard”

My parents died a long time ago, even before I came to Nairobi. I started living with my sister and my elder brother, but now they both live back in Ukambani (Kitui district, south-eastern Kenya).

We last saw each other a very long time ago; I don’t go home because I lack the bus fare and [my brother] is also unable to come to Nairobi. With the little money that I earn I am just able to cover the rent and to buy food. I would very much like to go home but for now, life does not allow it.

Life back home is very hard, however, even more than here in Nairobi, because there money can scarcely be found at all. Back at home, even though education is free, parents contribute money to help provide a meal for the schoolchildren and it’s very hard to get that cash. It’s better here in Nairobi, where you can at least wash clothes for somebody and make some money.

“It was my wish…to support myself”

I went to school until Standard 8 (final class of primary school) and then there was no more money for fees… I was one of seven children and the last. I am the only child who went to school because my elder sister was married by then and she lived in Nairobi — she helped me. But there was no money to take me on to a college to acquire any skills, or to go to secondary school, even though it was my wish to get enough education to support myself in life…

I pray that I receive some help so that I can acquire some skills — even tailoring — so that I can fend for myself. I think if I get 1,000 shillings I can start training myself, even if it’s just one day a week, so that even if I am fired from being a maid I can take care of myself without relying on anyone. So that even if the maid jobs were not available I could have my own work and my children would be educated without many problems.

I would also find them a nice place to live so that they could grow up with good manners, because I will not lie to you, if I sent these children of mine to stay with you, you would not even last two days before returning them to me! Because they have no respect, they have been misled by others here in this kijiji (Swahili for village, here meaning Kibagare). I tell you, my sister, there are problems here.

“The fear that is in this community is great”

Cases [of rape] have increased greatly, especially of children who are deceived by grown-ups. Some are promised sweets and mandazi (popular semi-sweet doughnut) and such like. Rape is also on the increase because of drunkenness and drugs – also the smoking of bhang (marijuana), which has increased in the village. Now the children are seeing that it is OK to imitate these people…

I tell you, the fear that is in this community is great. I go everywhere with my daughter and I don’t know when I’ll stop doing this, because I do not know when this situation will change. There are so many problems that you just thank God when you wake up in the morning and find you are still alive [smiles].

Drug use has reduced the security situation in this kijiji… The police pass through here, but the young people know the time [they come]. So when the police are in the area, you don’t see anyone loitering about aimlessly. But just let the police leave, and they start committing the most outrageous acts [laughs].

Some even ask to be arrested because in jail nowadays there is food, not like here in Kibagare. Now when you hear somebody wants to commit a crime in order to be arrested, what can you do but leave them to it?! I think that, even if we do get help, these youths should go and have the drugs removed from their system first.

The impact of poverty on young girls

As you can see, so many girls are pregnant; almost every girl in this village has at least one child. Those girls don’t really care about their children because at night they leave them and go roaming around, looking for men in Kangemi and then in the morning they go home to sleep and leave the children [to fend for themselves].

They get pregnant when they are so young – around 12 years, sometimes younger – because their lives are hard. You know, because they have been born in such hardship this way of life attracts them, so they start making money early so that maybe they can start helping their parents. You often find they have left school and taken up a bad lifestyle; so many of them have started contracting different diseases. Many have died of AIDS.

“We live like we are not human beings”

The problem is that there are very many people and the population is increasing at a very fast rate. You see here, there are many houses which are so close together there is no space left to build toilets. Most people have to relieve themselves in polythene bags and tins, and in the morning you find those bags spread everywhere and sometimes in the river that people use for their domestic water supply. As a result, people get diseases…

We have drinking water but most people don’t have the 2 shillings you need to buy the water; many have died because of drinking dirty water.

I hear some people saying this is the government’s land; others say it is private so I don’t really know whose it is. It has become an issue that politicians use to get our votes at election time. There are times when we are threatened that the community will be demolished; other times [buildings are] burned down. We don’t really know where we stand — we just live on God’s mercy.

My request would be that the owners of these houses get the title deeds and that they build real houses. So that when we build homes too, we are sure that the houses will not be burned down or destroyed, so that we stop being afraid of losing our belongings as now. When somebody leaves their home to look for work, they are always afraid and hoping not to hear that something has happened in the village.

In my opinion, I think that if we could find somebody to buy us plots of land, and if they built houses and made toilets for us, I think life would change – so we could be like other Kenyans. You see, we live like we are not human beings. When I look at other people, they have so much money they don’t even know what to do with it, while for us, even finding food is by the grace of God. I wonder if there is really anybody thinking about us.

“I am convinced…I could change my life”

When I look at the children we have, I wonder: if our lives are this bad and have no direction or hope for the future, what will the future hold for our children? I feel like if we don’t get help from somewhere, it will get worse. But if, say, I am given a good foundation somewhere else, if I am given money to start a business, or if I received training in some vocational work, I am convinced – without any doubt – that I could change my life and the future life of my children. So that when I die, I would leave them at least some foundation from which they could rely on themselves, and be of use to future generations.

There are many businesses to undertake; the problem is getting money to start the business. For example, if I could get some money I could start to sell kale, cabbage, tomatoes. If we could get money, even a loan that we repay with a small amount of interest, I can see that would help us.

Our problem as young people is lack of employment. If it was possible for us to be given jobs, even something like rearing chickens, we would be able to create more opportunities and life would be better, as we would be busy rather than just being idle…

3/18/2008

Poll Chaos 'Was Planned'

Filed under: General,global islands,government,kenya — admin @ 5:11 am

Post-Election violence in Eldoret, Nakuru and Naivasha was organised by businessmen and political leaders, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed.

The report – Ballots to Bullets, Organised Political Violence and Kenya’s Political Crisis of Governance – claims leaders held meetings to prepare residents for ‘war’ if they lost the election.

Presenting the report on Monday, human rights researcher, Mr Ben Rawlence, called on the Government to prosecute perpetrators of chaos and restore trust of victims.

“The coalition government should support the inquiries established under the February 2008 mediation process to investigate abuses by State forces and those responsible for violence,” he said.

“As displaced people move to their ancestral homes, there is real risk that ethnic jingoism will increase and tensions rise as victims share their stories,” warns the report.

To forestall further polarisation, the HRW group recommends a safe return or re-location of displaced populations.

Poll Chaos ‘Was Planned’

Filed under: General,global islands,government,kenya — admin @ 5:11 am

Post-Election violence in Eldoret, Nakuru and Naivasha was organised by businessmen and political leaders, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has claimed.

The report – Ballots to Bullets, Organised Political Violence and Kenya’s Political Crisis of Governance – claims leaders held meetings to prepare residents for ‘war’ if they lost the election.

Presenting the report on Monday, human rights researcher, Mr Ben Rawlence, called on the Government to prosecute perpetrators of chaos and restore trust of victims.

“The coalition government should support the inquiries established under the February 2008 mediation process to investigate abuses by State forces and those responsible for violence,” he said.

“As displaced people move to their ancestral homes, there is real risk that ethnic jingoism will increase and tensions rise as victims share their stories,” warns the report.

To forestall further polarisation, the HRW group recommends a safe return or re-location of displaced populations.

11/5/2007

Somali pirates leave 2 hijacked ships off Horn of Africa

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya,military,usa,wealth — admin @ 7:26 am

NAIROBI, Kenya – The American military says Somali pirates have left two boats they had hijacked in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

The newly liberated vessels are under U.S. Navy escort farther out to sea, where naval personnel will later board the vessels and treat the 24 crew members.

A spokeswoman says the Navy is in radio contact with pirates aboard three other ships in the region, encouraging them also to leave those ships and sail back to Somalia.

The spokeswoman says no shots were fired during the incident.

The U.S. has now intervened four times in one week to help ships hijacked by Somali pirates.

10/29/2007

Kenya: Country Should Stamp Out Sex Tourism And Child Prostitution

Filed under: General,kenya,usa,wealth — admin @ 5:53 am

IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT Labour minister Newton Kulundu’s faux pas at the launch of a report hosted by the US embassy last week got more media attention than the contents of the report being launched.

The minister accused the United States and the United Kingdom of being “the greatest violators of human rights, democracy and transparency” while the visibly perturbed US ambassador, Micheal Ranneberger, looked on.

Mr Kulundu forgot one basic principal of diplomacy – do not spit in the face of your host, even if you do not agree with him.

But this lapse in judgment on the part of the minister is not a good enough reason for the media to deflect attention from the contents of the shocking report.

The report, Trafficking in Persons from a Labour Perspective: The Kenyan experience, published by the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, highlights a problem that seems to have escalated in the last few years – the buying and selling of human beings for the purpose of exploitation.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that at any given time, 12 million women, men and children worldwide are coerced into bonded labour, involuntary servitude, or sexual slavery. This modern form of slavery is the second-most lucrative business for international crime syndicates, after trafficking in weapons.

A study by the Kenyan Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) has found that Kenya is a major source, transit and destination country for trafficked women, men and children who are forced into unpaid work or forced prostitution.

Kenyan victims are trafficked to other countries mostly through bogus employment agencies that deceive victims into going abroad for work. Unsuspecting victims are then sent to Europe, Australia, North America or the Middle East/Gulf region, where they end up as bonded labour or prostitutes. Some African countries, such as South Africa and Bostswana, are also recipients of these modern-day slaves.

But while the international aspect of the trade receives the most attention, it is worth noting that internal trafficking of women and children in particular is a growing problem in Eastern Africa.

Counter-trafficking activists believe that many children from Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda are trafficked to Kenya’s coastal areas for sexual exploitation in the growing sex tourism industry.

It is estimated that in the coastal town of Mtwapa alone, between 10,000 and 20,000 children are trafficked for the purpose of sex tourism.

A recent Unicef report shows that while Italian, German and Swiss men form the bulk of the foreign tourists who sexually exploit children at the coast, a large proportion – 39 per cent – of the perpetrators are local Kenyan men.

Many of the children being exploited are not from the coast region but are imported from rural areas from around the country.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time at the Kenyan coast to know that child prostitution and sex tourism are rampant there. In Mombasa and Malindi, it is common to see aging white men well into their 70s and 80s with girls young enough to be their granddaughters.

Locals tolerate this type of sexual exploitation because, as one put it to me recently, “nothing gets a family out of poverty faster than a daughter who has a white boyfriend.”

In many cases, girls are encouraged by none other than their parents and relatives to look for older white men who will not only pay the girl for her services, but her family as well.

The Unicef report also found that witchdoctors are commonly engaged by sex workers to ensure a steady supply of foreign tourists who can support them. (The allure of the foreign tourist is greater than that of a local tourist as he is often able to pay more, and is likely to be a seasonal client, thereby allowing the women and girls to have more than one “boyfriend” in a given year.)

Many of the girls (and some boys) are the source of income to impoverished parents living in deprived rural areas. Others make a lot of money for middlemen and traffickers who supply children and women to tourists looking for sex while on holiday.

The sad thing is that despite the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill and the publication of damning reports that confirm that Kenya is fast becoming a preferred destination for sex tourists, no one has either been arrested or deported for engaging in sex tourism or paedophilia.

Tourism may be a leading revenue earner for Kenya, but it is about time we vetted the tourists who come into this country.

Known paedophiles and sex tourists must not be given a visa to enter the country. Their records must be entered into every immigration and security database in the world, including Interpol. Parents, relatives and middlemen forcing children into servitude or prostitution must be arrested and prosecuted.

More importantly, we must create the economic and social conditions that prevent parents, relatives, middlemen and traffickers from condemning our children to lives of sexual slavery.

10/26/2007

Majimbo

Filed under: General,global islands,government,kenya — admin @ 5:39 am

(Nairobi)
Only a federal system of government (majimbo) can uplift the living standards of Kenyans, ODM-K presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka said on Sunday.

He said majimbo had been misconstrued to look like a recipe for chaos by its opponents and this had instilled fears among Kenyans, yet it was a harmless system that would guarantee equitable distribution of wealth.

“Majimbo simply means a region and was well defined in the Bomas draft constitution which was well received by majority of the people of Kenya,” he said.

According to him, only a few individuals in the Party of National Unity (PNU) were against what was good for Kenyans.

Identified regions

He said that the Bomas draft had identified various regions that would form jimbos. These were Luo Nyanza, the greater Kisii, upper Rift, South Rift, Central, Central Eastern, Lower Eastern and Coast among others.

Mr Musyoka was speaking at Tononoka Grounds in Mombasa at the climax of his three-day campaign tour of the Coast Province.

Giving examples of disparities in the distribution of resources, he said Coast Province contributed Sh57 billion to the Treasury in 2003 but still lacked basic infrastructure.

During the same period Nairobi gave Sh129 billion while Central Province delivered about Sh1 billion. But when it came to disbursement of funds, he said Central Province gets the lion’s share while the Coast got very little.

“Majimbo is the only system that can correct the imbalance in the distribution of the national cake. Regions like the Coast that produce a lot of revenue have to get their rightful share to address economic and social development,” he said. According to him, the area had been marginalised for many years “and this must come to an end.”

PNU has strongly opposed majimbo, saying that it would divide the country along ethnic lines and that it might trigger chaos.

Some PNU leaders have said that people who do not come from particular regions will be evicted by indigenous people. However, both ODM and ODM-K have said this would not happen.

Contradicted

The position taken by Mr Musyoka contradicted that of his party secretary-general, Mr Mutula Kilonzo, who said majimbo was an idea whose time came and went and it should be left to rest.

“It is unfortunate that men and women who were teenagers or younger when the debate for majimbo in the 1960s polarised the country should be the ones to bring it back,” he said.

“It is a political backslide and worse, they are confusing federalism as a political system with Majimbo, a tribal snake pit,” Mr Kilonzo said in his opinion piece.

Mr Musyoka, who praised the system, asked Coast residents to reject PNU and Shirikisho Party of Kenya whose leaders have opposed to majimbo.

“After sensing defeat, these people are now creating fear yet they know too well that Coast people and others from marginalised communities have suffered under the unitary system,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Musyoka had pledged to engineer economic and social change in the country if he wins the General Election.

He said: “Today, I take this opportunity to make a solemn pledge of ensuring that there is change in this country should I win the top seat.

“It is evident that majority of Kenyans are hit hard by poverty making life for them unbearable. I will ensure equitable distribution of the national cake to benefit all and sundry.”

The Mwingi North MP spoke at the Jesus Celebration Centre in Bamburi where he attended a service before addressing a well attended rally at the Tononoka Grounds.

At the rally, Bahari MP Joe Khamisi said he was shocked by President Kibaki’s rejection of majimbo but assured Kenyans that ODM-K will revive the Bomas draft which contains the tenets of the system. “It is sad that Shirikisho Party of Kenya whose ideology is against unitary government has now joined PNU which is opposed to majimbo,” he said.

He said president Kibaki was solely to blame for the problems that Kenyans were facing and should stop blaming it on the opposition.

“I do not deny the fact that I served in both Moi and Kibaki governments but I was just a mere minister who had no powers to authorise anything because the Presidents had all the powers to make things happen,” he said.

Mr Musyoka said if elected, his administration would set up a metropolitan police force in Nairobi and Mombasa to root out insecurity and allow businesses to operate round the clock.

“Hawkers have suffered for long in the hands city askaris but promised to turn hawking into cottage industry to enable small scale traders do their business in dignity and build a strong economy,” he said.

Muslims cheated

Mr Musyoka said the Muslim community in Kenya was being cheated by some leaders who want to use them for their political gains then dump them.

Muslims have rights like all other Kenyans and this will be guaranteed under an ODM K government, he said.

His running mate, Dr Julia Ojiambo said cases of insecurity were rampant and this had caused bitterness among Kenyans. She called on Kenyans to vote for Mr Musyoka because he was focused on security and peace.

She also urged wananchi to avoid violence during the campaigns.

10/25/2007

Kenya police deny sect killings

Filed under: General,kenya,police — admin @ 5:03 am

Kenyan police have denied carrying out extra-judicial killings of alleged members of the outlawed Mungiki sect.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe dismissed the allegation of police executions of suspects as “outrageous”.

The Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) had made the claim after investigating incidences of dead bodies being dumped around the capital.

In June, the president ordered police to hunt down Mungiki sect members blamed for a series of grisly murders.

“Even if you hide, we will find you and kill you,” President Mwai Kibaki had said in a warning to members of the quasi-religious sect which was outlawed in 2002.

Mungiki followers have been demanding protection fees from public transport operators, slum dwellers and other businessmen in and around Nairobi.

Those who refuse are often brutally murdered.

Arrests

Mr Kiraithe said KNHRC’s allegations were a plot to discredit the government in the run-up to the December elections.

Mungiki followers

Rise of Kenya’s vigilantes

A news agency reports that more than a dozen bloodied bodies have been dumped in bush on the outskirts of Nairobi in the past week.

The state-sponsored KNHRC has been investigating whether these and other killings were the victims of police executions.

KNHRC commissioner Hassan Omar said the organisation had reports of “cars being driven to secret locations with suspects” followed by “gunshots, then dead bodies and food for the hyenas”.

Mr Omar said some of the latest victims may have been innocent of any crime.

But Mr Kiraithe insisted that police officers followed the rule of law when dealing with suspects.

After the president’s directive, police raided the Nairobi slum of Mathare to arrest hundreds of suspected sect members.

At least 30 people died in gun battles with police during that operation, leading the human rights organisation Amnesty International to call for an enquiry.

10/15/2007

SLUM-TV

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya,media — admin @ 5:22 am

SLUM-TV was started in Mathare, Kenya, in 2006. On their site they state that Mathare is the largest slum in the country with an estimated 700,000 residents, but this would put it at almost 1 million less than Kibera, which is in Nairobi. Nonetheless, their project is a really terrific idea. SLUM-TV was started by Austrian artists working with local Kenyan artists and photographers. They make newsreels in the slums for the slums and then project them for people there to see. Here is more from their web site:

The foundation of SLUM-TV

SLUM-TV wants to documents the lives of the people in the slum and to reevaluate these lives through the camera. A camera always attracts attention. Our partners from the slum film and document the life in Mathare. The small movies are then shown in public places in Mathare, like a newsreel. In Mathare, there exist a variety of self-established cinemas. Mostly American and African films and European football is shown there.

10/1/2007

Mass Drowning of Wildebeest In Kenya

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:26 pm

In a bizarre mishap that conservationists describe as “heartbreaking,” an estimated 10,000 wildebeest have drowned while attempting to cross Kenya’s Mara River during an annual migration. The deaths, which occurred over the course of several days last week, are said to account for about one percent of the total species population.

The drownings created a grotesque wildlife pileup, after part of the migrating herd tried to ford the Mara at “a particularly treacherous crossing point,” according to Terilyn Lemaire, a conservation worker with the Mara Conservancy who witnessed the incident. The first animals into the river failed to cross and drowned, while others continued to stampede into the water behind them, Lemaire told National Geographic News by email.

“Once they jumped into the water, they were unable to climb up either embankment onto land and, as a result, got swept up by the current and drowned,” she said.
Some 2,000 wildebeest drowned at the crossing in a single afternoon, Lemaire estimated.

“There was no unusual flooding at the time, and there seems to be no extraneous circumstances to these deaths,” she said. “The wildebeest merely chose a crossing point that was too steep.”

Drowning deaths are not uncommon during the migration, Lemaire added, but her organization has never witnessed fatalities on this scale.

“It is customary every year for the wildebeest to pick a particularly treacherous crossing point and for there to be a significant die-off,” she said, “but the number of deaths during these crossings almost never exceeds one thousand.”
The deaths occurred at Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, as the herd was beginning its swing to the east on its way back to the Serengeti.

More than a million wildebeest undertake an epic migration every year in late summer, leaving their calving grounds in the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania to seek greener pastures in Kenya to the north. The animals, also known as gnu, journey some 3,200 km each year, often joined by thousands of zebras and Thomson’s gazelles.

The remains formed what she described as “pungent islands of bloated carcasses. The crocodiles, storks, and vultures have not had to worry about where to find their next meal,” she wrote.

“Those that aren’t consumed will be left and will eventually decompose in the water. These thousands of carcasses will undoubtedly affect the health of the water, but to what extent, only time will tell.”

Mass Drowning of Wildebeest In Kenya

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:26 pm

In a bizarre mishap that conservationists describe as “heartbreaking,” an estimated 10,000 wildebeest have drowned while attempting to cross Kenya’s Mara River during an annual migration. The deaths, which occurred over the course of several days last week, are said to account for about one percent of the total species population.

The drownings created a grotesque wildlife pileup, after part of the migrating herd tried to ford the Mara at “a particularly treacherous crossing point,” according to Terilyn Lemaire, a conservation worker with the Mara Conservancy who witnessed the incident. The first animals into the river failed to cross and drowned, while others continued to stampede into the water behind them, Lemaire told National Geographic News by email.

“Once they jumped into the water, they were unable to climb up either embankment onto land and, as a result, got swept up by the current and drowned,” she said.
Some 2,000 wildebeest drowned at the crossing in a single afternoon, Lemaire estimated.

“There was no unusual flooding at the time, and there seems to be no extraneous circumstances to these deaths,” she said. “The wildebeest merely chose a crossing point that was too steep.”

Drowning deaths are not uncommon during the migration, Lemaire added, but her organization has never witnessed fatalities on this scale.

“It is customary every year for the wildebeest to pick a particularly treacherous crossing point and for there to be a significant die-off,” she said, “but the number of deaths during these crossings almost never exceeds one thousand.”
The deaths occurred at Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, as the herd was beginning its swing to the east on its way back to the Serengeti.

More than a million wildebeest undertake an epic migration every year in late summer, leaving their calving grounds in the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania to seek greener pastures in Kenya to the north. The animals, also known as gnu, journey some 3,200 km each year, often joined by thousands of zebras and Thomson’s gazelles.

The remains formed what she described as “pungent islands of bloated carcasses. The crocodiles, storks, and vultures have not had to worry about where to find their next meal,” she wrote.

“Those that aren’t consumed will be left and will eventually decompose in the water. These thousands of carcasses will undoubtedly affect the health of the water, but to what extent, only time will tell.”

9/13/2007

Kenyan MPs torpedo graft probes

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 7:19 am

Kenyan MPs have passed a law which may make it impossible to prosecute corrupt politicians implicated in big scandals.

The law limits Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate alleged crimes committed only after 2003.

Two notorious cases predate this – the Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing scams when huge sums were diverted from the Kenyan exchequer into officials’ back pockets.

President Mwai Kibaki won polls in 2002 on an anti-graft platform he has yet to fulfil. He faces re-election this year.

Observers say the move may have been timed to ensure no politicians face damaging legal proceedings ahead of the polls.

After a heated debate, opposition MPs surprised the government by winning a vote on the controversial amendment, which deletes key sections of the 2003 Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act.

Justice Minister Martha Karua argued against the change, saying the sections were the core of the Act and their deletion would strip the KACC of powers essential to carrying out its remit.

Speaking in parliament she said: “Past economic crimes have not been successfully investigated and this amendment would give the KACC a deadly blow.”

The head of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Maina Kiai, has described the law as an affront to the people of Kenya.

“The politicians are spitting in our faces,” he said.

Mrs Karua told parliament that the architect of the amendment, Paul Muite had an interest in sabotaging the KACC investigation.

“Hon Muite’s interest is obvious and this amendment is mischievous”, she said.

Back in 2003 when the KACC was set up, Mr Muite told Kenya’s Daily Nation he was looking forward to “defending himself against allegations that he received 20 million Kenyan shillings” from a businessman implicated in the Goldenberg scandal.

The big scams

Under former President Daniel arap Moi’s administration, the government devised a scheme to persuade exporters to repatriate hard currency earnings, promising a 20% premium on foreign currency deposited in Kenya’s Central Bank.

It is alleged that a company called Goldenberg International colluded with government officials to make a claim for a 35% compensation for the export of minerals, in spite of Kenya having no diamond reserves and producing little gold of its own.

At least $80m was paid in export compensation, but some estimates suggest that Kenya’s overall losses amounted to around $600m – the equivalent of more than 10% of the country’s annual GDP.

Then under President Kibaki, officials sought to order a replacement for Kenya’s passport printing system.

It involved buying sophisticated equipment – originally quoted at 6m euros ($8.3m) from Francois Charles Oberthur of Paris, a leading credit card supplier.

Without a proper competitive tender, the contract was instead awarded for five times the price to a company registered in the UK, the Anglo-Leasing and Finance Company Limited, whose plan was to sub-contract Oberthur to do the work.

It was subsequently revealed that Anglo Leasing’s agent was a Liverpool-based firm, Saagar Associates.

The company records showed Saagar Associates was owned by Mrs Sudhan Ruparell, a daughter of Chamanlal Kamani, the 72-year-old multi-millionaire patriarch of a business family which enjoyed close links with senior officials in the Moi regime.

No graft convictions

The former anti-graft adviser, John Githongo, fled to the UK in 2005 after saying he had been threatened because of his investigations into corruption.

His successor, Aaron Ringera. recommended that two former finance ministers, an ex-transport minister and a former security minister should be prosecuted, along with eight top civil servants.

Three senior ministers stood down following their implication in corruption in February 2006, but in January 2007 the Attorney General deemed there was not enough evidence against them to proceed with a prosecution.

So far, for all the investigations and charges, not a single businessman, official or politician has been brought to trial.

The international corruption watchdog, Transparency International, ranks Kenya among the 20 most corrupt countries in the world.

Kenya’s MPs have already provoked a public outcry in recent days when they voted just last week to award themselves a $22,000 bonus each at the end of their five-year term in December.

The bill also legalised huge perks received by ministers.

Kenya’s 222 MPs already earn more than $10,000 a month in salaries and expenses, much of which is tax-free, in a country where most people live on less than $1 a day.

9/2/2007

The state of Islam on Kenya’s Swahili coast

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:47 am

In 2006, Islamists strengthened their hold on Somalia, after capturing the southern port of Kismayo. Although they have no intention of crossing into neighbouring Kenya, the question is what effect their ascendancy will have on that country’s predominantly Muslim coast.

Although Somalia’s Islamists say that their aim is nothing more threatening than to remake the country as a peaceful and tolerant Islamic state, Somalia’s internationally recognised (but dreadfully weak) transitional government insists that they are an “al-Qaeda network”. A recent suicide bombing which narrowly missed the transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf, and the killing of an elderly Italian nun working at a Mogadishu hospital, probably in retaliation for Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on violence and Islam, confirmed the worst fears of some, including the United States. The Kenyan coast already has direct experience of al-Qaeda’s brand of violence—in 2002 it bombed a hotel full of Israelis in Mombasa, killing 16, and tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner—and the Nairobi-based intelligence community expects more. So people are nervous.

Kenya’s Muslims feel disenfranchised. They have had little access to national power, in contrast to neighbouring Tanzania, where Islamist rhetoric has been blunted by socialism and Muslims have held most of the high offices of state (see article). So far, however, Muslims on the Kenyan coast have usually been repulsed by jihadist rhetoric. But a revival of Arabic and access to Arab satellite television, linking local backwaters to a sometimes inflammatory message of Islam under siege, could change that.

Malindi is a case in point. The Muslim community there is taking steps to recover itself from what it calls the “corrosive” influence of tourism. The town’s beaches have been a tidy earner since 1498, when Vasco da Gama was welcomed ashore. Things have got out of hand since. “The Italians have ruined this town,” says a Muslim elder. Several thousand Italians now live in Malindi and it is not just the Italian women wandering half-naked through conservative bits of the town that upsets local Muslims. It is the drugs and the sex tourism that the Italians have brought with them since taking over the tourism industry in the 1980s. Most of the drug users in the town are Muslim boys. Some become donkeys for cocaine traffickers; Malindi has become a shipment point for Colombian cocaine. Underage Muslim girls are lured into prostitution. Tourists pay a premium for conservative girls: corruption is part of the thrill.

One reaction to this has been a growing opposition among the small but more Islamist Wahhabi community in Malindi. A more lasting reaction is what the more moderate Sunni elders call “awareness”—a renewed effort to raise up a generation of “pure” Muslims. Tahdhib school, in the centre of town, is pioneering a programme of “integrated education” which could spread along the coast. Children study the national curriculum in the morning and receive a Koranic education in the afternoon. No child can advance without passing exams in both secular and religious studies, and instruction is in English and Arabic. The teachers hope to produce both “good citizens of Kenya” and believers who will “close their eyes” to tourist excesses. Political discussion is avoided, although in 2006 the children were marched out to protest against Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Tourism is a soft target for jihadists and it has still has not recovered to pre-2002 levels. With its new mosques bristling against new casinos, Malindi feels vulnerable. “One bomb and it’s over for us for another five years,” says a hotel owner. Maybe, but the real losers would be local Muslims who already struggle to get by in the long tourist off-season.

The state of Islam on Kenya's Swahili coast

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:47 am

In 2006, Islamists strengthened their hold on Somalia, after capturing the southern port of Kismayo. Although they have no intention of crossing into neighbouring Kenya, the question is what effect their ascendancy will have on that country’s predominantly Muslim coast.

Although Somalia’s Islamists say that their aim is nothing more threatening than to remake the country as a peaceful and tolerant Islamic state, Somalia’s internationally recognised (but dreadfully weak) transitional government insists that they are an “al-Qaeda network”. A recent suicide bombing which narrowly missed the transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf, and the killing of an elderly Italian nun working at a Mogadishu hospital, probably in retaliation for Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on violence and Islam, confirmed the worst fears of some, including the United States. The Kenyan coast already has direct experience of al-Qaeda’s brand of violence—in 2002 it bombed a hotel full of Israelis in Mombasa, killing 16, and tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner—and the Nairobi-based intelligence community expects more. So people are nervous.

Kenya’s Muslims feel disenfranchised. They have had little access to national power, in contrast to neighbouring Tanzania, where Islamist rhetoric has been blunted by socialism and Muslims have held most of the high offices of state (see article). So far, however, Muslims on the Kenyan coast have usually been repulsed by jihadist rhetoric. But a revival of Arabic and access to Arab satellite television, linking local backwaters to a sometimes inflammatory message of Islam under siege, could change that.

Malindi is a case in point. The Muslim community there is taking steps to recover itself from what it calls the “corrosive” influence of tourism. The town’s beaches have been a tidy earner since 1498, when Vasco da Gama was welcomed ashore. Things have got out of hand since. “The Italians have ruined this town,” says a Muslim elder. Several thousand Italians now live in Malindi and it is not just the Italian women wandering half-naked through conservative bits of the town that upsets local Muslims. It is the drugs and the sex tourism that the Italians have brought with them since taking over the tourism industry in the 1980s. Most of the drug users in the town are Muslim boys. Some become donkeys for cocaine traffickers; Malindi has become a shipment point for Colombian cocaine. Underage Muslim girls are lured into prostitution. Tourists pay a premium for conservative girls: corruption is part of the thrill.

One reaction to this has been a growing opposition among the small but more Islamist Wahhabi community in Malindi. A more lasting reaction is what the more moderate Sunni elders call “awareness”—a renewed effort to raise up a generation of “pure” Muslims. Tahdhib school, in the centre of town, is pioneering a programme of “integrated education” which could spread along the coast. Children study the national curriculum in the morning and receive a Koranic education in the afternoon. No child can advance without passing exams in both secular and religious studies, and instruction is in English and Arabic. The teachers hope to produce both “good citizens of Kenya” and believers who will “close their eyes” to tourist excesses. Political discussion is avoided, although in 2006 the children were marched out to protest against Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Tourism is a soft target for jihadists and it has still has not recovered to pre-2002 levels. With its new mosques bristling against new casinos, Malindi feels vulnerable. “One bomb and it’s over for us for another five years,” says a hotel owner. Maybe, but the real losers would be local Muslims who already struggle to get by in the long tourist off-season.

8/23/2007

Survey Says Kenya Corruption As Bad As Ever

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:34 am

A new study of corruption in Kenya shows there has been little progress despite repeated promises by President Mwai Kibaki’s government to crack down on graft. Everyday Kenyans can expect to pay bribes at least a couple of times a year.

The report from Transparency International’s Kenya branch says that Kenyans have largely come to accept the petty corruption that is part of their lives. They can expect to pay at least 2.5 bribes each year, double what they paid in 2005.

The trend is a setback, because President Kibaki came to power in part on his pledges to eradicate corruption in Kenya, which ranks 142nd among 163 countries on Transparency International’s global corruption list. Posters have been put up in offices and on billboards to raise public awareness, but to little effect.

Yet the anti-corruption drive has slowed, and many government ministers have been embroiled in allegations of graft.

“Looking at the statistics that we received from this report, the situation is as bad as it was four years ago,” said Richard Leakey, the head of the Kenya branch of Transparency International.

“The Kibaki government seems to have been totally unable to address corruption at the basic level. It’s clear that you can deal with corruption and an awful lot of it has to do with making people more aware and participatory,” he continued.

According to the survey, the biggest bribes were paid when high school students sought to enroll in Kenya’s overcrowded university system. People also reportedly paid large bribes when seeking jobs. And Kenya’s police force was seen as the most corrupt agency in the country, the sixth year in a row it has attained that dubious honor.

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, which will soon release its own figures, says the public is partly to blame because people who are stopped by the police will often offer a bribe to avoid long court proceedings.

The Anti-Corruption Commission’s spokesman, Nicholas Simani, says people must learn to say no to paying bribes.

“Majority of the general public, they’re the ones who basically induce this kind of activity. So we need to have a two-way understanding here,” said Simani. “You can say the police are the most corrupt, but they are being corrupted because the public actually are the ones who are also giving it out. So the public also needs to be educated on this. Then we are saying that both of them are guilty. The giver and the taker is guilty of an offense.”

Transparency International did not touch on larger issues of government corruption. For the report, the group asked 2,400 ordinary Kenyans across the country about their perceptions of corruption and whether they thought it had eased.

Arrest Reported in Kenya Beheading Spree

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:30 am

NAIROBI, Kenya – Police arrested a suspected leader of an outlawed Kenyan group blamed for a string of beheadings and fatal shootings this year, the man’s family said Wednesday.

Ten officers in a special squad formed to combat the Mungiki gang arrested Njoroge Kamunya, in his mid-40s, at his home in Ongata Rongai, 12 miles from Nairobi, said a cousin, who insisted on speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals from the authorities.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe refused to comment on the report.

The gang has been accused of killing 15 police officers from April through June and 27 civilians during the year, many of them in beheadings.

Kamunya has been on the run since April, when police issued an arrest warrant for him and two other men who have since been arrested.

Mungiki was once a quasi-political sect that drew thousands of unemployed youth from the Kikuyu community, Kenya’s largest tribe. Its name means “multitude” in Kikuyu, and members promote traditional Kikuyu practices, including female genital mutilation.

The government outlawed the group in 2002 after its members beheaded 21 people in a Nairobi slum following a turf war with a rival group called the Taliban, which drew its members from the Luo community.

Kamunya’s younger brother, 36-year-old Maina Njenga, was one of Mungiki’s founders but later publicly denounced it. He was jailed for five years in June for illegal gun possession and drug selling.

At least 112 people have died during a police crackdown on the group over the past three months.

7/6/2007

Rising Cases of Passengers Being Drugged Under Probe

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 9:25 am

Police are investigating incidents of drugging of passengers to Malindi from Mombasa.

Six passengers in as many days have been taken to Malindi police station after being drugged and robbed of cash and valuables in buses from Mombasa.

Yesterday, an elderly man was rushed to the local hospital after he was brought to the police station unconscious from a bus.

Drugging syndicate

Area police commander Philip Opiyo said: “It looks like there is a person or a syndicate of people on a drugging mission. We are investigating the matter.”

The criminals seem to be targeting passengers who use a particular bus company on the Mombasa-Malindi-Lamu route, said Mr Opiyo.

Passengers being targeted are those who look well-up, especially those with big suitcases and those who are dressed expensively, said the Police.

Other police sources said those who drugged the passengers chose certain foods which they offered to the travellers once the bus left the terminus.

Sharing food

“They tend to be very generous people, offering to share foods such as biscuits and candy with other passengers.

“Once the passengers accept and eat these foods, they get drugged,” said the source.

The police warned travellers to resist any offers of food from strangers and instead report such cases to officers.

“We are now on alert. We want to warn all travellers to be careful and to report to us anyone with such offers.

“This is because people are losing their money and property to the criminals,” said the source.

6/25/2007

Rastafarians

Filed under: belize,General,kenya,nicaragua — admin @ 10:17 am

Identification. Rastafarianism is a Black-nationalist religious movement; founded in Jamaica, which affirms that the late emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is the returned messiah, Jesus Christ; that God is Black; and that like the children of Israel, all people of African descent in Jamaica and throughout the Americas, live in enforced exile. Repatriation to the ancestral home will bring redemption and freedom from the system of White oppression, which Rastafari identify as “Babylon.” The majority of Rastas are highly visible owing to their matted hair, or dreadlocks, which they hold to be sacred and which they sometimes cover under woolen caps colored red, gold, and green (representing blood, gold, and land). They regard the herb ganja (Cannabis sativa) as a special gift of God—first found on the grave of King Solomon—and smoke it as part of their sacred ritual discussion, using a hookah, or “chalice.”

Location. Although it maintains its highest concentration of adherents in Jamaica, Rastafarianism has spread to all islands of the Caribbean and to Black populations throughout the hemisphere and in Europe. Rastafarians are also found in many African countries, including South Africa, and in Australia and New Zealand. It would appear, however, that the belief in Haile Selassie is not as pronounced in countries outside Jamaica, although the focus on an African identity remains.

Demography. There are no reliable estimates of the number of Rastafarians in Jamaica or elsewhere. Official Jamaican censuses so far do not recognize Rastafari as a legitimate religion. Even if they did, however, the results would still be uncertain, owing to Rastafari hostility toward cooperation with Babylon. Nevertheless, rough estimates put adherents in Jamaica at between seventy thousand and a hundred thousand, or 3 percent to 4 percent of the population.

Linguistic Affiliation. Dread talk, an argot of neologisms, homonyms, and inversions, is used to express certain basic philosophical concepts, the most prominent example being the use of the pronomial I to express one-ness and divine immanence.

African Twig Toothbrush Offers Day-Long Dental Carec

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:41 am

Brush your teeth every day, dentists say. In Africa, that can mean keeping your toothbrush in your mouth all day long.

Across the continent south of the Sahara, many people go about their daily business with a small stick or twig protruding from their mouth, which they chew or use to scrub their teeth.

Cut from wild trees and shrubs in the bush, this is the African toothbrush. Its users swear it is much more natural, effective – and cheaper – than the prettily packaged but pricey dental products on sale in pharmacies and supermarkets.

“It cleans your teeth more than plastic brushes, with the liquid that comes out of the wood,” said Mr Marcelino Diatta, a stick twitching from his mouth as he sought handouts from foreigners in downtown Dakar.

In Senegal, the chewing stick is called “sothiou”, which means “to clean” in the local Wolof language. In east Africa, the stick is called “mswaki”, the Swahili word for toothbrush.

Their users say the sticks are also medicinal, providing not just dental hygiene but also curing a variety of other ills. Dental experts agree they seem to clean teeth well and some up-market health stores in the United States have been selling chew-sticks as a natural form of dental care.

“It’s good for your stomach and your head … it whitens your teeth and gets rid of bad breath,” said Abedis Sauda, a Senegalese street vendor.

Traders in Dakar and other Senegalese cities sell neat bundles of the pencil-sized sticks – usually about six inches long -on the pavement, offering a variety of different types of wood at different prices.

Mr Elimane Diop, 70, dressed in a blue boubou robe and white bonnet, extols the virtues of his wares with all the pride of a salesman for a multinational health care company, explaining the advantages of a new design of brush or type of dental floss.

“This is the Dakhaar … It cleans really well,” said Mr Diop, holding up a slender, knotty twig with a dark brown bark.

Another bush toothbrush, the Werek, is cut from the branches of the gum tree, while the thicker Neep-Neep helps ease toothache. “If you’ve a bad tooth, it’s a medicine,” said Mr Diop.

The Cola, cut from a soft, whitish wood, is prized for its sweet taste.

If chewed, most of the twigs fray into finer strands, which have the effect of “flossing” between the teeth, or if rubbed up and down, can scrub tooth enamel clean as well as any brush. But they can taste bitter compared with commercial toothpastes.

“There are several documented studies which suggest that the cleaning sticks are at least as effective as normal toothbrushes and paste in maintaining routine oral health,” Christine D. Wu, Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Illinois College of Dentistry, told Reuters.

She said some laboratory studies indicated plants from which some of the sticks in Africa are cut contain protective anti-microbial compounds that act against the bacteria in the mouth which cause tooth decay and gum disease.

“And if these sticks do contain fluoride, as plants do, then this would be beneficial for caries prevention,” Wu said, although she stressed much more research needed to be done on the sticks and their use by humans.

The World Health Organisation has encouraged the use of chewing sticks as an alternative source of oral hygiene in poor countries where many cannot afford commercial dental products.

In mostly Muslim Senegal, people say there is religious precedent for the use of the chewing sticks.

In holy Islamic writings known as the Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad recommends their use as part of cleaning rituals that are an essential element of daily prayers.

“For prayers, you have to get really clean, and that includes the teeth,” said Diop, an invalid whose left leg is deformed – a childhood injury sustained when a sharp twig pierced his bare foot in the bush and the wound became infected.

Although commercially made toothbrushes from leading international brands are available in Dakar supermarkets and pharmacies, many people say they prefer the chew sticks. “It’s better because it’s natural. I used to use a brush, but it made my gums bleed,” said Allissane Sy, an off-duty police officer, stopping to buy a stick from Diop.

Price helps too. While a manufactured toothbrush can cost upwards of 300 CFA francs (60 cents), a chew-stick costs only 25 or 50 CFA.

Mr Diop said each type of stick had different stories and origins associated with them.

For example, the one named Matou-kel was believed to bring luck. It is named after the tree it is cut from where bush deer – prized in Senegal for their tender tasty venison – like to feed and rest.

Another wood variety, Soumpou, was traditionally used to provide a liquid used to cook a fortifying dish, Laakh, which is made with millet. “It gives energy,” Mr Diop said.

But Wu had a word of warning for stick chewers: don’t overdo it, as too-vigorous scrubbing can push back the gums, causing gum recession exposing teeth roots to damage and decay.

6/23/2007

Kenya's secret society sows dread

Filed under: global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:14 am

NAIROBI: These days, Charity Bokindo, the district commissioner of Nairobi North, is taking no chances. Wherever she goes, she carries not one but two pistols and she always travels with armed guards.

“The Mungiki,” she whispered, “they threatened to circumcise me.”

Kihara Mwangi, a member of Kenya’s Parliament, recently revealed that he had been kidnapped by the Mungiki, a secret society that is part Sicilian mafia, part Chicago street gang, with a little local cultism sprinkled in.

“These guys are devil worshipers,” he said. “And no one knows what they want.”

The Mungiki mystery is sweeping across Kenya, and taking a lot of lives with it. In the past month, more than 50 people have been killed in a crime spree and brutal police crackdown related to the shadowy outfit.

Police officials said the Mungiki were trying to destabilize the country before presidential elections in December and blamed them for some downright ugly acts: chopping off legs, skinning heads and guzzling jerry cans of blood. Government officials accused them of running a vast extortion empire and hacking up victims as a scare tactic.

The Mungiki Menace, as the local papers have dubbed it, plays straight into many of Kenya’s sore spots: tribal frictions, political shenanigans, poverty and crime. The flash point is Mathare, a giant slum and mountain of rust near central Nairobi, the capital, where 500,000 people are crammed into a warren of corrugated metal shanties.

On a recent afternoon, John Kinywa, a 17-year-old vendor of passion-fruit juice, trolled his patch of Mathare, shaking a plastic bowl for donations for a friend’s funeral.

“Just a shilling. Can’t you spare a shilling?” he asked passers-by, who, by the look of their ragged clothes and chopstick legs, probably could not spare it.

Kinywa said police officers shot his friend, who he insisted was innocent, in a raid against the Mungiki in early June after two police officers were gunned down in Mathare. With grubby fingers, he counted out several other people he knew who had recently been zipped into body bags.

There may be a lot of death in Mathare’s muddy alleyways, but there is also a lot of life: reggae rap thumping from blown-out speakers; women sitting on the ground and braiding hair; boys pushing impossibly overloaded carts; goats nibbling grass; little chicken wire barbecues cooking up corn.

Mathare is one of the countless slums in Kenya that the government does not reach. There are no police stations here or fire hydrants or roads. There are few toilets and the hillsides reek of fresh waste.

Many of the dented metal kiosks advertise in dripping hand-painted scrawl paraffin for oil lamps, because despite the palatial homes in the neighborhood next door that light up like soccer stadiums at night, most Mathare dwellers do not have electricity.

“These people live like beasts,” said Bokindo, one of the government officials in charge of Mathare.

The Mungiki did not start here. They came from the Kikuyu highlands north of Nairobi, that carpeted green, straight-off-a-postcard “Out of Africa” side of Kenya.

Hezekiah Ndura Waruinge, one of the Mungiki’s founders, said the group began as a local defense squad during land clashes in the late 1980s between forces loyal to the government, which was dominated by the Kalenjin tribe, and farmers who were Kikuyu, a rival tribe.

The Mungiki, which means “multitude” in the Kikuyu language, modeled themselves after the Mau Mau, Kenya’s independence fighters who sprouted dreadlocks, took secret oaths and waged a hit-and-run guerrilla war against British colonizers.

By the late 1990s, the Mungiki went urban, Waruinge explained, taking over the city’s minibus trade. Then they diversified into garbage collection, building materials and eventually the protection racket.

“It was beautiful,” Waruinge said. “We had 500,000 members and millions of shillings coming in every day.”

But then the Mungiki made a mistake, Waruinge said, and dabbled in politics, supporting losing candidates in the elections of 2002 and falling on the wrong side of the government.

Top Mungiki leaders were rounded up and charged with inciting violence. The Mungiki went underground, although they continued to levy protection taxes, electricity taxes and water taxes. They even gave receipts.

“They’re not such bad people,” said Dominick, who runs a lunch stall in Mathare and employs two Mungiki members to pour tea and bake chapati. Even though he had little bad to say about the Mungiki, Dominick declined to give his last name because, he said, “these guys drink blood. You never know what they might do to you.”

Dominick, along with several others, said that Mathare had been infested by muggers and drug dealers until the Mungiki came along and established a rough sense of order.

But that order began to unravel last autumn when the Mungiki tried to raise taxes on bootleggers who brew a toxic form of homemade alcohol, called chang’aa, on the banks of the smelly Mathare River.

The bootleggers armed a rival gang called the Taliban (no Muslim connection – the gang members just thought the name sounded cool) and the fighting between the two sides killed more than a dozen people and drove thousands away.

In May, the Mungiki were suspected of beheading four defectors. Then the two officers were ambushed. The police responded by storming Mathare with machine guns and tear gas. More than 30 people were killed and hundreds arrested.

Before the smoke had even cleared, the political accusations began to fly. Opposition members blamed the government for allowing the Mungiki menace to spin out of control. Government ministers fired back by threatening to arrest opposition leaders, including a presidential candidate.

Bokindo admitted the government was very worried about the Mungiki.

“They almost overwhelmed us,” she said.

The Mungiki seem to be in a dormant phase now, with little sign of them along Mathare’s mud boulevards. But several residents said that was not necessarily a good thing. Apparently, the muggings are back.

Kenya’s secret society sows dread

Filed under: global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:14 am

NAIROBI: These days, Charity Bokindo, the district commissioner of Nairobi North, is taking no chances. Wherever she goes, she carries not one but two pistols and she always travels with armed guards.

“The Mungiki,” she whispered, “they threatened to circumcise me.”

Kihara Mwangi, a member of Kenya’s Parliament, recently revealed that he had been kidnapped by the Mungiki, a secret society that is part Sicilian mafia, part Chicago street gang, with a little local cultism sprinkled in.

“These guys are devil worshipers,” he said. “And no one knows what they want.”

The Mungiki mystery is sweeping across Kenya, and taking a lot of lives with it. In the past month, more than 50 people have been killed in a crime spree and brutal police crackdown related to the shadowy outfit.

Police officials said the Mungiki were trying to destabilize the country before presidential elections in December and blamed them for some downright ugly acts: chopping off legs, skinning heads and guzzling jerry cans of blood. Government officials accused them of running a vast extortion empire and hacking up victims as a scare tactic.

The Mungiki Menace, as the local papers have dubbed it, plays straight into many of Kenya’s sore spots: tribal frictions, political shenanigans, poverty and crime. The flash point is Mathare, a giant slum and mountain of rust near central Nairobi, the capital, where 500,000 people are crammed into a warren of corrugated metal shanties.

On a recent afternoon, John Kinywa, a 17-year-old vendor of passion-fruit juice, trolled his patch of Mathare, shaking a plastic bowl for donations for a friend’s funeral.

“Just a shilling. Can’t you spare a shilling?” he asked passers-by, who, by the look of their ragged clothes and chopstick legs, probably could not spare it.

Kinywa said police officers shot his friend, who he insisted was innocent, in a raid against the Mungiki in early June after two police officers were gunned down in Mathare. With grubby fingers, he counted out several other people he knew who had recently been zipped into body bags.

There may be a lot of death in Mathare’s muddy alleyways, but there is also a lot of life: reggae rap thumping from blown-out speakers; women sitting on the ground and braiding hair; boys pushing impossibly overloaded carts; goats nibbling grass; little chicken wire barbecues cooking up corn.

Mathare is one of the countless slums in Kenya that the government does not reach. There are no police stations here or fire hydrants or roads. There are few toilets and the hillsides reek of fresh waste.

Many of the dented metal kiosks advertise in dripping hand-painted scrawl paraffin for oil lamps, because despite the palatial homes in the neighborhood next door that light up like soccer stadiums at night, most Mathare dwellers do not have electricity.

“These people live like beasts,” said Bokindo, one of the government officials in charge of Mathare.

The Mungiki did not start here. They came from the Kikuyu highlands north of Nairobi, that carpeted green, straight-off-a-postcard “Out of Africa” side of Kenya.

Hezekiah Ndura Waruinge, one of the Mungiki’s founders, said the group began as a local defense squad during land clashes in the late 1980s between forces loyal to the government, which was dominated by the Kalenjin tribe, and farmers who were Kikuyu, a rival tribe.

The Mungiki, which means “multitude” in the Kikuyu language, modeled themselves after the Mau Mau, Kenya’s independence fighters who sprouted dreadlocks, took secret oaths and waged a hit-and-run guerrilla war against British colonizers.

By the late 1990s, the Mungiki went urban, Waruinge explained, taking over the city’s minibus trade. Then they diversified into garbage collection, building materials and eventually the protection racket.

“It was beautiful,” Waruinge said. “We had 500,000 members and millions of shillings coming in every day.”

But then the Mungiki made a mistake, Waruinge said, and dabbled in politics, supporting losing candidates in the elections of 2002 and falling on the wrong side of the government.

Top Mungiki leaders were rounded up and charged with inciting violence. The Mungiki went underground, although they continued to levy protection taxes, electricity taxes and water taxes. They even gave receipts.

“They’re not such bad people,” said Dominick, who runs a lunch stall in Mathare and employs two Mungiki members to pour tea and bake chapati. Even though he had little bad to say about the Mungiki, Dominick declined to give his last name because, he said, “these guys drink blood. You never know what they might do to you.”

Dominick, along with several others, said that Mathare had been infested by muggers and drug dealers until the Mungiki came along and established a rough sense of order.

But that order began to unravel last autumn when the Mungiki tried to raise taxes on bootleggers who brew a toxic form of homemade alcohol, called chang’aa, on the banks of the smelly Mathare River.

The bootleggers armed a rival gang called the Taliban (no Muslim connection – the gang members just thought the name sounded cool) and the fighting between the two sides killed more than a dozen people and drove thousands away.

In May, the Mungiki were suspected of beheading four defectors. Then the two officers were ambushed. The police responded by storming Mathare with machine guns and tear gas. More than 30 people were killed and hundreds arrested.

Before the smoke had even cleared, the political accusations began to fly. Opposition members blamed the government for allowing the Mungiki menace to spin out of control. Government ministers fired back by threatening to arrest opposition leaders, including a presidential candidate.

Bokindo admitted the government was very worried about the Mungiki.

“They almost overwhelmed us,” she said.

The Mungiki seem to be in a dormant phase now, with little sign of them along Mathare’s mud boulevards. But several residents said that was not necessarily a good thing. Apparently, the muggings are back.

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