Forgetting Westgate: how Kenya erases terrorism

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

Staff of the Nakumatt supermarket chain gather in front of candles lit to mark the second anniversary commemorations of the Westgate shopping mall attack by militants (Simon Maina/AFP)

On the inside Nairobi’s Westgate mall is a shiny shopping centre, all sparkling glass shop fronts, Bose-conveyed muzak and boutiques stuffed with expensive imports. On the outside it is a fortress.

Four years ago, Islamic militants raided the mall killing at least 67 people. They tossed grenades over the balustrade from the pavement then stormed through the front entrance and up the car parking ramp shooting as they went. The modus operandi was reminiscent of the Mumbai attacks five years earlier.

Yet Westgate has drifted into what Caine Prize-winning Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor describes as “our national propensity to amnesia for ‘bad things’.” Two years after the mall reopened, Westgate remains glossy and new, as if nothing happened. There’s plenty for the well-heeled shopper but not even a plaque for the dead. Continue reading Forgetting Westgate: how Kenya erases terrorism

In Kisumu

London Review of Books
Kisumu, Kenya

When people in Kisumu, in western Kenya, began voting on a Tuesday morning in early August it was more like a party than an election. At the Kenyatta Sports Ground, a large triangle of dirt and trees in the city centre, whistles blew, vuvuzelas honked and drums banged; there was shouting, laughing, singing, cheering, even dancing. Cigarette smoke and the smell of booze drifted up from boisterous clumps of young men. Other voters smiled and chatted as they queued in their hundreds, some with babies swaddled in polyester blankets. It was 4.45 in the morning, still dark and more than an hour before the polling stations were due to open, yet new arrivals were latecomers already. To work out which of the dozen growing lines of people they should join, they used the torchlights on their mobile phones to read lists of names taped to a breezeblock wall beside a sign declaring the availability of ‘Clean Executive Toilets & Bathroom’. At the front of each queue stood a police officer with an AK-type rifle. Behind each police officer, inside little pagoda tents, officials in yellow reflective vests branded IEBC (the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) worked by gaslight to prepare ballot boxes, papers and fingerprint-operated electronic voting machines. Continue reading In Kisumu

‘They’re like the mafia’: the super gangs behind Africa’s poaching crisis

The Guardian
Nairobi, Kenya

A wildlife service officer holds one of the ivory tusks used as evidence in the case against Feisal Mohamed Ali (AFP/Getty Images)

Late on 6 June 2014 Kenyan police, acting on a tip-off, raided a used car lot in Mombasa’s industrial area. Inside Fuji Motors East Africa Ltd, in one of the lock-ups, they found two tonnes of ivory.

Days earlier a white Mitsubishi truck, its paperwork claiming “household equipment” but in fact carrying more than 300 elephant tusks secreted beneath a tarpaulin, had pulled into the yard on Mombasa Island’s dirty northern fringe, far from the tourist hotels and beaches for which the city is famous. Continue reading ‘They’re like the mafia’: the super gangs behind Africa’s poaching crisis

Kenyan cattle herders defend ‘necessary’ land invasions

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Crocodile Jaw Bridge, Kenya

(AFP Photo)

Close by a narrow, rickety bridge in Kenya’s central Laikipia highlands two herders sit on blistering hot rock next to the muddy trickle of the Ewaso Nyiro river to explain why they routinely break the law, invading private land to graze their cattle.

“The reason we go there is not to grab the land, we go for pasture, nothing else,” says Lemerigi Letimalo, a 28-year-old Samburu herder in a Manchester United T-shirt with a mobile phone hanging in a pouch around his neck. “The white settlers are the ones who call the police forces to attack us,” he adds. Continue reading Kenyan cattle herders defend ‘necessary’ land invasions

Politics not pasture drives violence in Kenya’s heart

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Kamwenje, Kenya

Violence has spiked in Laikipia this year, with smallholder farms and huge ranches alike invaded by armed herders. (AFP Photo)

Footsteps came first, then unfamiliar voices, the smell of cow dung and the kicking in of the front door. Suddenly awake, John Mbogo wrapped his 11-year-old daughter Tabitha in his arms and rolled under the bed. His wife, Anne, crawled next to them, eyes wide.

Torchlight fell on the now empty beds and they saw naked legs smeared in manure, a “shuka” blanket rolled at the waist and the muzzle of a gun. Continue reading Politics not pasture drives violence in Kenya’s heart

Kenya’s Most Famous Critic of Politicians Runs for Political Office

The New Yorker
Nairobi, Kenya

Boniface Mwangi. Photograph by Daniel Irungu / EPA / Redux

On a March afternoon, as gray clouds gathered overhead, Boniface Mwangi procrastinated outside the walled Kariokor Market, in Nairobi, scrolling through text messages on his iPhone. Mwangi is thirty-four years old and a well-known political activist whose tactics frequently put him at the center of attention. On that day, however, he was entering the narrow, crowded alleys of the market not to protest government corruption—his signature issue—but to campaign for a seat in parliament, and he was nervous.

Continue reading Kenya’s Most Famous Critic of Politicians Runs for Political Office

Who shot Kuki Gallmann?

The Observer Magazine
Nairobi, Kenya

Darknes and light: Kuki Gallmann poses for a portrait inside her Nairobi home about a month after being shot by armed men on her ranch in Laikipia County, in Kenya.
Photograph: Pete Muller for the Observer

There is thunder and the equatorial rain falls perfectly straight, drenching the lawn and a pair of towering candelabra trees that frame the driveway which leads to a two-storey, colonial-era house. Inside, logs burn in the grey stone fireplace, worn kilims are spread on the parquet floor and Kuki Gallmann – 74 years old and recovering from two bullet wounds in her abdomen – sits regally upon a chair of wrought iron and stained glass shaped like a resting bird. Continue reading Who shot Kuki Gallmann?

A struggle for land and survival in Kenya’s restive highlands

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Laikipia, Kenya

A young herder from the Samburu pastoral community grazes his family cattle on the dwindling pasture of the Loisaba, Kenya (AFP/Tony Karumba)
A young herder from the Samburu pastoral community grazes his family cattle on the dwindling pasture of the Loisaba, Kenya (AFP/Tony Karumba)

The broad plains of Mugie, a huge estate on a high plateau northwest of Mount Kenya, are crisscrossed with cattle trails and the wildlife is mostly gone. The knee-high grass remains, but not for long, reckons manager Josh Perrett.

Tensions between semi-nomadic pastoralists and settled landowners are nothing new, nor is competition between livestock and wildlife, but in Kenya’s central Laikipia highlands they are taking a destructive, sometimes violent turn. Continue reading A struggle for land and survival in Kenya’s restive highlands

Obama’s half-brother stumps for Trump on Twitter

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

US president-elect Donald Trump will be sworn into office on January 20, 2017 (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)
US president-elect Donald Trump will be sworn into office on January 20, 2017 (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

Donald Trump has been called many things but arguably the most bizarre is “the white Malcolm X”, a title inexplicably bestowed upon him by President Obama’s half-brother, Malik.

The 58-year-old Muslim from a small village in western Kenya was a late but loud convert to the Trump cause, aping his preferred candidate’s social media style with the liberal use of capital letters, misspellings and discourteous epithets.

Malik, who made a disastrous run for local political office in Kenya in 2013, has bad-mouthed Barack for years accusing him of dishonesty and abandoning his Kenyan relatives. At the same time he has reportedly earned tens of thousands of dollars by auctioning off 20-year-old handwritten letters from the man who would become president. Continue reading Obama’s half-brother stumps for Trump on Twitter

Rights groups question Kenyan police account of ‘terror attack’

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi has been battling the Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked militant group headquartered in Somalia, that carries out regular deadly attacks in Kenya (AFP Photo)
Nairobi has been battling the Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked militant group headquartered in Somalia, that carries out regular deadly attacks in Kenya (AFP Photo)

On a Sunday morning in September three young women were killed by officers at the main police station in Kenya’s second city — but that’s the only fact beyond doubt in a case that activists say is further evidence of a police force gone rogue.

In the official version of events, police thwarted an attempted terrorist attack on September 11 when the women — who they say recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group — entered Mombasa Central Police Station armed with a knife, a petrol bomb and a suicide vest. Continue reading Rights groups question Kenyan police account of ‘terror attack’