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’

Islamic State makes inroads into Kenya

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

A Kenyan police officer folds up a flag inscribed with the logo of the Islamic State group following a raid on two mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa (AFP Photo)
A Kenyan police officer folds up a flag inscribed with the logo of the Islamic State group following a raid on two mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa (AFP Photo)

Recent arrests show the Islamic State’s growing presence in East Africa, where they are recruiting young Kenyans for jihad abroad and raising fears some of them will return to threaten the country.

Kenyan intelligence agencies estimate that around 100 men and women may have gone to join the IS in Libya and Syria, triggering concern that some may come back to stage attacks on Kenyan and foreign targets in a country already victim to regular, deadly terrorism.

“There is now a real threat that Kenya faces from IS and the danger will continue to increase,” said Rashid Abdi, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank in Nairobi. Continue reading Islamic State makes inroads into Kenya

Corruption, politics, murder: anatomy of a Kenyan killing

The funeral of Kenyan businessman Jacob Juma (AFP Photo)
The funeral of Kenyan businessman Jacob Juma (AFP Photo)

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

On a wet Thursday night in early May, a well-known businessman and government critic was found dead in his armoured blue Mercedes by a busy road on the outskirts of Nairobi, five bullet holes in his chest, neck and arm.

Kenya’s long history of state violence meant the murder of Jacob Juma, who was in his mid-forties, was quickly viewed as a political assassination. Continue reading Corruption, politics, murder: anatomy of a Kenyan killing

Kenya wakes up to coffee

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

A worker checks sacks of green, unroasted coffee beans at Dormans coffee factory in Nairobi, the country's oldest coffee roaster (AFP Photo/Carl de Souza)
A worker checks sacks of green, unroasted coffee beans at Dormans coffee factory in Nairobi, the country’s oldest coffee roaster (AFP Photo/Carl de Souza)

Africa’s best barista doesn’t drink coffee, nor even really like it, yet two-time Kenyan champ Martin Shabaya won the Africa round and next month competes at the World Barista Championships.

Shabaya, 26, has only been pouring coffee for five years but his success is indicative of a country that – unlike him – is learning to love coffee. Continue reading Kenya wakes up to coffee

An elephant returns to Somalia for first time in 20 years

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

Morgan the elephant on his way to Somalia (Save the Elephants)
Morgan the elephant on his way to Somalia (Save the Elephants)

An elephant marched hundreds of kilometres and briefly crossed into Somalia this month marking the first time the animal has been seen in the country in 20 years, conservationists said Wednesday.

Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in December in Kenya’s coastal Tana River Delta, but in mid-February began an unexpected march northwards to Somalia, reaching the border nearly three weeks later. His march has excited conservationists who say it shows the elephant remembered ancient routes after decades of absence due to war.

Continue reading An elephant returns to Somalia for first time in 20 years

In the city of the lost: review of ‘City of Thorns’ by Ben Rawlence

The Times Saturday Review

9781846275876Dadaab is a confounding place, a low-slung conurbation of wind-swept, sun-beaten shelters adrift in Kenya’s wild northeast. The wind is unrelenting, the heat unbearable, yet it is home to 350,000 people, refugees who escaped war and famine only to find themselves trapped here.

They depend on food handouts yet the markets are also stuffed with fresh mangos and Samsung smartphones. There are few jobs yet some are spectacularly wealthy. It is a place of hopelessness and opportunity. Dadaab is temporary, but has existed for 25 years and is the focus of Ben Rawlence’s book.

City of Thorns is a portrait of a place that should not exist, and the people who by turns survive or thrive, live or die, love or mourn there. Most are Somali; some are the third generation to be raised in Dadaab on paltry UN rations, trapped between al-Qaeda militants in Somalia and the rapacious Kenyan police. Continue reading In the city of the lost: review of ‘City of Thorns’ by Ben Rawlence

‘Close Your Eyes and Pretend to be Dead’: What really happened two years ago in the bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall

Foreign Policy
Nairobi, Kenya
Published 21st September, 2015

Adults and children run through the mall to escape the gunmen (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
Adults and children run through the mall to escape the gunmen (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

12:55 p.m. Simon Belcher lay on his front beneath a black Range Rover, breathing deeply, wanting to unsee the pile of mangled bodies a few yards in front of him. He turned his head toward his wife, Amanda, who was hiding beneath a white 4×4 to his right. “I love you,” he mouthed silently before resting his head on the pavement.

The bullet that had struck Simon a few moments earlier passed through his torso and right arm while shrapnel from an exploding gas canister had torn into his abdomen. An unexploded hand grenade lay nearby. The masked gunmen, two of them, with military webbing slung around their bony shoulders and AK-47 assault rifles in their hands, had disappeared. Inside the mall, Simon guessed.

The blood from his wounds began to pool around him until it reached his ear, forming a seal. Suddenly, the muffled noises from within the five-story building were amplified, as if he had put a glass to a wall. Over the birdsong, car alarms, and ringing of the unanswered mobile phones of the dead and wounded, Simon could now hear gunshots, explosions, and screaming. Continue reading ‘Close Your Eyes and Pretend to be Dead’: What really happened two years ago in the bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall

Kenyans Couldn’t Be More Excited for the President’s Visit. The Elaborate Preparations Are Being Called ‘Obamacare.’

New York
Nairobi, Kenya

24-kenya-obama-banner.w529.h352I had not spoken to George Obama in years, not since co-writing a story on the far-flung Obama diaspora for this magazine in 2009. But last week, President Barack Obama’s youngest half-brother called. By coincidence, I was in Kisumu, the western Kenyan city closest to Obama’s ancestral village, waiting to meet another of Obama’s relatives, his half-uncle Said, for an interview.

After a few pleasantries, George asked me when I was coming to see him. Then the conversation took a familiar turn as he asked whether I would buy him lunch, a well-known Kenyan euphemism for slipping someone some cash. I declined, we chatted a bit more, then hung up. Continue reading Kenyans Couldn’t Be More Excited for the President’s Visit. The Elaborate Preparations Are Being Called ‘Obamacare.’