‘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

Museveni sworn in but opposition rival draws thousands to violent homecoming

The Times of London
Kampala, Uganda

A Ugandan military officer charges at Besigye supporters in Kampala yesterday (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

It was supposed to be a day of celebration for Yoweri Museveni as he was sworn in for a fourth term as President of Uganda. But one uninvited guest spoilt the party.

The opposition leader Kizza Besigye came home yesterday from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where he had been treated for injuries suffered during his violent arrest in Uganda two weeks ago. His return drew a crowd of tens of thousands — dwarfing the few thousand who gathered alongside dignitaries to cheer Mr Museveni towards another five years in power.

In a series of violent scuffles between security forces and opposition supporters, up to five people were killed when police fired into a crowd after stones were thrown at a car carrying the recently elected Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, one of the many luminaries invited to the inauguration. Elsewhere teargas and water cannon were also deployed amid the clashes.

As President Museveni addressed his supporters at Kololo airstrip, a parade ground on a hilltop overlooking Kampala, Dr Besigye was on a slow procession in a convoy of vehicles along the only road connecting the airport town of Entebbe with the capital. Mr Museveni, a former guerrilla leader who seized power in 1986, celebrated his inauguration with fighter jet flypasts and a 21-gun salute. “Disrupting schemes will be defeated,” he declared during his speech.

Dr Besigye’s return certainly caused disruption. His convoy of party officials, supporters and police officers acting as escorts took almost nine hours to crawl along the 25-mile (40km) road. For much of the route Dr Besigye and his wife, Winnie Byanyima — a former girlfriend of Mr Museveni — stood out of their car’s sunroof waving a victory salute at crowds on the verges of the road or walking alongside his car.

People danced, shouted and sang in response, smiling as they held branches torn from trees and old election posters from the February elections, in which Dr Besigye was defeated.

Among them was 22-year-old Eddie Kagombe, sweeping the road with a leafy branch to make it fit to welcome Dr Besigye. “Ever since I entered the world there is only Museveni. I need a change,” he said.

As the day went on, tensions between riot police, military police and Dr Besigye’s supporters frayed regularly. During the first incident, a group of military police in red berets jumped from a truck at the back of the convoy and charged the crowd on the roadside, beating them with sticks.

Stones were thrown in response and soon armoured cars with water cannon roared up the road and there was the sting of teargas and the crack of gunfire in the air. “They just came and started attacking people,” Dr Besigye said.

Another opposition leader, Norbert Mao, added: “You see we are getting a warm welcome from the army.”

Eventually armoured personnel carriers mounted with heavy machineguns shadowed the convoy and security personnel began to outnumber opposition supporters.

As night fell, Dr Besigye reached the outskirts of Kampala, where hundreds of police in riot gear and soldiers with assault rifles finally seemed to lose their patience. At a roundabout where thousands had gathered, they let loose with teargas and charged at people, beating them back with batons.

“We don’t want Museveni. This Government is thieving us,” the crowd shouted as heads of state, including President Jonathan, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Salva Kiir, the president-in-waiting of Southern Sudan, and ambassadors and other dignitaries drove by on their way to Entebbe, where Mr Museveni was hosting a party. Mr Museveni’s presidential convoy raced down the road, passing metres from Dr Besigye, watching from his car.

Yesterday’s crowds were similar in size to ones that greeted Dr Besigye’s return from self-imposed exile in 2005, when he came back to challenge Mr Museveni in Uganda’s first multiparty election. The vote in February is the third in a row that Dr Besigye has lost during a decade-long political rivalry that began when the former comrades fell out.

The President has faced criticism for his Government’s handling of protests that have broken out since his victory in February’s election when he took 68 per cent of the vote. Dr Besigye has spearheaded a series of bi-weekly “walk to work” protests over the rising cost of fuel and food, blaming government corruption and incompetence.

The marches started last month and have been dealt with brutally. At least nine people have been killed and Dr Besigye has been arrested four times, shot in the hand with a rubber bullet and temporarily blinded with pepper spray.

The rough treatment of the opposition leader has only increased his support. “Museveni has become a dictator,” said Timothy Owor, 29. “If they can arrest Besigye like that, what can they do to me?”

Grateful West supports regime doing its dirty work in Somalia
Despite ample evidence of growing repression and clear indications of the autocratic direction that President Museveni’s long rule is taking, Western nations remain staunch supporters.

The main reason is Mr Museveni’s willingness to do the West’s dirty work in Somalia. His soldiers make up the bulk of the 8,000-strong African Union force defending the weak UN-backed Government from insurgents allied to al-Qaeda.

Neither the US nor Britain, stretched in Afghanistan, has any appetite for another fight in a tribally divided country where religious extremism and war are the daily reality. The US in particular is wary of conflict in Somalia after its early 1990s intervention that ended with 18 dead soldiers, an event dramatised in the book and film Black Hawk Down.

Britain and America are worried that the Somali al-Shabaab rebels may try to export their brand of jihad, using each country’s large Somali communities as a cover to launch terror attacks. Mr Museveni’s soldiers have stopped the Islamists in their tracks, gaining ground from al-Shabaab in Mogadishu.

But allowing autocracy to flourish will store up problems for later. Under the cover of elections, Africans have been experiencing a covert rolling back of hard-won democracy. Africans south of the Sahara are fully aware of the revolutionary change to the north and may not put up with their own longstanding rulers for much longer.


I will continue to fight Museveni, says Ugandan opposition leader

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

Dr Kizza Besigye has a cast on his hand after a rubber bullet broke a finger, and wears dark glasses after being sprayed with a chemical during a violent arrest (Tristan McConnell for The Times)

Battered, nearly blinded, but unbowed, the Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye has vowed to resist threats to his life and fight on to end the “military dictatorship” of President Museveni.

“We will continue, absolutely and without any doubt,” he told The Times in an exclusive interview at his hospital bedside in Nairobi where he sought specialist medical treatment after his violent arrest last week left him temporarily blinded.

“I have no illusions, I am sure the dictatorship will become even more ruthless in the short run but we cannot back off now,” he said. Continue reading I will continue to fight Museveni, says Ugandan opposition leader

‘He started it’ Museveni says, as he blames opposition leader for arrest

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

A Ugandan police officer sprays Dr Kizza Besigye in his car (Stephen Wandera, AP)

President Museveni tried to justify the violent arrest of his principal opponent in Kampala last week by claiming yesterday that the incident had been provoked.

President Museveni said that Kizza Besigye started the attack on police that led to officers breaking his car windows and spraying him in the face with CS gas before arresting him. Continue reading ‘He started it’ Museveni says, as he blames opposition leader for arrest

The Hell’s Angel on a Mission to Save Africa’s Forgotten Children

The Times Magazine

Sam Childers was a violent drug addict who went by the nickname Savage. Now he’s a God-fearing, gun-toting vigilante intent on rescuing the child victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army. No wonder Hollywood is intrigued.

Sam Childers outside the orphanage for rescued children he built in Nimule, Sudan (Jack Hill for The Times)

The Rev Sam Childers leans back in a plastic chair, crosses his tattooed, bear-like arms over a broad expanse of chest and regards me from behind wraparound sunglasses. Finally, after an unnerving minute, a smile gradually spreads out beneath his ragged and greying walrus moustache and he chuckles.

“I never said I killed anybody, did I?” says the man who calls himself the Machine Gun Preacher. “I never shot anybody that didn’t need shot. If a gun’s pulled on you, you shoot.” Continue reading The Hell’s Angel on a Mission to Save Africa’s Forgotten Children

A nation’s fortune changes as Rift Valley oilmen strike it rich

The Times of London
Lake Albert, Uganda

Uganda oil
There may be 2.5 billion barrels of oil, worth £1.2 billion a year, under the banks of Lake Albert (Xan Rice)

Towering over the cassava fields, stumpy acacia and shady mango trees, winding dirt roads and mud hut hamlets, a 20m (65ft) red metal derrick has become a familiar sight on the shores of Lake Albert in Africa’s western Rift Valley.

The scene encapsulates where Uganda is today, teetering on the cusp between its past and future: an ancient subsistence economy colliding with a new one based on oil extraction. Continue reading A nation’s fortune changes as Rift Valley oilmen strike it rich

Kampala echoes to the sound of silence on election day

The Times of London
Kampala, Uganda

Uganda vote
A lone voter registers at a polling station set up in Luzira, a slum in Kampala

Pick-up trucks carrying soldiers and armed police raced along the deserted streets of Kampala yesterday; a beefed-up security presence overseeing an election expected to extend President Museveni’s 25-year rule.

The long lines of voters queueing from before dawn that so often mark elections in Africa were absent in the centre of the capital. When polling centres opened at 7am some did so without a single voter present.

At a polling centre in the car park of an ageing shopping mall in central Kampala, Moses Jabo, 45, a logistics consultant, arrived early; not to beat the queues, but because later in the day he would make a long journey north to attend his father’s funeral. Continue reading Kampala echoes to the sound of silence on election day

Hunt for Africa’s top terrorist after Kampala blasts

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

He is Africa’s most wanted terrorist, a man who has for 12 years evaded US special forces, Israeli spies and cruise missile attacks. Now the search for Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s East Africa chief, has taken on new urgency after the double bombing in Uganda that brought carnage to the streets of Kampala. Continue reading Hunt for Africa’s top terrorist after Kampala blasts

War clouds gather as nations demand a piece of the Nile

The Times of London
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Nairobi, Kenya

A girl from a Cairo slum carries water from the Nile (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)
A girl from a Cairo slum carries water from the Nile (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

Without the Nile, Egypt would be a scarcely habitable desert, Sudan a parched wilderness. The world’s longest river flows for more than 4,000 miles through northeast Africa; it irrigates farmland, provides water for drinking and sanitation and drives hydroelectric power stations.

The Nile supplies almost all of Egypt’s fresh water and three quarters of Sudan’s. Both countries claim historic rights over it but neither controls its sources. For thousands of years Egypt has jealously defended its right to use the Nile’s waters as it pleases.

Now, amid warnings of conflict and crop failure, the balance of power is starting to change as other countries make new claims on the water. Continue reading War clouds gather as nations demand a piece of the Nile

Fear grows among Uganda’s gay community over death penalty draft law

The Times of London
Kampala, Uganda

There was a time in Kampala when gay men would meet for furtive one-night stands, even if they were prevented from forming lasting relationships in a country where homophobia is rife.

“You would just have sex, then disappear. We were secretive out of fear,” said Peter, 39. At one point, things had begun changing for the better. “You could know where a guy lived and hung out; you could start to form relationships, something more permanent,” he said. “Then along comes this Bill that wants to kill us.” Continue reading Fear grows among Uganda’s gay community over death penalty draft law