Cash, cows and conflict: African herders have been pushed into destitution and crime

The Economist
Nairobi, Kenya

At the start of every dry season fires creep southwards across the Central African Republic (CAR). Kasper Agger, a Dane who works for African Parks, a South Africa-based conservation group, can see them on his laptop thanks to a piece of NASA-made software that plots benign-looking flame symbols like boy scouts’ campfires onto a Google Earth map. Through December and January the fires edge close to Chinko, a vast nature reserve in the CAR. When the fires reach the park boundary, a light aircraft is dispatched to shower leaflets over the smoulder. Below, herders who come from hundreds of miles away receive illustrated messages in Sango (a local language), Arabic and French, warning them not to chop down trees, carry guns, hunt game or poach elephants within the park. Continue reading Cash, cows and conflict: African herders have been pushed into destitution and crime

Kenya’s disputed poll turns neighbours against each other

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

The fire in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum began after groups of young men from different ethnic groups began fighting over Thursday’s divisive election (Marco Longari/AFP)

“That was the bedroom,” said Steven Chege pointing to a tangle of charred wire, blackened metal sheets and burned wood. “And that was the first room,” the 32-year-old said, gesturing at a melted stereo and a shattered television among the smouldering ashes. “The intention was to burn us alive in our houses.” Continue reading Kenya’s disputed poll turns neighbours against each other

Grey skies and stench of teargas mark vote in Kenya slums

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

A barricade burns in the Nairobi slum of Mathare (Luis Tato/AFP)

“It is our right not to vote. We voted already in August and you see what happened,” said Joseph Otieno as he stood in the drizzling rain with a handful of youths boycotting Thursday’s presidential re-run. In Nairobi’s Mathare slum, a neighbourhood of rickety high-rises and tin shacks, mixed ethnicity and mixed political affiliation, some polling stations were deserted, while others opened late, attracting just a trickle of voters. Continue reading Grey skies and stench of teargas mark vote in Kenya slums

After years of progress, a deadly setback in Somalia

The New Yorker
Nairobi, Kenya

The bombing that killed over three hundred people in Mogadishu, on Saturday, signalled the resurgence of the Shabaab and the weakness of Somalia’s American-backed government (Photograph by Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP)

The district of Hodan, in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, exemplifies the city’s transformation in recent years. Visitors can find open-air pizza restaurants, ice-cream parlors and shisha bars, hotels and restaurants, barrow boys hawking bananas and mangoes, and taxis and cars honking their way through the throng. Pretty much every day is busy, but Saturdays are especially so. This past Saturday, a massive truck bomb detonated in Hodan, killing more than three hundred people, an unprecedented death toll in Somalia which may rise as bodies are hauled from the wreckage. Continue reading After years of progress, a deadly setback in Somalia

The judges who defied the president: why Kenya’s election is being rerun

New Statesman
Nairobi, Kenya


It’s a rare thing for a judge to become a folk hero, and rarer still for one to defy a president and overturn an election result – but that is what happened in Kenya last month. On 1 September, Chief Justice David Maraga – ascetic, God-fearing, 66 years old and with a perpetual look of mild amusement – declared President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 54 per cent victory in the August election to be “invalid, null and void”. The election commission was blamed for mishandling the presidential poll so badly (it was “neither transparent nor verifiable”) that it is scheduled to be run again on 26 October. Continue reading The judges who defied the president: why Kenya’s election is being rerun

Wildlife pays the price of Kenya’s illegal grazing

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

African wild dogs (AFP/Handout)

“It’s devastating. I’ve been following them every day of my life for the last year,” said Dedan Ngatia, a wild dog researcher in Kenya’s central Laikipia region. “They’re all dead.”

Months of invasions by sometimes armed semi-nomadic herders, and tens of thousands of their livestock, have had a disastrous impact on the wildlife of a region heralded as a conservation success story. Continue reading Wildlife pays the price of Kenya’s illegal grazing

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

Flying in the face of danger

Mogadishu, Somalia

Having entered Somali airspace, aircraft dip to sea level; disembarking at Mogadishu (Photograph: Andrew Renneisen)

The passengers waiting to board at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport include a bunch of UN staffers, a couple of British diplomats and security contractors spottable by their shaved heads and tactical backpacks. The US ambassador to Somalia is also in the line, as are aid workers from a host of charities that are busy trying to alleviate Somalia’s latest drought. They’re all waiting for the morning flight to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, operated by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS). This three-times-a-week service is a lifeline to one of the world’s most dangerous cities. With 70 aircraft in 17 countries and an operating budget of €205m this year, UNHAS is the biggest airline you’ve never heard of, and its rugged fleet ferries aid workers in and out of humanitarian crises all over the world.

Continue reading Flying in the face of danger

‘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