Henry Owino is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He holds a
BA in Communications from Daystar University, Kenya. Mr Owino worked
with Nation Media Group, Broadcast Division, NTV in Kenya before
becoming an
independent journalist. He is trained and specializes in investigative journalism, science, health, environment and agriculture. He also writes widely about gender and governance.

Teaser: 

Henry Owino is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He holds a BA in Communications from Daystar University, Kenya. Mr Owino worked
with Nation Media Group, Broadcast Division, NTV in Kenya before becoming an
independent journalist. He is trained and specializes in investigative journalism, science, health, environment and agriculture. He also writes widely about gender and governance.

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Cartels to blame for Kenya’s mass school burnings, witnesses say

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High School dormitory burnt down © Nation Media Group

The burning down of more than 100 Kenyan secondary schools nationwide, set ablaze by unknown assailants in July 2016 and during the public school year’s second term, will make 2016 go down in history as Kenya's most destructive year.

What began as student unrest in a Kisii County school, after administrators denied pupils a chance to watch the Euro Cup finals, spread across the country. Innocent Kenyans assumed students were just expressing their displeasure by burning a school.

The reality of the matter, however, is that cartels are behind the secondary school fires. Many of the cartels had found their way into schools by infiltrating and influencing mischievous teachers to incite students against new tough regulations set by Ministry of Education.

Students from Langata High School appear before a court of law.

© Henry Owino

To start with, the students from Itierio High School in Kisii County burnt seven dormitories and two classrooms before attacking and damaging a neighboring girls’ school.

A student from Itierio High School disclosed that they had already planned the attack but were waiting for a trigger. He said that support by certain teachers prompted them to set dormitories and classrooms on fire and that they capitalized on the excuse that they were only expressing anger.

‘There is a teacher who used to incite students. He would tell students that that new rules by the Ministry of Education are turning schools into prisons and the only distinction is a jail term,’ the student explained. ‘But school imprisonments have a maximum of four years while real prison is more.’

Langata High School dormitory burnt down.

© Henry Owino

The reason for inciting students is to oppose the tough new regulations aimed at curbing cheating on national examinations across secondary schools. The new rules are applicable to all public secondary schools beginning in their third term, according to the Ministry of Education.

Cabinet Secretary for Education, Fred Matiang’i said that most cheating of national examinations occurs early in the third term during student visitations. He elaborated that there are examination paper brokers who pose as parents or guardians of students but are in the business of selling exam materials.

The Ministry of Education’s new regulations include banning all visitations to students by parents, guardians, relatives, friends or any other persons. The other restrictions are: no prayer day for the candidates, no mid-term break, and remaining students and teachers are to stay at home during the entire exam period, hence schools close early.

‘As the Ministry of Education, we are perturbed by the high rate of national examination irregularities in our schools. So, we have applied some stringent measures to ensure no more cheating takes place and every candidate score what they deserves,’ Matiang’i explained.

The Ministry of Education headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

© Henry Owino

Additional measures include the use of police officers in exam supervision and limiting very few examiners to handle papers in preparation for examinations. Head teachers and principals will be held responsible for examination irregularities.

Matiang’i explained that, traditionally, form four national examinations start mid-October and continue through mid-November. He hinted, however, that this year changes have been made and examinations will start on 7 November and end in the first week of December.

Some parents, teachers and government officials opposed the new regulations. They used social media to galvanize support for their position and raise awareness of their objections. They succeeded as numbers increased from individuals to communities, civil society organizations, government agencies and even some from Education Ministry joined the online debate.

The debate took a more serious tone when hate speech was used to attack Matiang’i the Cabinet Secretary, calling him names and pushing, unsuccessfully, for his resignation.

After the cartels realized that they were losing the battle in social media, they turned to protest and property destruction.

It is at this point that the mass burning of schools began, without students necessarily rioting or getting directly involved. Although a few schools had students rebelling against certain minor things, such as late or bad food. The banning of student entertainment time is an incident that did end in a school being burned. This incidents were not, however, due to the new applied regulations.

For instance, James Mwangi, student in Muranga County, revealed that his school dormitory was burnt to the ground, while students were in class and in broad day light. He said that they were only alerted about the fire after it had been burning for nearly 30 minutes. By then, it was too late to salvage anything.

Mwangi said that all students were in class studying and a few teachers, who had no class then, were in the staff-room or in their staff-quarters on the school compound. He said that the school watchman on duty noticed a cloud of smoke.

‘Students were perplexed at how the dormitory could be set ablaze and burn for a whole 30 minutes without anybody noticing or spotting the assailant involved,’ Mwangi said. He alleged it was an inside job organized between cartels and school administration and money must have changed hands.

‘If the school administration is fighting Matiang’i, they should demonstrate in the streets. We are not concerned with new regulations as long as they have optimum time to prepare for the final examinations in October,’ Mwangi expressed his frustration.

Moses Ouma, a parent in Maranda High School in Siaya County blamed Matiang’i for coming up with the new rules without consulting the school administration. He said Matiang’I needed to consult widely with parents, teachers and school stakeholders before imposing the regulations.

Ouma however said that he is not opposed to the regulations but its consequences that have left millions in property damage. He worries about the schools that have been burned down, the students who lost their belongings and the school system which has lost massive wealth.

‘I am actually concerned as a parent though I have no students in any of the schools involved in the fires. I thanked god that no students died as a result but the pain of losing things like books, mattress, blankets, bed-sheets and so on tortures students psychologically,’ Ouma said.

Dormitory razed to ashes.

© Photo courtsey of Nation Media Group

Jael Jaoko is a retired primary headteacher but also a parent at St Augustine Nyamonye Girls Secondary School in Siaya County.

Jaoko claimed that cartels are selling exam papers at Ksh 5000 (US $50) per copy. Jaoko stated in her experience as teacher, most secondary schools could invite parents of Form Fours for a meeting normally dubbed as career guidance meeting. It is in meetings like these where parents and teachers agree to donate money to buy the leaked exam papers.

‘I once attended a career guidance meeting in a school where my son was a candidate. I was asked to donate Ksh 50,000 (US$500) per parent to buy results oriented exam papers for our children who were candidates,’ Jaoko recalled.

The retired teacher stated that after the principal explained everything to the parents they, the convinced parents, donated the money. Those who did not have enough cash took the leaked exam papers on condition that they would pay the fee before collecting the exam results certificate given as part of student clearance.

‘Imagine a school with more than 100 candidates with each paying that amount for a copy yet every student sits for a least eight examinable papers. How much is that, and can poor parents afford it?,’ Jaoko asked.

Jaoko argued that because the cartels make big money it is no wonder that they are against the new regulations and fighting back against Matiang’i. She realized that the reason for student results held by back by the school administration in the name of outstanding fee arrears may not always be true.

‘No wonder school administrations never respect call by government not hold back student results and certificates,’ Jaoko noted.

‘All these tricks happen in the third term. The names differ from school to school so that none suspect it. For example, some call the meetings where leaked exam papers are sold ‘prayer day’, ‘Form Four last visitation’, ‘candidates-parents academic meeting’, ‘Form Four career guidance meeting’, and the list is long,’ Jaoko revealed.

A principal in one of the schools agreed with some of the allegations, however, refuted claims of holding back results certificates on such a basis. He said that last year his school did not perform as expected but that none of his students failed.

I want to say here that I support the new school regulations fully, no wonder cartels and schools used to cheating are panicking,’ the principal said. ‘The truth about why schools are burning involves opposition from cartels, not stress by students reacting by rioting to sabotage Matiang’i's position,’ he added.

He anticipated that when results are released next year, the painful truth about the current crisis of school fires, that has left both parents and students stressed, would be revealed.

The Butula school was recently burned down as students were enjoying their second term holiday. Investigations into the fire have been launched, however, the results of the investigation have not yet been publicly released.

Police executions push Kenya to dark days

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Lawyers and civil society organizations at Uhuru Park ready to protest against police executions. by Henry Owino

Kenyans fear for their lives. This is because police execution is fast becoming rampant in the country, even though police are mandated to protect the people. The heightened public concern comes amid disappearances of witnesses, detainees, suspects and prominent business people who are often found dead.

The most recent example of the killing of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client, Josephat Mwendwa, and a motorcycle taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, is fresh in the mind of most Kenyans.

Kimani was representing his client Mwendwa, a motorbike rider who had been shot and injured by police in April. Mwendwa has faced a spate of harassment by police since he filed a statement to authorities that a police officer unfairly mishandled him.

Muiruri, a taxi driver on the other hand, picked up the duo as his passengers after a court hearing on 23 June at Mavoko Law Courts in Machakos County, about 40km east of Nairobi. The three men are said to have been abducted by police on their way back to the capital city and taken to Mlolongo police station where their communication network was cut.

Relatives, friends and colleagues raised alarms over their disappearance, demanding to know from police their whereabouts but no answers were forth coming. Every effort by lawyers to reach out to the disappeared hit a snag.

Kenyan police handle a female suspect in Nairobi, Kenya.

Henry Owino

According to eyewitnesses, the trio was last seen in the police station basement cell shortly after the court hearing. Unfortunately, they were all murdered and five days later their decomposing bodies – with hands tied behind their backs – were recovered by residents of Ol-Donyo Sabuk River in Kilimambogo, Machakos County.

Isaac Okero, Chairman of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) said most of the lawyers pursuing criminal cases in court, such as Kimani was, are at risk. They receive death threats, intimidation or are forced to take bribes and drop such cases. Refusal to co-operate has landed many lawyers into trouble.

‘In this country, we have seen witnesses disappear and suspects go missing. For instance, International Criminal Court (ICC) witnesses were intimidated and forced to withdraw, a few recanted their evidence yet others disappeared and were later found dead,’ Okero said.

Okero pointed out that suspects arrested by police, such as those from the Al Shabaab militia group, have never been taken to court for trial. Nobody knows where they normally end up. 'It could be anyone’s guess', said Okero. The LSK chairman claimed that the three police suspected of murdering the lawyer, his client and taxi driver, may be set free in the next few weeks. This would not be exceptional. He emphasized that it would not be enough to fire the police officers alone.

‘Extra judicial killing among Kenyan police is being normalized and this is taking our country back to dark days. As lawyers, we condemn this practice. To show our solidarity for our fallen colleague, we down our tools for one week in protest,’ Okero declared.

There is no justification of taking away life

In defending the police officers’ misconduct and rampant killings, Charles Owino, police spokesperson said that in any big family, there must always be at least one person with bad behavior. He admitted that the three who were murdered were killed by police officers who have since been placed in custody pending investigations and possibly charges.

Owino stated that there are more than 100,000 police officers, both regular and administrative, countrywide. He affirmed that all the officers are trained and know that, as police officers, their sole mandate is to protect citizens.

‘We have a constitutional mandate to protect all citizens regardless of their background. Again, we are a large family of police officers so blanket condemnation is unfair,’ he repeated.

Owino blamed citizens for casting a negative attitude on Kenya's police, arguing that there are no other police from outside who will come to protect Kenyans apart from their own officers. He denied the term extrajudicial killing, explaining that it is a misplaced word used by media to paint police as murderers.

'We don’t have death-squads in the police unit. Neither do we have extrajudicial killers. These words are a media creation to form a notion among citizens that police are their enemies,' Owino, the police spokesperson, refuted.

However, in the coastal region, several families blame police for missing loved ones, relatives and friends. The Human Rights Commission has identified 86 cases of people missing while in custody in the coastal region.

Between January and April this year, 53 people have been shot dead by police across Kenya. Last year, there were 126 cases of those missing and murdered. In 2014 there were 199 cases.

Abdi Farah Noor's son is among those missing. He was arrested by police in the coastal Mombasa County and, soon after, went missing. His efforts to demand his son’s whereabouts have not bore fruit. Instead, police take him from one detention centre to another, 'without any tangible clue,' says Noor. He now wants human right lawyers to help him pursue the matter in court so as to know his son's destiny.

Kenyan police using excessive force to arrest a suspect in Nairobi, Kenya.

Henry Owino

'My son was arrested by police and detained but my questions are: which police station was he detained? For how long was he detained before appearing in court? Is my son dead or alive? I demand to know,' Noor questioned bitterly.

Elsewhere in Kwale County, Hemedi Salim Hemedi was arrested by police almost two years ago and also went missing. Hemedi was arrested in connection to drug trafficking while with friends in a Mosque praying. His family still searches for him.

Police claimed Hemedi jumped out of a moving vehicle that was escorting him to police custody for interrogations. However, family members say they last saw their son on a news hour video clip with his hands cuffed and held by two police officers heading to an unidentified police station.

'The last time we saw, our son, he was wearing his white hijap with hands chained, being escorted by two police from a vehicle to a police station that was not easy to identify,' a family member claimed.

About two months ago a prominent business person, Jacob Juma, was murdered on his way home from work by police. His body was later found dumped in his car. According to local media, the deceased may have been killed elsewhere and his body dragged to the scene.

Juma had hinted on social media that there may be big names behind Kenya's 'Euro Bond Saga', in which nearly one billion dollars of public money disappeared in a corruption scandal. It is alleged that the people involved are thought to be in the current regime and could not let Juma embarrass them.

Juma was allegedly trailed for two weeks before his murder. According to reliable sources in media, his execution had been planned for three days. The gun used to kill Juma has not yet been traced.

International constitutional lawyers now say that, as far as human life is concerned, Kenya has the worst police record. They caution that, unless something is done urgently, it might get out of control and, soon, citizens could target police.

'There is no justification for taking a life. The value of life in Kenya is almost becoming like that of a chicken. In fact, many lives have been lost silently by police but this time the voice of lawyers brought the true picture of police killings to the public domain,' Peter Kiama, human rights defender, claimed.

Critics say that the matter is serious because it has happened to a high ranking member of society, magnifying the rogue police officers. It reveals that there is no central power of command within the police service and rogue officers have backing from senior government officials.

'It seems like hell has broken loose: men and women in uniform competing in execution. The more one kills, the higher rank they are posted,' critics claimed.

Retired Justice Willy Mutunga put it another way, the 'drums of war are sounding in Kenya'. Police are becoming more brutal and citizens blame the government for much of the problem.

Africa’s hub of corruption

Anti-corruption suggestion box

An anti-corruption suggestion box in Mombasa, Kenya. Marcel Oosterwijk under a Creative Commons Licence

Corruption in Kenya is worse now than at any other time in the country’s post-independence history. While it is true that corruption exists in most African countries, in Kenya it affects the daily and economic business both of government and the governed.

The government of Kenya, under the leadership of President Uhuru Kenyatta, is said to be full of corrupt leaders – with his deputy at the top of the list. In this regime, leaders are appointed to positions on the basis of tribe, regardless of merits.

To make matters worse, the corruption has extended to the hiring of new staff, to promotions, to the recruitment of youth to join police training colleges, and even to service delivery in public offices. In government hospitals, patients must part with a bribe of not less than $25 if they want to get the best treatment. Otherwise, no nurse will attend to them.  

In police stations the trend is the same. The Kenya High Court recently cancelled the recruitment of 10,000 young people picked for police training because the exercise was marred by corruption. In learning institutions, bribes are paid to get admission or good final grades, so the quality of education is compromised. Many graduates are left jobless, not because of lack of vacancies, but because of their tribe affiliation. Other graduates, whose grades do not reflect their actual ability, fail in their jobs.

President Kenyatta comes from the Kikuyu community, while deputy president William Ruto is a Kalenjin. Thus it is only people from these two ethnic communities who benefit under this regime. Development projects have stalled or collapsed because the tendering process awarded the contracts to people ‘ethnically friendly’ to the government, regardless of experience and qualifications, as a way of rewarding them for supporting the regime during the election.

Standard Gauge Railway Line is one such example. The project was sponsored by the World Bank, and the government was to oversee its progress by employing qualified engineers and experts to construct it. However, the contractors colluded with government to exaggerate its cost almost fourfold.

Opposition leaders have been mounting fierce pressure on the President to commit himself in the fight against corruption. The criticisms seem to have been ignored until the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) cracked the whip. (The EACC is responsible for integrity and ethical behaviour, especially in those serving in public offices, yet its own officers are also easily compromised.)

President Kenyatta bowed to the pressure, swallowed his pride and made public the names – given to him by the EACC – of 162 individuals in his government said to be corrupt. The individuals include cabinet secretaries, governors, senators and legislators from both the opposition and the ruling Jubilee party.

‘I call upon those implicated in this corruption list to step aside to give room for investigation. If you are found innocent, you come back and continue serving, but if found guilty, carry your own cross,’ President Kenyatta said amid cheers of legislators in parliament. All 162 have since stepped aside pending 60 days of investigations.

The opposition has accused Kenyatta of taking too long to tackle the corruption charges.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga lamented: ‘The role of opposition is put the government on check. If it sleeps too much, we step on its toes to awaken it. But it should not wait until the problem reaches this [magnitude].’

Odinga claims that the corruption has had an effect on the country’s gross domestic profit (GDP). A few people have become ridiculously rich while the majority have remained extremely poor, thus widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.

The opposition leader has said that the police force is the most corrupt sector. ‘Surprisingly, these uniformed men and women who are mandated to maintain law and order within the country promote the vice,’ he disclosed. ‘No police officer in Kenya would discharge their services for free to citizens without any form of bribery.’

Illegal militia group Al Shabaab has taken advantage of the weakness of the police force, to terrorize and kill innocent citizens. Al Shabaab, a group of Somalia rebel soldiers, has been attacking Kenya in retaliation for the deployment in Somalia of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to boost security there. Kenya has as a result become the target of terror attacks itself. Militia groups bribe Kenyan border police and the KDF to get into the country. On 2 April, at least 150 students were killed at Garissa University College.

Police officers on the border say they are badly paid, receive no hardship allowances, live in dilapidated conditions and are not supplied with sufficient firearms and vehicles to deliver the services required. ‘We risk our lives guarding this part of the country’s border,’ one officer revealed. ‘If [Al Shabaab] bribe us with money, we cannot resist. After all, they have more sophisticated weapons than we do. They can force their way in by whatever means.’

Another area in which corruption is flourishing is smuggling. As long as one has the money and knows which buttons to press, foreigners can have access to anything in Kenya. Foreigners own Kenyan national identification documents, own huge chunks of lands, run businesses and operate anywhere, anytime, anyhow at the expense of citizens.

Senior election officials were recently implicated in a bribing scandal involving a British company which paid over $600,000 in bribes to win business contracts.

Meanwhile, in the National Assembly – where laws governing the country are made – bills are passed not based on benefit to constituents, but on how they will affect members of parliament (MPs). MPs are also easily bribed to debate certain motions and to defend or reject particular bills. When government MPs passed a security bill in record time recently, opposition unhappiness led to chaos and fighting in Parliament – misconduct seldom seen elsewhere.

Land-grabbing impunity

Sign outside Langata School

© Henry Owino

In early January, protests ensued over a school’s playground in Nairobi being ‘grabbed’, illegally fenced off and seized.  

The case of Langata Road Primary School is a classic land-grabbing one, a clear indication of government impunity, and indeed, it’s said to be the project of Deputy President William Ruto.

With the school located in a zone controlled by the government’s opposition forces, the information spread like a burning bush-fire, attracting public attention. A demonstration to oppose the move was set up.

Civil society organizations, parents and a group of children’s rights activists led a protest demanding the land be given back to the school. Pupils of the same school joined in the protest and tore down the perimeter wall, to express their anger towards the government. Police at the scene tear-gassed the demonstrators, including the pupils.

More violence ensued, leaving at least five pupils seriously injured; a police officer was also injured in the mix and several activists arrested for participating in the demonstration.

The public condemned tear-gassing schoolchildren who were rightfully demanding their land back. The officer commanding the police division who ordered the use of tear gas against children was suspended by Cabinet Secretary for the Interior, Joseph Nkaissery.

Nkaissery visited the school a day later and apologized to the pupils, parents, teachers and public at large. The Cabinet Secretary for Land, Charity Ngilu, also supported the children’s protest. She declared that the land in question belonged to Langata Road Primary School. Ngilu later named the grabbers, as she had promised citizens she would do. Four people were named – all of whom appear to be foreign investors. But citizens are not yet satisfied.

‘We want the names of the big fish who claim they are private developers,’ they chanted.

Their mistrust is understandable. It’s been 10 years since Daniel arap Moi stepped down as president, but the land-grabbing trend still continues through different means. Moi used to award his allies huge chunks of land without any documentation and ever since, land-grabbing in Kenya has become a common phenomenon, exploited by the very powerful as a money-making scheme. This goes against most citizens’ expectations of the current government.

The schemes involve foreigners and Kenyans who are well connected with the government, using the pretext of land leases as a shortcut to owning a piece of land, on the basis of ‘willing seller, willing buyer’. In some cases, a single piece of land may be sold to more than two potential clients at different times.

Critics say land-grabbing is a national disaster that could spark violence among communities, just like in 2007, and containing it will not be easy.

In fact, the situation is getting worse. An in-depth investigation has shown that many land-grabbers are high-profile individuals in the current government. The government has denied the allegations, saying that as citizens, government members are allowed to possess private land.

Nevertheless, the majority are misusing their senior positions to grab public land and register it under friends’ or relatives’ names. The few who are caught always spin the issue, saying the land belongs to private developers.

Kenyatta University, for example, the largest public higher-education institution in the country, is also facing problems with certain individuals who were rewarded land by former president Daniel arap Moi. The majority do not have the documents to prove their ownership, despite having served in Moi’s regime for over 20 years.

The Langata case is no different. According to Kenneth Okoth, the area’s member of parliament, the owner of the Weston hotel, located close to Langata, could be the same person who grabbed part of the school’s land. Okoth added that the hotel lacks a parking compound for vehicles, so the grabber might have wanted to expand for more space.

‘We want Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu to come out clear and name this private developer and the companies involved. The four people [who have been named] are just to cover up the truth of the matter,’ said Okoth.

‘The real land-grabbers are serving in this government and must be named and forced to quit,’ he emphasized.

 ‘Kenyans are fond of the saying “it’s our turn to eat”, so every person who comes to or forms the government tries to accumulate as much wealth as possible, even if it means grabbing it. Impunity in this country is costing citizens their rights,’ said renowned activist Boniface Mwangi.

Mwangi disclosed that sources have it that deputy president William Ruto is directly connected to the Langata Road Primary School land-grabbing scandal. He expressed his disappointment that the government, which should protect citizens, is misusing its powers to demoralize its people.

‘The land where the Weston hotel is built belongs to Langata prison, but we neither made noise nor took action against this, because the institution is for convicts. Unfortunately, the grabber is now expanding to a learning institution for our children; that one, we cannot tolerate any more,’ Mwangi stated.

Prepare for the worst, African farmers told

Kenyan farmer

A Kenyan farmer tends her crops. Harvests are failing due to erratic rainfall and higher temperatures. © Henry Owino

Climate change threatens food security but, Henry Owino discovers, adaptation is already underway. 

Small-scale farmers across Africa are struggling to adapt to rapidly rising temperatures and erratic rains patterns.

The pace and severity of climate change is expected to increase, according to the 2014 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR), and farmers are being urged to prepare for worse conditions.

The report also calls for local scientists to work closely with farmers to come up with solutions.

The report was launched at this year’s fourth annual Africa Green Revolution Forum, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It brought together African heads of state, ministers, farmers, agribusinesses, financial institutions, NGOs, civil society representatives, scientists and others to discuss improved food productivity and ending hunger; agricultural adaptation to climate change; and sustainable agricultural growth.

Magdalene Nyawire, a smallholder farmer at Kitale in western Kenya, says that she has experienced poor harvests for the past few years. She attributes this to unpredictable rainfall, long dry spells, disease and pests.

Nyawire mainly grows maize and beans on her five-acre plot. She used to produce at least 200 bags of maize and 50 bags of beans from the land. Nowadays, she struggles to harvest 40 bags of maize and 10 bags of beans.

‘The yield doesn’t reflect the amount of money I spend,’ she explains. ‘Farmers are discouraged. The main problem, I am told, is climate change, which comes [in the form of] long dry spells followed by heavy rain that cause floods and washes crops away.’

Nyawire is not alone. Farmers in Uganda, Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African countries are worse off and having to contend with increasing temperatures. But, Nyawire says, farmers are making use of innovations that could help them cope with climate change: planting drought-resistant seed varieties; participating in innovative crop and livestock insurance programmes that pay out when weather conditions deteriorate; and adopting soil management techniques that help their fields retain water and mitigate runoff and erosion.

‘Adaptation strategies also encompass strengthening land rights, particularly for us women; conserving biodiversity; improving information delivery systems; mechanizing farm labour; and strengthening market and weather information systems,’ Nyawire explains.

She believes that African governments must priotize investing in agricultural research and education, integrating formal and informal knowledge systems and building agricultural infrastructure such as rural roads and irrigation.

Jane Karuku, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), says that in East and Central Africa, the areas suitable for growing common beans – valued as a source of protein and now cultivated on seven million hectares – could decline by 25 to 80 per cent. Land suitable for cultivating the banana could fall by 25 per cent in the Sahel and 8 per cent in West Africa.

‘Smallholder farmers are the mainstay of food production across sub-Saharan Africa. As climate change turns up the heat, the continent’s food security and its ability to generate economic growth that benefits poor Africans depends on our ability to adapt to more stressful conditions,’ she explains.

Scientists predict severe drying across southern Africa, while other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to become wetter, with farmers facing more violent storms and frequent flooding. According to the AASR, climate change-induced food insecurity could see the number of malnourished sub-Saharan Africans increase by nearly 40 per cent over the next 35 years. Shifting climate conditions may also lower the concentration of mineral nutrients, such as iron and zinc, in plants, intensifying the already acute problem of micronutrient deficiency.

‘Helping smallholders adapt to climate challenges today will prepare them for even more serious challenges in the future,’ says David Darfo Ameyaw, managing editor of the report and AGRA’s director for strategy. ‘When farmers are able to employ climate-smart techniques, it makes a huge difference. Despite climate change, there is enormous potential for smallholder-led agricultural growth. But there is an urgent need to increase investment.’

Identifying and breeding seeds that are suitable for planting in a particular region or environment can lessen farmers’ reliance on manufactured fertilizer by making more efficient use of limited soil nutrients. There are also crop varieties with a higher tolerance for drought or salty soils, and varieties that can resist a rising tide of plant diseases and pests. Plant breeders are also working to boost the productivity and nutritional value of crops. Over the past 10 years, almost 500 new crop varieties that are adapted to particular conditions have been released to smallholder farmers.

Only four per cent of African agricultural land is irrigated; the rest depends on increasingly erratic rainfall. Rain-harvesting techniques such as collecting rain in ponds or barrels offer a simple but underused low-technology approach to climate change. The AASR notes that harvesting just 15 per cent of the region’s rain would more than meet the water needs of the continent.

Motorized equipment contributes only 10 per cent of farm energy, compared to 50 per cent in other regions. Mechanization could improve productivity, reduce waste and add value to food products. But progress in this area, scientists note, should be based on energy-efficient innovations, including the use of alternative energy such as solar-powered irrigation pumps, and supported by better training, a better repair service, and strong farmers’ organizations.

In addition to climate change, the AASR calls attention to other major trends influencing food security and agriculture production, including rapid population growth, urbanization, unsustainable land use and gender disparity. These forces affect household income, the cost of food, poverty levels, health, conflict over natural resources and growing social inequality.

Tension mounts as instability grips Kenya

al-shabaab

Al-Shabaab have claimed responsibility for the latest attack in Kenya. Wikiinpics.com under a Creative Commons Licence

Kenya, along with China, Libya and Egypt, has seen the highest rise in terrorist attacks in recent years, according to data released by Maplecroft’s Terrorism and Security Dashboard (MTSD). Areas in the southeast coastal region of Lamu County have been the worst affected, with at least 100 people killed so far. Many businesses have suffered as a result of the violence, and the security of local people has been compromised.

The latest terrorist attacks took place on 6 July in the towns of Hindi, in Lamu County, and Gamba, in Tana River; 22 people were killed. Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based militant group linked to al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility. Previous terrorist attacks in the country have been linked to the presence of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in Somalia, as well as to an unsettled dispute over coastal land ownership.

The KDF have been active in Somalia since 2011, on a mission to keep al-Shabaab at bay and help maintain stability in Somalia’s government. With tensions rising between the Kenyan government and the opposition, al-Shabaab have taken advantage of the situation by recruiting young Kenyans.

High levels of corruption and unemployment mean that Kenya’s borders have become porous, allowing al-Shabaab militia to pass through with sophisticated weapons.

For many years, Kenya was seen as a peaceful country, hosting many high-level diplomatic conferences as well as being the seat of UN headquarters in Africa; now, tourists and Kenyans alike are scared to be in the country.

Mohammed Musa, one of the survivors of the raids, says that the attackers use guns and machetes, among other crude weapons. ‘These militia groups target only men, sparing women and children; sometimes they ask which ethnic community one belongs to. I think locals are also involved in the raids, to make particular communities vacate the land.

‘Right now, we don’t have any jobs – the tourists who were here have left the country for security reasons. This has left the tourism sector in shambles; thousands have lost their jobs and our lives are becoming unbearable due to slow money circulation and high living costs,’ Musa explains.

The militia group has also changed its tactics by engaging local residents, who are not under suspicion by the police, to plant grenades. A spate of attacks has included grenade explosions in strategic places such as pubs, bus stations, churches, mosques, restaurants and hotels. This has increased Kenya’s insecure status, scaring away tourists; many countries have sent chartered planes to pick up foreigners from cities on the country’s Indian Ocean coast.

The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), the opposition party led by Raila Odinga, has urged the Kenyan government to bring KDF home, as demanded by al-Shabaab. Odinga, Kenya’s former prime minister, said the Kenya Defence Forces mission for peacekeeping had expired, according to plans made during the term of former president Mwai Kibaki.

Odinga said the KDF should come back home to beef up security in Kenya, especially in the border areas. He challenged the current government to engage with the opposition to help restore peace and security in the country.

‘We are calling upon the government led by President Uhuru Kenyatta to engage the opposition in a national dialogue because it is clear that it has failed to protect its people. There is insecurity, high cost of living, unemployment, poverty, corruption, [clan favouritism] in public office appointments – and the government is just quiet about it.’

As part of a 13-point declaration, Raila Odinga is calling for a referendum on issues affecting the Kenyan population, which the government should respond to and implement.

In reply, President Kenyatta claims that ‘there is no need for a referendum – what we want now is to deliver our promises to the people. The government is committed to provide and deliver services to its people.

‘I told Odinga, if he wants dialogue, let him come to the State House for a cup of tea – we talk, and I am ready to even offer him lunch on top of it. Now he has come with 13 points and a referendum to scare me. I am not afraid of anybody.’

The 13 points under discussion include an overhaul of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and address insecurity, corruption, the high costs of living and nepotism in public-office appointments.

The opposition is currently collecting the million signatures required countrywide for a referendum to take place, providing another source of tension in the country.

There is now public pressure for the president to sack the Interior Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Ole Lenku, due to his lack of action regarding the arrests of members of al-Shabaab.

Are corrupt politicians and park officials collaborating with Kenya’s poachers?

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Rhinos face extinction. But do they have friends or only enemies? wikipedia.org under a Creative Commons Licence

Wildlife conservationists in Kenya have strongly condemned the rise in cases of poaching across the country. Renowned conservationist and former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director Richard Leakey and Paul Kahumbu, Chief Executive Officer of WildlifeDirect, have called for an emergency response from President Uhuru Kenyatta.

‘Our wildlife is under threat;  it is our national heritage. The president should take stringent anti-poaching measures and declare elephants and rhinos national treasures. He should put them under state protection immediately,’ says Leakey.

The former KWS director claims that those behind poaching are known to the government and wildlife agencies, but that they are being protected by influential state officials who see no value in safeguarding the country’s heritage. ‘This government is highly corrupt and is operating with the highest level of impunity,’ one anonymous source said. ‘We want maximum intervention from international communities.’

WildlifeDirect’s Philip Murgor, a former Director of Public Prosecution, says that suspected poachers can only be charged in court if there is sufficient evidence linking them to the crimes. ‘Unless evidence is presented from the field, the cases will go nowhere. The major problem is that KWS officers lack proper training. You must arrest the right person and adduce evidence in court.’

Poachers belong to international crime rings, says Murgor. As such, they pose a major threat to Kenya’s economy and national security.

Paul Kahumbu refutes KWS’s statistics that poaching has declined over the past 3 years, saying they are wrong and misleading. He has revealed that since January, at least 16 rhinos have been killed, but no poachers have been convicted.

However, KWS Corporate Communication Manager Paul Udoto defends the agency, saying that they are doing their best with limited resources. They have only 2,700 rangers protecting wildlife across the country.

Investigative reporters from Standard Digital, the online arm of a leading news outlet in Kenya, have discovered that ‘poachers are working in cahoots with KWS personnel, from top-most to the rangers, to send signals to poachers on the location of a targeted rhino. And the process begins with the Management Staff Committee (MSC), which is based at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, whose mandate is to promote, transfer and discipline staff.’

Despite the incrimination of the MSC, no action has been taken against senior wardens or assistant directors who preside over parks worst affected by poaching.

Standard Digital's investigation reveals a predictable pattern. ‘Senior wardens are transferred on promotion after a number of rhinos are killed. Then, a replacement is brought in – only to be removed as soon as the next killings have taken place,’ the news website reports.

At the click of a finger, top management can dismiss officers who do not obey orders, or make them disappear. This has been common at Lake Nakuru National Park, where senior wardens are transferred to other parks, mostly in the coastal region of Kenya.

There are well-organized poaching cartels within and outside Kenya’s borders, using locals and foreigners with links to serving and retired KWS officials. Some commentators have called for an overhaul of Kenya Wildlife Service. They suggest the appointment of a new director who would ‘enjoy political support’ from all quarters without fear or favours.

The call comes barely a week after criminals killed 2 more rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park despite the deployment of heavily armed rangers.

‘If something is not done, we may not have any rhinos left in a few months,’ a park officer told Standard Digital. Lake Nakuru National Park was established as a rhino sanctuary in 1984 but there are now only 100 rhinos left there. It is estimated that there are just 1,000 rhinos remaining in the whole country, down from 24,000 three decades ago. This equates to Kenya losing some 800 rhinos every year.

A single rhino horn is worth 2 million Kenyan shillings (US$25,000). Despite international trade in ivory being illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, its growth is fuelled by legal domestic markets in countries such as Japan and China, where horns and tusks are prized for their medicinal value and for other purposes. 

Why is northern Kenya’s hunger crisis being ignored?

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A dried up river bed. So far 30,000 drought-refugees have crossed the border into Uganda. Matt and Kim Rudge under a Creative Commons Licence

In Turkana County, northern Kenya, 90,000 people are slowly starving. Rivers and wells began drying up two months ago, leading to a severe drought that is affecting some 400,000 local residents. Livestock have perished and crops have failed. The situation has become so desperate that residents are being forced to eat their pets.

But Felix Kiptarus Koskei, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, believes that it is simply a matter of time before the crisis is over. ‘I would like to appeal to Kenyans that the situation in Turkana County may be alarming but the government has put in place measures to overcome it. We are human and we are trying to provide what is necessary now to avoid further deaths,’ he said.

However the humanitarian disaster appears to worsening. Kenyans blame the government for not doing enough. Food packages distributed by officials do not meet local need and 30,000 drought-refugees have so far crossed the border into Uganda, with more look set to follow.

Turkana County has long been neglected by successive national governments to the extent that residents do not recognize themselves as Kenyan citizens. In fact, many see themselves as foreigners or refugees in their own country.

During the past 50 years, local government has done little better. There has been hardly any progress towards implementing sustainable development programmes. Road networks and communication infrastructure is dismal.

Turkana County lies in an Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) area. These areas have some of the lowest school enrolment rates in the country. Pupils are issued with laptops when there is no electricity and learn under trees due to a shortage of classrooms.

Health facilities are few and far between, meaning that locals have to walk for several kilometres to the nearest centre. Worse still, opening times are sporadic and medication is in short supply.

The population in Turkana County is growing but there is limited capacity in the area to sustain large numbers of people while opportunities for employment in other areas of the country are limited.

The recent discovery of oil in the area that may improve the prospects of some. But oil is no replacement for water.

There are calls for the government, headed up by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, to implement a National Drought Contingency Fund that would ensure drought emergencies are responded to quickly and early on.

Strategic planning will be needed, along with the recognition that food aid is a short term and partial fix. And steps should be taken to negotiate peace between different ethnic groups in the ASAL areas, who clash over ever-dwindling resources.

In the long term, according to Erick Kimani, Communication Officer for Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) UN Kenya, there must be sustained investment in drought stricken areas for communities to build up resilience and adapt to climate change.

SIM cards for elephants

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Within a decade, elephants could be extinct in Africa. Whispering Crane Institute under a Creative Commons Licence

As the fight to stop poachers in Kenya becomes increasingly militarized, the Kenyan government and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are also attempting to dissuade poachers through non-violent means.

A new bill is awaiting presidential approval and could become law within a few days. Using financial incentives, it is designed to encourage communities and private landowners to protect, and not kill, elephants.

The bill will also stipulate that harsher penalties should be served to those charged with poaching. Currently, small fines are the only deterrent for poachers, and when the business of elephant and rhino tusk smuggling is so lucrative, there is little to lose.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been monitoring elephants’ movements using mobile phone technology since 2005 as part of a wider campaign to ensure that wild animal trophies – elephants tusks, rhino horns, animal skin and teeth – are not smuggled into the illicit global market where demand is growing, especially from China.

SIM cards with secret codes are fitted to all elephants’ tusks. Should poachers remove the tusk from an elephant, the wildlife protection officers are still able to track the tusk and even the poachers.

The devices are also able to sense when and where the animal is attacked or is in danger so that rangers can move into the area to help save elephants lives.

‘Most of these efforts are in addition to what we traditionally do as wildlife management, such as monitoring, research, translocations, anti-poaching and other security measures’ says William Kiprono, director of KWS.

A handful of the largest parks in Kenya including Tsavo East and West National Parks and Aberdare National Park still contain viable ecosystems and wildlife populations. These include a small population of 631 black rhinos, 390 southern white rhinos and four northern white rhinos.

To help protect animal wildlife, the country has 29 elephant range areas, four marine parks and reserves, four national sanctuaries and 125 field stations outside the protected areas system. Wildlife protection staff are stretched to capacity.

Kenya loses over 365 elephants for their tusks annually, according to official statistics. The actual figure is thought to be up to three times higher. The country’s current elephant population is estimated at 30,000 compared to 167,000 in 1979.

The mortality rate is four per cent compared to a growth rate of two per cent meaning that within 10 years elephants could be extinct in Kenya and the rest of Africa. An urgent response to poaching is therefore required to prevent a further decline of elephant numbers and the negative impact it has on the Kenyan economy.

Kiprono explains that there are other challenges facing the KWS in maintaining animal populations: inadequate national data on the status of wildlife, loss of clear national land use policy, high human-elephant conflict, and effects of climate change.

Human-elephant conflict has been exacerbated as unplanned settlements and farms continue to encroach on and fragment wildlife habitats. Injuries to humans and property have increased, resulting in costly compensation lawsuits, payouts and revenge killings of the animals, says Kiprono. The proposed bill therefore could have a far-wider reaching impact than reducing the rate of poaching.

Elephants also benefit communities as a tourist attraction: many people stay in Kenya’s hotels and lodges just because of the presence of healthy wildlife populations. So it is in local residents’ interest to value the animals and create safe havens to protect them from poachers.

The plight of elephant populations has inspired groups and individuals around the world. For example, following his Kenyan research scientist and elephant specialist Jim Nyamu embarked on a journey covering 900 kilometres by foot to raise awareness that elephants face extinction.

Nyamu’s walk began in the US on 4 September in Boston, Massachusetts and ended in Washington DC on 4 October on the day of the International March for Elephants. He has since begun a 2,500 kilometre walk back in Africa. With the message ‘Ivory Belongs to Elephants’ emblazoned on his t-shirt he calls upon individual citizens, communities, policymakers and the private sector to help in the fight against poaching.

Amnesty International defends refugees in Kenya

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Dabaad refugee camp Care Kenya

The Kenyan government’s plans to repatriate its Somali refugees have received heavy criticism from Amnesty International.

More than one million refugees from Somalia are putting a heavy strain on neighbouring countries. Within Somalia itself, 1.1 million people remain displaced, 80 per cent of whom are in the conflict areas in the south and middle of the country.

Acts of terrorism have increased in Kenya since its defence forces (KDF) were deployed to Somalia with the premise of combating the Al-Shabaab militant group. Some of the group are believed to have joined the refugee camps in Kenya. Kenya’s government believes that a spate of grenade attacks and an increase in violence within its borders are due to Al-Shabaab imposters coming in as refugees.

Dadaab refugee complex in the northeast of Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the world. It poses monumental challenges for the Kenyan authorities, which disproportionately shoulder the responsibility for the flows of displaced people.

If this repatriation decision is approved, it could cause more tension between the two countries. Kenya has played a significant role in ensuring that peace prevails in Somalia and, at least for now, it has formed its own government that can run the country and protect its people.

There has been some return of internally displaced people and refugees, both spontaneous and assisted voluntary returns – though these are few and areas of return are still marred by conflict and insecurity.

Amnesty International is opposed to the Kenyan government’s plans. The organization, which fights for human rights internationally, said Kenya is making the world an increasingly dangerous place for refugees and asylum-seekers, especially in East Africa.

Amnesty says that the rights of millions of people who have escaped conflict and persecution have been abused. According to Justus Nyang’aya, Director of Amnesty International in Kenya, governments around the world are accused of showing more interest in protecting their national borders than the rights of their citizens, or the rights of those seeking refuge.

‘In Kenya, Somali refugees and asylum-seekers continue to be harassed and arbitrarily detained by the security services and are routinely the targets of xenophobic violence. Much of this is fuelled by populist rhetoric that targets refugees and scapegoats them for the government’s domestic difficulties,’ Nyang’aya said.

He recalled that in 2012, Kenya came under criticism for continuing to block the registration of people at the borders of Somalia and Kenya. This left people forced to walk up to 100 kilometres from the border in order to seek asylum, risking rape, violence and extortion.

Local NGO Kituo cha Sheria is trying to obtain a court injunction against implementation of the government’s directive, and the case is currently ongoing.

‘I am afraid that if implemented, this restriction of freedom of movement is likely to lead to other serious human right abuses in already overcrowded, insecure refugee camps,’ Nyang’aya said.

The organization emphasized: ‘Refugees and displaced people can no longer be “out of sight, out of mind”. Their protection falls to all of us.’

Amnesty International is calling on Kenya to resume registration at the border and in urban centres, and to cease all threats to forcibly return all residents to Somalia.

This issue is not confined to Kenya alone. In 2012 the global community witnessed a range of human rights emergencies that forced large numbers of people to seek safety within states or across borders. From continued insecurity in Somalia to Mali, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, people fled their homes in the hope of finding a safe haven.

The European Union implements border control measures that put the lives of asylum- seekers at risk and fails to guarantee the safety of those fleeing conflict and persecution. Around the world, asylum-seekers are regularly locked up in detention centres and in worst-case scenarios are held in metal crates or even shipping containers.

‘It is unacceptable that the world’s poorest countries continue to shoulder the largest responsibly for refugees, while the European Union only offers between 4,000 and 5,000 resettlement places each year,’ said Nyang’aya.

‘Those who live outside their countries, without wealth or status, are the world’s most vulnerable people but they are often condemned to desperate lives in the shadows.

‘The world cannot afford no-go zones in the global demand for human rights. Human rights protection must be applied to all human beings, wherever they are.’

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