Epstein Suicide Watch

Comparisons between Epstein’s apparent suicide and Kennedy-Ruby assassinations are already being made. With the man who knew too much now dead could we be left with little more than conspiracy theories? What happened to Epstein’s suicide watch? Where were the wardens? Initially, CNN reported he died of cardiac arrest. Who might have given him or administered the drug that induced that? The NYT later reported he he actually hung himself. Why was he taken off suicide watch when he tried to hang himself just days ago? My first thought, who paid off the wardens? His death came one day news organizations published a cache of documents describing how he operated the equivalent of a sexual pyramid scheme. Hopefully, these documents will focus now on the remaining alleged perps, including Ghislaine Maxwell, British heiress and daughter of former media mogul, Robert Maxwell, who allegedly procured young girls for Epstein and friends. Maxwell is nowhere to be found at the moment. I’m sure Epstein’s only known client, Lesli Wexner, knows a lot, though he didn’t notice that someone – Epstein – had essentially stolen his Manhattan townhouse, the largest and most expensive residence in NYC. Wexner, who bought Victoria’s Secret when it was a little known lingerie store chain in the 80s. He is now worth $4.6 billion (the richest man in Ohio) and owns one of the largest “yachts” in the world. A young woman accused Epstein of molesting her in Wexner’s Ohio home. Last but not least is Alan Derschowitz, famous “professor emeritus at Harvard, who’s also accused of molesting Virginia Roberts Giuffre when she was 16. “The Dersh” who helped broker Epstein’s 2007 sweetheart plea deal has strongly denied sexual contact with Giuffre. Giuffre also claimed Brit Royal Prince Andrew molested her when she was 17. All the allegations about Prince Andrew were struck from the court record in 2015 after being described as “immaterial and impertinent” by the judge, according to @telegraph (Read lots more by Katy Baker @thedailybeast ) #jeffreyepstein #suicide #ghislainemaxwell #lesliewexner #victoriassecret #GhislaineMaxwell #sextraffickingawareness #sexsells

Thoughts on the dusitD2 attack

On January 15th, 2019, I flew from Nairobi to Lamu, where I’ve been living for some time. While waiting for my luggage I chatted with a fellow passenger, a young Somali who told me he was working in the gas fields of Pate Island. We noted the gains Kenya has made in recent years in security and the uptick in international tourism. Other than the odd skirmish between Al-Shabaab and security forces in the Boni, it sure has looked lately as though Kenya had licked the militant group.

When I got home a journalist friend phoned to tell me that an attack was underway at the dusitD2 complex in Nairobi’s affluent Westland’s neighborhood. The action hadn’t been confirmed – it was only an hour into the attack – but Al-Shabaab were the most likely perpetrators.

The dusitD2 attack racked up some “firsts”: 

The Al-Shabaab attackers were all Kenyan nationals, including the two ethnic Somalis. At least two were Kikuyus from Kenya’s central region. (All four attackers who stormed the Westgate Mall in 2013 were Somali nationals.) 

For the dusitD2 Al-Shabaab deployed a suicide bomber, a first in its many attacks in Kenya.

The dusitD2 attack was anomalous in various ways—even outright weird. Several things seemed off (and Im sure many others as well). First, the suicide bomber. It may be a stretch to say the bomb went off “in the middle of nowhere,” as one analyst described it to me, but the bomber wasn’t positioned in a way that would have maximized casualties.

Instead he seemed to be walking away from the intended target — the restaurant verandah — and asking his handler with the remote, “Why haven’t I exploded yet?

Advertisement at dusitD2 complex

The moment Mahir Khalid Riziki detonates

The time of the attack was also peculiar. The gunmen stormed the dusitD2 security gates at around 2:30 pm. By that time most patrons and staff were back in their offices. The Westgate gunmen by contrast attacked the mall on when it was packed, on a Saturday. And they clearly had an exit strategy. Analysts speculate the attackers got away before security forces arrived.

2013 Westgate Attack

Al-Shabaab’s official statement about dusitD2, which among other things, tied the attack to Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, seemed irrelevant to troubles in East Africa.

The dusitD2 complex looked too complex for the killers to maneuver. Unlike Westgate with its massive, open, multi-story space, the dusitD2 complex consists of a restaurant, the hotel reception area, and a honeycomb of offices in several buildings.

dusitD2 complex

If the attackers weren’t aiming for high numbers, perhaps they were ordered to kill specific people in specific offices.

Among those killed were employees of various strategic development companies.

Jason Spindler, an American who died in the attack, worked at I-DEV, “a strategy and investment advisory firm focused on supporting businesses and organizations to achieve their impact and growth goals in emerging markets.

Jason Spindler enjoyed spending time in Lamu, a predominately Muslim town on Kenya’s north coast.

Feisal Ahmed, 31, and Abdalla Dahir, 33, two Somalis who were killed, had worked with the British firm Adam Smith International,”an award-winning global company that delivers impact, value and lasting change through economic growth and government reform” At the time of the attack, the two were working for the Somalia Stability Fund, managed by ASI, whose mission is to “bring peace and stability to Somalia”.

Al-Shabaab might view the efforts of a company like Adam Smith International as oriented to anything but bringing peace and prosperity to Somalia.

Rumors circulated that a large group of Americans were scheduled to meet for a conference at the dusitD2 but cancelled at the last minute. (The manager at the nearby Gemstone Suites, where the meeting had in fact taken place, reportedly said they’d never planned to meet at the dusitD2.)

A security source told me the Americans at the meeting at Gemstone Suites were with USAID or with people related to USAID-funded projects.

USAID in northern Kenya (2015)

It is widely believed that USAID projects project “soft-power” tactics not only to win over the people but also for advancing US economic and political interests. USAID is at the heart of the fight to win the hearts and minds of Kenya’s Muslim populations.

Al-Shabaab doesn’t like foreign meddling of any kind.

Diplomatic and security sources confirmed that the dusitD2 Hotel guests at the time of the attack included Ahmed Duale Gelle, President of central Somalia’s autonomous state of Galmudug. He happened to be outside the hotel at the time, and it is unclear whether he may have been a marked target. One analyst remarked that a lot of people having nothing to do with Al-Shabaab would probably like to take Gelle out.

If the group of USAID-related officials and Gelle were intended targets, it seems Al-Shabaab suffered a significant lapse in intelligence. A lapse that luckily saved lives.

Security analysts I’ve spoken with term the dusitD2 operation amateurish, and the militants themselves inept.

If the attack was, from Al-Shabaab’s point of view, a dud it was a success for Kenya’s security forces in terms of rapid response.

Learning from their disastrous and embarrassing behavior at the Westgate attack GSU, the Israeli-trained Recce squad, KDF, and Special Forces have been conducting “synergized operations”simulated responses—in a training area at Embakasi, near Kenyatta International Airport. The training objective, to learn from and close the gaps in response, appears to have been achieved. 

Returning to Nairobi at the end of January, I headed straight to the Dusit. I was surprised by how easily I was allowed in, past battalions of GSU police. Devoid of activity, the buildings comprising the complex, so many offices in them that I’d not noticed on prior visits, were like canyons.

And unlike the Westgate and response occurred over a period 80 hours, security forces extinguished the dusitD2 attack and the attackers in less than 48 hours. International media coverage has evaporated.

One final bit of weirdness; as it happens the headquarters of Frontier Services Group, a security company led by Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater Worldwide, is located on Riverside Dr., five minutes from the dusitD2 complex.


Erik Prince in Fun City, Abu Dhabi

In 2015 Newsweek assigned me to track down billionaire Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater Security Erik Prince in South Sudan. 

Personnel from his new logistics company Frontier Services Group were rumored to have been arming both sides of the conflict in the nascent war-torn country. 

I didn’t find Prince himself but signs of FSG in Juba, and near the oil fields in the Upper Nile state, were aplenty. 

More on that later. 

In September, I passed through UAE and found Erik Prince’s “Blackwater” (note logo) catamaran docked in front of his two villas in a gated enclave in Abu Dhabi. A local realtor said they were valued at $5 million – and one was for sale. 

A view of Abu Dhabi from one of Prince’s two villas
Ferrari parked in villa garage
Catamaran with Blackwater logo

Big Game: U.S. Soldiers’ Secret Hunt for Jihadists in a Kenyan Forest


Big Game: U.S. Soldiers’ Secret Hunt for Jihadists in a Kenyan Forest
The United States is waging secret warfare around the world. The operations in and around Kenya’s Boni National Reserve on the Somali border are some of the most mysterious.


02.08.17 9:03 AM ET

A short, bloody raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces on an al Qaeda base in Yemen in the second week of Donald Trump’s presidency was a fleeting reminder to the world that Americans are engaged in secret and not-so-secret wars around the globe. But most of the action is not as dramatic as the Yemen attack in which a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed, an 8-year-old girl died, and a $70 million aircraft crash landed and had to be destroyed. All that took place in the space of a couple of hours. But most of these wars are long grinds fought far from prying eyes in close cooperation with local forces that often are notorious for torture and other human rights abuses. And nowhere have those fights gone on so long, or in such obscurity, as in Africa. This is the first of an occasional series that will shine some light into those shadows.


LAMU, Kenya—Tucked into the northeast end of the country’s coast, the Boni National Reserve is a fairy-tale paradise, a resplendent ecosystem packed with elephantine baobab trees and hydra-headed doum palms. This mix of riverine forest and swampy grassland is home to some of the country’s largest herds of game, and to rare species like the wild dog, Somali lion, and reticulated giraffe.
There are no rhinoceros left here, but Doza Diza, 66, talks about seeing kifaru often. The safari word for rhino has been re-purposed by the locals as a name for the armor-plated Humvees whose machine-gun mounts recall the animal’s distinctive horn.

Tall, gaunt, and with a bad eye, Doza Diza wears a traditional Somali sarong and a Muslim skullcap. He describes himself as a former county councilor and crab fisherman.
These motorized rhino can be distinguished by color, he says. The dark green ones are vehicles operated by the Kenya Defense Forces, KDF, he tells me. Those painted the color of sand belong to the Americans.
Doza is an elder of his tribe, the Awer (also spelled Aweer). They are hunter-gatherers who seek out honey by following birds, talk to crocodiles and hippos in tongues the beasts are said to understand, and generally stick to their ancient way of life. The Awer are also Muslims, which is highly unusual among the world’s few remaining stone-age peoples.
They’ve long inhabited the Boni forest region, but slowly and surely their way of life is being stripped from them. Subsistence hunting was banned in Kenya in the 1970s, so any meat the Awer procure is illegal. Poverty further marginalizes them. And now the tribe is caught in the crossfire of the global war on terror.
How will the new administration in Washington deal with this and other semi-clandestine wars being waged by the United States around the world? Donald Trump has a penchant for former generals, with Michael Flynn, a longtime U.S. Army intelligence officer as his national security adviser, and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, a veteran of counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, who is now secretary of defense. Trump’s close advisor Steve Bannon also fancies himself a brilliant armchair general. But Washington is a long way from the Boni forest and the very special sort of battlefield it represents.

As The New York Times reported in October and November the United States has been escalating the “shadow war” inside Somalia with “the potential for the United States to be drawn ever more deeply into a trouble country that so far has stymied all efforts to fix it.”
The Times, quoting unnamed “senior American military officials,” estimated that “about 200 to 300 American Special Operations troops work with soldiers from Somalia and other African nations like Kenya and Uganda to carry out more than a half-dozen raids per month.” And it outlined a program in which private contractors employed by the U.S. also play a significant role.
But the shadow war inside the failed-state borders of Somalia is almost transparent compared to the activities here on the ill-defined edge of that war. There is a long history of countries on the fringes of conflict being sucked into war themselves, the most notable example being Cambodia during the Vietnam debacle. Whether Washington will help prevent such an outcome—or provoke it—is an open question.
The area in and around the Boni National Reserve is one of many places in Africa where American personnel are deployed with little fanfare and, indeed, as secretly as Washington’s representatives and proxies can manage.
Repeated and detailed queries to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) for clarification of the American role here on the frontier between Kenya and Somalia were answered this month with a brief response explaining why not even a background briefing was possible: “As these operations are currently ongoing, and have elements of U.S. special forces assisting, we cannot comment at this time due to operational security reasons.”

A major part of the mission those U.S. special forces are “assisting” in this part of the continent is, in fact, to hunt down and kill members of the Somali group known as al-Shabaab who threaten Kenya’s security and, through the group’s close relationship with al Qaeda, are believed to threaten America’s as well.
The counterterror and counterinsurgency forces operating in the region would like the Awer to help them track the Somali guerrillas and terrorists. But that project is not going well in an operation reminiscent of many sorry histories around the world where local tribes and minorities have been instrumentalized, abused, and very often abandoned.
U.S. Special Forces (Green Berets), other Special Operations Forces of various stripes, State Department officials, the inevitable slews of American contractors, and spooks and commandos from countries with close ties to the United States, including the Brits, Israelis, and Jordanians, have all deployed here in an undeclared if not unmentioned U.S.-backed war.
Kenya’s government and its international partners—the heavyweights being the U.S. and the U.K.—are desperate to make this region safe for engineers, imported skilled workers, and, yes, tourists. But the current intense counterterror focus has been a slow build, and not hugely effective. For the moment, anyone who ventures into the Boni forest risks getting blown up by an IED.
Indeed, as if mocking attempts by the Kenyan government to establish the forest and its coast as a destination resort, al-Shabaab released a recruitment video in 2015 boasting about the bountiful game in the forest provided by Allah to sustain jihadi fighters.
One ranch with a tourist concession that had been a haunt of jet-setters and celebrities (Kristin Davis, one of the stars of Sex in the City, had been a guest) found itself converted into a haven for al-Shabaab sympathizers in 2014. They stole food and medicine then torched the facility’s guest huts.
There is a long and bloody history behind such incidents, which we’ll look at in a subsequent installment of this series. But the short history has been the stuff of fleeting headlines for more than five years.
In October 2011, Kenya sent troops into Somalia. Since then al-Shabaab has carried out massive retaliatory hits on targets in Kenya resulting in more than 300 deaths.
Kenyan officials believe that after the spectacular 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that killed at least 70 people, al-Shabaab retreated from Kenya’s urban areas and melted into the dense Boni forest—which sits on the coast, right on the country’s north-south border with Somalia and adjacent to what was once a Somali national park.
Officials say another massacre, the 2014 Mpeketoni attack, which left 48 dead, was staged from within the forest, and that the Garissa University attack of 2015, which left at least 148 dead, was organized within the enormous Dadaab refugee camp nearby (which the Kenyan government plans to shut down, further displacing more than 300,000 people).
Jaysh Aman, the al-Shabaab cell in the forest, reportedly was comprised of some 300 fighters in 2015, but its numbers certainly vary.
Following the Westgate attack (which was later the subject of an extraordinary HBO documentary) national and Western forces were in an all-out scramble to protect Kenya from further cross-border terrorism. After the Garissa attack, Kenya asked the U.S. and other Western nations for more and better assistance.
According to human rights groups, the counterinsurgency tactics that accompanied the build-up of U.S. assistance have featured mass police sweeps, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and summary executions targeting not only al-Shabaab suspects, but alleged sympathizers and Muslim communities generally.
In October 2015 the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) released a report documenting disappearances and killings of residents and suspects along the Somalia border and the Kenya coast. Worshippers were grabbed as they left mosques and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers allegedly shot dead cattle herders, most of whom are Muslim, in east Kenya (PDF).
During President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya in July of 2015, he stepped into the fray, allocating $100 million for the Kenya Defense Forces for weapons, materiel, and vehicles. The allowance was a 163 percent increase in counterterrorism assistance over the previous year. Among Kenya’s purchases: a Boeing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle—a drone—at a price of $9.8 million. Each year since 2012 the Kenyan government has asked for security assistance from the West.
The most recent installment—approved by the State Department days after Trump’s inauguration, but still not through Congress—is a $418 million package that includes crop dusters converted for low, slow, high impact attacks targeting people on the ground.
The extent to which the Trump administration will continue or cut back economic assistance in Africa is unclear, with some reports suggesting those funds will be reduced. In one of several pointed queries the Trump White House sent to the State Department it said bluntly, “We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?” But such questions offer little hint of a new strategy, apart from efforts to shore up Fortress America at its frontiers. Somalia was one of the seven Muslim majority countries whose citizens were banned temporarily by Trump’s controversial executive order.
Obama’s theme was known as “the 3-D approach” to the region’s conflicts—defense, diplomacy, and development. And in the two months following his historic visit to the land of his father, Kenya’s government announced that a “multi-agency” security force had been assembled to carry out counterterror measures against al-Shabaab.
The force consisted of paramilitary units within Kenya’s police, Kenya Defense Forces special forces, and various state agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, Military Intelligence, the Kenya Wildlife Service and Forest Service—all trained by Western police units and special forces.


On Sept. 11 of 2015, Kenya formally launched “Operation Linda Boni” (Linda Boni being Swahili for “protect the Boni”). The goal set a two-month timetable to drive the insurgents from the forest. It is still going on.
The first stage of this effort was cordoning off the Boni forest as a collection of “no-go zones,” and evacuation of all residents. Those who remained would be regarded as al-Shabaab sympathizers.
This branded the Awer, Kenyan citizens, as the enemy.
Security officials contend that Somali fighters have taken up residence, with their wives and children, deep inside the Boni forest.
Doza Diza and other Awer leaders say that is true.
They say al-Shabaab has coerced them into providing shelter in mosques and schools, logistical support, chiefly in the form of food and medicine, and have forced tribespeople to track game for them.
But the Awer also are quick to say that violence and threats against them come from both sides in this conflict.
Kenyan officials claim that Somali attackers burned the huts of the Awer, while the Awer say that Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) burned those shelters in an effort to force them to comply with the evacuation.
Doza reports that guerrillas took his people’s food and issued warnings not to reveal their whereabouts to Kenya security, “Otherwise, we’ll deal with you.” Aside from this, he notes, the insurgents are polite. “Al-Shabaab rob from us, but they don’t beat us or grab our land—the way Kenya forces do.”
Linda Boni has not only run long beyond its planned two-month timetable, it has extended far beyond the forest and its region into much of northeast Kenya.
In the process it has become apparent that the KDF’s counterterror tactics involve more than eradicating the al-Shabaab presence in the forest.
By the end of 2015, the KDF announced it was expanding its area of deployment into neighboring counties along the Somali border and south some 200 miles, to the Tana River, constructing additional police stations and military camps. The Baragoni camp on the southern fringe of the Boni-Dodori National Reserve expanded its area to 800 acres of ostensibly public land.
Kenya is building a 435-mile Western-funded security wall at the nation’s eastern border. On a visit to Kenya last year, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a big fan of walls in the Holy Land and in the U.S. as well, committed funds to the project. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta reportedly has suggested building a terrorist-only prison facility within the Boni forest.
Land grabs in northeastern Kenya are nothing new. In the ’80s the Kenyan government seized land during a counterinsurgency operations against ethnic Somalis inhabiting the area. Now locals—ethnic Somalis and Muslim communities generally—suspect that military expansion is an excuse to take more land in and around an area where the Kenya government, the Chinese, and several multinational companies have plans for an oil-related infrastructure mega-development.
The KDF concedes that the forest is a national reserve but insists it is gazetted as government land, not communal land.
Doza suggests that the only power able to help his people stop the abuses is the U.S. government—the people behind the people in the “rhinoceros” Hummers.
Since the Westgate attack, the KDF base at Baragoni has grown from a temporary camp to a permanent one, and by 2015 Kenya had deployed enough of its troops there with sufficient transport to foil a Shabaab attack aimed at destroying the Baure camp, which is 36 miles north of the Baragoni base.
(In that action a year and a half ago the KDF killed 11 militants, including an British man named Thomas Evans who’d been dubbed “the White Beast” in U.K. tabloids. The KDF paraded his corpse—along with others—in nearby Mpeketoni, where counterterror operations are headquartered. The British press subsequently posted video that appears to show the nighttime engagement filmed the day he died.)
But the reach of the Baragoni base stretches far beyond a few satellite camps.

Swaleh Msellem, a Swahili resident of Lamu Island, manages a petrol station at the Mokowe jetty a few kilometers across a channel on the mainland. Msellem, now 30, told me how one morning he’d docked his boat at the jetty where at least a dozen non-uniformed men, whom he claims were with the paramilitary wing of Kenya’s National Police Service, had been waiting for him.
Someone pulled a hood over his head and tossed him into a vehicle. Familiar with the area and its roads, he said he could tell he was driven some 40 kilometers away to the Baragoni military base, where he was detained in a shipping container and tortured.
Some of the techniques used on him were repeated mock drownings (a variation on waterboarding) and crushing of testicles. These were done, he said, to extract a confession that he planned a deadly attack in the nearby village of Hindi, soon after the Mpekatoni massacre. He denied this. The interrogators asked where the weapons were that were used for the attacks. “Which weapons?” he answered.
The KDF continued to grill him, insisting he had information. He told me that during that detention he was driven from Baragoni to an area nearby where he witnessed the execution of two al-Shabaab fighters by a firing squad. One afternoon he complained of feeling ill. Guards took him outside to a pond where he vomited. Through his loosened blindfold he was able to glimpse crocodiles on the berm of the pond.
Why were crocodiles being kept inside a military base, he wondered.
Msellem said soldiers later threatened that he’d be fed to the crocodiles like others had been if he didn’t cooperate. After two weeks he was transferred to the port town of Mombasa, to the south, and held several months at the infamous Shimo La Tewa prison in a wing reserved for terrorists. Msellem eventually was taken into court, where he was acquitted of all murder and terror-related charges for lack of evidence.
When I interviewed Msellem, he was grimly philosophical. Although he did not see or talk to any U.S. personnel, as far as he knew, he had no doubt they played some role behind the scenes. “The Americans are very complicated, aren’t they? On the one hand they are helping us by building roads, dispensaries, schools, but they also seem to want to kill us.”
In that one observation Msellem summed up the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the “3-D approach to U.S. Foreign Policy”: defense, diplomacy, and development.
A human rights report from the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights documents the abuse of Msellem (PDF), but does not cite it as having taken place in part (or at all) at Baragoni.
I spoke with Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, about the possibility of suspects being thrown to the crocodiles. He said he’d interviewed a local who was one survivor among four al-Shabaab suspects thrown in the Tana River behind a military camp. But as it was a single source he couldn’t report it. “This is Kenya—anything can happen,” he said.
For information from inside the Baragoni base, I spoke with a man who identified himself as a Western-trained Kenyan Special Forces soldier serving with one of the SF battalions. (Photos of him clad in fatigues and standing with fellow soldiers in a garrison in Somalia would seem to confirm his identity.)
This soldier described to me the process of “enhanced interrogation”—torture—used at Baragoni military base. He confirmed that people were detained in shipping containers, but said he hadn’t heard anything about suspects being thrown to the crocodiles.
He said that sometimes the National Intelligence Service detains and interrogates suspects at the nearby Manda Bay navy base. “But they [NIS] don’t force you to say anything,” he told me. “When you’re brought to Baragoni you’re forced to talk.”
According to a map I was shown and was able to examine at length, the Baragoni base is operated by Kenya’s Directorate of Military Intelligence.
It would seem prisoners taken in action have little hope of survival. “If there’s been direct engagement [with al-Shabaab] we capture them and they’re taken to Baragoni,” said the same soldier. “If they don’t have any useful information then they are being killed. Those that give information or say where the weapons will be are shot dead.”
By the time the soldier’s deployment ended, he said, several dozen detainees remained in the shipping containers with partitions. Former detainees and a law enforcement official said that as recently as July 2016 there were as many as 16 containers, each housing at least six prisoners.
The soldiers said some suspects were ferried by helicopter to an especially inaccessible area inside the Boni forest, where they were shot dead. Hunters from the Awer report finding human remains where they collect honey.
In November 2015, a Lamu resident I see often told me that Lamu County’s government was organizing a baraza—a meeting—between Awer elders and government representatives from Nairobi, to enable the tribespeople to voice complaints about the KDF’s actions. The baraza was to take place at a restaurant on the mainland. I decided to crash the event.
When I arrived near the entrance of the restaurant there was quite a crowd milling around. At least three dozen Kenyan soldiers and police stood guard, blocking the road to the venue. At the cordon, I observed uniformed military personnel, mostly white, driving sand-colored armor-plated Humvees, those that Doza Diza had called “kifaru.”
Officers on the ground were armed with what KDF personnel identified as U.S.-manufactured FN SCAR automatic assault rifles, a very high-tech killing machine capable of firing 625 rounds a minute. Indeed, they are the U.S. Special Operations Command’s newest service rifle. German, Belgian, and Japanese special forces also reportedly used this gun. Kenya reportedly is the only African nation where the U.S. has issued this type of weapon.
In addition, representatives of the Red Cross and Safari Doctors were on hand for the Mokowe meeting but had until recently been barred from the Boni forest altogether.
Also on hand were personnel with U.S. Civil Military Affairs, the guys who handle the hearts-and-minds component of counterinsurgency, building on experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Central America. CMA is a key part of the Linda Boni effort focusing on wildlife and indigenous peoples. It sees to the building of the latrines, the roads, the schools, and medical dispensaries while “denying sanctuary” to insurgents.
Through USAID Civil Military Affairs has partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service and rangers with wildlife conservation NGOs. KWS training is funded by USAID, and, after the 2013 Westgate attack, its rangers have been trained by Maisha Consult.
The only people present at the meeting who were up front about their identities were KDF officers, whom I spoke to on arrival. One guarding the perimeter identified himself as a GSU officer, referring to the paramilitary wing in the Kenya National Police Service. I asked him whether I could attend the meeting, shortly after which a blonde-haired blue-eyed uniformed soldier returned.
I explained I was a writer researching the Awer’s predicament.
“Are you an American?” he asked. I handed him my tattered U.S. passport. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said with an engaging smile, and left promising to return to let me know whether I could attend the baraza.
Others present, also heavily armed, wore civilian clothing—Dockers, polo shirts, and wraparound sunglasses. The locals refer to such armed Western personnel in casual wear as “sport sports.”
One source, within the U.S. government, preferring to remain anonymous, identified these figures as a U.S. Diplomatic Security Service contingent protecting American diplomats at the baraza.
I never did gain access. (Media outlets associated with the Kenyan government had been invited; international press had not.) Awer leaders who spoke at the meeting, including Doza Diza, said they were eager to tell the U.S. representatives they no longer wanted to deal directly with the KDF or Kenya government because those entities had failed to make good on promises of land compensation.
Locals told me that the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, had given each tribal elder 4,000 Kenyan shillings (about $40) to attend, and provided meals and transport.
As part of counterinsurgency strategy, such meetings are supposed to help build local security forces, legitimize local government, and ultimately delegitimize the insurgents. But as long as the locals believe the government is stealing their land, meetings are unlikely to have much of a legitimizing effect. And meanwhile the fighting continues.
A former U.S. Army colonel with long experience in civil affairs, who did not want to be named, added another layer.
“Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is a relatively lean organization and continues to rely on contracted support for administration, logistics, operations, intelligence, and physical security,” he told The Daily Beast. “Think the old Blackwater and Executive Outcomes.”
It’s not uncommon to hear about U.S. Special Forces on the ground in fragile states like Somalia and Iraq, but seeing them in a sovereign democratic state—Kenya—seemed unusual.
U.S. military presence in Kenya had been sparse until the 9/11 attacks. “Boots on the ground” in Kenya was practically unheard of. In Somalia it also was virtually nonexistent for more than 20 years after the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993.
But clearly all that has changed.
—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey
follow the author on Twitter @margotkiser1


The Old West Wins Again 

Meet my friend Bill. I’ve known Bill since the 90s when I moved to Montana. He’s a Wall St. banker with a manse in Greenwich, Connecticut and a sprawling ranch near the Missouri Breaks, a remote area the American artist Charlie Russell made famous through his Old West cowboy and indian paintings. Bill belongs to the anonymous 1%everyone hates. (Trump supporters despise them, too).

Each November Bill hosts Washington and Wall St. elite to fish and hunt on his property. He’s no fool – he makes his guests (often Generals and senators) ‘sing for their supper’ by mending and extending his ever expanding ranch. 

Bill’s a connector. Every year before hunting season begins he invites me to visit the ranch. I’m not a hunter and at that time I’m usually in Kenya. But one day, I always say, I’ll make it. Every now and again he drops an email asking how I am and whether I’m alive. On this trip to New York City I asked him if he wouldn’t mind introducing me to some of his military contacts since I’m working on a ghost story of sorts, about a battle in Africa few have heard about. He said he’d be happy to connect me. I remind him I usually write about human rights. “I try to give voice to the voiceless, the marginalized,” I said. Bill looked at me, “Oh the Republican Party…?” #hunting #fishing #angler #flyfishing #occupywallstreet #cowboys #indians #montana #republicans #oldwest #humanrights

Giveaways That Al-Shabaab’s Video Of The Battle Of El-Adde Was Staged

On Sunday, April 3rd, Al-Shabaab’s media wing released a recruitment video showing the militant group’s January 15th raid at a Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) camp at el-Adde, Somalia. It was the deadliest attack on an AMISOM mission to date, killing 100-200, 12 were reportedly taken hostage. KDF has yet to release any casualty figures to the public.

After viewing the video I contacted a military source – let’s call him ‘Dave’ – and asked him what he thought. Dave is a former KDF soldier, who has on several occasions engaged in battle with Al-Shabaab in Somalia. He is also a keen observer; his opinion is that much of the footage showing fighters approaching the KDF was staged i.e. filmed almost entirely on Saturday the 16th, the morning after the initial siege.

Here’s why:

  • Early reports indicated that three Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) had exploded inside the camp on Friday morning, January 15th. Dave thinks the explosion shown in the video is only one VBDEID which they detonated the following morning – but captured from different angles – to give the impression of several successive explosions. Use of split screen   would indicate the same.IMG_2382
  • KDF apparently had received photos from Friday morning’s attack  that showed deceased soldiers laying on a road outside the camp. The al-Kataib video shows only soldiers who’d been killed inside the camp, perhaps to underscore the military’s lack of preparedness. The Somali National Army (SNA) camp was co-located with the el-Adde camp 600 meters away. As Dave tells it the SNA had been tipped off of an impending attack. When the fighters arrived they fired several rounds near Somali National Army (SNA) camp as warning shots for occupants to evacuate. The shots also served as a decoy to lure KDF soldiers out of their camp into the “killing area”. Dave concludes that al-Shabaab probably killed a number KDF soldiers outside the camp as they tried to reinforce soldiers en route to the SNA camp. By midday, several hours after the attack, it was clear to al-Shabaab that KDF reinforcement from Nairobi headquarters was not coming, so they “extricated” (military parlance for withdrawing). They may have mingled with locals and the next day returned to the KDF camp –  now itself a kill area – to crush the remaining soldiers. A good portion of soldiers may have been killed inside the camp the next day. This means the camp was overrun on Saturday, not Friday.
  • Dave noted the fighters were not advancing toward the camp in a tactical formation; indeed, they appeared at times to be casually strolling through open grassy fields not expecting engagement. Al-Shabaab are foreign-trained and would never move around a battle field this way. IMG_2431
  • The film doesn’t show any return fire from the KDF camp, which is unlikely and for that reason would have been difficult to edit out. Not a single al-Shabaab militant appears in the video wounded or dead. Clearly al-Shabaab suffered casualties. Presence of bloated corpses indicates some soldiers were killed Friday morning but filmed the next day — corpses usually don’t bloat within the first few hours of death.
  • There were way too many Al-Shabaab fighters with phone cameras filming the attack. Dave notes that al-Shabaab consists of hundreds of professionally foreign-trained fighters who wouldn’t be caught dead in a battle field with cameras in hand.IMG_2410



On a final note Dave said Commander, Major Geoffrey Obwoge, was probably killed the second day. It appeared he was trying to repulse the enemy in an APC, along with the gunner and driver. One of the tires had been shot, caught fire (explaining the billowing black smoke) and the commander was unable to continue. As a commander he’d have been among the last men standing. If he was afraid in his final moments, it didn’t show. He stood his ground. The el-Adde camp was under-manned and under-equipped: the commander did not fail his company. Rather, KDF head quarters in Nairobi failed the company at el-Adde.




U.S. President Barak Obama’s trip to Kenya, July 2015



President's Cadillac called The Beast
President’s Cadillac, ‘The Beast’
Kenyan Security Personnal , left, and U.S. security peraonnal, right secure the area at Kenytta International Airport before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, May 3, 2015.  Kerry is visiting Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Djibouti on his trip. (AP Photo/SAyyid Azim)
Kenyan Security Personnal , left, and U.S. security peraonnal, right secure the area at Kenytta International Airport before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, May 3, 2015. Kerry is visiting Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Djibouti on his trip. (AP Photo/SAyyid Azim)
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Long Goodbye – How Obama Glossed Over Africa’s Troubles – The Daily Beast

Long Goodbye

LONG GOODBYE   07.27.15  2:20 PM ET

How Obama Glossed Over Africa’s Troubles


To keep his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia upbeat, Obama declined to address some of the really big problems in both countries.

NAIROBI — In what may give the term “birther” new meaning, it’s rumored that in Kogelo, President Barack Hussein Obama’s father’s hometown on the shore of Lake Victoria, boy babies born over the weekend were named “Air Force One” and “POTUS.”

All part of the long kwaheri, Swahili for “good-bye,” as Obama leaves Africa.

In Kenya, when he walked onstage at the Kasarani stadium to deliver his final speech, the crowd of 5,000 cheered the president as if he were a rock star. As the helicopter known as Marine One delivered the president to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for his departure to Ethiopia, photos appeared on Facebook of grown Kenyan men in tears.

While in Nairobi, the President got and gave a lot of love—some of it of the tough variety delivered to his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta. Obama pressed the Kenyan leader on such sensitive issues as gay rights, which Kenyatta called a “non-issue,” and corruption, about which he made no comment.

The top item on their agenda was Kenya’s fight against Al Shabaab, the Somali-bred Islamist group that has, in recent years, come of age with attacks inside Kenya. After warming up with the kidnapping and murder of tourists, al-Shabaab advanced to devastating acts of violence at malls and universities. Since Kenya invaded Somalia, in 2011, the Somali faction’s retaliation against soft targets on Kenyan soil has left more than 600 dead. And that figure doesn’t include those hundreds who perished when al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy in 1998.

Saturday, in a joint press conference held at the statehouse here, Obama announced that the United States is providing Kenyan security forces additional funding and assistance to deal with terrorism and to make sure that the efforts made to root out terrorist threats do not create more problems than they solve.

The question left unspoken, however, is one that’s been weighing heavily on the minds of analysts, policy makers, and rights groups: What to do with Somali refugees at the Dadaab camp in Kenya’s northeast province, near the Somali border, which allegedly is used as a prime staging ground for al-Shabaab’s attacks.

Dadaab refugee camp, now in operation 23 years, has grown from a tented village to become a small city that houses over 300,000 stateless people.
Kenya’s refugee problems are not new, dating from the ’90s when Somalis fleeing the brutal dictatorship of Muhammad Siad-Barre put down roots in an area of Nairobi now called Eastleigh. It is home to over 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers, yet over time has become an important East African trade hub for the Somali diaspora in Nairobi.

Dadaab, now in operation 23 years, has grown from a tented village to become a small city that houses over 300,000 stateless people. According to Human Rights Watch, Kenyan security forces deployed to Dadaab since the 2011 invasion of Somalia have committed abuses and human-rights violations against refugees.

Shortly after April’s al-Shabaab assault on Garissa University, which left at least 147 dead, Médecins Sans Frontières took the precautionary measure of evacuating 42 members of its staff from Dadaab. The withdrawal had an immediate impact on MSF’s ability to provide medical care to the camp’s mainly Somali residents.

Kenya has since demanded that the UN move the camp’s population back to Somalia, and given a three-month deadline to do it. Human-rights groups pointed out that the move is, under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, illegal.

Kenya’s Christians and Muslims have historically coexisted peacefully. Since counter-terror efforts were ramped up under George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, Muslim communities along the country’s Swahili coast see themselves as having been marginalized and made victims of state-sponsored terror.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kenya and mediated talks between President Kenyatta and the UN on the issue of Dadaab. Afterwards, Kerry said that the refugee camp would remain open, pledging $45 million to the UN High Commission for Refugees and continued efforts for voluntary repatriation.
Obama’s final speech at Kasarani stadium amounted to his welcoming acceptance of the country’s embrace, as a son of Kenya. It was probably not lost on the American president, however, that last year police had rounded up thousands of Muslims—mainly women and children—and detained them for three weeks on a soccer pitch a few hundred meters from the stadium where Obama was speaking. The mass detention came in reaction to a series of explosions in Eastleigh that killed six and injured more than 20 people.

Rights groups reported that police extorted money from men in Eastleigh and sexually harassed female detainees. Kenyan Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku said in a press conference in Nairobi at the time that all undocumented Somali refugees in Eastleigh would be deported back to Somalia.

Over the weekend of Obama’s visit, the two countries’ leaders spoke of “deepening of ties” on the matter of counter-terror.

Kenyatta declared that the war on terror is an “existential fight” of a kind Kenya has not previously experienced. The Kenyan president’s point was that Nairobi must have partners like Washington.

In the absence of an efficient judicial system, a major question in Kenya remains whether security forces will continue to use the hard-line, abusive approach in dealing with terror threats. Since 9/11, the U.S. has applied at least $200 million in aid money, disbursed through various agencies, to East Africa’s counter-terror efforts. During his visit in May, Secretary Kerry committed an additional $100 million to Kenya, an increase from $38 million the previous year.

Over the weekend Obama and Kenyatta came up with a plan that will further increase financial aid for the military, police, and judiciary under the Peacekeeping Operations program through the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism. It’s still unclear the amount of funding that Obama has promised to Kenya and what strategies will be promoted.

Following the big roundup that led to lengthy detention at Kasarani, The Daily Beast established contact in Eastleigh with Lul Isack, chair of Umma, a community organization that had created a safe house for dozens of female detainees who reported being sexually assaulted and abused by police. In Somali societies women who’ve been raped are typically unable to find a husband, and married women are abandoned. Umma provided victims psychological counseling and surgical care.

sked now whether she is worried about how the Kenyan government plans to use monies donated by the United States to Kenya for counter-terror operations, Lul said she was pleased that Obama had announced that the U.S. pledges $1 billion to support women and youth entrepreneurs worldwide and increase technical and financial support for young women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa. “I believe this is where we as a civil society organization come in, and we women now have a platform and our voices will be heard,” she says. “Kenya has challenges, but Obama is president of the most powerful country in the world and we believe the Kenya government will listen to him.”

Kenyan police continue to extort money from Somali businesspeople, says Lul, but the women she cared for managed to return to Somalia via voluntary repatriation—towns and cities like Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Hargeisa in Somaliland—and have succeeded in opening businesses, such as beauty salons.

After departing Kenya, Obama made his first trip ever to Ethiopia. There, he met with officials of the government, the African Union (AU) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to discuss trade, the political crisis in South Sudan and the ongoing battle against Al-Shabaab.

The new mantra in Kenya, as elsewhere, is “trade, not aid.” Obama’s visit to East Africa is said to demonstrate the U.S. government’s firm commitment to the battle against terrorism in the region, and to help Ethiopia develop from an aid-recipient nation to a partner in a mutually beneficial trade relationship.

The president drew fiery criticism over the astronomical costs of his traveling to a conflict zone, but throughout his African journey he has appeared to be his usual cool, unflappable self, and already he is talking about returning to Kenya as a private citizen, when he can have more freedom to connect with his extended family and have hands-on engagement with poor communities.

“I can guarantee you I will be back,” the president said. “And the next time I am back, I may not be wearing a suit.” He won’t be on Air Force One, either.



Obama Lands to Controversy in Kenya – The Daily Beast

HOMELANDObama lands to controversy 47925674.cached

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi July 24, 2015. U.S. President Barack Obama flew into Kenya late on Friday for his first presidential visit to his father’s homeland, aiming to boost trade and security ties in east Africa. Obama’s Air Force One plane landed in the evening in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where he will co-host a conference on boosting entrepreneurs on the African continent before traveling on to Ethiopia. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst – RTX1LP61

By Margot Kiser     07.24.15   4:40 PM ET

Obama Lands to Controversy in Kenya
Before he was president, Obama would come to Kenya to see family. Now, his trip looks to be all business.

NAIROBI — Air Force One landed in Nairobi this evening, bringing Barack Obama back to his father’s homeland. This will be Obama’s fourth visit to Kenya, but his first as President of the United States. He made his last as a senator in 2006.

Rumors have been swirling about POTUS’s schedule, his lodgings, and the “real agenda” of his three-day stay.

“We fear Obama is coming to teach our children to be gay,” the owner of a beauty salon in a Christian town on the coast told me. In reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month to recognize a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, one anti-gay-rights fringe group reportedly plans to protest in Nairobi—and, for reasons as yet unclear, to do so in the nude.

Such signs of unrest notwithstanding, Kenya’s capital is in the throes of a full-on Obama-rama. Weeks ago, in efforts to beautify the bustling city, the government deployed members of the National Youth Service to patch the potholed route of the president’s motorcade, to relocate street urchins, and to clean sewers near the State House, where President Obama and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta are expected to have a closed-door meeting.

“Look! They’re even forcing the trees to grow,” a taxi driver exclaimed, noting the mature palms planted on the boulevard leading toward the UN compound.

This VIP visit is also a prime opportunity for otherwise impoverished citizens to make some fast money selling Obama souvenirs.

Much to the glee of “birthers” in the U.S., Kenya is proud to claim President Barack Obama as one its own.

Past Kenya trips by Obama focused on his ancestral home on the shore of Lake Victoria. This time, however, U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec dispelled such expectations when he Tweeted that the President will not be visiting Kogelo, where his father was born and died. Instead, the full three-day itinerary keeps Obama in and around Nairobi.

If the President’s restricted itinerary is any indication, the emphasis is on creating job opportunities and easing business relations between the countries. The U.S. and Kenyan governments are co-hosting the 6th annual Global Entrepreneurs Summit Youth and Women’s Group (GES Y+W). But above all there will be talk about security cooperation: international, national, and local.

President Obama is expected to lay a wreath at the site of the old U.S. embassy, destroyed in 1998 by Al Qaeda bomb blasts that killed hundreds of people before most of the world had ever heard of that terror organizaion.

Obama’s last stop, on his third day in the country, will be t the indoor arena of the Moi International Sports Complex, also known as Safaricom Stadium Kasarani. There, he’ll address a crowd including members of Kenya’s parliament, leaders of the country’s women and young people, tribal elders, and select citizens carefully vetted by the U.S. embassy.

The vehicles for the presidential motorcade—a flotilla of Chevy Suburbans, including the president’s personal armored vehicle, “The Beast”—were flown in two weeks ago, along with security personnel. Helicopters that saw service with Blackwater in Iraq are part of the force as well.

In all, over 5,000 Americans, from 200 U.S. Marines to diplomats and conference attendees, have descended on Nairobi, taking up all the first-class accommodations in town. The luxury Sankara Hotel has become communications command center. Attack helicopters patrol the skies. Police have compelled journalists to delete photos taken of the Kasarani Stadium.

It strikes some as odd that Obama’s first presidential trip to Kenya will likely be his last. It strikes others as odd that he’s coming at all to a country that has over the last few years been rocked by Islamist militant attacks, the worst being those at the university town of Garissa and Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. A visit to Kenya is, in multiple ways, a visit to a conflict zone.

Security on the national and regional levels, along with efforts to contain the Islamist militant group Al Shabaab—and the pattern of human-rights abuses resulting—are of course major topics on the minds of Kenyans, and East Africa observers.

Obama will give his big speech on his final day in the country a few hundred meters from the football field where, last year, police detained nearly 4,000 Somalis, mostly women and children. Operation Usalama, as it was called, began on April 1, 2014, with mass roundups in reaction to deadly grenade and gun attacks, carried out by unknown forces, in Mombasa and Nairobi. Detainees were reportedly held at this locale near Kasarani for more than three weeks, and much of that time denied food and water.

The detainees were from the predominantly Somali Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, whose residents told Human Rights Watch they paid bribes to avoid arrest or to be released.

Kenya security forces place the blame for current security problems squarely on Somalis, and have announced that all urban refugees will be relocated to Kenya’s refugee camps. But that may only make matters worse. The April attack in Garissa, which left hundreds dead, was said to be carried out by Al Shabaab militants hiding out in the nearby Dadaab camp, a sprawling site that is home at present to 500,000 refugees. Kenya ordered the UN to move the camp within three months.

Security at Dadaab was high on the list of topics that Secretary of Defense John Kerry discussed with the Kenyan and Somali governments when he visited in April, and Obama’s visit coincides with African Mission in Somalia’s [AMISOM] latest offensives, as well as Ethiopia’s cross-border surge and Operation Jubba Valley.

Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Research, told The Daily Beast, “Al Shabaab has emerged as one of the top Jihadist priorities in American and Western security.” Bryden adds that Al Shabaab cannot be contained by launching all-out offenses within Kenya. “Al Shabaab is killing as many people as before, and its operational tempo remains the same. Obama’s trip is in part a reaffirmation and further upping the ante in saying that we [the West] have to do more and we have to stand by the regions that are doing more.”

“The challenge in Kenya, is going to be addressing the grievances [of Kenyans, mainly do to with land and religious discrimination] that Al Shabaab is exploiting,” Bryden concludes. “The Kenya government has to be seen as taking action and to seriously address these issues in order to deny Al Shabaab opportunity to present itself as the only or best solution for people who share those grievances.”

Obaba is to depart Kenya soon after delivering his speech on Sunday. Next stop, Ethiopia, which has for the last decade been Kenya’s ally in the fight against religious extremism. “All part of an amplified effort in attempt to push back Al Shabaab,” concludes Bryden.

July 24th 2015 Obama Lands to Controversy in Kenya


Sad About Cecil? These African Animals Are Slaughtered By The Thousands – The Daily Beast


BIG GAME 08.01.15  12:03 AM ET

South Sudan’s civil war has been a disaster for humans and animals alike. Soldiers on both sides have turned the slaughter of giraffes and other animals into an industry.



JUBA, South Sudan — A hopeful myth persists in this region that “wildlife refugees”—fauna in flight from war-ravaged habitats—will return one day when the conflict is over. Would that it were so. But in South Sudan, no end of the conflict appears in sight, and amid vast human suffering, nature is being ravaged as well.

The great icons of the wild—the elephants, the rhinos, the leopards and lions (so beloved of trophy hunting dentists and the heedless offspring of the outrageously rich) are gone or going fast. Conservationists say the “charismatic megafauna” are nearly wiped out here. No northern white rhino has been spotted in the region since 1981; only 2,500 elephant remain in all of South Sudan.

But in a saga reminiscent of the novel and film The Roots of Heaven 60 years ago, environmentalists nevertheless go on fighting the good fight. “Anyone who’s seen the great herds on the march across the last free spaces of the earth knows they’re something the world can’t afford to lose!” says a defender of the elephants in the movie. “But no… We have to capture, kill, destroy. All that’s beautiful has got to go. All that’s free! Soon we’ll be alone on this earth with nothing to destroy but ourselves!”

Welcome to South Sudan.

I am in a Cessna 206 flying over Bandingilo National Park—which has been passing below us for almost two hours. The savannah is orange and green in the hues of camouflage cloth. Except for a few pairs of ostrich and a couple of giraffes standing in the shade of spindly acacias, we’ve seen precious little animate life.

“Gazelle, giraffe and zebra are getting hammered,” says Dr. Paul Elkan, who’s at the plane’s controls. They’re being killed for food. “The bushmeat trade is fueling the civil war,” he says.

“With a giraffe you get more bang for your bullet,” says Elkan, an American who serves as the South Sudan director for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). A single giraffe provides up to 600 pounds of meat. Slow-moving and high profile, giraffe are especially vulnerable to poaching, and their dwindling numbers in the park reflect that. These days, Elkan adds, it’s almost as rare to see a zebra or a buffalo as it is to see a rhino.

Elkan and his colleague, WCS Deputy Director Michael Lopidia, are conducting an aerial-recon survey of wildlife, and even as they take a census of the dwindling animal population they keep watch for poachers and their camps.

Overwhelmed by the civil war, the South Sudanese government has outsourced the country’s conservation efforts much as it has outsourced exploitation of its mineral resources. WCS took over management of South Sudan’s six national parks after the 2005 peace agreement that led to the country’s independence from Khartoum in 2011 after decades of civil war, and the job was daunting, given that the country is as vast as Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda combined. Bandingilo alone is 3,900 square miles.

The WCS doesn’t employ rangers of its own, but takes rangers from the government’s forces and trains them in wildlife-crime law enforcement. Its staff has made inroads providing technical and operational support. The organization works with the United Nations to clear land mines in parks, build ranger posts, and run anti-poaching and intelligence operations in partnership with the government.

WCS, as a result, is none too popular. At present, the organization cannot access and survey the northern third of the country due to the civil war.

Bandingilo, just outside South Sudan’s capital, Juba, is the site of Earth’s second-largest wild migration, behind the Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania. Its savannahs, marshlands, and wooded areas are still home to key species of antelope—including reedbuck, tiang and white-eared Kob antelope as well as giraffe. But the herds’ migratory corridors pass through combat zones.

We are heading toward a road cutting through the middle of the park. Elkan banks the plane and holds a tight circle over a stand of acacia, under which sit two white trucks. Hunting is banned in the country so it’s pretty easy to identify such a configuration as a poacher’s camp.

“They’re armed,” says Lopidia from the back seat. He holds up a pair of binoculars. “Bandingilo is a strategic base for the bad guys,” he adds, “not too far from Juba.”

The bad guys are from both sides of the country’s civil war. It’s unclear, so far, whether this crew are government soldiers or rebels.

“Looks like an SPLA camp,” Lopidia says, now snapping photos.


Internecine conflict has plagued the world’s youngest nation since 2013. Leaders of the two rival ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer, have always agreed on the point that wildlife is a valuable resource. But human lives are, understandably, the priority.

So of course, is trying to win the war, which erupted when President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, of being behind a failed coup attempt. The Dinka turned on the Nuer, killing thousands in Juba alone. Tens of thousands more have been killed throughout the country, and well over a million internally displaced. Even the government’s minister of wildlife and tourism left his job—to join the rebels.

The Salva Kiir forces are those of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, the SPLA—whom Elkan suspects we’ve spotted under the acacia trees. Although they have Juba’s backing, SPLA troops are not being paid, and their food rations consist of meat from poached animals. Sudan-watchers say the ruling elite are investing oil revenues— oil being the country’s only source of hard currency—in armored Hummers and in real estate outside the country, chiefly in Kenya. Little trickles down to the government’s troops.

As the war began to drag on, soldiers from both sides—the SPLA and the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO)—resorted to subsistence hunting. Bushmeat was sold in villages, with proceeds going to fund weapons purchases, and the troops’ snaring and shooting of animals evolved rapidly from a basic hunter-gatherer economy into a commercial enterprise. Gazelle, “the French fries of the plains” for traditional predators, once were plentiful. Today, the lion must compete with soldiers for gazelle.

A wildlife survey, a difficult undertaking anywhere, is especially hard to pull off in a war zone. One technique is, figuratively,“to dive-bomb an elephant carcass,” says Elkan, taking a quick close look then getting away fast. “With armed men, who are always suspicious, you take lots of photos with a powerful camera and look at them later, to determine the types of weapons.”


We circle back to Juba, and Elkan gets us into position to land. When air-traffic control puts the Cessna in a holding pattern, Elkan is clearly annoyed.

If the number and size of aircraft contracted by various operators reflect a nation’s priorities, then in South Sudan, the humanitarian-aid industry wins hands down. According to South Sudan NGO Forum, there are 160 national and 142 international NGOs that facilitate humanitarian and development needs in the country.

“UN aircraft are taking off and landing every ten minutes,” Elkan notes. “Juba is the busiest airport in East Africa and yet there’s only one radio frequency. This is an accident waiting to happen.”

Indeed, the tarmac below us is blanketed with aircraft: a Russian-made attack helicopter, commercial aircraft, but most of the equipment we see belongs to the UN. This field is home to the largest helicopter in the world. In most corners of Juba the relentless, strained whine of jet engines is audible all day.

At the spot where Elkan parks the Cessna, now that we’re cleared and on the ground, a member of his team retrieves a bullet from the asphalt.

I remark that Juba reminds me of the Wild West.

“Juba used to be crazy,” Elkan answers. “Now, it’s just fucked up.”

With its mix of Kenyan, American, and South African cowboys running private logistics companies, aging alcoholic missionaries, Ukrainian and Chinese UN peace keepers, RayBan- and cowboy-hat-sporting MPs, armed police at the capital’s bars, Juba is part Mad Max and part Graham Greene.

South Sudan’s conflicts are not restricted to military and paramilitary combatants. Environmentalists and developers are also clashing. Supply routes and roads were cut off between Khartoum and Juba after South Sudan won independence, making it difficult for villagers to get basic foods and supplies.

While roads are lifelines for humans, they can be death sentences for wildlife. And oil concessions granted by the South Sudan government—to the French oil giant Total, for example—may expose the park to surveying and drilling.

Bandingilo is a vast reserve, but there are long-established villages, as well as promising potential oil fields, that are within the region enclosed by its boundaries. Both require overland access by heavy vehicles.

Bandingilo falls within Jongelei state, bordering Ethiopia to the east. After President Kiir reached a peace deal with a local rebel group, a new administrative area was carved out of Jongelei. But the region remains isolated. During the rains large humanitarian aid aircraft cannot land on muddy airstrips. Helicopters are too expensive to use with any frequency. Health and education are lacking. So is clean water, and for that matter bore holes are few.

Recently, a 30-kilometer stretch of road was cleared. But the government halted construction because the road passes through a national park.

Villagers at Pibor, a outpost reminiscent of the British colonial era, complain they are running out of food, and blame the government resolution suspending construction of the road for their enforced fast. Peter Guzulu, spokesman for the administrative area, denounces this road closure as unconstitutional, and accuses the director-general of South Sudan’s Wildlife Service, Maj. Gen. Philip Chol Majak, a Dinka, of leading the charge to cut off this vital conduit for food and other goods. Guzulu told a local reporter that animals should not, at such a critical time for the country, be favored over human beings.

I visited Major Chol at his office in Juba. It was festooned with ribbons and trophies from matches he won as captain of weekend soccer teams. Noting the half-dozen heavily armed police outside his building, I asked whether he felt threatened. Chol told me he continues to condemn the SPLA for poaching, and stands by the government’s decision to stop construction of the road in order to protect wildlife.


Given that wildlife in parks in Angola and Mozambique were wiped out during civil wars during the 80s, when the South Sudanese fight for independence was under way conservationists didn’t hold out much hope its wildlife could survive. Pilots and aid workers returning from relief missions told grim stories that the wildlife was all but eliminated. But after the peace deal in 2005, when the WCS and the new government conducted the first aerial survey of the region in 25 years, astonishingly, they discovered vast migrating herds. The those began to be decimated.

How, now, to save what’s left? Elkan advocates a version of the private-game-ranch model deployed in Kenya. There “the government realized what a pain in the ass it is to manage wildlife in parks,” he says, pulling his baseball cap down tight on his head. “Especially during war.”

Private ranches, he explains, have taken a huge burden off the government in efforts to manage South Sudan’s remaining rhino in the forested western parts of the country. His vision is to lead management away from the government-anchored model and decentralize wildlife management.

On July 9, South Sudan marked its fourth year of independence, and rebel leader Machar reportedly vowed to carry on the fight until President Kiir is overthrown. Wildlife may be returning, due to the arrival of seasonal rains, but remain vulnerable.

Africa’s national parks are like states, and only as strong as their security apparatus.


I caught up with Elkan recently by phone. He told me he recently flew over herds of migrating tiang and Kop antelope following the long rains in May and June. He said a second radio frequency has been added for pilots navigating Juba International Airport. “I’m happy about this, because a C-130 Hercules military transport plane nearly crashed into my parked Cessna the other day.”

And in Boma National park, he told me, a WCS-trained deputy game warden and former SPLA commander arrested a group of SPLA soldiers in possession of 150 kilos of bushmeat—and burned it.

Finally the OCS war to save wild animals from war is paying off.

I asked Elkan and Lopedia if I could call them the Blackwater of wildlife. They cracked up. They didn’t say no. “But non-profit,” they said.



Christians Warned, Then Killed in Kenyan University Massacre – The Daily Beast 





Around 5:30 Thursday morning, when Hassan Osman, a 35-year-old newlywed and an employee with Kenya’s Ministry of Health in Garissa, was in the mosque praying, he heard the sharp report of rapid gunfire rip through the still morning air. 

The noise came from the direction of nearby Garissa University College. There, gunmen had forced their way into the campus, shooting guards standing sentry at the main entrance and opening fire indiscriminately.

 Osman ran out of the mosque to see 30 or 40 students fleeing from dorms, some clearly rousted out of bed, he reported, and running naked.

Eyewitnesses on the scene earlier report that “seven to 10 heavily armed attackers masked from head to toe” stormed the college in this moderate-sized city in northeast Kenya, two-thirds of the way from Nairobi to the border with Somalia.

Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for this latest attack inside Kenyan territory—one of scores the Somali militant organization has launched since Kenya’s 2011 incursion into Somalia, including the bloodbath unleashed on September 21, 2013 at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.

Shabaab’s spokesman, Sheikh Mohamed Ali Rage, gave no specific numbers on fatalities and injuries but said to the BBC, “We’ve killed many people; Kenyans will be shocked when they go inside.”

 According to Reuters’ most recent report, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery has confirmed at least 70 were killed and 79 had been wounded in the attack. Four suspected attackers have been killed.

And Kenyan security forces told reporters they’d “only just begun” to “mop up.” 

Osman and other residents never imagined an attack in Garissa town. The majority of its 120,000 inhabitants are Muslims of Somali origin. But if the attack comes as a surprise to locals, it didn’t come as such to the residents of Kenya’s capital, who’d been warned last week of impending attacks on institutions of higher education. 

According to a VOA report, the University of Nairobi warned its students last week that Al Shabaab was planning attacks on a “major university.”

Kampalans received similar warnings before the public prosecutor in the trial of suspects in the 2010 Al Shabaab World Cup bombings in Uganda was shot dead last week.

Residents never imagined an attack in Garissa town. But if the attack comesas a surprise to locals, it didn’t come as such to the residents of Kenya’s capital, who’d been warned last week of impending attacks on institutions of higher education.

Easter weekend is coming up. The attack comes one day after the one-year anniversary of the assassination by Kenya death squads of Sheikh Shariff Makaburi in Mombasa. Makaburi was an avowed recruiter for Al Shabaab.

Security forces responded to the Westgate attack by unleashing their own fury at Kenya’s Muslim communities. Retaliation has taken the form of raids on mosques, mass arrests, crippling curfews and targeted assassinations like that of Makaburi’s predecessor Aboud Rogo and dozens more. 

In further retaliation, Al Shabaab then carried out the Mpekatoni attack, killing more than 60 in that Kenyan coastal town last June. 

While security analysts say Al Shabaab is being weakened in Somalia, others insist that the militant group is gaining ground in Kenya.

“With Garissa, Al Shabaab outsmarted intelligence services again,” says Professor Paul Goldsmith, an American security and conflict analyst at Kenya’s Coast International University. “And they chose a target that’s significant on impactable terms—to polarize Christians and Muslims while exacerbating longstanding tensions between the regions Somali communities and the Kenya government.”

Meanwhile, in Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb where thousands—mostly women and children—were detained last April in a police sweep, many are glued to television sets, wondering how police will respond next. 

At last count, 12 hours after the attack at Garissa University, the total number of fatalities had risen to 147.

If security forces, foreign and domestic, have the final say, pulling Kenya’s troops out of Somalia is not an option.

“The best place to stop Al Shabaab is on our border,” says Andrew Franklin, former U.S. Marine, now a security consultant. “We need to prioritize controlling the border with Somalia.”

After the Mandera attack in December, it’s increasingly held that constructing a wall is the answer, as Israel, Egypt, Morocco, the U.S., and most recently Saudi Arabia (in sealing itself off from Yemen) have tried. 

“We are in an awkward situation,” said Osman. “Ethnically we are Somali, religiously we are Muslim. But the sentiments we share with the Kenyans are that Al Shabaab should not be killing innocent Garissa residents. Garissa is happy to be a part of Kenya.”

Reporter’s Notebook: Kenya’s Black Gold, ‘Texas Tea’

Kenya’s Black Gold, ‘Texas Tea’

Last week Nairobi hosted the 3rd annual East Africa Oil and Gas Summit at the Kenya International Conference Center ( #KICC ).

Among attendees at the two-day confab were independent exploration and production companies Simba Energy, Milio International, Halliburton, Africa Oil Corp, Tullow, and Horizon Energy. Government petroleum and mining ministers from Uganda, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Madagascar and Kenya attended, too, along with representatives of private security companies that protect oil companies’ infrastructure and onsite personnel.

Seismic studies for oil and gas reserves along Kenya’s coast, as well as discoveries in the Rift Valley by London-based Tullow, indicate that Kenya may soon be a big player in the global energy market. Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Petroleum Davis Chirchir said the country’s recoverable oil reserves in the Rift Basin will likely exceed one billion barrels.

Southern Sudan, by comparison, had 3.5 billion barrels of proved oil reserves as of January 2014 according to a report .

Where infrastructure is concerned, however, experts characterize Kenya as an “immature” player in the oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) market.

A brochure for one international company describes its services as “specializing in upstream, midstream, and downstream operations and infrastructure, often in complex and challenging environments.”

Kenya certainly makes the grade in the “complex and challenging” category.

Be that as it may, Tullow has struck oil and, according to experts, is producing 10,000 barrels/day. However, it doesn’t yet have any means of transporting that oil to the global market. The Cabinet Secretary asserts that Kenya’s Petroleum and Energy Ministry is reportedly “fast tracking” construction of the Uganda-Kenya crude oil pipeline, and promises that a Nairobi-to-Mombasa pipeline will be completed within the coming 18 months.

Gulf Energy reportedly won the tender to develop a 960 megawatt coal plant in Lamu County, the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum announced last month. However, the great unknown is not whether the 32-berth Lamu port will be up and running, but when. The Lamu port is to serve as the terminus of the greater Lamu-Port Southern-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor.

Residents on Kenya’s north coast, particularly across the channel on Lamu Island, are concerned about the effects that oil production and the construction of the proposed deep water [facility] might have on the fragile environment and its traditional Swahili culture. Residents in the area rely for their livelihoods on tourism and fishing. (Nearby Kiunga Marine Reserve is a UNESCO Biosphere and Lamu Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). They decry a culture of secrecy at top levels of government, compounded by lack of information, and say these have kept residents mired in a swamp of rumors and half truths since the government began talking seriously about the port project in 2009.

One Dubai-based multinational owns two oil concession blocks covering most of Lamu County and Tana River County. I chatted, on a no-name-in-the-story basis, with its chief operating officer, a tall, poker-faced Texan with more than 40 years’ experience in the oil and gas business. This seasoned COO questions LAPSSET’s financial viability and compares the project’s challenges with those encountered in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system’s constructing, during the 1970s.

“Reserves attached to the Alaska pipeline were 20-plus billion barrels of oil,” he drawled. “So, what we’ve got here at the moment is a discovery that was thought to contain 600,000 barrels, but now we have to build an 1100-km pipeline to get to the coast, at a cost of maybe USD 5-to-7 billion. That’s quite high. I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the [LAPSSET] pipeline. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the near term.”

The COO said he’d put his money on Lamu County’s gas reserves, where exploration is already underway.


But the region’s only concerns aren’t only whether there’s oil and gas and logistics. With Big Oil and Big Gas, there’s always politics in the mix. But in this case, the politics are more than tricky.

The Texan COO’s company had to stop seismic studies after Somali militants slaughtered over 60 people in a small, mainly Christian-populated area of the mainland. “Mpekatoni is right in the middle of our block,” he added, referring to the town that bore the brunt of the bloodletting. But, he says, he’s not worried. “We plan to [resume] studies and exploration early next year.”

A Kenyan politician I spoke with at the summit denied that security is or would be an issue in the area. He described the Mpekatoni attack as a “one off,” “If [insecurity] continues we put Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) to protect the oil infrastructure”. Still, the question remains: Will the company’s presence in Lamu County make the area more or less volatile and vulnerable?
Culture, demographics and environment are serious issues on the table, too.

“If government allows us to handle the local content issues appropriately, it will dampen many problems and frustrations,” the Texan said. “They’re [locals] are gonna have jobs. When we go into the area we always improve infrastructure, they will have better access. It’s a good thing.”

This may prove to be a tall order.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced plans to revoke 500,000 acres, where the port infrastructure will be constructed, for title deeds acquired since 2010.

Indigenous peoples – mainly fishermen and farmers – have already been displaced and not yet compensated. Other residents fear government heavies, mostly ethnic Christian Kikuyus, won’t give any jobs to locals, most of whom are Muslim.

County Fisheries Executive Salim Atwa told me,“We no longer have access to the fishing grounds.” Fish-breeding zones have already been allocated to LAPSSET.

“We need to be compensated,” the chairman of the Lamu Fishermen Association told a local reporter. “We will block any construction until the money is released.”

Although Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Mpekatoni attack, President Kenyatta immediately accused a rival leader, Raila Odinga of being an instigator, with the help of an ad-hoc local militia. The allegations sketch a sort of rent-a-terrorist scenario. Ten days later police arrested Lamu County’s governor, Issak Timamy.

Tensions increased when Kenya’s Inspector General slapped a curfew on Lamu Island residents. Locals say they feel the measure is purely punitive and unfairly singled out.

The already endangered tourist industry is now nearly extinct. Curfew hours restrict fishing activities.

“The [Mpekatoni] massacre took place on the mainland, not on Lamu island,” notes Atwa, and asks, “So why are we being punished?”

Lamu’s governor has, for lack of evidence, since been released on bail. And while the island has been peaceful since the attacks, the Inspector General of Police this last Tuesday extended the curfew another month.

Meanwhile land rights violations in Lamu County continue to grow.


Men playing Bao, a traditional board game, Lamu town
Men playing Bao, a traditional board game, Lamu town


Dhow races Lamu Cultural Festival, 2013. #dhow
Dhow races Lamu Cultural Festival, 2013. #dhow


Turtle hatchling
Fragile eco-system: turtle hatchling on Shela Beach, Lamu Island


Mpekatoni – Hindi 

Mpekatoni is a small town in Lamu County on Kenya’s north coast. When initial reports came out of an attack that eventually left up to fifty dead, the international community thought it had occurred in or near Lamu Old Town on Lamu island.
Mpekatoni is in fact on the mainland about 30 kilometers by car from the tiny port town of Mokowe.
On Sunday I took a friend’s daughter back to secondary school in Mpekatoni and spent the rest of the day snooping around and talking to residents.

Unexpected beauty along the way.

Waterlilies on the road to Mpekatoni.

Carcass of a torched vehicle and wall art, Mpekatoni

Breeze View Hotel where nine people were murdered while watching the World Cup.

An Orma resident of Mpekatoni.

Uhuru Kenyatta sheikhs it up while campaigning in Lamu for 2013 presidential bid

20/20 hindsight re Kenya’s Vision 2030

Margot Kiser

Former Minister of Finance, Uhuru Kenyatta, spent time in Lamu over the weekend fundraising in his bid to become Kenya‘s next president. He resigned soon after the International Criminal Court at the Hague (ICC) accused him of playing a role in inciting the 2007 post election violence that resulted in the death of thousands of innocents. Still the accession to guilt doesn’t seem to be stopping him from running for president.

In his last attempt at election into office, Uhuru, the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, reportedly dumped thousands of dollars worth Kenya shillings from his helicopter, which fluttered like confetti onto potential voters below. The scramble for the paper bills alone apparently caused fisticuffs.

Forbes Magazine‘s Africa 2011 edition ranked Uhuru Kenyatta number 26 among their list of the continents 40 top richest individuals. According to Forbes, he owns at least 500,000 acres…

View original post 145 more words

Militants Execute Non-Musims at Kenyan World Cup Watch

WORLD06. 16. 14
by Margot Kiser
A brutal attack on a crowd of World Cup watchers at a hotel in northern Kenya has reportedly left at least 48 people dead. One of the survivors told The Daily Beast that the assailants were killing non-Muslims execution-style.

Kenyan government officials claimed the attack could be the work of al-Shabaab, an Islamist terror group that killed more than 60 people during an attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi last year.

Mohammed Shariff, who was among the viewers at the Breeze View hotel in the coastal town of Mpekatoni, said the gunmen were asking people whether they were Islamic before opening fire. “They told us to say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’ Then they told the non-Muslims to lie down and then shot them,” Shariff said through a translator.

When Shariff and his friends tried to flee, they found that the assailants had surrounded the hotel, but he managed to escape the gunfire. Many of the others weren’t so lucky.

In Kibaoni, a village less than a mile from Mpekatoni, shooters were reported to be going from door to door demanding that those inside recite the shahada. “Joseph,” a friend of one man who was shot dead, told The Daily Beast that the militants threatened to continue their assaults: “We are al-Shabaab and we will come back until the government removes the dogs from Somalia.”

Kenya has suffered a wave of political violence since 2011, when its armed forces invaded Somalia.
The scene was reminiscent of the stories that emerged from the Westgate attack, in which al-Shabaab militants stormed an upscale shopping center. Early reports claimed that the armed assailants demanded that everyone present recite the shahada, “Laillhailla Allahu.” However, as many Muslims as non-Muslims were killed at Westgate.
So far, only adult men have been reported killed in Sunday’s attack. But military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir stated via Twitter that on Sunday afternoon attackers driving two Nissan minivans sped into Mpeketoni and began shooting people indiscriminately.
The wide-ranging attack targeted two hotels, a gas station, and a police station in the thriving and fast-growing town, which is just under 15 miles from the island of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site popular with tourists.

The coastal town was once populated by Swahilis (who are predominantly Muslim), but it became part of a “settlement scheme” for landless Kikuyus implemented by Jomo Kenyatta after independence. It is now a booming region that serves as a base for building crews, commercial developers, and services for the multibillion-dollar mega seaport under construction in nearby Magagoni.

Officials said assailants stole vehicles and weapons from the police station and that two policemen were among the dead. A witness told The Daily Beast that a bank also had been torched.

The identity of the attackers remains unclear, but government officials suggest that al Qaeda-allied Somali militant group al-Shabaab is likely to have carried out the attack.

Kenya has suffered a wave of political violence since 2011, when its armed forces invaded Somalia in response to a rash of kidnappings of tourists and aid workers. Al-Shabaab officially claimed responsibility for the mall attack as retaliation for Kenya’s keeping troops in Somalia. The Westgate mall attack was the deadliest since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

While the attack did not affect Lamu, town residents say they are worried. “Everyone either knows someone or has family in Mpekatoni,” said a resident. Her daughter, who attends boarding school in Mpekatoni, fled into the bush with classmates and teachers. The daughter reported hearing the assailants singing Somali songs.

Many residents of the area are Kikuyu farmers as well as Somali pastoralists. “What we could have here is another Tana River massacre,” said the resident, referring to a series of deadly tribal clashes in 2012 that left 52 dead.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Kenya’s interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, did not rule out internal politics as the cause of the Mpekatoni attack.
Later Monday evening, al-Shabaab issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, citing the same reasons it offered for the Westgate mall assault—to force the removal of Kenyan forces from Somalia. The statement also cited the recent extrajudicial killings by police of prominent Muslim preachers, particularly in Mombasa, and the illegal detention of thousands of Somali civilians in Nairobi.
But the land issue is still relevant. Tensions between upcountry Christian tribes, who also happen to be the country’s ruling elite, and Swahili residents, many of whom are of Arabic origin, have been mounting since independence. Arab traders began traveling to the Kenya coast beginning the first century A.D. and settling on the coast in the 17th century. Many of today’s Swahili residents are said to be descendents of Oman.
“The town [Mpekatoni] raided by the Mujahideen was a Muslim town before it was invaded and occupied by Christians,” al-Shabaab added in its statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
Equally ominous was the militant group’s warning to foreigners: “Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril. Foreigners with any regard for their safety and security should stay away from Kenya or suffer the consequences of their folly.”
Raids that involved the kidnapping of tourists in 2011 had already reduced the number of visitors to Kenya to 1.4 million last year from 1.7 million in 2012. The tourism industry is the nation’s second-biggest source of foreign currency, generating $1.1 billion in 2013, Bloomberg reports.
While pundits are saying the new attack will bring the country’s tourist sector to its knees, the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) is trying to assure the public otherwise. “There were no tourists in the area at the time of the incident. Lamu Island, one of Kenya’s primary tourist resorts, is in no way affected by this attack and neither is any other part of the Kenya coast,” the board said in a statement.

Postscript – Despite al-Shabaab claiming responsibility, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation on Tuesday blaming the opposition for the massacre.
“The attack in Lamu was well-planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against the Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons,” said Kenyatta. “This, therefore, was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous crime.”
Tensions have been on the rise recently after a rival leader called for dialogue concerning the nation’s deteriorating security, economic and political situation. Raila Odinga dismissed Kenyatta’s claims that he is trying to overthrow the government.

Torched bank at Mpekatoni. (photo, Lamu Studio, 2014)


Some of the 67 casualties at  Mpekatoni (Lamu Studio, 2014)
Some of the 67 casualties at Mpekatoni (Lamu Studio, 2014)


Bomb blasted interior of bank (Lamu studio)
Shades of Westgate attack. Bomb blasted interior of bank, Mpekatoni (Lamu studio)








New York City

Somewhere on Bowery St.


She didn’t seem the least bit concerned about anything or anyone.

The story of gentrification

Same story more or less.

Not sure what this is supposed to mean….’Supermarket of the Apes’?














Bye, bye for now, Manhattan. Lucky shot of Central Park, an angle of the city thanks to my Virgin flight across the pond from Newark, NJ instead of the usual JFK.

Marooned in Morocco



Inside the medina.



MARRAKECH, Morocco – Didn’t see much of Marrakech my first week there. Didn’t even glimpse the friends I traveled from Nairobi to meet. Nor had I spent more than fifteen minutes in the swanky hotel room before receiving word  that the main subject of a story I was working on – a Muslim cleric – was shot dead that afternoon.

Medina, Marrakech

While my travel companions compared notes on Pastilla aux pigeons at the different restaurants and deciding where to find the best deal on leather genie slippers, all I could think about was the extrajudicial killing of a ‘radical’ jihad recruiter in Mombasa – and filing my story.

So, for me Morocco was a blur seen from a speeding taxi or walking briskly and absentmindedly from souk to souk.

Charmed snakes

It was my first time out of Kenya in a year and I was struck by the sharp winter sun that shined most of the time; so bright it made my eyes hurt.

The medina is a walled city crammed with hole-in-the-wall souks. The colors are roughly the same everywhere: terracotta, saffron, crimson red, Indigo blue. Frankincense, rose, orange, jasmine, musk and cedar oils scented every alley inside the medina. No cars are allowed inside the medina, but donkeys and motorbikes whiz by narrowly missing tourists.

Genie slippers in the souks, some better made than others.
Genie slippers in the souks, some better made than others.

Marrakech reminded me of parts of California or maybe more of the American desert southwest. Santa Fe, New Mexico or outlying areas of Tucson – without the strip malls. The town sprawls out on the flat high desert near the foot of the snowy Atlas range. (I never knew Morocco had hills let alone a mountain range). The air is dry, the earth a fleshy pink color. Some the walls of the larger riads had tiny holes and looked like they’d been pierced like a pie with like fork tines. An antique dealer told us they were peeping holes.

Some locals live in adobe-like mud huts in dry river beds, where they live for cheap if not for free. Annual flash floods wash them away.On either side of the river beds on higher ground are estates belonging to Europeans – mainly Parisians – with second homes. About 25,000 expats live there year round, though never found out what they do exactly.


Parisian's Riad.
Parisian’s Riad.

Marrakech’s skyline remains low-slung; modern buildings are no more than a five stories. That’s how current King Mohammed V wants it. Apparently, the city won’t issue you a residence permit if you don’t agree to coloring the exterior of a house or building some shade of terracotta.

Morocco is for the most part a peaceful and stable country, for sure. Locals go to great lengths to tell you this. It’s had its terrorist moments in Casablanca in 2003. With the exception of Thailand, countries with monarchies and even dictatorships seem the most stable.

Men at the mosque
Men at the mosque

Residents attribute the stability to their King, Mohammed V, a big promoter of tourism. One of my friends hadn’t been to Morocco in years and she was impressed at how tidy it had become. Boulevards with flowers and trees had replaced old two lane pot-holed tarmacs.

Morocco’s King Mohammed V

Apparently, Morocco was the first African nation to recognize the USA’s independence from Britain. This may explain why Morocco is rarely criticized for its practice of sharia law, conservative Islam. The women are as covered up, oppressed-looking as in other Muslim countries. The wooly blanket-like robes with the pointy hoods the men wore looked slightly pervy.

Two Parisians, an antique dealer and his partner, an anaesthesiologist, invited us to his multi-acre riad (private residence). Their vineyard and orange groves were among a dozen estates in manicured suburb you might find in Tucson. We lunched under the dappled shade of a trellis draped with wisteria. Waiters served turkey Tagine, couscous and for desert a simple fruit salad of Morocco’s famously large, juicy, thick-skinned easy to peal oranges sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon and sliced roasted almonds.

Tangiers mosque

From Marrakech I drove for five hours to Tangiers. The highway was as tidy and smooth as any you’d find in the U.S.. Except for the mosques the landscape was mainly irrigated fields and unremarkable. The driver didn’t know what anyone was farming nor did he seem to care.

Morocco is a peculiar country; neither first world nor “developing”. Classic second world, which to me lacks life. I didn’t see any slums but the apartment buildings were made of cement and cheap exported tile.

Tangier lies on the country’s north coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibralter, where the Mediterranean meets the rough Atlantic.

I stayed for a few nights at a grand yet petite guesthouse over-looking the sea in the old Kasbah riad. The 14th century villa once belonged to a French prince. I wandered the maze of alleys in the Kasbah, the old part of town on a cliff.

14th century villa converted into guesthouse-Nord-de-Pinus (pronounced phonetically)
Where’s Albert Camus? View from a 14th century villa, Tangiers

Unlike Marrakech city is apparently undergoing rapid and indiscriminate development – ports and apartment buildings – among the ancient ruins and colonial French architecture. The city seemed scrappy to me.

The French villa was built in 14th century on the highest point of the Kasbah. Except for the construction of a new fishing port, you couldn’t see any buildings below. The floor to ceiling windows seemed to stretch out over the Atlantic and into the heavens.

When the clouds obscured the sun, damp grey weather depressed me. It wasn’t until I left the city I realized I’d never heard any music or much laughter in the streets. There were no direct flights back to sunny Marrakech, so I drove to Casablanca.

I wasn’t particularly enjoying myself, but I wasn’t able to leave Morocco.

For most of my time there I never really stopped thinking about the violent death of the middle-aged man holed up alone in a tiny apartment in one of the most impoverished areas of Mombasa. Last I communicated with him he repeatedly told me he knew he’d soon die. His mission in life – however dubious his methods – seemed as simple and straightforward as whoever decided to “terminate” him.

One morning – around 4 am – I woke up to the predawn call to prayer called Salat. Mercifully, most of the calls were not amplified by microphone and loudspeaker. The only one using a mic sounded like a bullfrog by comparison.

The calls were deep with mystery and longing. Longing for what, but seemed to stretch back in time. I was never sure and something my western sensibilities may never fathom.




Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War on Shabaab Sympathizers | The Daily Beast


DEATH WATCH    0 4.06.14   6:45 AM ET

Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War on Shabaab Sympathizers
The United States supports Nairobi’s fight against terrorists, but it’s getting very ugly.

MOMBASA, Kenya—“The state wants to kill me,” the 53-year-old jihadist Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, better known as “Makaburi,” told me in late February. He said he was sure that one day he’d be gunned down by “unknown assailants” on a street in Mombasa. That’s how so many controversial Islamic leaders have died in Kenya in recent months, he said. And then, earlier this week, the prophecy came true.

On Tuesday, “unknown assailants” gunned down Makaburi as he was leaving a courthouse outside Mombasa. Makaburi was waiting by the side of the road along with four other preachers when a vehicle pulled up and sprayed them with bullets. Witnesses reportedly saw Makaburi’s body, swaddled in a white kanzu, or robe, lying partly in a ditch. His colleague Sheikh Bohero also was killed.

Young men in the neighborhood told a local reporter that the two shooters were dressed in white kanzus, too, suggesting they were Muslims, and perhaps known to Makaburi and the others. But few in Kenya credit that possibility. The record of murders in recent months provides ample indication that a dirty war is being waged. Its evident purpose is to exterminate and intimidate people believed to be associated with the Al Shabaab movement in neighboring Somalia. For several reasons, those carrying it out may believe they have at least the tacit support of the United States, and, as often happens with dirty wars and death squad operations, this murderous campaign appears be galvanizing the opposition it aims to destroy.

Makaburi (the nickname means grave digger in Swahili) preached at the Musa mosque in Mombasa, which is considered an incubator of radicalism, and Makaburi recruited fighters there for Al Shabaab, which has developed close ties with Al Qaeda. On Sunday, February 2, security forces raided the mosque for hosting what the police described as a “jihad convention.” They stormed the building, firing tear gas and live rounds in a raid that resulted in 129 arrests and eight deaths, including that of a policeman. Before that, two other clerics associated with the place had died in a hail of bullets.

When Makaburi and I talked in February, he claimed that the others had been “assassinated” in “retaliation” for last year’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, in which members of Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing at least 67 civilians and injuring hundreds. But the killings started before that, as one radical imam after another has been murdered or disappeared. Religious leaders say Kenyan security forces are targeting them unfairly for persecution if not indeed for summary execution, but the police argue they have clear intelligence linking many of the local preachers to Somali terrorists.


Makaburi told me when I saw him that he thought the only reason he was still alive was that Kenya feared domestic unrest. Some of the “unknown assailant” murders have led to bloody rioting. But whoever killed him seems to have thought the risk worth taking, and days after the shooting the reaction is still muted.

On the day we met, Makaburi was as welcoming and relaxed as he could be. Our three-hour interview took place in his cockpit-sized apartment in Mombasa’s run-down Majengo district, which has been the epicenter of recent violence. Around him he’d arrayed a desktop computer, a wall-mounted plasma TV with images of Muslims he said the police had tortured, miniature copies of the Qur’an, and a few creature comforts: an industrial-size bag of mini chocolate bars, and tubs of Blue Band margarine.

Behind Makaburi’s head was pinned a black flag with the profession of faith, the shahada, written on it: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his messenger” and, beneath it, a single primitively drawn sword.

“Don’t worry, I am not going to suck your blood,” Makaburi assured me. I’d been struggling to cover my hair with a scarf to use as a hijab. He asked if it were bothering me. “Don’t wear it if you don’t want,” he said. “Pretending to be something you’re not is disrespecting yourself. Just be yourself.”

The genial imam made an interesting contrast with the image of him painted by the United States, the United Nations and Kenyan authorities.

A 2012 U.S. Treasury report blocking the assets of several people suspected of supporting Al Shabaab closely mirrors language also adopted by the United Nations Security Council (PDF), and it reads like a ringing indictment of Makaburi:
“He provides material support to extremist groups in Kenya and elsewhere in East Africa. Through his frequent trips to al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia, including Kismaayo, he has been able to maintain strong ties with senior al-Shabaab members,” the U.S. report said. Makaburi “also engaged in the mobilization and management of funding for al-Shabaab,” he “has preached at mosques in Mombasa that young men should travel to Somalia, commit extremist acts, fight for al-Qa’ida, and kill U.S. citizens.” He was “a leader of a Kenya-based youth organization in Mombasa with ties to al-Shabaab” and “acted as recruiter and facilitator for al-Shabaab in the Majengo area of Mombasa.”

Some of the accusations, Makaburi told me, “are bullshit—like ‘committing extremist acts’ and ‘financing terror.’” He pulled out a desk drawer and removed a few filthy currency notes. “This is all I have—640 Kenya shillings,” which would be less than $10. “I don’t have enough to fund a reporter, let alone a terrorist organization.” But then he went on. Some of the accusations “are correct,” he said. He made no apology for recruiting young men to wage jihad in Somalia.

“Radicalizing the youths is the only direction to go when the Kenyan government won’t allow the constitution to protect them and when police are killing sheikhs and imams extrajudicially,” said Makaburi. “Are we supposed to take this lying down?”

The accusation that Makaburi encouraged young men to kill Americans touched a nerve—and did not elicit a denial. “Let me ask you,” he said, “Americans are invading other people’s lands, taking them prisoners, renditioning them and torturing them. Raping and killing innocent women and children is not allowed in warfare.” The argument is boilerplate Al Qaeda, but many people in developing countries, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, find it persuasive.

When the post-9/11 Global War on Terror waged by the Bush administration was at its height, Kenya became an important player in American eyes. Since 2003 Kenya has received extensive aid from the State Department’s anti-terrorism assistance fund and a program now known as the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism, or PREACT. Among its objectives, according to the State Department, “It uses law enforcement, military, and development resources to achieve its strategic objectives, including reducing the operational capacity of terrorist networks.”

Things intensified when Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011 in an operation called Linda Nchi (Swahili for “Protect the Country”), ostensibly in reaction to kidnappings of tourists in northern Kenya. It was considered inevitable that Al Shabaab would try to strike back on Kenyan territory.

Al Shabaab’s ideological and military leaders regrouped and began recruiting Kenyans to fight in Somalia and build support in Kenya. This was where Makaburi’s work became important.

The July 2012 U.N. report on Shabaab-related activity identified a homegrown Kenyan group called al-Hijra under the leadership of the charismatic Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Makaburi. After those published reports a growing number of clerics and imams were killed or—in human rights parlance—“forcefully disappeared.”

In May 2012 blind cleric Mohammed Kassim and fellow hardline cleric Samir Khan were traveling to Manjengo when men in a white Toyota van stopped them by the side of the road. The pair had been charged with possession of illegal firearms and recruitment of youths to Al Shabaab, but not convicted, just the kind of situation that tends to precede extrajudicial killings. Khan’s mutilated body was found in Voi, some 150 miles from Mombasa. Kassim’s body has not been found, and if he is alive his whereabouts are unkown.

On August 27, 2012, one month after the U.N. report was published, “unidentified assailants” gunned down Rogo as he drove his wife home from a Mombasa hospital. Weeks before his assassination the sheikh had contacted human rights groups saying that he feared for his life, but they were unable to help him. Rogo’s death sparked days of rioting in Mombasa. Young men took to the streets, hurled grenades and burned churches.

“It’s difficult to say who killed Rogo,” says Jonathan Horowitz, the legal representative with Open Source Foundation’s National Security and Counterterrorism Justice unit, funded by philanthropist George Soros. “But when you look at circumstantial evidence, the pattern of events, the modus operandi, and the audacity with which the killing took place, it all points to the hand of the state.”

After Rogo died, Makaburi was his natural successor. “He was more than a brother to me,” Makaburi told me, and Makaburi was outraged at what he regarded as a US-government-funded extermination project:

“I am the one who is accused of radicalizing when it’s the police who are radicalizing the Muslim youth by killing us.”

Meanwhile, Al Shabaab and its allies have not remained passive. The Westgate Mall attack commanded global attention day after day last September, but it was part of a much wider pattern of violence. According to the report “Kenya and the Global War on Terror” issued by the London School of Economics, “Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted more than 50 separate grenade attacks in Kenya, believed to be in retaliation for Operation Linda Nchi and more widely the foreign policy of Kenya.”

Most of the extremist attacks have occurred in northeastern Kenya near the Somali border. But the violence made headlines again in November last year when two grenade attacks occurred in Diani, a tourist resort town south of Mombasa. On December 12 police said a grenade was hurled at a minivan carrying two British tourists. The grenade never exploded and the tourists were unharmed.

On January 2 a grenade exploded in a sports bar in the same tourist town and authorities labeled it a “terrorist attack.” There were no fatalities in either incident but they were widely reported in the international media.

The tit-for-tat violence grew increasingly brutal. On December 3, the headless body of Faiz Rufai, a former Shabaab member and madrassa teacher believed to have turned informant, was discovered washed ashore on a remote beach up the coast. Al Shabaab “sympathizers” allegedly carried out the beheading and posted a camera-phone video of the decapitation on Facebook.

Word went out in jihadist circles that Rufai’s handler in the security services was Athmed Bakshwein, a 61-year old police reservist, who was also said to have played an important role in other terrorist cases. On January 28, Bakshwein was gunned down in broad daylight as he was parking his car in front of a hardware store in his hometown of Malindi.

Leaflets circulated in Mombasa featured the image of Bakshwein’s bullet-riddled corpse and called him a traitor to Islam. “Supporters of jihad have begun killing informers,” proclaimed the flyer. “It is a sign that jihad is not far. … May Allah clean the mosque of informer imams and traitors and finish them one by one.”

The Kenyan police assault on the “jihadist convention” at the Musa mosque came just days later.

When I met with Makaburi to discuss all this, he was defiant. “I challenge Obama to give me my day in court anywhere in the USA to prove that I am financing Al Shabab. I am willing to travel today,” Makaburi told me.

Makaburi never got his day in a US court. But at the time of his death Makaburi had several cases against the police pending in Kenya. Last week, days before he was gunned down, the high court awarded him $7,718 in damages for the violation of his rights when police raided his house in 2011.

The violence continues to mount. Last month armed men attacked a church in Likoni, leaving eight people dead, including a young boy. Since then Kenya has asked the United States for more funding to combat terror. U.S. Ambassador Robert F. Godec said that recent sporadic violence in Mombasa was a sign that terrorism in Kenya was a real threat and vowed to stand by Kenya’s side. In a statement issued this week Godec said the United States “deplores the recent violence on the Kenyan coast,” including the murder of Makaburi, and called for “calm and restraint.” He also called for the Kenyan government to “undertake full investigations” of the “murders” of the Muslim clerics and the “terrorist attack” on the church. Those responsible, he said, should be held accountable “through the Kenyan justice system.”

In response to questions from The Daily Beast about the impact U.S. aid has on Kenyan counter-terror operations, Godec said “all training includes modules devoted to respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

But Horowitz’s summation of the situation is probably more realistic. “Groups that subscribe to violent extremism often justify their actions by citing the government’s human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions,” he said after Makaburi was gunned down. “But the Kenya government has a lot to answer for… Ending these murders and ending violent extremism in Kenya are inseparable. The Kenyan government has failed to grasp this.”

When I met with Makaburi in his little apartment, he seemed completely resigned to his fate. He had been born in Mombasa and brought up there. His father, who worked in a box factory, was fixing a fan one day at home and got electrocuted. “He died when I was a child still crawling,” said Makaburi. Death happens. Life has strange twists. As he and his brothers grew up they took different paths. In fact, one of his brothers works for the Kenyan intelligence service, he told me. “Sheik Rogo used to say my mother was fair: she gave one son to Obama and the other to Osama.”

Then Makaburi said, simply, “I am waiting to be killed.” And so he was.


Follow me on Twitter: @earthscorcher1


Ivory Smuggler faces ruling under Kenya’s new Wildlife Act

NAIROBI, Kenya – A ruling is expected tomorrow in the case of a suspected ivory smuggler who today pleaded guilty to ivory-related charges.  

According to the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) Tang Yong Jian was arrested on January 18 at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for attempting to smuggle 3.4 kg of raw ivory that officials say he had stashed in his suitcase while in transit from Mozambique to Guangzhou, a major transport hub on mainland China.

A joint security team of officials from the Kenya Airports Police Unit, Customs, Kenya Airways and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) arrested and booked the 40 year-old Chinese national at the airport’s Police Station.

Tang Yong Jian pleaded guilty today to “ivory-related charges”.

 Under Kenya’s new Wildlife Act of 2013 – effective only since January 10, 2014 – the 40 year-old Chinese national faces a fine of up to Ksh20million (US$230,000) or a sentence of life in a Kenyan prison. Until three weeks ago Kenya’s antiquated wildlife laws (first enacted in 1979) poachers and smugglers had only to pay a fine of a few hundred dollars and little if any jail time. 

African elephant populations are now critically low mainly due to Asia’s demand for the creature’s ivory tusks used for medicine and carving. 

An old “tusker” holds forth at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya, 2011



Burundi’s Black Market Skull Trade | Margot Kiser | The Daily Beast


Burundi’s Black Market Skull Trade



Has the tiny nation of Burundi become ground zero for a new global black-market trade in human remains?

BUJUMBURA, Burundi – In evenings when the hippo emerges from the depths of Lake Tanganyika to graze its grassy shores, members of Bujumbura’s expat community gather at the various waterholes that ring the lake. At the Italian-owned Kiboko bar in “Buja,” everyone—from the local media and Dutch soldiers to Catholic nuns—stops in to knock back cold Skols, the local brew, and gaze at the resource-rich Intombwe Mountains across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Unlike its famous neighbor Rwanda, the tiny landlocked country of Burundi is difficult to locate on a map. Even Kenya, to the east, considers the former Belgian colony “the back of beyond.”

In most African expat communities, everyone knows or has heard of each other. Few Burundi residents, though, claim they’ve ever seen or heard of Giuseppe Favaro, whose recent arrest for attempting to smuggle human skulls into Asia caused jaws to drop—and sent residents running to cemeteries to make sure ancestors were still buried with their heads intact.

On Oct 25th, Favaro, a one-time dealer of Venetian antiques in his native Italy, strolled into Bujumbura’s main post office with three large cardboard boxes, according to law enforcement authorities. On the shipping form he declared that one of the boxes contained a camera, and the other two “organic material,” according to the General Director of Civil Aviation at Bujumbura’s International airport.

Salvador Nizigiyamana, the General of the Post Office, later said in a press conference that Favaro left the post office when he realized he didn’t have enough cash to ship all three parcels. (He ended up mailing only two.) According to police, Favaro returned at 5 pm, just before closing. Bujumbura’s post office requires its customers to leave parcels open for postal clerks to inspect before sending. The clerk however did not open either of Favaro’s sealed boxes for inspection and instead forwarded them on to the airport, where customs agents are meant to subject packages to further scrutiny.

“Craniums out of Africa show a shift in smuggling from the usual gold, ivory and drugs,” the senior intelligence officer told The Daily Beast.

Twenty-three years of experience at Paris’s Charles de Galle airport had taught Albert Maniratunga, the airport General Director, a thing or two about smuggled cargo.

On the day I visited him, Maniratunga wore a white three-piece suit with blue pinstripes and beamed proudly when he talked about the unique and unprecedented seizure, which he said he owed mainly to new imaging software recently donated by the French government. It was this technology that made it possible for Burundian Civil Aviation Authorities to grab 63 pounds of ivory, with a street value of $400,000, at Bujumbura’s airport last July.

When airport security scanned Favaro’s boxes, instead of cameras, they discovered the silhouettes of two white domes inside.  “The skulls [were] human and belonged to two young adults,” Maniratunga said, noting that he called a forensic expert to inspect them along with two disarticulated jawbones, also found inside the boxes. The Director General said he suspected the skulls [were] from the Congo.

On the shipping invoice that Maniratunga showed to The Daily Beast, the packages had been addressed to an individual in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But police had never heard of  “Kassim, A.” — the name written as the sender.

A law enforcement team of local police and investigators from Le Service National Renseignement (SNR – National Security Services) launched an investigation and they now claim Kassim Abdoulgani was an alias that Giuseppe Favaro had been using for over a decade. According to the investigation team, Kassim is the surname of Favaro’s ex-wife.

On October 31st, police officers went to Favaro’s house near the lake and, according to a senior officer with Burundi’s National Security Services, who wishes not to be identified, said that they’d found the greying 56-year-old inside “trembling.”

The security officer told The Daily Beast that a few days later authorities detained a 60-year old Burundi-born Congolese man whom Favaro had reportedly fingered as his main supplier of tribal artifacts and human skulls. The same source said another Congolese man was also jailed on suspicion of being another supplier of Favaro’s.

Soon after the arrest of tribal art dealer and his alleged suppliers, Maniratunga and the head of the National Postal Administration, Salvador Nizigiyamana, announced to local press that they’d recovered another 38 human craniums.

According to the police report later shown to The Daily Beast the additional skulls were found in Favaro’s “office”, one of a series of windowless bunkers on the lakeside compound of Favaro’s neighbor, a 70-year old German expat. The septuagenarian was present during the search, according to the report. “He was scared, but we had no intention of arresting him,” said the senior intelligence source. “He seemed unaware that the skulls were being stored there.”

All told, police say they recovered 41 human skulls in connection with the Italian tribal art dealer. (Apparently, soon after Favaro’s arrest, a parcel destined for China containing one skull had been returned to the Bujumbura post office. The name “Kassim, A.” was written as its sender).

In a phone call with The Daily Beast, Harimenshi Hermenegilde, the spokesman for Bujumbura police, declined to say whether Favaro had been formally charged with an offense and explained that “the case has been turned over to prosecution and is still being processed.” Edouard Ngendakumana, Favaro’s defense lawyer, told The Daily Beast via phone, “We are waiting [for the case] to be heard before the appeals court… and are trying obtain [Favaro’s] release on bail.” Ngendakumana declined to state the charges against his client.

However, the police report reviewed by The Daily Beast states that both Favaro  and his accomplices were arrested on charges relating to giving false statements, the desecration of cemeteries, and trafficking of human remains.

All three men remain in custody today pending trial.

Reactions in Bujumbura to the news of Favaro’s arrest and the discovery of the skulls varied. On a Facebook page called the Bujumbura Professional Network, Teddy Mazina, a political activist and photographer at a privately-owned local media station, was first to post news of the arrest. Mazina said a quick Google search turned up a photo of a human skull described as “used” and in “good condition” listed on eBay for $300 with Favaro as the contact. Other commenters expressed concern that the discovery might paint an image that doesn’t reflect the values of good Burundians.

For his part, Favaro reportedly told police that the skulls were intended for scientific study in Chiang Mai, according to a security officer. Indeed, the city in northern Thailand is home to a university specializing in medicine and dentistry, and of course, the use of remains in the study of human anatomy is nothing new. Leonardo da Vinci claimed to have sliced up as many as 30 cadavers before publishing his groundbreaking drawings of the human body in the early 1500s. By the beginning of the 19th century, the demand in England and Europe for human remains for research exceeded supply and grave robbing spiraled out of control. The practice crumbled after the British government passed an Anatomy Act in 1832, permitting doctors to take unclaimed corpses at the morgue in the name of science.

By the end of the last century, India had become the main supplier of corpses. In 2007, a Wired magazine reporter wrote that workers for black-market bone factories would often snatch corpses right off funeral pyres as soon as grieving relatives had left. After boiling and scrubbing off the skin, they’d send the bones to a Calcutta-based medical supply company, which assembled the skeletons and shipped them to universities and medical facilities around the world.

When India banned the bone trade in 1987, after a dealer was arrested for exporting 1500 child skeletons, China then became the main global supplier of corpses.

The practice was outlawed in 2008 just before Beijing hosted the Olympics.

Ebay’s policy states “We don’t allow humans, the human body, or any human body or products to be listed on eBay with two exceptions—the seller can list items containing scalp hair and skulls and skeletons intended for medical use only.”

In America, meanwhile, it is legal to buy and sell human skeletons and skulls – with the exception of the remains of Native Americans, whose graves are protected by the American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Only three states currently restrict the trade: New York, Georgia and Tennessee.

Though possession and shipment of human remains is legal within the United States and in parts of Europe, it doesn’t mean they are easy to come by — and they’re not cheap.

The website for Skulls Unlimited, which describes itself as “the World’s Leading Supplier of Osteological Specimens”, sells human skulls for up to $1,950.

The Berkeley-based Bone Room sells complete “Standard Human Skeleton” online for $5,500.

Zane Wylie, an American artisan who carves intricate tattoo-like patterns on skulls that he sells online for more than $3,000 says bones from Africa are rare inside the States. While it’s legal to purchase skulls from Africa he chooses not to because of the possibility that skeletons could be from victims of the continent’s widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic or its many wars.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, where Favaro’s skulls were headed, the use of skulls in ritualistic practices is not unheard of. Police in Thailand recently investigated a case in which five human skulls were found in a fertilizer bag. Officials told reporters they suspected the skulls had been dug up from graves and their foreheads carved out and removed for ritual use. And two years ago, Thai police arrested a group of monks robbing graves to make “love talismans”.

A radiologist and senior faculty member at Chiang Mai’s school of dentistry told The Daily Beast that in the 22 years she has been working at the university, she has never seen human skulls used for dentistry purposes. “Only cadavers are used for anatomy classes. There is no need to import [human] skulls for study purposes here in Thailand.”

Commercial trade in human remains is illegal in Burundi and is protected by the same laws, which prohibit human trafficking.

Not that these regulations are necessarily reassuring to rattled residents of Burundi.

The recent and unprecedented discovery of the skulls in Bujumbura may suggest that Africa has replaced India and China as the supplier of human remains. “Craniums out of Africa show a shift in smuggling from the usual gold, ivory and drugs,” the senior intelligence officer told The Daily Beast.

Tragically, human remains are abundant in this part of the continent, which has seen decades of warfare. “With the war in Burundi the dead are buried anywhere, including mass graves; it is not difficult to obtain all kinds of ‘ossement’,” says Patrice Faye, a French herpetologist, crocodile-wrangler, and former long-time resident of Bujumbura.

“People offered me [human] heads and hands,” said Faye. “But I never knew if they were serious.”

Honore Gatera, the manager of Rwanda’s Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, has assisted in more than 1,000 burial ceremonies within the last nine years. Gatera said he’d heard of reports from Burundi about a black market for skulls in Asia, but told The Daily Beast he’d never heard of any such incidents in Rwanda.

So far there have been no news or police reports of grave robberies in Burundi.

If, as officials suggest, Favaro has been peddling skulls from the Congo, it is unclear when he began the practice. According to his website, Favaro moved to Bujumbura in the early ’90s and began collecting tribal masks and statuettes mostly from the Congo. Soon after he opened a gallery and, in 1992, a trading company – both based in Bujumbura – specializing imported “goods in China for the local African market” and exported the tribal masks, statuettes, paintings, gemstones and jewelry, along with Dracaena seeds and Jatropha curcas oil used for diesel. In 2006 he began selling items online – some apparently fashioned from elephant ivory — via his ‘webstore’, which states it takes any method of payment, from Western Union to PayPal.

“Based on what we see in Central Africa, it makes sense that the trade in human remains would use the same networks [as ivory, drugs and gold],” says Richard Ruggiero, Chief of the Africa Branch at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Division of International Conservation.

“At a certain point smugglers in the chain are just illicit versions of any legitimate global import/export courier,” Ruggiero told The Daily Beast. “Once they have established methods and routes, and have the right people on their payroll, they will ship anything they can make money on.”

  According to intelligence sources, Favaro, using the alias, had been shipping parcels of varying sizes for years, sometimes paying up to one million Burundi francs (the equivalent of $650 at today’s exchange rate) for larger boxes. “Kassim, A.” was the Post Office’s best client; so popular, he was invited to all its “VIP” luncheons, which he dutifully attended, sources close to postal workers say.

Though Favaro is still incarcerated, his tribal artifact website, Flickr and Pinterest accounts remain active and continue to showcase his tribal figures.

(A police spokesman said that Favaro had bought the skulls for around $30, according to the Kigali Post.) Since his arrest, the skull listed on eBay apparently sold for $477 but the photo appears to have been replaced with an older skull – with some teeth missing – than the one originally listed.

The airport Director General says all 41 skulls are currently undergoing DNA analysis. The investigative team is probing the Italian’s international connections and claims to have asked Interpol for assistance.

For now the Italian tribal arts dealer languishes in the town’s Mpimba prison. Originally built for 800 inmates, it is now crammed with 3,000.

“Burundi is a very poor country,” says Teddy Mazina, the Burundian political activist and photographer. “The average citizen earns a dollar a day. If people are getting paid to find human skulls, which are becoming fashionable or used for medical purposes and sold on eBay, where is this country going?”

When news of the smuggled skulls broke over the wires early last November a Tweeter from Mogadishu replied: Shhh keep it quiet! When people find out there is cash in human skulls the dead will not be safe in their graves!’

Lamu Cultural Festival 2013

2013 Lamu Cultural Week.
Unlike Maulidi, the annual ancient Swahili event celebrating birth of the Prophet Mohammed, Cultural Week is a tourist event celebrating of Lamu Old Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 700 years of continuous settlement. And for better or worse that means no cars on the island.

Organized by the Lamu Cultural Promotion Group, the three day festival showcases traditional dances, displays of handicraft and competitions on land and water, among them Swahili poetry, donkey races, dhow races, henna painting, Swahili bridal ceremony and musical performances. Recent additions include stalls sponsored by Save Lamu, a fast sprouting grass roots environmental organization whose goal is to help local communities mitigate potential harmful fallout from construction of a proposed 32-berth deep water port.
The short movie I took from second floor of DC’s office building. Administration Police watch over the crowds at an event that follows the Westgate siege in Nairobi two months previously.
The arguably menacing presence of a Kenya Navy warship was clearly a message to Somalia and interpreted by some to be an aggressive stance saying, tupotu — we are here. So, Somalia, don’t f–k with us.
Two of the legion dhow races were held today. A dhow belonging to Lamu Conservation Trust won one race.
Herbert Menzer, a part-time Lamu resident from Hamburg, Germany, has over the years built several elegant and exquisitely finished villas. Every year he sponsors cultural events including Lamu Painters Festival and hat contests in which local construction workers are encouraged to create hats using materials from construction sites. Elaborate tribal masks have been known to lose out to hats made entirely of cement.
Below, Joachim Sauter, a sculptor from Germany, shapes a solid piece of mahogany as a tribute to the many hard-working men on Manda Island’s Maweni quarry. These men load old dhows with coral blocks across an often treacherous channel to build villas in Shela and Lamu town.








Slaughter in Nairobi: Bloody Siege in Shopping Mall Kills Dozens

Slaughter in Nairobi: Bloody Siege in Shopping Mall Kills Dozens


Sep 22, 2013  9:23 AM EDT

THE BLOODY SIEGE CONTINUES at a luxury mall in Nairobi where 59 were gunned down and dozens are still captive. Margot Kiser talks to Kenyans who say they’re shocked—but not surprised—by the terror.

Sadia Ahmed, a young presenter with a popular Kenyan radio station, was covering an Indian food cook-off on the rooftop parking lot of Nairobi’s upscale American-style Westgate Mall on Saturday when gunmen appeared suddenly and began firing into the crowd. On weekends, the parking lot doubles as a sort of fairground and playground for kids. Many of them were in the line of fire, and some, at least, are among the dead and injured in a siege that is still underway, and developing into a hostage standoff, more than 24 hours later. The Kenyan government has reported 59 people dead and 175 injured so far.

Kenya Mall Attack
Civilians who had been hiding inside during gun battles manage to flee from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. (Jonathan Kalan/AP)

Ahmed tried to give a sense of the “horrible nightmare” that happened around her, writing in the staccato bursts of Twitter: “The vibrations from explosions. The countless gun shots. The pools of blood. The screaming children. The helpless injured,” she wrote. A picture taken of her with some kids earlier in the day shows a little girl named Neha, who was killed; another named Roshni, who clung to her in terror.  Ahmed tried to protect two other children with her body. A grenade detonated behind her. One of her friends died before her eyes before the attackers moved down into the mall and she was able to escape.

The al-Shabaab group in Somalia, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and has been under attack from Kenyan troops on its home turf since 2011, immediately claimed responsibility.  And during the first hours of the attack, it went on Twitter, too, to make sure the world would pay attention. It bragged about the action, claiming that Muslims were allowed to go free while unbelievers were not, vaunting the bravery of the killers and telling anyone following the feed to, “Stay tuned!” – until Twitter suspended the account.

Gunmen reportedly asked hostages if they could recite passages from the Quran and to name the prophet Mohamed’s mother. Those who could not were either shot or continued to be held hostage.

Terrorist group al-Shabab live tweeted throughout their Kenya mall massacre, despite Twitter efforts to shut down their accounts.

“The vibrations from explosions. The countless gun shots. The pools of blood. The screaming children. The helpless injured.”

People in Nairobi were shocked by the attack, but not surprised. “There were always threats,” says Ahmed. There have been bombings, “but gunmen with grenades was unexpected.”

The attack bears a close resemblance, in fact, to the one staged in Mumbai, India, in 2008, when gunmen from another group affiliated with al Qaeda seized luxury hotels and attacked a Jewish community center, holding the world’s attention for days in a siege that eventually cost 169 lives.

Counter-terror officials in the West have been concerned that Mumbai-style tactics could be and would be used elsewhere, and many in Nairobi believed it was just a matter of time before al-Shabaab tried some spectacular terrorist operation. Nairobi residents receive alerts and warnings from embassies on a monthly sometimes-weekly basis telling them to be vigilant. But there are limits to what can be done unless people are willing to live and work and shop in armed camps.

“Most people who follow politics are aware of the tensions in East Africa,” says Jim Shanor, a Kenya-based American development specialist who speaks fluent Somali. Located in the heart of Nairobi, the mall is considered the nerve-center of the international diplomatic crowd, its patrons include embassy and Kenya government officials, NGO workers and media. “It was just a matter of time before al-Shabaab would hit a soft target like Westgate.”

A woman’s body is seen in Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi after a shooting spree, September 21, 2013. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

“Kenya has been at war with Somalia for two years,” adds an official with the Kenyan military who wishes to remain anonymous. Kenya invaded Somalia in response to a spate of kidnappings in the fall of 2011. The Kenya Defense Force took over key al-Shabaab strongholds including the port of Kismayu, killing top Shabaab leaders and trying to create a secure buffer zone in parts of Jubba Land along the Jubba River stretching between the two countires.

The Westgate Mall attack obviously was planned well in advance, but the timing may have been decided as a response to last week’s conference on Somalia, held in Brussels, where the European Union and other donor organizations agreed to give the Somali government $2.4 billion in aid over the next three years. The stated purpose is to help develop the Somali economy but also, of course, to try to keep the surviving al-Shabaab at bay.

That won’t be easy. At around noon on Saturday, at about the same time the siege in Nairobi was underway, al-Shabaab staged a grenade attacked at the Bakara market in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least two people and injuring dozens.

Pirate Management

Pirate Management

Farah Ismael Idle strutted into the press-packed conference room with the insouciance of a celebrity. A white prayer cap complemented a prison jumpsuit in yellow, a colour that in Somaliland’s Hargeisa prison distinguishes him as a pirate from rank-and-file inmates, dressed in blue. Though he may in no way resemble the Johnny Depp of the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean, he is one of hundreds of infamous—if unsuccessful—pirates of the Gulf of Aden.

Of slight build and fine-boned good looks, his first words were a demand for money in exchange for an interview. He is press savvy. A cheeky request, considering more than a dozen of us journalists sat in front of him. Had it worked, he’d have garnered a small but sufficient ransom, enough to keep him in khat or miraa, an organic stimulant, for a couple of weeks.

“I’m no pirate, I’m a fisherman,” Farah intoned in what seems to have become a pirate mantra. “The real criminals are the foreigners who are stealing my fish and destroying my seas.” He added that he was arrested on land as a suspected pirate on grounds of violating immigration laws, but without any evidence of weapons. “I am innocent,” he implored.

Legend has it that the region’s modern piracy was born of fishermen’s need to exact a toll on commercial and fishing vessels, which after Somalia’s President Siad Barre’s military regime collapsed in 1991 began trespassing in Somalia’s unprotected waters, plundering tuna stocks and dumping toxic and sometimes radioactive waste.

Farah has relatives and friends from his home in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland convinced he is folk hero, a rebel with a cause as he “donates to the community” through purchases of SUVs, khat in bulk and building of mansions.

Not everyone buys that philanthropy-based explanation.

According to Farah, he and his comrades ran out of fuel while fishing and drifted onto Somaliland’s shores near the port of Berbera. He conceded that neighbours who suspected he was a pirate had snitched to authorities on his whereabouts and he was rousted out of bed one night and hauled off to the Berbera police station.

If not for the Somalilanders’ sense of civic responsibility—as well as their being fed up with rising food and fuel prices due to piracy—Farah might still be commandeering vessels in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The Berbera court handed him a 15-year sentence to be served in Hargeisa’s freshly revamped prison, a US$1.4 million project funded and monitored by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Given that Somaliland lacks an anti-piracy law, a neighbourhood watch is one initiative taken by the breakaway republic to curb piracy in the otherwise failed state of greater Somalia. Twenty years of war, poverty, and lack of infrastructure and financial institutions has made Somalia the perfect storm for piracy.

Without a central government to control their waters, fishermen created a volunteer coast guard. Organizing themselves into groups of two or three dozen, they used several fast-moving skiffs (often boats formerly used to deliver food aid from the World Food Programme) to intercept the foreign fishing vessels. In the mid-nineties, pirates were receiving approximately US$100,000 per ship in ‘taxes’ and ‘fines’.

Eventually, captains of large ships, anxious to meet their maritime schedules, began doling out sums larger than the fisherman were exacting. Some had even pre-scheduled their fines in advance of the pirates’ interceptions. These days though the eco-pirate motive is especially flimsy, given that most hijacked ships are no longer fishing vessels but oil tankers, merchant vessels and even leisure yachts.

However it got started—and it seems plausibly to have been a combination of both motives—need eventually gave way to greed. As with much organized crime (and the mafia comes to mind as just one example), what may have begun as vigilantism evolved into a lucrative industry.

Since January 2010, Somali pirates have received approximately US$75–85 million in ransom, costing the shipping business millions more in loss of revenue and added security measures. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the US, Somali pirates now operate “in a sea space of approximately 2.5 million nautical square miles, an increase from approximately 1 million nautical square miles two years ago.”

As of this writing, 79 ships were being held for ransom as far from the Somali basin as Madagascar. The average ransom payment is US$4 million. Several nations have successfully interdicted pirates and found their way to cooperation. But those who catch pirates don’t want them.

Despite 18 nations having prosecuted over 900 pirates, not a single country has been willing to provide long-term imprisonment. “Incarceration remains the most significant constraint in piracy prosecutions,” said Donna Hopkins, the US State Department’s coordinator for counter-piracy and maritime security.

The Seychelles Islands are willing to prosecute, but not house pirates for any length of time. Same goes for Kenya. Dozens of pirates were recently sprung from Mombasa’s maximum-security prison due to legal loopholes. Navies call the costly and futile procedure ‘catch and release’.

A conspicuous exception has been the recent life sentences for the pirates caught hijacking the US-flagged vessel Maersk Alabamain 2009. The US prosecuted them under an obscure1880 piracy law. The US is also prosecuting pirates associated with February’s botched hijacking and attempted rescue off the coast of Oman that resulted in the murder of four Americans in their yacht The Quest.

Jack Lang, appointed last year as special United Nations adviser on legal issues related to Somali piracy, has suggested creating an international court for pirates in Arusha, Tanzania, but even this undertaking is likely cost prohibitive. Hopkins and other officials agree that it’s least expensive and makes most sense for pirates to be returned to their homeland, if only to be kept near their families.

The international community’s mantra seems to be, “Somali solutions to Somali problems”. But to this end, Somalia needs some semblance of a functioning central government—difficult to achieve in Somalia’s constantly warring clan-based socieSouth Somalia has refused to pass an anti-piracy law. Puntland has one but more often than not, it is compromised by clan corruption. Somaliland, on the other hand, has proven in recent years the most stable and democratic of the country’s three regions. At the moment, Somaliland arrests, prosecutes, sentences and now houses pirates apprehended in Somaliland. It’s not clear whether Hargeisa prison is intended as a regional, Guantanamo Bay-like facility for pirates caught anywhere or as a model for other countries to adopt.

        In any case, the Hargeisa “prison for pirates” seems the best interim solution.

The UN Development Programme and later the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) were given a mandate to operate in Somaliland after members of Amnesty International were alarmed by the prison’s filthy conditions.

Announcing the inauguration of the new Hargeisa prison, Wayne Miller, an Australian former detective turned media coordinator for UNODC, invited 40 journalists to witness the event. It was Somaliland’s largest media event to date.

“We want to get the word out to young men that one in three pirates dies at sea; they may starve or they may get shot,” Miller told me while we pitched and rolled in a Chinese minivan hired for the press event. “If you don’t die, you get caught and land a 22-year prison sentence.”

Hargeisa prison houses over 400 prisoners and about 70 are convicted pirates. The prison meets international standards for maximum security and humane conditions

Challenges to imprisoning pirates soon became apparent when, according to Guleid Ahmed Dafa, one of Somaliland’s top prosecutors, pirates from chief-rival Puntland hijacked Somaliland trucks and demanded the return of their pirates.

When I met Farah Ismael Idle, he had served 4 years of his 15-year sentence. With the newly established government (and in light of lack of evidence), his sentence was reduced on appeal. Farah vows that when he leaves prison in three years’ time he will return to pirating and “get it right”.

Understandably, Somaliland wants to distance itself from lawless Somalia in a host of ways, especially since Somaliland strives to become an internationally recognized sovereign state. Here emerges a vicious circle: the US demands that their legal system meet international standards to combat piracy, yet, even if it does, it remains uncertain whether the US and the EU will recognize Somaliland. And aid organizations are reluctant to fund states that are not internationally recognized and autonomous.

UNODC has pumped funds into Somaliland’s coast guard. In the dank, Berbera police station reeking of urine, we met a group of newly arrested pirates bound for Hargeisa prison. They too pleaded innocent and insisted they had only been fishing. They were asked why they had been apprehended hundreds of miles out to sea. The coast guard had confirmed that they had found on board a global positioning system (GPS) and no sign of fishing equipment (and no catch). The arrestees claimed they’d been diving bare handed for lobster

Denouncing the Coast Guard for maritime profiling is a convenient but flimsy defence by those accused. But it’s still not clear under what law the alleged pirates might be prosecuted without evidence of weapons, which may have been thrown overboard when they spotted the Coast Guard. “Accused pirates need fair trials,” added prosecutor Guleid. “They need to get convicted as pirates, not as robbers or for illegal possession of weapons.”

Even with incarceration, there’s very little that would stop those aspiring to be pirates, given the potential of staggering loot.

On our last visit to Hargeisa prison we met a young man of about 20 years, clad in a blue prison jumpsuit, imprisoned for a petty crime. We asked him when he would get out. Like Farah, he began by giving us the silent treatment. But we stood our ground and refused to shell out any money. Eventually, he told us he would appeal for a shorter term. And when he gets out, he said, a smile creeping onto his face, he would become a pirate. If Somaliland has anything to do with it, he may one day return to prison and graduate to a yellow prison jumpsuit.

Recently, foreign minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Omar, issued a statement in a local newspaper saying that Somaliland refuses to accept pirates apprehended and prosecuted outside the region. The reasons are simple. The number of pirates being apprehended amounts to more than what Hargeisa prison is able—and willing—to accommodate. Besides, as Somalilanders say, “we don’t want any more pirates on our turf than necessary”. I’m reminded of the University of Hargeisa’s motto that I glimpsed on a sign one day en route from the prison to our hotel: “The road to success is always under construction.”


Lamu Painters Festival 2011 | Chonjo Magazine

Art Forum

Lamu Painters Festival—a funny idea realized

Artists at work outside in the elements are often—correctly—labelled ‘street artists’ and pass their time sketching kitsch for tourists in big cities. But nothing could be further from how Herbert Menzer, a wild and wacky German real estate developer/self-styled politician/friend to all, envisioned the first annual Lamu Painters Festival.

Menzer’s idea was that artists, mainly from European Realist and Impressionists styles, would capture en plein air the essence of the Islamic island and Swahili life, providing a reminder—and perhaps a record—of Lamu’s value as a UNESCO world heritage site as it rapidly becomes Westernized. An avid art collector, he arranged for 19 professional painters from Germany, Netherlands and Kenya to express Lamu’s traditional culture and natural beauty through their artwork.

Artists who had never set foot on the African continent—let alone on Lamu—met all manner of logistical challenges—getting their paint tubes through airport security, navigating the cat- and donkey-jammed Byzantine alleyways, coping with sand flung onto their works-in-progress and struggling with the incomprehensible Swahili language. Nonetheless, they were delighted to find a variety of exotic subject matters—palms on sugar-white sand dunes, 15th century Swahili architecture, impenetrable Burka-clad khol-eyed women, donkey- and cat-clogged alleys, Herbert Menzer and the Lamu District Commissioner.

But did these artists, most of whom were morefamiliar with stormy or wintry landscapes wrought in “moderate” tones, feel they captured the Equatorial East African light, warmth and sultriness of it all?

Dutch painter Piet Groenendijk stuck to subdued European hues, worrying that turquoise sky and peachy sunsets could easily appear maudlin, like a souvenir stand. When he returns next year, he vows to use colours like cobalt blue. “It is a lot to absorb here,” remarks Piet, “and you cannot paint culture shock.”

Not surprisingly, Kenya-based artist Fitsum Berhe Woldelibanos originally from Eritrea, ventured from near life-size portraits of locals to landscapes, keeping to his trademark of bold broad strokes with the breadth of house-painting brushes. He was intrigued to note that by the end of the three-week marathon he begun experimenting with the smaller brush strokes typical of his European colleagues.

Leningrad-trained Natalia Dik produced works with an epic 19th century feel. Some of the best paintings avoided gilding the lily in denying how Lamu has changed—inserts of satellite dishes, telephone wires, new vacation houses on Manda Island added charm to the otherwise postcard-perfect scenery.

“Coming to Africa with its warm tropical colours was like coming home,” said Dutch painter, Deiderik Vermeulen. What was he taking away from the experience? How “cheerful” everyone was—Herbert Menzer and almost everyone else at Peponi’s after 5 pm.

Unfortunately, most of the painters had left by the end of the festival’s three weeks, taking their art with them to sell in European galleries. But one can view the hundreds of works they produced during the festival on Lamu Painters Festival’s Facebook page.

“The festival was just my funny idea,” insists Herbert Menzer (who was given and/or bought many of the best paintings), “it was not about the money.”


Navy SEALs daring hostage rescue may signal more Somalia land raids

Navy SEALs’ Daring Hostage Rescue May Signal More Somalia Land Raids by U.S.

Jan 26, 2012 12:20 AM EST

The U.S. commando raid by the unit that killed bin Laden suggests that more Somalia land ops might happen, writes Margot Kiser. Plus, Josh Dzieza on Jessica Buchanan, the rescued American aid worker.

A U.S. Navy SEALs unit, of the same special category that killed Osama bin Laden, has rescued an American and a Dane from pirates who captured them three months ago in Somalia. The Danish Refugee Council said the two were flown to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, where doctors said they are in reasonably good health. The American remains in hospital for observation, but both plan to reunite soon with their families.

Navy Seals
Navy Seals photographed during a drill at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on October 25, 2010. (John Scorza / U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

In a pre-dawn raid on Wednesday the 25th (early evening Tuesday, U.S. East Coast time), members of the highly-elite SEAL Team Six parachuted into an area near the pirates’ inland nest far from the coastal region around the town of Galkayo—a disputed, outlaw stronghold that’s earned the name “kidnap central.” Jessica Buchanan, 32, a former fourth grade teacher from Virginia, and Poul Thisted, 60, of Denmark, both employees of the Danish Demining Group (DDG), were abducted there in October. Pirates holding the pair had demanded a ransom of $10 million.

A Djibouti-based U.S. anti-terrorist unit, Joint Special Operations Command Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) launched the raid from Galkayo’s airport, near where the aid workers had been abducted. CJTF-HOA includes forces from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.

According to Somalia Report, a Nairobi-based online news service, 11 to 12 aircraft arrived at that airport right about midnight Tuesday, local time. U.S. Special Operations forces secured the airport, with plans to launch the raid between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. local time. Residents near the site of the attack reported that around 3:30 a.m, U.S. helicopters began engaging the pirates in a gun battle.

U.S. commandos captured six pirates and killed nine others, among them a pirate called Osman Alcohol, though a leading pirate commander was not counted among the dead or captured. No U.S. casualties have been reported.

Circumstances leading to the raid and rescue remain in debate. Danish government officials told Somalia Report that the timing had to do with an illness Ms. Buchanan was suffering, which doctors said they had to treat. Other sources suggest the raid was planned when the pirates moved the hostages and presented an opportunity.

Local sources told Somalia Report that the pirates initially moved the hostages offshore to a ship, the MV Albedo—a Malaysian tanker another group of pirates had seized. The vessel was already holding the two female Spanish aid workers with Medicin Sans Frontiers who Al Shabab reportedly had admitted to kidnapping from Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, in November, 2011, and sold on to pirates. In addition, the pirates held hostage the ship’s crew of 23.

The reason for moving the hostages, Somalia Report said, was the pirates’ fear of airstrikes by the Kenya Defense Force. They were wary of crossfire in the ongoing war between democratic and predominantly Christian Kenya and Al Shabab, sparked by cross-border kidnappings late last year.

Obama has confirmed that he personally authorized the Galkayo mission.

Venetia Archer, an Australian formerly with the maritime intelligence division at the British Aegis Defense Services, suggests other motives: That the pirates wanted to put the abductees in a confined area, like a ship, to make it easier to secure them, and hold the DDG workers—plus the two Spanish refugee aid workers and the ship’s crew—for possible use as a human shield, in the event of a U.S. forces operation. Whatever the reason for the move to the ship, the situation changed fast. The hostages had been onboard for over a week when the abductors moved them back to land—to Iidoole village, about 19 miles from the Cacaado region.

Over the course of several days, residents ashore watched the shuttling of the two DDG hostages from the Albedo, and had relayed the information to U.S. military forces in Djibouti.

A spokesman for the autonomous region of Himaam, where Cadaado is located, welcomed the rescue operation. “We are very happy about this incident, because the pirates are the ones causing the insecurity in our region,” Mohamed Omar told Somalia Report.

Since maritime security has improved in commercial shipping lanes, pirates have begun shifting their focus to land abductions, and focusing on aid workers. Foreigners have been yielding big ransoms, making Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world for international aid workers.

According to The New York Times, by early 2011 more than 50 vessels and at least 819 people were believed to be held hostage at sea.

Today, according to Eco-Terra, a maritime monitoring group, 44 vessels and 418 crew remain in hands of sea pirates. Judith Tebbutt, the British tourist kidnapped in neighboring Kenya last fall, is still on land in Harardhere, a pirate’s nest north of Mogadishu.

After the painful memories of Black Hawk Down in 1993 and the Quest yacht disaster in 2010, when pirates, on seeing the U.S. Navy bearing down on them, shot all four American citizens on board, any land intervention seemed out of question. But this successful raid and rescue could be a harbinger of a change.

In his State of the Union message Tuesday, President Obama praised Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, telling him, “Good job tonight.” Obama has since confirmed that he personally authorized the Galkayo mission. Its success, he said, sent another message to the world “that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people.”

Just last Saturday, pirates operating near Galkayo grabbed a young American writer, who recently had arrived in Somalia to do research for a book—about piracy—on the very road pirates had snatched Buchanan and Thisted. Piracy experts fear that he may not be as lucky as the aid workers: The same clan that seized Moore also had captured DDG hostages, and experts fear they make seek revenge.

Author’s note: A U.S. official has stated that no Somalis had been captured in the course of the raid and rescue.


How to endear yourself to local spies

Baboo cafe, a pretty spot.
Baboo cafe, a pretty spot.

While researching Inside the Zanzibar Attack story for Daily Beast I spent a lot of time in Stone Town at Baboo cafe, near the scene of the attack, where two men on a Vespa threw acid at two 18-year old British girls. The cafe, decorated with Zanzibar beds, pillows, and safari camp chairs, was filled mostly with backpackers and a noticeable amount of Tanzanians who didn’t seem to pop in for a leisurely coffee or bite to eat.

While interviewing the waitress two Nyerere-era wazee (elderly men) dressed in loosely fitted suits sat on a bench to my right glancing over at me every few minutes.

A group of sharply-dressed young men with store-bought Oxford shirts and pressed trousers materialized and practically sat  at my feet. They didn’t order anything and made no effort to conceal that they were eavesdropping on my interview with the waitress.

I knew perfectly well who they were and what they were doing. I lived in Tanzania for eleven years and it is arguably one of the most oppressed countries on the continent, largely a hangover from decades of Socialism.

Most Tanzanians, especially those working in the government are conspiracy-minded, secretive and deeply suspicious of outsiders.

When the waitress left me on my own I began taking notes of our conversation. The presence of these young men grew annoying since they’d clearly listening in on my conversation with the waitress.  One pointed his camera at me to take a photo. I returned the gesture.

Finally, I greeted them gruffly “mambo sema”. More or less translates “what you have to say?”.  What I really meant was what do you want.

“Habari zenu?” I asked surprised I continued in Swahili.


“We are here to visit my sister,” one deeply black-skinned man said pointing to the waitress. These men were not from Zanzibar. They looked like mainland Tanzanians. This man, clearly the leader of the pack, had cocky menace about him. The others grinned at me.

“Are you visiting from outside Zanzibar? I asked.

“We work for the government,” the leader said.

“Ah, so you’re spies,” I said smiling.

They laughed heartily, nervously.

“You are a spy,” they said to me.

“Ha, no. I’m a journalist,” I said. “I can’t be a very good spy, because I am not concealing my intent here as you seem to be.”

More nervous laughter.

“What do you guys do with the government? ”

They weren’t quite sure whether to answer.

“We procure imports at the Zanzibar port.” They went on to explain that most of the imports were Chinese products, mostly phones, radios and such.

“Oh, so you import taka taka (garbage); stuff that breaks after three days,” I said.

They  laughed and shook their heads.  We all agreed that China extracts much precious natural resources from Africa while loading container ships packed with cheap electronic goods to take back to Africa, particularly impoverished countries like Tanzania.

After some more banter, they stood to leave and we shook hands. Seems they decided I was okay.

When confronted with hostile government spies, be sure to disarm them by chatting in Swahili and remember to indulge in some China-bashing, the country a common enemy to many.

I asked the waitress if that man I was talking to was her brother.

“Is that what he said?”

Spies among us.
Spies among us.

‘A Long Walk Home, Judith Tebbutt’s memoir as pirate hostage in Somalia – Review


LAWLESS LANDS  09.05.13    4:45 AM ET

‘A Long Walk Home’: Somali Pirate Hostage Publishes Her Memoir
In a new book, Judith Tebbutt recounts her six-month ordeal as a hostage of Somali pirates and revisits the night of the kidnapping, when her husband of 33 years lost his life trying to protect her.
Judith Tebbutt, a 56-year old British social worker, wouldn’t know at the time that her long walk home began almost as soon as she and her husband, David, touched down on a grassy airstrip on the northern Kenya coast on September 10, 2011.

The couple had been vacationing in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and planned to wind up their vacation with a weeklong stay at Kiwayu Safari Village, a starkly beautiful beach resort 25 miles south of the Somali border that offered “barefoot luxury” to its mostly well-heeled clients.

After a late lunch, the Tebbutts’ host walked them down the beach to their cottage. “Banda Zero”—the last of a string of 18 palm-thatched cottages—sat directly on the beach over a quarter of a mile away from the main lodge and dining area.

Call it woman’s intuition or just plain common sense, but Judith Tebbutt didn’t like the feel of the place and threw backward glances at the main lodge. She knew the resort advertised itself as a secluded getaway, but “the silence was very pronounced, a ‘peace and quiet’ that felt just a shade remote, even intimidating.”

“Where is everybody?” Tebbutt asked, noting the absence of children laughing and splashing in the sea. In fact, the beach was deserted.

“You’re in luck,” resort owner George Moorhead, a white Kenyan, answered. “You’re the only two here.” If Moorhead sensed her unease, he didn’t acknowledge it.

Often those on safari are on the adventurous side, so the last tent is usually considered a bonus for its privacy. The luxuriously appointed and “absolutely huge” banda had no windows or doors that could lock.

“Instead of a perk, it struck me as a slight cause of concern that we would be so much alone in this rather lonely place,” Tebbutt writes in A Long Walk Home (Faber & Faber, 2013), her recently published account of a terrifying ordeal that would end up taking her into the war-torn heart of Somalia.

Alone inside the banda, Tebbutt voiced her concern to David, who told her gently to “chill.” “This is going to be our Robinson Crusoe experience,” the 58-year-old publishing executive reassured her. (David was director of finances at Faber & Faber, the publishers of Tebbutt’s book.)

That evening they dined with Moorhead, who gave them the background on his decades-old family-run resort. About 9 p.m., after a few gin and tonics, the couple headed back to Banda Zero. Tebbutt put away her bracelets and the watch that operated her hearing aids in the cottage’s wooden lockbox. The couple, married for 33 years, fell asleep holding hands.

The next thing she knew the lights were on again and she heard her husband shout, “What the fuck is going on?”

David was standing at the foot of the bed, inside the mosquito net, his arms raised above his head as he grappled with someone taller than him. Two other men sat on either side of the bed, one prodding Tebbutt in the back with the tip of a rifle. She thought it might have been hotel askaris (watchmen) moving them out of their banda as a result of some breach of security.

But then the men gripped her arms and hauled her off the bed, through the mosquito net and out the doorway. She looked back at David, who was so focused and locked in battle with the shadowy assailant he didn’t seem to notice his wife being dragged out of the banda. When she stumbled along the beach, they pulled her up by her hair.

She screamed and dug her heels into the sand, demanding her abductors return her to hotel. “But my resistance was useless,” she writes.”These men were just too strong for me.”

The resort appeared to be as deserted as when she and David arrived earlier that day. All the askaris were on their tea break at the time. Crashing waves and high winds drowned out her screams. Of the reported two dozen askaris on duty that night, only one heard a gunshot from the vicinity of Banda Zero; Tebbutt, it seems, did not. Under a moon “nightmarishly full and bright,” she was tossed into a tiny “scrappy” fishing skiff. The last man on the boat, she noted, was tall and well built. She silently christened him Leader Man.

She asked her captors where they were taking her, and wondered whether they were headed toward Mombasa, farther down the Kenyan coast. But the man running the engine—the Navigator, who had offered her a pair of trousers for warmth—said, “Somalia.”

“Money, money, money,” says another, rubbing his fingers together. He couldn’t have been more than 19 years old, younger than her son.

One of her captors eventually told her she was lucky to have been kidnapped by pirates and not Islamic militants, who might torture and kill her.

In those first hours, Tebbutt tried to accept the fact that she had been kidnapped, and to endure the grueling trip—it would take three days—up the coast through insect-infested mangrove swamps, in a boat roughly 6 by 12 feet, crammed with jerricans of petrol, without food. She watched the pirates pop balls of rice into their mouths, neglecting to feed her.

Every five hours, they would land, fall to their knees, press palms and foreheads to the ground and pray—a hypocritical gesture, Tebbutt thought, given the nature of their undertaking. On the third day the pirates landed once more and transferred her to an SUV that hurtled into desolate scrubland and over sand dunes. All she knew was that she was hundreds of miles from where she’d been kidnapped. Thus began the start of her six-month nightmare; her kidnappers stashed her in a series of windowless metal-roofed structures surrounded by sand bags and men with machine guns. She was immediately stripped of her Western identity and cloaked in a jilbab, a form of traditional Arabic attire for women.

One of her captors eventually told her she was lucky to have been kidnapped by pirates and not Islamic militants, who might torture and kill her. “When they get the money, you will go home,” he told her. He declined to divulge the amount they were asking.

A few days into her captivity, a pirate leader that Tebbutt had named the Negotiator asked for her husband’s phone number. She replied that she didn’t know it. And he had left his phone back home in England.

“Your son?”

She didn’t know his number either.

“How can you be a good wife if you don’t know your own husband’s phone number?”

“I was dragged out of my bed and onto a boat in the middle of the night by men with rifles. So I didn’t have time to pick up my phone.”

The inevitable regrets took hold: Why did this happen to us? Why didn’t we go to Zanzibar?

Initially, Tebbutt held out hope of rescue and a reunion with her husband. One of the pirates eventually gave her reason to hope this was true. They’d soon take her to the Blue Room Hotel in Mombasa, he said, where David was waiting.

“David wouldn’t allow this outrage to go on for long,” she believed. “He would come find me. He would strain every sinew, do whatever had to be done to get me freed.”

Meanwhile, Tebbutt tried to turn her solitary confinement into a meditative study in solitude and discipline. She found ways to reestablish “self-autonomy” by giving structure and routine to her day. As soon as she was given a notebook and pen, she began keeping a diary, but instead of tracking the boring, repetitive routine found in most hostage accounts, she decided to write the details of her abduction, what the pirates looked like, and the layout of the various cement breeze-block structures she lived in, and stay alert for any details of who might have been behind the attack.
While these projects were soothing, her journal entries range from compassion and resolve to rage, expressed through gritted teeth and a classically British stiff upper lip.

Perhaps because of a hearing difficulty, Tebbutt has a keen eye for detail, down to the colors and patterns of the curtains in her cell and every contour of each pirate’s face.

She writes about drawing on childhood experiences, when she spent considerable time alone. Jude, as she is known to her family, was born with a heart defect, which meant long stays in a hospital and long periods among unfamiliar doctors and surgeons.

She had met David in 1979 and knew right away he was the soulmate she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. The couple married in 1986, and a year later, had their only child, Ollie.

“There were times in our marriage when David would say—fondly, in jest— ‘I just want to look after you, you’re so tiny.’”

Tebbutt is indeed small framed, childlike, which was why she felt was doubly important to let people know she was not one to be pushed around.

One day a pirate came into her room and handed her a phone. The British Consulate was calling. Once proof of life was established, the negotiations got under way. After two weeks, the pirates managed to contact Ollie, then 25. “Mum, there’s something I have to tell you,” he said measuredly. “Dad didn’t survive his injuries.”

Tebbutt felt her heart stop.

“He was trying to protect you, Mum. He was brave to the very end.”

The pirates were miffed that she’d found out her husband was dead, fearing the fact might diminish her morale.

The challenge for Tebbutt then became one not only getting through the day, but confronting grief and rage in a squalid room in the presence of “mercenary creatures” who simply told her to get another husband. One pirate told her his firstborn son had died as a baby, but that he had to believe he’d gone to a better place. He spoke a bit of English and confided to Tebbutt that he had been conscripted at gunpoint the day of the abduction, while fishing with his brother near Ras Kamboni, a village just inside Somalia. The man showed her a photo of a beach scene on his phone. It was Kiwayu. While he wouldn’t say whether he took the photo, he admitted the pirates knew she and David were the only guests at the resort the night of September 11. “We had to wait until midnight to get you.”


Tebbutt tried to keep fit by walking in circles, swiveling her hips to spin an imaginary hula hoop, and practicing yoga and Pilates.
Her background in social work helped her not fear the criminals, and her history of work with traumatized and intimidating patients gave her compassion. However abhorrent her abductors’ and captors’ crime, Tebbutt writes, Somalia is a shattered state offering almost no opportunity for an honest living.

Around Christmastime, the pirates disclosed that Ollie was only able to raise $300,000. They threatened to sell her to other pirates. “You know in Somalia anything can happen … There is no government, no police. This man could make you disappear. And no one would know.”

The Big Man, it seems, had ordered several kidnappings at once: of two female Spanish aid workers in Dadaab, an American aid worker named Jessica Buchanan, and Marie Dedieu, a retiree from France who died in captivity. (The pirates threw her failing body on a donkey and even tried to negotiate a ransom for her remains.)

While listening to the BBC World Service one day, Tebbutt heard Foreign Secretary William Hague talk about an international conference on Somalia, to be held in London. Piracy was high on the agenda.

He analyzed the problem as a symptom a failed state. After the government collapsed in 1992, Somalia’s coastline became a dumping ground for toxic waste from abroad and a free seafood buffet for foreign trawlers. Angry fisherman took vengeance by exacting a toll that was hard to distinguish from extortion. Justifying their actions as retaliation against sea poachers, they began to hold ships hostage, demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars. By 2009 pirates were fetching an average of $5.4 million per ship. In turn, navies around the world, particularly those of NATO and the European Union, and private vessels kitted out with private security, began patrolling the Indian Ocean.

“This new vigilance had helped to turn the pirates focus towards ‘softer targets,’” Tebbutt notes, “foreign tourists, like David and me.”

In the middle of the night she awoke to the sight of Leader Man standing in the doorway. He came to her, held her hands in his “platelike” palms and bowed his head for a few moments and left. “My hunch—it was nothing more—was that he knew that I knew what he’d done in the early hours of 11 September, and, in that light, his gesture towards me had a look of contrition about it.”

On March 21, 2012, Tebbutt was released. She had lost 50 pounds and, from the tough trip up the Somali coast, had developed scoliosis in her spine. While it was not the longest a hostage had been held (the two Spanish women were held nearly two years), she had, in losing David, paid the highest price.

Judith and David Tebbutt
Judith and David Tebbutt. (Excerpt from A Long Walk Home )

One senses in Tebbutt’s memoir of captivity a certain dismay that Western governments and agencies seek to address the symptoms of Somalia’s anarchy and chaos, rather than dealing with its core problem, economic desperation. “It was … clear that my captors were not Islamic militants but common or garden variety extortionists whose sole interest was money,” she notes.

After her release she learned details of David’s death. It is likely that he was murdered because he put up a fight, indeed maybe almost wrestled the gun from the assailant, when he was shot. Crime-scene analysts say, gauging from the blood stains, that at one point David had been lying face down diagonally across the bed, suggesting he may have been “butt stroked” with an AK-47, fell to the bed, and shot from behind.

One of the first things Tebbutt did after being put in solitary confinement in Amara, a coastal town and pirate’s nest, was to hide her wedding band by tying it inside her pajamas. She felt blessed the pirates never found it.

She learned also that on the morning following the attack a man named Ali Babitu Kololo had been arrested by Kenyan authorities. She recognized Kololo from one of the photos she had been shown. A 32-year old Boni tribesman, Kololo later testified in court that he’d been cutting firewood in a forest when a friend of his had brought him toward the Somali border to get him a job. He wasn’t aware they’d crossed into Somalia in the early hours on September 10, when, he said, armed five armed Somalis forced him on a boat to take the them to Kiwayu. About 7 p.m., near the time Tebbutt and David were strolling down the beach for dinner, the pirates set out from Ras Kamboni under the cover of darkness to Mkokoni, the village nearest Kiwayu Safari Village.

While Kololo testified that as soon as the anchored at Kongowale beach near the hotel, he managed to escape from the gang and headed north. Kololo was intercepted by the head of security at the hotel and described him as nervous and unable to look them in the eyes. He also was wearing sandals, a brand that is commonly worn in Somalia.

Kololo had worked at KSV as a groundskeeper and sand raker for three months in 2010. He would have known that the askaris’ tea break occurred between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. Contrary to his testimony of escaping the gang almost as soon as they came ashore, chief counterterror investigator for New Scotland Yard, Neil Hibberd, testified that there was one set of sandal prints leading to back of the bandas, made by a brand of footwear typically used by Somalis and prohibited among the staff at the resort. Apparently the other five kidnappers were barefoot. The sandal prints were those of a person visiting each banda, evidently looking for victims.

Via video link, Judith testified that she had seen a photo of Kololo and couldn’t confirm that he hadn’t been inside Banda Zero.

Soon after publication of her book, at the end of July, a Kenyan court sentenced Kololo to death. He is the only person so far tried and sentenced in the murder and kidnapping case. His lawyer says he plans to appeal.



A Gift for Kenya on its 50th – UK reaches settlement with Mau Mau-era torture victims

Mau Mau torture claimant, Wambui Wa Nying, Nyeri, 2012
Mau Mau torture claimant, Wambui Wa Nyingi, Nyeri, 2012

Kenya received a birthday present yesterday – the long awaited settlement between the UK to 5,200 claimants allegedly tortured at the hands of the British colonial administration during Kenya’s eight-year struggle for Independence, aka the Mau Mau Emergency.

Fifty years after Kenya gained its independence, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Her Majesty’s government had reached a full and final settlement with representatives of Mau Mau torture claimants, for a lawsuit originally filed in 2009.

“The agreement includes a payment of a settlement sum in respect of 5,228 claimants… to the total of 19.9 million pounds sterling,” Hague announced from London.  (The figure is equivalent to USD 31M). He added that the government promises to pay for the construction in Nairobi of a memorial to victims of torture during the colonial era. It’s not yet clear what the memorial will be. According to a Reuters report, 6M sterling of the sum ($9.3M) goes to legal representatives, leaving the rest to the claimants—roughly $3,900 for each one.

The lawsuit against the UK government was first filed in 2009, but promptly dismissed on grounds that the statute of limitations had passed. In London last October a high court ruled that the three main claimants, Wambui Wa Nyingi, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, could proceed with a suit against the British government, seeking compensation for torture they say they endured as detainees during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.

Wambui Wa Nyingi, whose ancestral land in the fertile central highlands was taken away twice -first by the colonials and then by the power elite during Jomo Kenyatta‘s reign – says he was tortured though he claims never to have taken the dread Mau Mau oath. Jane Muthoni Mara claims that jailers repeatedly beat her and raped her with a bottle of scalding hot water. Jailers allegedly castrated Paulo Muoka Nzili.

Hague admitted that thousands of Kenyans were tortured and killed, the Mau Mau were themselves responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 people and 200 among the British regiment and police.

“The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence,” he added, in a remark that claimants, legal representatives and academics agree falls short of the mark. An outright apology could imply liability, opening the floodgates for further claims by other former colonies, for which British taxpayers would have to pay. Per the conventionally accepted statute of limitations, claims exceeding 50 years would not likely succeed.

Foreign Secretary Hague was quick to defend British personnel, who were at the time called upon to serve in a civil war. While the government acknowledges “the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved… and… recognizes that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial government.”

Outside Kenya at the time of the announcement, I Skype-called Harvard professor Caroline Elkins, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, who was in Nairobi at the press conference. “I think [the settlement] is an historic triumph,” Prof Elkins told me. “Clearly, we have to see this is the closest we are going to an apology. ‘Sincere regret’ is a humiliating thing for the British government to concede to.”

Jane Muthoni Mara claims jailers raped her with a bottle of scalding water.

Attorneys at Leigh Day, the law firm representing the victims were pleased with the outcome. “Many of our clients are very elderly and in poor health, to have held out for more or to have argued semantics would not have been in their best interests,” David Standard, spokesman for the law firm, told me via email.

Hague wound up his speech saying that residual tensions, necessarily a part of the healing process, should not get in the way of bilateral trade between the two countries, which annually totals 1 billion pounds sterling.

For further background on the subject be sure to read my Newsweek feature, “See You In Court,” Oct 2012:

Jailers castrated Paulo Muoka Nzili.


Oman – the Stepford Life

Frank Incense at the souk.

Oman gets rain about once a year and so it happened that on the day I first visited the Gulf country  for the first time cross-winds and rain tossed the Oman Air 737. Residents seem to have the same reaction to rain as Montanans when it snows. They freak.
For good reason. Oman is not prepared for rain; the road have no drains so when it rains it floods. I read in the Oman Tribune (or one of the homogenous state-owned newspaper) the day before a flash flood swept away two teenagers walking on a canyon. You hear similar stories in the US desert southwest.
Muscat‘s Seeb International airport is small, clean and mercifully uncrowded. I bought ten day visa in in 15 minutes for about $20.
I’d heard that Omanis speak Swahili but assumed it was restricted to small villages on the coast. When I told the police at immigration that I lived in Kenya, I asked, ‘Mna jua KiSwahili?’.  ‘Ndyo,’, they said and we laughed in shock. After all, these were Arabs, not Africans. I doubt they expected a European to speak Swahili. The young taxi driver who met me at the airport said his parents – in their 60s – almost always spoke it at home. Swahili partly Arabic and Bantu (tribes from sub-Saharan Africa).


Women wear black buibuis. The usual attire of Omani men – a kanzu (long white robe) and kofia (hat) – is exactly what you see in Lamu. For the thoroughly modern touch men add a pair of expensive shades making them look like they just closed an oil deal.

Racial profiling – where are all the Arab mannequins?

Not surprising when Oman centuries ago established a presence along the East African coast. Oman Arabs colonized East Africa long before the Europeans did. The sultan of Oman relocated the country’s capital to Zanzibar, once the center for the slave trade.
Some Omanis vacation every year in Zanzibar.
The sea front buildings of old Muscat share the same architectural features as in Zanzibar – ornately carved wooden balconies. (Like nothing you find anywhere in the world though vaguely resembles balconies of old townhouses in New Orleans).


But the similarities between East Africa and Oman stop there.
Whereas Kenya is easily romanticised, I found Oman spectacularly un-photogenic.
I stayed in a hotel  “downtown” – there really is no downtown – meaning near the beach and embassies.
The lobby is vast with marble floors and tables filled either with sheikhs and doughy American and European businessmen talking about security, banking and oil supply services. Though I haven’t seen westerners mingling with Arabs.


I may as well have been in a hotel off the intestate in Nevada.
Not a piece of garbage in sight. No twists and turns and not much mystery or magic. For this reason I found Muscat and even old Muscat resembling a theme suburb or a soulless (very red) country club in Arizona. Massive and austere government buildings emphasise the fortress the ancient fortresses in the distance. Marble sidewalks and Parisian streetlights seem desperate to convey the image of order, prosperity and perfection.
I didn’t realise that according to the Freedom Institute of three categories (free, relatively free, not free) Oman is considered ‘not free’.
On the plane I sat next to a journalist from India, who worked for the Oman Times. She sang praises of the country’s down-to-earth ethos. Unlike Dubai with its glass and steel high rises, Oman, she said, was spiritual and down to earth. She clammed up though when I asked what it was like writing features for a state-owned magazine.

All buildings – affluent and non-affluent alike – are white or sand-colored. Government and embassies all have emerald green lawns. Building codes ban structures any higher than eight stories.


I sense this is not to preserve heritage as much as it is to hide the less fortunate.
On inspection the houses of everyday citizens are run down and typically third world. There’s no poverty per se but those less fortunate don’t stick out as they do, say, in Kenya.
The Ministry of Finance and Palace of the Sultan are sprawling and imposing structures. Not an AK, armed security or soul in sight.

Near  the  Sultan’s Palace.

On the way from Muscat to old Muscat companies like Dutch Shell Oil (owns 34% of the country’s oil), Nissan and Toyota have massive compounds.

Shell Oil.
Palace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman, built in 70s.

The seafront residences remind of those I have seen in Thailand; run down and unoccupied. Ghostly.
Somehow the Sultanate of Oman reminds me of Thailand’s royalty; the land of a thousand smiles – and two thousand knives in your back.
All that said, the locals are kind, polite, informative and above all honest. So far. I am told the government takes good care of its people. The nation has no foreign debt. Most hotel and banking staff is Omani.
More than anything, it seems that a deeply reverent spirituality saves them.

For all its annoyances, I’ll take Kenya any day. More beauty, soul – and some wildlife.

Sultan of Oman looks like someone I know…..

(This blog is a work in progress – I will edit accordingly. Thank you.)


The Sultan of Oman in his youth. Would it be insulting to ask if he’s the original Sultan of swing
Rain clouds over ruined buildings near the wadi.
Rain clouds over ruined buildings near the wadi.

Beach after the rains Muscat .wtmk jpg

Wadi at Ain A'Thawwarah near Nahal.
Wadi at Ain A’Thawwarah near Nahal.
Gentlemen taxi drivers.
Gentlemen taxi drivers.

Bata Safari Boots and the 680 Hotel

Bata Safari Boots and the 680 Hotel
Lobby of the 680 Hotel, Nairobi

I took refuge from today’s downpour in the lobby of The 680 Hotel.
Seems the 680 has been around forever, but, according to Trip Advisor, it’s only been 30 years. Last July, I interviewed Dedan Kimathi‘s widow, Mukami, in the lobby restaurant for a Newsweek article I was writing about the pending Mau Mau lawsuit against the UK government.
I have several photos of Mukami with this striking Bata Safari Boot ad in the background.
You can hardly call them boots. Their flimsy suede offers almost zero support, but a pair (costs @ $25) seems to last forever.
Maybe because the more you wash them the stiffer the suede gets and so they always look new.
You can spot a ‘KC‘ (Kenya Cowboy) or a safari guide by the beige Bata Safari Boots.
My husband always wore these shoes. He rarely wore any other shoe even when traveling in Europe or the states.
Never seen them for sale anywhere but in Nairobi, the world’s safari capital. But then I never had reason to look for them anywhere else.
I had no idea that the Bata Safari Boot was just one of many design belonging to a global foot-wear empire that originated in Czech Republic in 1894.
Apparently, the company broke the Guinness World Record awhile back when it sold 14 billion pairs.
You can now buy them in purple.
Sawa grapes, but no thanks.

Mukami Kimathi watermark 2012-08-20 12.07.36-1
Mukami Kimathi, widow of Dedan Kimathi, the leader of the Land and Freedom Army during the Mau Mau-era. (photo, lobby of the 680 Hotel, July, 2012)


Rhino darting clip – Economics of Extinction

Film clip accompanying my Newsweek /DailyBeast feature, The Economics of Extinction, 01.28.2013

Watch a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) veterinarian sharpshooter dart an endangered black rhino for translocation. Laikipia, Kenya.


link to article –


Apocalypse Mogadishu – Ancient Rome meets ‘Mad Max gone wrong’

















FEBRUARY 5-7, 2012

Safely back in Nairobi my American travel pal told me that we had a deceptively smooth experience in Mogadishu.

WTMKMogadishu is the sort of place that on the surface may strike you as surprisingly safe and peaceful; residents going about their daily business of selling basics in small dukas in big markets, kids playing soccer, men heading to prayer in mosques and so on. In most places in the word, when things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world.


Frayed nerves after (non-Somali) thugs in Eastliegh (an outlaw and predominantly Somalisuburb of Nairobi) stole my Iphone the day before left me convinced that the theft was a sign that I should not launch myself into a war zone.

But I had too many reasons to go – as a recce, an opportunity to travel to one of the world’s most dangerous places with someone well-connected and knowledgeable, to research a story about the Shabab recruits (Somalia’s equivalent of Al Qaida) and to visit Shabelle Media, a team of print and radio journalists in Mogadishu, who’d lost a fellow investigative journalist to assassins two weeks before. To me, he was a friend and mentor and I had been planning finally to meet him face to face.

Family on bend in road - wtmk







For a host of reasons we ended up not going under auspices of AMISOM  – the U.S. approved peace-keeping force operated by African Union – that most journalists use and that provides them APC‘s (armed personnel carriers). Instead, Aden our fixer, tossed us in the Toyota Carola with our Darth Vader helmets and flak jackets and a policeman who grabbed at last minute from the AMISOM compound. Destination – Lido Beach far from the safety and comfort zone of  Transitional Federal Government (TFG) controlled area known as K4.

Random unpredictability is what’s dangerous about Mogadishu — we sped through town so as not to be identified and followed, though we could just as easily and unwittingly rushed into a road side truck bomb or suicide bomber that AS had planned for someone else. My friend tells me that we weren’t so much lucky to travel through Mog without a hitch. “More like we weren’t unlucky.”

The layout of Mogadishu is small and compact, not so surprising given that it’s been a war zone since the early 90’s soon after President Siad Barre‘s regime toppled and the country fell into chaos.

The international community does not recognize Somalia as a sovereign country since it doesn’t have a central government. I’m told this is mainly due in part to the Hatfield and McCoy clan architecture of Somalia society that to the western mind may appear fractured. Though some system – however impenetrable to the outside world – lends structure to the apparent madness.

Until recently, Shabab and various warlords had run this lawless country. The western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – with much-needed help from AMISOM – has taken control of most of the city away from Shabab. Mini militias who protect the warlords still patrol all streets.

African Union (AU) soldiers
African Union (AU) soldiers








Aden suggested that we take the outing after the daily shipment of qhat or miraa (a naturally grown but addictive stimulant grown in Kenya) has arrived. When residents don’t get their qhat fix they get testy and start shooting rounds from their AK’s.

Remnant of a recent truck bombing in which 70+ ppl killed, including the targeted - parents with their children standing in line to receive scholarships to study in Turkey. Shabab claimed responsibility.
Remnant of a recent truck bombing in which 70+ ppl killed, including the targeted – parents with their children standing in line to receive scholarships to study in Turkey. Shabab claimed responsibility.











I try to find compassion and understanding for these proud and nationalistic Somalis. I want to know the political, spiritual, religious “mandate” of Al Shabab (AS)- the core sanity, reason and spirit behind or within the chaos. What I am learning is that most of the recruits are local young, poor and uneducated with few options to succeed at life in a failed state. Easy targets for brain-washing. Some are just assholes with big guns. Like assholes anywhere. They murder because they are paid and told to do so. Word is that AS is losing ground and support in Mog because it no longer has the funds to pay them.

On arriving at Lido beach on the north end of the city we promptly got our little saloon car stuck in the sand.










Thankfully, our biggest asset was a diminutive guard, a 19-year old Somali policeman named Abdi. Friends scrutinized a photo that I posted on Facebook of Abdi standing between my travel buddy and me. They said he looked stoned. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. Not in a Muslim culture, anyway. He was small and skinny, sure, but agile, on point, and never missed a beat. I didn’t even know before putting my life in his hands that he was on guard when, about a year ago, a dozen Al Shabab stormed the airport to kill TFG leaders. Abdi open fire with his AK and alone shot dead six of them.







Pulling inside Radio Mogadishu compound for an interview, a Hilux had been trying to nudge its way out. Our fixer, stopped it and introduced us — me in my capacity as a journalist – to two older men with red-beards and dressed in long white robes sitting in the back seat. Though I had greeted them in Arabic, the man closest to where we stood offered a limp-wristed hand and withdrew it the moment I touched it. I assumed his aloofness was a gender thing. The other gentleman sitting farther away nodded instead of shaking hands. One of his eyes drooped more than the other.

Of the two men one more notorious than the other. Aden wanted to be sure we were introduced to the Islamist warlords should an incident occur.

Here’s a brief description of Indha Adde —

From The Nation – “The notorious Somali paramilitary warlord who goes by the nom de guerre Indha Adde, or White Eyes, walks alongside trenches on the outskirts of Mogadishu’s Bakara Market once occupied by fighters from the Shabab, the Islamic militant group that has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. In one of the trenches, the foot of a corpse pokes out from a makeshift grave consisting of some sand dumped loosely over the body. One of Indha Adde’s militiamen says the body is that of a foreigner who fought alongside the Shabab. “We bury their dead, and we also capture them alive,” says Indha Adde in a low, raspy voice. “We take care of them if they are Somali, but if we capture a foreigner we execute them so that others will see we have no mercy.”

Roman Cathedral.
Roman Cathedral.


Somebody is loving Mogadishu.
Somebody loves Mogadishu.

How Somali pirates and terrorists made bank off two Western hostages – Vocativ



Author Margot Kiser  Posted: 08/06/13 10:24 EST

Nearly two years after Somali pirates kidnapped them, two Spanish foreign aid workers suddenly reappeared at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu last month and got onboard a small plane headed back to Madrid. An undisclosed ransom was paid for their release, and though it’s still unclear exactly who received the money, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, announced the return of Montserrat Serra, 42, and Blanca Thiebaut, 32, at a press conference last month, saying the women are in “relatively good health.”

The two MSF aid workers arrived in Dadaab, Kenya, a sprawling metropolis of makeshift huts and tents, in the summer of 2011 to begin setting up a hospital for the more than 500,000 refugees, mostly Somalis who fled to Kenya because of war and famine. In October, Serra and Thiebaut were setting up a hospital at a separate camp 5 miles away when six gunmen ambushed their truck, shot and wounded their driver and abducted the women. By the time Kenyan police helicopters spotted the abandoned vehicle, the kidnappers had already taken Serra and Thiebaut across the Somali border.

Very little is known about what happened to the women during their 19 months in captivity. Yet interviews with sources and reports from U.S. and Kenyan authorities shed light on the ad hoc way that Al Shabaab militants and Somali pirates (who reportedly call themselves The Indian Ocean Network) often work in tandem to hide Western hostages and share the ransom money. “Hostage bartering has been known amongst pirate groups, and it is thought that Al Shabaab has handed some hostages over to pirate groups for negotiation,” says John Steed, a former British army colonel and current executive director at Secretariat for Regional Maritime Security, an organization that assists Somalia’s efforts to combat piracy.

Doctors Without Borders2
Montserrat Serra, left, and Blanca Thiebaut
Over the course of their ordeal, Thiebaut and Serra appear to have been shuffled between a series of windowless mud huts every few weeks with nothing to read and no one to talk to. Like most other hostages in the region, the two likely subsisted on a single meal a day of boiled potatoes, pasta and, occasionally, camel meat. In recent photos taken when the women landed in Madrid, they looked as thin and frail as the Somali refugees they once assisted. The gunmen who captured Serra and Thiebaut belonged to a militia that a minority faction of Al Shabaab hired, according to Matt Bryden, director of the Kenya-based Sahan Research Group, which focuses on the Horn of Africa. He tells Vocativ the women were immediately taken to the Somali port town of Kismayu, which is also controlled by Al Shabaab, a militant Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda.

The pirates and the militant group once had little use for each other. But since July 2011, when African Union forces pushed Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and cut off many of its revenue streams from the capital city’s port, the group has been strapped for cash. Yet a senior counterterrorism expert in Kenya, who asked not to be named because he or she was not authorized to talk to the media, tells Vocativ that the kidnappers offered the women to Al Shabaab’s commanders in Kismayu, who apparently wanted nothing to do with them. Instead, the kidnappers dragged them nearly 800 miles north to Harardhere, in central Somalia, where they off-loaded their victims onto a band of pirates for $200,000, a well-connected research analyst based in Mogadishu who wished to remain unnamed tells Vocativ. The Indian Ocean Network had found its newest prize.

According to a United States–based authority on piracy and international crime, Mohamed Abdi Hassan Afweyne (who is considered the father of Somali piracy and appropriately dubbed “Big Mouth” by fellow thieves of the sea) admitted in interviews that pirates initially paid the Islamist group $100,000 for safe anchorage in Harardhere between 2008 and 2010. That amount steadily rose and Al Shabaab began demanding 20 to 30 percent of the ransom for both merchant vessels and individual foreign hostages.

The Mogadishu-based expert says that pirates paid Al Shabaab leaders various forms of “protection money” as well as a cut of the ransom. In the case of Judith Tebbutt, a 56-year-old British tourist who was kidnapped (and later released) in 2011, the pirates paid $250,000 to pass through Al Shabaab’s land. For safe passage or anchorage of hijacked merchant vessels off the coast of Harardhere they could snag up to $300,000.

By 2012 Al Shabaab no longer controlled Merca, a city 50 miles south of Mogadishu and the area where the MSF workers were last seen. The Mogadishu-based expert concludes that pirates were the likely recipients of the MSF aid worker ransom, and he says it is rumored that Al Shabaab received a 20 percent cut of that ransom, or khumus.

Somali Pirates Map

In 2011 the average ransom for vessels seized in the Indian Ocean was $5 million, according to a report published by Oceans Beyond Piracy, a Colorado nonprofit. “Al Shabaab commanders usually won’t harbor kidnappers and their hostages,” Bryden says, “but they tolerated them in their midst and eventually took a cut of the ransom.”

Within the Indian Ocean Network, negotiators often pocket extra cash, thanks to a simple, but risky, scam. They will often quote a higher ransom than the kidnappers initially ask for, then keep the difference. If caught, however, the kidnappers will often kill them.

Most aid organizations provide armed security to their workers as they travel between the growing number of satellite camps around Dadaab. But MSF operates differently. Despite the group’s presence in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, workers are rarely kidnapped. The organization says it strives to remain neutral and stay out of politics. Days after Serra and Thiebaut disappeared, Spanish MSF President Jose Antonio Bastos said at a press conference, “We want to strongly distance ourselves from any military or other armed activities, declarations or presumptions of responsibility related to this case.”

Yet neutrality often doesn’t matter when it comes to piracy, as many of the groups involved are mostly interested in making money however they can. Al Shabaab, for instance, got its hands on a piece of the $1.1 million ransom that a private security company and family members paid to liberate Tebbutt, the British tourist, Bryden says. At one point last year, the Islamist group demanded $68,000 per hostage for two Kenyan aid workers who were kidnapped while distributing food and medicine to poor. When it became clear that the families of the hostages couldn’t afford the amount, and the Kenyan government refused to negotiate with terrorists, elders from the hostages’ community eventually agreed on an undisclosed sum with Al Shabaab.

Somali pirates have carried out 218 successful hijackings since 2005 off the Horn of Africa, resulting in the abduction of more than 3,700 crew members and the total ransom payment of an estimated $385 million, according to a June 2013 World Bank report. As many as 97 non-Somali crew members died in the attacks, the report claimed. Although ransom rates are holding steady, the heyday of piracy appears to be over. Attempted hijackings declined by 70 percent from 2011. The number of successful piracy attacks in the Indian Ocean continued to decline in 2012, with just 14 reported hijackings. And on the ground in Kenya, kidnapping incidents are almost nonexistent. According to a United Nations report released last month, the decline is in part due to more effective European Union and NATO patrols, as well as the use of private security aboard merchant vessels.

Judith Tebbutt survived her kidnapping. Her husband’s killer recently received a death sentence from a Kenyan court.
Judith Tebbutt survived her 2011 kidnapping.
(AFP/Getty Images)
Pirates once saw tourists in Kenya as easy pray because of poor security. There hasn’t been an abduction since January 2012, when American journalist Michael Scott Moore, who was writing a book about piracy in Somalia, vanished. He is still missing. “It is highly unlikely that kidnappers will strike again at tourist areas on Kenya’s north coast,” says Major Emmanual Chirchir, former spokesman during Operation Linda Nchi, Kenya’s military campaign in Somalia to fight Al Shabaab. “But towns and refugee camps like Dadaab near the porous Kenya-Somali border in the northeast remain vulnerable.”

The release of the two Spanish aid workers has recharged the debate over publishing ransom amounts, as some argue it drives the dollar amount higher. But that, according to Bryden, simply isn’t true—especially now that kidnappings seem to be waning. “Everyone knows everything in Somalia,” he says. ” If a ransom is paid, word gets out very quickly.”

For now, however, exactly how the ransom exchanged hands remains a secret.


Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering maritime piracy, security, geopolitics, wildlife conservation in East Africa.


The Economics of Extinction | Margot Kiser | Newsweek


In Newsweek Magazine

The Economics of Extinction: Africa’s Elephants and Rhinos in Danger | Margot Kiser

Jan 29, 2013 12:00 AM EST

How long before Africa’s rhinos and elephants are wiped out in the wild?

You wouldn’t think a room as big as a warehouse could feel this airless — not even a maximum-security warehouse, like this one. At the same time, the place seems odorless. Which also seems strange, with so much evidence of death shelved in wire-mesh bins and stacked up like firewood on all sides. But the overwhelming impression is utter soundlessness, except for the tread of armed paramilitary escorts’ boots.

In Kenya, this anti-poaching team protects a northern white rhino. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

Few other outsiders have ever seen the inside of the Tanzanian government’s notoriously secretive Ivory Room. Whenever the country’s law enforcers catch ivory poachers or smugglers, or find an elephant dead of natural causes, the tusks are supposed to be sent to this repository in the African nation’s largest city, Dar es Salaam. At present the government-owned stockpile holds more than 137 tons of ivory. Its retail value on the ground in Hong Kong would be more than a quarter of a billion dollars—if only the worldwide ban on ivory trade didn’t prohibit such sales.

For now, however, the ivory continues to pile up. And the worst of it is that what arrives in this government warehouse represents only a fraction of the total kill in Tanzania alone, never mind the rest of the continent. Today, all of Africa is suffering one of the bloodiest wildlife slaughters in history—of not only the elephant, but the rhinoceros as well. Asia’s booming economies have spawned an insatiable market for contraband luxuries and traditional “medicine.” (The truth is that, contrary to persistent myth, rhino horn has no more medical value than your fingernails, which consist of the exact same substance: keratin.)

Having effectively destroyed its own wildlife supply (the Javan rhino was declared extinct on the mainland in 2011), Asia has turned to Africa’s comparatively well-stocked populations. Conservationists warn that, at current rates, only drastic action will save the elephant or the rhino.

And yet no one seems able to say just what kind of action would be drastic enough to succeed. Coldblooded Asian moneymen are said to be snatching up ivory and rhino horn as investments against times of even greater scarcity. Prices have already reached unprecedented heights, with ivory commanding more than $1,000 per kilogram in Beijing, while rhino horn fetches more than 20 times that figure—far more precious than gold or cocaine.

Lured by these riches, seasoned killers are elbowing the old-style amateurs and subsistence hunters out of the poaching business. These days the illicit ivory market is fed by some of the continent’s most vicious and heavily armed militant groups, including the Janjaweed of Sudan, Somalia’s Al-Shabab, and the Lord’s Resistance Army originally from Uganda. Meanwhile, the dwindling populations of rhinoceros have come under attack by a new order of professional criminals who mount commando assaults using helicopters, night-vision goggles, high-powered rifles, and RPGs.

Thanks to such rapacity, the continent’s elephant population has fallen to the middle six figures—roughly half of what it was in the late 1970s. In Tanzania alone, poachers eliminate about 10,000 of the beasts annually—up to 9 percent of the country’s total herd—according to recent testimony by James Lembeli, chairman of Tanzania’s Parliamentary Committee on Land, Natural Resources, and Environment.

In other words, the country’s poachers are making off with roughly double the contents of the Ivory Room every year. The threat to the rhinoceros is even direr. Across the continent, barely 26,000 remain: 21,150 of the white-rhino species, mostly in South Africa, and 4,200 of the critically endangered eastern black species, mostly in Kenya. The western black subspecies was declared extinct in November 2011. And only seven specimens of the northern white rhino subspecies survive, four of them at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Painstaking management, diligent security, and imported stock have enabled Tanzania to rebuild its embattled black-rhino population to around 100 animals, but the killers are at work there as well. The fruits of the poaching frenzy are hawked shamelessly at Dar es Salaam’s Mwenge market. Just step inside any of these ramshackle shops and make your way past the dusty carved-ebony giraffes and hippos to the back room. There’s always a back room. “You looking for underground business?” the visibly intoxicated shopkeeper slurs. “We have pembe”—Swahili for rhino horn.

Elephants in Kenya. Ivory can fetch up to $1,000 per kilogram in Beijing. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

His assistant immediately produces a foot-long tusk from a bag beneath a table and begins shaving off a small pile of flaked ivory. It looks like shredded Parmesan—or perhaps toenail clippings. “Will cure anything,” the shopkeeper promises. He says he finds plenty of customers among the 100,000 Chinese nationals who live and work in the Tanzanian capital. His asking price for powdered ivory is $93 a gram—about twice the going rate for that much gold dust. For that amount he says he’ll toss in a brand-new elephant-hair bracelet. He wants $900 for the whole tusk. Or for $3,000 you can have one the size of a man’s arm. He doesn’t happen to have any rhino horn in the shop just now, but come back in a few days, he says. He’s sure he can find what you need. Rats skitter along the rafters.

Although poachers in Africa can only dream of prices like that for their kills, they do all right by local standards. In Tanzania they’re likely to take home $450 per kilogram of tusk—not bad money in a country where per capita income is under $600 a year, according to the latest U.N. statistics. Across the border in Kenya, middlemen typically pay $3,500 per kilogram for rhino horn. Around Laikipia and Nakuru, the upcountry areas of Kenya where most of the poaching takes place, locals generally subsist on $300 or less a year.

Such desperate poverty inevitably encourages poaching, but conservationists also blame the region’s toothless wildlife-protection laws. In fact, most Africans regard the big animals as menaces far worse than the poachers who prey on them. Subsistence farmers in the countryside live in fear that their crops will be trampled by elephants, and if a man with a gun can keep their families from going hungry, he’s their friend and hero, not a criminal.

In the long run, however, poaching poses a grave threat even to those Kenyans, Tanzanians, and other Africans. The fact is that elephants, rhinos, and other “charismatic megafauna” are essential to sub-Saharan Africa’s vital tourism industries. And yet poachers just laugh at the criminal sanctions they face in countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

Claus Mortensen remembers how his hopes for the rhino soared at the start of the new century. As longtime manager of Mugie Ranch, a 49,000-acre livestock operation and private wildlife refuge in central Kenya, he had dreamed of bringing the long-vanished black rhinoceros back to its former home ground among the lions, giraffes, and elephants of the acacia-dotted Laikipia plateau. At last it seemed possible: the hunting and poaching frenzy of the 1970s and early 1980s had become a distant memory, thanks to a shoot-to-kill directive, a concerted anti-ivory consumer-education campaign in the West, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Mortensen’s two dozen transplanted rhinos quickly made themselves at home in the half of the ranch that was set aside for them. “The first years were bliss,” he recalls. But starting in 2008, his dream fell apart. Rhino-horn prices jumped in Asia, and poachers in Africa went on a rampage to fill the demand. Wildlife experts blame a viral Internet rumor about a nameless Vietnamese official who supposedly experienced a miraculous cure from cancer thanks to powdered rhino horn. In the years since, Western journalists have never managed to find him or her. Conservationists suspect that he or she may have been a fictitious character invented by an unscrupulous Asian marketer.

This ivory is being impounded by the Kenyan Wildlife Service. It’s unknown who killed this elephant or why. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

The ranch lost six of its rhinos in just three years. Kenya Wildlife Service investigators finally tracked down a local middleman and arrested him (and others) for organizing the killings, and Mortensen attended the trial. The accused killers—Kenyan Somalis, as it happened—lounged in the hallway outside the courtroom and taunted Mortensen as he passed. “Kifaru bado kufa?” they asked him in Swahili: are your rhino dead yet? When he went home to the ranch that night, he learned that still another rhino had been killed in his absence. Mortensen says the middleman was found guilty and fined $470. Just one of the horns he got would have been worth at least $200,000 in Vietnam.

The California-based owners of Mugie Ranch agonized over what to do. In the end, they decided they couldn’t leave the surviving rhinos at risk of being killed, and efforts to protect them had become cost-prohibitive. With the help of the Kenya Wildlife Service the owners sent their 23 remaining animals to the relative safety of Ruma National Park, on the distant shores of Lake Victoria.

I was at the ranch a year ago to witness the departure of Mugie’s last rhino, a young female the ranch staff had named Parri. She ran across the savanna as a helicopter drifted overhead. A KWS sharpshooter aimed his rifle, fired, and scored a bull’s-eye. A tranquilizer dart’s fluorescent-pink shuttlecock bobbed briefly on her rump before she staggered and collapsed. Rangers on the ground scrambled to amputate most of her two horns (they regenerate) and implant radio transponders in the stubs for future tracking purposes. Then a stimulant injection jolted her awake again. She lurched to her feet and bolted straight into a big crate that had been placed right in front of her. Parri was on her way.

Unfortunately most of Africa’s poaching problems defy such tidy solutions, and the senseless slaughter continues. Ian Craig is the owner of Lewa Downs, a private sanctuary that is home to one of the largest black-rhino populations on the entire continent. (Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton here at the foot of Mount Kenya in 2010.) The place is famous for its tight security, but in two days this past December, poachers killed four of his animals—two females and two immature males. Three of the animals were killed for nothing. “They got one horn,” says Craig. Mortensen says in despair: “If the poachers can get into Lewa—one of the most heavily guarded ranches in Kenya—there may be no hope.”

Hopeless or not, the entire continent’s situation seems grim at best. Over the years, South Africa has won wide praise for its efforts to save the rhino, but the country lost a record 668 of the animals to poachers in 2012—fully 220 more than were killed in 2011. And massive seizures of ivory in Asia and elsewhere suggest that far more is getting through undetected. The awful truth is that the forces conspiring to kill the elephant and the rhino are more organized, better equipped, and more efficient than the agencies that are trying to keep them alive. “It’s not just an environmental issue anymore,” says Ian James Saunders, cofounder of the Tsavo Trust. “It’s an internal security issue.”

Saunders, in his mid-40s, is a former British Army and intelligence officer and a veteran of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These days he’s based in a remote corner of Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park, where he’s setting up what he calls “a new law-enforcement infrastructure” in an area where poaching is particularly rampant. The rise of organized crime, in the form of ivory and rhino-horn syndicates, is a threat to the whole country, he warns. Just look at the resources America devotes to fighting organized crime, he says, “and it’s still a losing battle. Imagine how much more difficult it is in Tanzania and Kenya.”

This rhino skull in South Africa has been shorn of its horn. The animal was killed by poachers. (Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty)

The killings get more and more vicious—and more brazen. Earlier this month in Tsavo East, a heavily armed group of poachers massacred an entire family of 11 elephants, including a 2-month-old baby. The killers gunned down the youngest ones first, evidently knowing that this would cause the adults to gather into a tight group to defend the little ones rather than scatter. Poachers have used the same tactic with similar results in southern Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve.

Nevertheless, a lack of funds makes it practically impossible for either country to fight the poachers. This past October, Tanzania’s minister for tourism and natural resources, Khamis Kagasheki, applied for special dispensation from CITES to sell 110 tons of ivory from the warehouse. (He only wishes he could sell it all, but CITES forbids the sale of confiscated ivory.) The hope was that the proceeds would fund new efforts to stop poaching. Besides, says Kagasheki, a Fordham-educated economist who was appointed to the job thanks to his flawless reputation for integrity, maintaining security at the warehouse costs money, and he has no cash to spare.

But before CITES could meet to consider the application, authorities in Hong Kong seized two shipments of smuggled Tanzanian ivory worth more than $1 million each. Embarrassed and frustrated, Kagasheki withdrew the application.

Wildlife experts propose a whole range of ideas to deter the killers if not stop them. Daphne Sheldrick urges tougher penalties for poachers. In a lifetime of working with animals in Kenya, she has raised more than 130 orphaned elephants and more than a dozen orphaned black rhino. “You can get life imprisonment for killing a man,” she says, her blue eyes glittering, “but only nine months for killing an elephant. Killing an elephant is equally serious in my view. There are so few left.”

Others say it’s useless to go after the triggermen. “Blaming or shooting the poachers is just stomping out fires,” says Richard Ruggiero, a biologist and old Africa hand with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We need to take out the syndicates. Rhino traffickers are the most hard-core criminals that exist today. They are the same people who trade in humans, drugs, arms, and blood diamonds.”

But the higher you go in the syndicates, the harder it becomes to identify the crooks, never mind prosecute them. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, says there’s only one solution: “involve the Chinese.” He’s confident that when Beijing finally decides it’s time for Chinese consumers to stop buying ivory and rhino horn, they’ll stop in short order. Never mind people who say the old traditions are too powerful to reverse, he says: “How do you stop binding women’s feet? The Communist Party stopped it dead overnight.”

The environmental-protection organization WildAid is urging consumers across Asia to avoid rhino horn and ivory, and the group claims to have had success in the past in discouraging Chinese diners from eating shark-fin soup. The group says many Chinese mistakenly believe that rhinos shed their horns every year, the way deer drop their antlers to grow new ones.

In any case, the traffic in horns and tusks shows few signs of slowing. Although Nigeria has only 100 wild elephants of its own, it has become the continent’s largest center for retail ivory, according to field studies by the Kenya-based wildlife-trade authority Esmond Bradley Martin, who estimates that 98 percent of the buyers are Chinese. In the past decade the number of Chinese living and working in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, has soared—and in the city’s Lekki market, he found a vast assortment of carved ivory goods at only a fraction of the prices they would fetch in China. Chopsticks that would cost $455 in Guangzhou were a steal in Lagos at $63. An ivory necklace that might go for nearly $600 in China was priced at $57.

The toll from such baubles and trinkets adds up to a bloodbath. During his study of the Lekki market, Bradley Martin counted a total of 14,000 ivory items, all from elephants freshly killed in neighboring Benin, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as far away as Kenya and Tanzania.

Gazing across the savanna at Lewa Downs, Craig can only wonder if anything can stop the poaching in time to save the wild rhino. “The endgame is that in 30 years, the rhino will be a zoo animal, protected in little isolated pockets,” he says. “And rhinos don’t breed well in zoos. Then what do you do?” At the same time, Douglas-Hamilton refuses to despair—for the elephant, at least. “We have been through one holocaust before,” he says, grimly recalling the wholesale slaughter of the 1970s and early ’80s. “We can get through the second.”

Win or lose, it’s a painful business. Mortensen is up at dawn every morning on game patrol. The ranch still has elephants, cheetahs, and other animals to keep track of, even if the rhinos are gone. And yet as the mist clears each morning, he automatically looks for the old, familiar three-toed tracks. The rhinos of Mugie Ranch used to cross the red-dirt road at the same spot every night to browse a favorite area.

That was part of the problem. Rhinos’ clockwork habits make them wide-open targets for poachers. “I miss the rhino,” says Mortensen. The worry and the heartbreak just became too much. “I don’t miss waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of gunshots, or the sound of the [VHF] radio going on,” he says. “Your heart stops.” The big beasts are hundreds of miles away now, but they’re all safe and sound—as far as he knows.

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Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. She is currently at work on a memoir of her life as a safari wife in post-socialist Tanzania, where she established a wildlife-conservation area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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See You in Court : Tales of Torture in Mau Mau-Era Detention Centers – Newsweek Magazine

We Were Tortured in Kenya’s Mau Mau-Era Detention Centers
Oct 8, 2012 1:00 AM EDT

Waiting for justice more than 50 years—and counting, Margot Kiser reports from Kenya.

The first thing Wambugu Wa Nyingi wants his visitors to see—even before he shows them the torture scars from his years in colonial-era Kenya’s detention centers—is the lush landscape. The rolling hills on all sides, veined with rows of coffee plants as far as the eye can see, bespeak prosperity. But at 84, Wa Nyingi has only this little acre of ground where his house stands, with its rusty corrugated-iron roof and a few derelict-looking outbuildings made of scrap lumber.

Suspected Mau Mau members at a detention camp in Nairobi, 1952. (Bert Hardy / Getty Images)

This whole swath of Kenya’s countryside once belonged to Wa Nyingi’s Kikuyu ancestors. But after the British settlers arrived, these hills became the White Highlands, where only the wazungu—a Swahili term for people of European descent—could own land. With independence in 1963, the green hills changed hands again, as well-connected “neocolonial” Africans snapped up more real estate than the whites had ever taken. Most Kenyans, like Wa Nyingi, were left out. “I spent 10 years in detention,” the old man says. “I have almost nothing to show for it.

Now he can hope for something better, perhaps. In London last week a high court ruled that Nyingi and his fellow claimants, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, can proceed with a suit against the British government, seeking compensation for torture they say they endured as detainees during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. The government promptly declared that it would appeal the decision. So many years have passed, and so many witnesses have died, that a fair trial is impossible, the state’s lawyers insist.

The claimants have lived through far worse things than legal delays. “Those who are defeated are free to appeal,” Nyingi says with a shrug. Mara agrees. “I forgive the government their decision to appeal,” she tells Newsweek. “It is their right. I have hope that God will intervene and give justice if the court doesn’t.” She can hardly turn her neck, not only from age but also because of the beatings she suffered six decades ago. She was 15 when she was arrested for working to organize women in her village to cook and wash clothes for the rebels. Her jailers raped her with a bottle of scalding water, she told the court.

The number of victims in the eight-year conflict is a subject of furious dispute. Everyone seems to agree that the rebels killed a total of 32 white civilians, mostly in terrorist attacks on farmers and their families. But the death toll among the Kenyans is anybody’s guess. The Kenya Land and Freedom Army (as the Mau Mau called themselves) waged a merciless war against any Kikuyu suspected of collaborating with the colonial regime, while the British and their many Kikuyu allies responded in kind.

In essence, the colonial authorities chose to fight terror with terror. “The Mau Mau did horrible things,” Harvard Prof. Caroline Elkins (author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning history Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya) tells Newsweek, “but look at the proportionality. The British had the war well in hand by 1954, and yet it went on for another six years. The only way to get them to renounce the Mau Mau oath was via torture.”

She’s not overstating the power of the Mau Mau blood oath. Just ask Paulo Nzili. An elfish man as diminutive and frail as Nyingi is tall and robust, he walks with a single crutch. It helps offset the severe limp that resulted from medical complications after his jailers castrated him, more than half a century ago. The aim was to punish him for refusing to confess that he had taken the oath. “I was a brave person,” he says. “I think by castration they wanted to lessen my bravery.”

He says he knew little about the rebels until the night in 1957 when a Mau Mau press gang grabbed him and hauled him into the forest. At first he was terrified of the wild-looking fighters dressed in animal skins, their hair hanging down in dreadlocks. Nevertheless, they persuaded him to pledge his life to their cultlike cause and to Kenyan independence.

The Kikuyu tradition of “oathing” dates back long before the Mau Mau. In essence it calls down destruction on anyone who takes the vow and then betrays it. The fighters instructed Nzili to drink from a pot of soup mixed with blood. Then they cut his arm with a blade and made him suck his own blood, after which they made a cut in his scalp, wiped the blood on a leaf, and had him lick that. Many fanciful accounts of the oath have been reported, some involving bestiality, but this is the version given by Nzili.

He stayed with the fighters six months before he escaped with the rifle they had given him. He planned to sell it in the city, he says. Instead, he blundered into the arms of law enforcers, who sent him to the notorious Embakasi detention center. There he was handed over to a white jailer named Dunman. Behind his back, Nzili and other prisoners called him Luvai: “merciless person.” He oversaw the “hard-core” prisoners—those who refused to admit having taken the oath or who would not lead the way to their former forest hideouts.

The Claimants, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 75 (Ben Curtis / AP)

Nzili had already been forced to stand and watch as other detainees were castrated with foot-long cattle pliers. While guards pinned him to the ground with booted feet, Luvai snipped the ducts in Nzili’s scrotum, leaving his testicles intact. When the job was finished, Nzili’s captors sent him to the hospital. They wanted him to survive as a warning to other detainees, he says.

When he was freed, he went home to his parents, traumatized and depressed. “I lost all my energy for women and for life,” he says. Fifteen years would pass before he finally moved to the city, found a decent job, and got married. He says he’s thankful for his wife and for the stepson he helped raise, and he even forgives Luvai, who died in 2008. “There’s nothing I can do but forgive him,” Nzili told the court. “You cannot repay a sin with a sin. That will not give back what he took from me.”

He lifts his shirt. His chest and stomach are punctuated with wartlike scars where guards stamped out their cigarettes more than five decades ago.

Nyingi likewise refused to admit taking the Mau Mau oath. That’s because he never did, he says. He was arrested in 1952 for activities associated with the Mau Mau movement’s nonviolent predecessor, the Kenya African Union. The colonial rulers effectively created the Mau Mau by arresting the KAU’s president at the time, Jomo Kenyatta, and other peaceful pro-independence activists. Kenyatta was tried and convicted in 1953 on charges of belonging to the Mau Mau. “Kenyatta was never a Mau Mau,” says Dennis Leete, who spent years fighting the rebels. “He never even wanted to look at one.”

Framed newspaper clippings and photographs line the walls of Wa Nyingi’s living room. Old as he is, he still stands tall, a distinguished-looking, well-groomed gentleman. He points to a newspaper photo of an elderly white man—Terence Gavaghan—the one who oversaw the floggings, Wa Nyingi says, lifting his sweater to reveal the scars on his lower back. Then he pulls up his trouser cuffs. Both knees are mazes of scar tissue. For years, he says, his jailers forced him to spend hours at a time kneeling on stones. Still, some of his fellow inmates had it far worse. At his last detention camp, he says he watched as 11 of them were bludgeoned to death by guards. Gavaghan received the MBE for his service in suppressing the Mau Mau rebellion. He died last year at 88.

Mukami Kimathi only wishes she could have assisted in the claimants’ case. “We wanted to go to London,” says her adopted daughter, Evelyn, “but the immigration man frowned and laughed when we told him so.” Mukami is the widow of Dedan Kimathi. Kenyan schoolchildren today are routinely taught that he was a hero and a martyr who organized the Mau Mau to fight against the colonialists before his death in 1957.

According to Mukami, Dedan Kimathi first joined Kenyatta’s KAU in the late 1940s, landing a secretarial position in the group thanks to his fluency in both spoken and written English. To become a KAU member you had to pay 5 Kenya shillings (just under $1 in those days) and administer an oath, says Evelyn. Compared with the Mau Mau ritual, the KAU’s oath was little more than a formality—essentially a pledge of allegiance to Kenya as a full-fledged African country, as opposed to a white man’s colony.

The aspiration accomplished little. “The Brits kept saying, ‘Yes, we know you want your land,’” says Mukami, “but nothing kept happening.” Then something did happen: Kenyatta and other activists were arrested. (One of the detainees was Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.) Dedan fled to the forest to help organize and lead the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, and Mukami went with him.

She cooked for him and bore his children, but crying babies finally became too great a liability for guerrillas on the run from colonial troops. By 1954, the young mother returned to Nairobi to work undercover. She was constantly on the run, Evelyn says: “She was arrested a thousand and one times.” At last however she was captured for keeps and fingered as Dedan’s wife. She was still in detention in October 1956 when her husband was shot and captured.

Faces of the Emergency: Kikuyu mother (Express-Getty Images)

Newspapers ran front-page photos of colonial police displaying the Mau Mau leader’s leopard-skin jacket like a hunting trophy. Kimathi, shackled and in a trancelike state, could do nothing but await execution. On Feb. 18, 1957, he was hanged at Nairobi’s Kamiti maximum-security prison. Three years would pass before the British declared the Mau Mau Emergency over—and the authorities continued to detain Kenyatta more than a year and a half. Kimathi’s arrest and execution took place under the direction of Ian Henderson, a Scottish-born British colonial officer with a nasty human-rights reputation. After independence he was expelled from Kenya, but he went on to enjoy a career working for the royal family of Bahrain. In 1986, Queen Elizabeth decorated him as Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Mukami says she has no hard feelings toward him. “If I get angry with this man, God gets angry with me,” she says. “All we want is an apology, recognition, and money for health care.”

At the Regiment Club in Nairobi, under the gaze of the cape-buffalo heads mounted at either end of the main room, aging veterans of the Kenya Regiment and the King’s African Rifles recall old times over beers and curry. Some dismiss the Kenyans’ lawsuit as a blatant attempt to cash in on long-past injuries. They prefer not to be quoted by name. They’re too old and outnumbered to go looking for trouble.

Others take a more measured view. Leete belonged to the “pseudo-gangs,” the elite commandos who prowled the forest by night in search of the Mau Mau, their faces darkened with greasepaint or shoe polish for concealment. As a rule, Leete says, captured rebels were treated fairly. If possible they were “converted” with offers of amnesty, cash, and protection for themselves and their families. Some were sent back into the forest to risk their lives trying to persuade their former comrades to desert or surrender. Others became guides for the counterinsurgent units.

By the time of the uprising, says Leete, “we were not invaders, but second-generation defenders of our land, our farms, way of life, religion, and future.” He compares the white farmers to settlers in the American West living among the Apache or the Sioux—who ”in turn must have felt the same way as the Kikuyu did toward us,” he admits. “Bad things happened on both sides, some of which I witnessed. I might regret what I saw, but I don’t apologize, because that was the way it was then.”

Leete scoffs at Elkins’s research. “Elkins says the colonials were trying to cleanse Kenya of the Mau Mau,” he says. “It’s the other way around—the Mau Mau were trying to cleanse Kenya of the colonials.” He sympathizes with the men who ran the detention centers. “I think it was easier for us in the forests than for the administrators of the camps,” he says. “We shot to kill, and we were not subject to the dilemmas of detention, interrogation, discipline, incarceration, and justice.”

But he also sympathizes with the detainees: “I would like to think that those old men who seek justice from the British government for alleged crimes committed against them will be heard and compensated fairly and swiftly. Though I suspect it will open wide the gates for subsequent claims, many bogus, by opportunists who were never detained at all.”

Nyingi makes no secret of his bitterness against Kenyatta, who became Kenya’s first president in 1964. “He comes out of detention with land and looking like a martyr,” the old man says. “Kimathi set out and did what he said he was going to. Kenyatta did not.” Leete, for his part, admires Kenyatta and compares him to Nelson Mandela: both men spent years in prison, with access to books and plenty of time to reflect, before becoming president.

Mukami shares Nyingi’s frustration. “Our dreams were shattered after the struggle,” she says. “Upon independence, [white-owned] land was confiscated and given to the [procolonial Kenyans of the] Home Guard and those collaborating with the British. Those who fought for land against the whites and the Home Guard are poor to this day. [Jomo’s son Uhuru] Kenyatta owns all the best land from Nairobi and Mombasa. We don’t expect any land back.”

Mukami and Evelyn recently took part in a tree-planting ceremony in the meadow where Dedan Kimathi was captured. No one has ever found his burial place. The consensus is that his body was dumped in a mass grave somewhere near the prison where he was hanged.

Back in the days of the rebellion, the forest fighters vowed never to cut their hair until they regained their freedom and their land. To this day, hundreds of former insurgents remain holed up in the Central Highlands, says Evelyn Kimathi. The old men have dreadlocks that dangle like cables, past their knees and coil at their feet. Their country gained its freedom. But they’re still waiting for the land.


Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. She is currently at work on a memoir of her life as a safari wife in post-socialist Tanzania, where she established a wildlife-conservation area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.


British tourist, Judith Tebbutt, is home — but how free? The dilemma of ransom payments | Daily Beast

Judith Tebbutt is home — but how free? The dilemma of ransom payments

Mar 30, 2012  4:45 AM EDT

Ransom amounts keep growing, rescues are rare. What’s a captive’s family supposed to do? Margot Kiser on a truly vicious cycle.

With her recent release from captivity, Judith Tebbutt may soon be able to close a grim chapter of her life. Her ordeal began just past midnight on Sept. 11, 2011. That’s when six gunmen abducted the 56-year-old British social worker from the luxury grass hut where she and her husband were staying at Kenya’s Kiwayu Safari Village, 25 miles from the Somali border. She would spend the next six and a half months as a prisoner in a pirates’ den near the Somali coastal town of Haradheere. After two weeks her captors let her speak by phone to her son, Oliver. He had to break the news that her husband, 58-year-old David Tebbutt, had been shot dead during the attack.

Video footage of Mrs. Tebbutt from the day of her release shows a stoic if dazed survivor, malnourished by an unvarying diet of goat meat and plain spaghetti. She spoke kindly of her captors, saying they had treated her well. To some observers it sounded like a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. And yet compared with some of the other hostages still languishing in Somalia, she was relatively fortunate to get home so soon. One South African couple has been missing for the past 18 months since being kidnapped aboard their yacht off the Tanzanian coast in October 2010. Altogether, hundreds of foreign citizens are currently held hostage in Somalia, mostly crew members belonging to captured merchant ships.

Few of them can expect salvation to drop from a moonless sky, as it did for Jessica Buchanan last month. On the night of Feb. 25, members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 seized a window of opportunity to rescue the American aid worker and her Danish colleague, Poul Thisted, who had been kidnapped on Oct. 25. Tebbutt could only have wished for such an ending. Instead the job of gaining her freedom fell to “Ollie” Tebbutt, the couple’s only child, who led efforts to raise the $1.2 million reportedly demanded by his mother’s captors. In theory, at least, the surprise factor of “pinprick” operations by elite forces should discourage abductions of aid workers and tourists. At least eight of the aid workers’ captors were killed in the rescue. At the same time, there’s little doubt that giving in to the hostage takers’ demands can only lead to more kidnappings. But what else could Judith Tebbut’s son do?

That’s the dilemma that plagues anti-pirate policy—and the problem in Somalia just keeps growing. From 2005 to 2010, the average ransom for a captured commercial vessel catapulted $150,000 to $5.4 million, according to a study by the antiwar foundation One Earth Future. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, the figure jumped 60 percent. “Ransoms for ships have gone up fourfold since 2008, when the current phase of ship hijackings began,” says Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center. “I do not recall individuals being kidnapped then. In both cases these are despicable crimes against weak and helpless victims and should be condemned.”

An aerial view of the resort in Kenya where the Tebbutts were staying, Margot Kiser

At an international conference in London last month on rebuilding Somalia, British Prime Minister David Cameron denounced ransom payments. “In the end they only ensure that crime pays,” he said. His words are echoed by a spokesman for the British High Commission in Nairobi. “We believe that paying ransom encourages future kidnappings,” the spokesman has said, emphasizing that the government is working on the problem: “At the London conference, the U.K. announced the creation of an international task force on pirate ransoms… to better understand the ransom business cycle and how to break it”.

That may be a comfort to the owners of captured ships, especially if they have good insurance. But what is a hostage’s family supposed to do, other than hand over the money?  “I do not believe that refusing to pay ransom is an acceptable alternative for those involved,” says Captain Mukundan. No one seems to have a better answer. “You either have to pay ransoms and perpetuate the system or you have to be willing to take direct military action on land, risking the lives of all involved, says a U.S.-based authority on  piracy and international crime. “Unfortunately there’s not much in the way of middle ground—at least for those already captured.”

Although Judith Tebbutt is safely home, residents and business operators in areas along the East African coast worry that the mere mention of a hefty ransom payout will encourage further piracy. The truth is that Somalia’s thugs don’t need The Daily Beast to tell them how the ransom market is doing. Still, the tourist economy has been hit hard by the kidnappings. Perhaps even more disturbing is that Tebbutt’s abductors apparently remain at large. So far, the only arrests in connection with the crime have been two men who were charged with stealing Ms. Tebbutt’s handbag, which contained her passport and other belongings. The suspects, Ali Babitu Kololo, 25, and Issa Sheikh Saadi, 37, denied any responsibility for the kidnapping of Judith Tebbutt or the murder of her husband. Kololo testified in court that the gunmen had forced him to take them to the resort. He turned himself in to police the next day, he told the court. Kololo remains in custody in a Mombasa prison. Saadi was freed for lack of evidence.

According to a senior intelligence officer who is not authorized to speak to the press, Kenyan authorities know the names of the seven gunman—five of them Kenyan nationals from Kiunga—who came by boat from the town of  Ras Kiomboni in Somalia to the Tebbotts’ beach resort on the night of Sept. 10. The officer says he has hard evidence that the alleged ringleader of her kidnapping was Famau Kahale Famau, a former lobster fisherman from the town of Kiunga, a town 44 kilometers (26 miles) north of Kiwayu, just inside the Kenya border. “The moment the hotel was attacked, we knew he must be the one responsible because from the look of the issues, the attackers must be people conversant with the facility,” Lamu West’s district commissioner, Steven Ikua, told a reporter with Kenya’s Daily Nation shortly after the Sept. 11 murder-kidnapping. Now in his early forties, Famau is believed to have been associated with the al Qaeda-aligned Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab since 2006. He is nicknamed Mfalme, or “King,” apparently for his arrogance.

Authorities in Kenya would love to get their hands on him. “We have sufficient evidence to charge Famau Kahale Famau with murder, abduction and robbery in connection with both the Tebbutt and Dedieu incidents,” the intelligence officer told The Daily Beast yesterday. He was referring to Marie Dedieu, a 66-year-old disabled Frenchwoman who was abducted from her beachfront grass hut in the early hours of Oct. 1. The retired journalist, suffering from cancer and deprived of her medications, fell into a coma shortly after her capture and died soon afterward in southern Somalia. At the time of the Dedieu kidnapping, Famau was holed up in southern Somalia’s port town of Kismayu. Still on the run more than six months later, he is believed to be in hiding near Mogadishu.

Kenyan law-enforcement officials confidently predict that eventually they will ask Tebbutt to come back and testify in court against her erstwhile captors.

kololo pirate
Suspect Ali Babitou Kololo (above) said he turned himself into the police and claims that gunmen forced him to take them to the resort, Margot Kiser

The kidnappings and the war across the border in Somalia have plunged Kenya’s coastal residents into their own version of a post-9/11 world. Business operators in East Africa’s tourist areas struggle to deal with circumstances that seem increasingly random and unpredictable. Hotel owners assert that foreign embassies are unfairly singling out Kenya with a blanket ban on travel along the country’s north coast. One peeved manager of upscale villas in Lamu complains of having received as many as 500 cancellations. “There are grenades going off in Nairobi, murders in Mexico, lunatics in France and Sweden,” the manager fumes, presumably thinking of Anders Breivik’s deadly rampage in Norway. “No one is suggesting travel bans there.” If it’s any comfort to the resorts’ proprietors, representatives from the U.S., Australian, Canadian, and British embassies have visited the region in recent weeks to reassess security. “We are modifying our warning at the moment and should have text soon,” a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy has said.

Can Judith Tebbutt expect to see justice done? British authorities aren’t ready to give up. The Independent says Tebbutt is to begin interviews with Scotland Yard “once she has acclimated.” So far there’s no telling what information she might be able to  provide. Did she see the face of her husband’s killer? Does she remember the faces or voices of the men who dragged her down the long, sugar-white beach under the full moon, and into the skiff that disappeared into Somali waters? Her story may not end at Scotland Yard. Kenyan law-enforcement officials confidently predict that eventually they will ask her to come back and testify in court against her erstwhile captors. At present, however, those criminals are on the loose—and almost certainly planning their next big score.

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Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. She is currently at work on a memoir of her life as a safari wife in post-socialist Tanzania, where she established a wildlife-conservation area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at editorial@thedailybeast.com.

Authorities arrest Somalis near Lamu

 Somalis arrested in Lamu Nov 25, 2011 (photo; Abdullah Bargash)

November 25, 2011 (LAMU, KENYA)
Lamu police announced Friday that they had arrested five unarmed Somalis on Manda island. The Somalis are now being held in Lamu  jail.

Police and CID told a crowd of reporters at the police station that the men, mostly in their twenties, were being arrested as Shabab militants. It is not yet clear what evidence they have to support the charge. Being Somali?

Sources say a pilot had spotted a group of Somalis walking away from a skiff anchored in a mangrove channel near the Taqwa ruins on Manda Island. The Somalis had been asking locals directions to Manda Bay Resort.
The pilot immediately phoned Lamu police, who, along with the Kenya navy, arrived forty-five minutes later at the location where the Somalis were seen.
Lamu authorities told SomaliaReport that the men – Shabab militants – had been fleeing from the on-going war between Kenya forces and Shabab. Alternatively, presence of a skiff might suggest that the men were part of a “PAG” — pirate action group.
Senior Shabab or pirate commanders recruit young men desperate to escape a miserable existence in a war torn failed state.
As yet there is no evidence that they were carrying weapons, though they likely threw them over-board on seeing authorities approach.
The arrests occur in the wake of loss of tourist revenue and perceived “negative” publicity after Somalis ventured into Kenya on September 11 and kidnapped UK tourist, Judith Tebbutt, and Frenchwoman, Marie Dedieu, on Oct 1. Both vanished into Somalia.

Dedieu died in Burgavo in southern Somalia four days into her captivity. According to the French Embassy, her captors refused to receive and/or administer her cancer and diabetes medication. On Sept 11, Somali gunmen shot dead Judith Tebutt’s husband, David, in the couple’s beach hut at an upscale hotel near Somali border before abducting Mrs. Tebbutt. Judith Tebbutt is still alive in Xaradheere in north/central Somalia, the same pirate’s nest where British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were held hostage for over a year.

The Lamu Cultural Festival continued with much fanfare and unprecedented armed security (administrative police).

US – Danish Aid Workers Seized in Somalia | DailyBeast

Aid Workers’ Pirate Nightmare

Oct 27, 2011 11:27 AM EDT

A U.S. aid worker and her Danish counterpart are still missing in Somalia after being kidnapped by Al-Shabab, an al Qaeda affiliate. Margot Kiser on the pair’s tale of betrayal and violence.

After they finished their workshop on land-mine hazard reduction early Tuesday afternoon, the aid workers hurried to catch a flight to Nairobi, out of war-torn Somalia. For safety’s sake, the group—a 32-year-old American woman, a 60-year-old Danish man, and a Somali man of undisclosed age—was riding in a three-vehicle convoy, accompanied by a team of bodyguards. All the same, they didn’t want darkness to catch them on the notoriously unsecured road to the airport that serves the disputed city of Galkayo.

They never made it.

Later that afternoon, their nongovernmental organization, the Danish Demining Group, announced that the workers had been kidnapped. Around 3:15 that afternoon, at least 10 armed militiamen in two Toyota Hilux SUVs had intercepted the convoy near the airport. The gunmen seized the Westerners, and sped off with them, reportedly heading toward the town of Wasil in the pirate-infested region of Mudug. Local authorities suspect that the kidnappers were pirates from the Saad clan. The abductions make a total of six Westerners who have abducted by Somali gunmen since September, including four who were captured across the border in Kenya: a British tourist, a retired Frenchwoman, and two Spanish employees of Doctors Without Borders.

The American aid worker, a regional educational supervisor for the Danish Demining Group’s community safety program, has been identified by the blog Somalia Report as Jessica Buchanan, a former fourth-grade teacher from Rosslyn, Va. At this writing there has been no independent verification of her identity, and the names of her two companions remain undisclosed. The aid group, which specializes in clearing land mines and other unexploded ordnance from former conflict zones, has been operating in that part of Somalia since 2007.

The kidnappers quickly released the Somali aid worker. On Wednesday the Demining Group’s parent organization, the Danish Refugee Council, announced that local police had detained him for questioning. “His role in the incident will be further investigated,” the DRC said. At least four of the bodyguards were also said to be in custody. One of those held by police, a man identified as the head bodyguard, Abdirisak Main Sheikh Dhere, was quoted as telling Somali Report that he was the mastermind behind the kidnappings and had secretly collaborated with a group of Somali pirates.

Kenyan security forces search for two kidnapped Spanish aid workers near Liboi, Kenya’s border town with Somalia on October 15, 2011. (Tony Karumba, AFP / Getty Images)

Strange and unpredictable things often happen in the lawless town of Galkayo. The city straddles the line between the pirate-dominated northeastern third of Somalia—Puntland, as it’s known—and its neighbor to the south, the self-declared autonomous state of Galmudug, where distinctions are blurred between pirates and the Islamic extremists who have been fighting for control of Somalia since 1991. “Galmudug is crawling with Al-Shabab elements and militias that support them, in addition to pirates,” says a U.S.-based authority on piracy and international crime.

“Galmudug is crawling with Al Qaeda and pirates affiliated with Al-Shabab.”

Puntland and Galmudug have repeatedly battled for control of the city. Although Puntland has provided security assistance for the city, it remains an inland pirate stronghold and the scene of heavy Al-Shabab fighting. For its part, Galmudug also tries to maintain at least a semblance of law and order in its territory. State officials have vowed to find the captors and rescue the aid workers. “We have sent security forces to block all routes to stop them,” Galmadug’s deputy security minister, Ahmed Mahmud, assured reporters in Galkayo. The troops have been authorized to use force if necessary, he said.

On Wednesday, Somalia Report said the Danish Demining Group hostages had been spotted in the town of Amara, an inland town where Somali pirates have taken Western hostages in the past. Meanwhile there has been little public word of the other four Westerners—other than the Frenchwoman, Marie Dedieu, who is believed dead. A cancer patient, she required medication every four hours. Although French authorities made repeated efforts to get the medicine to her, Dedieu’s captors refused to cooperate. Four days after her abduction, she’s said to have fallen into a coma and died.

Efforts continue for the release of the remaining hostages. In Copenhagen, Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal said his government is following the situation minute by minute. Nevertheless, he stressed, “We do not negotiate with people who take hostages.” He didn’t explain what the alternative might be.

Like The Daily Beast on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.

Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. She is currently at work on a memoir of her life as a safari wife in post-socialist Tanzania, where she established a wildlife-conservation area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Pirates in Paradise: Somalia’s chaos spreads across border into Kenya | Newsweek

In Newsweek Magazine

Pirates In Paradise

Oct 17, 2011 1:00 AM EDT

Somalia’s deadly chaos is spreading across the border into Kenya, where dry land is no longer a refuge from the hostage takers who infest the failed state to the north.

David and Judith Tebbutt planned to wrap up their Kenya vacation in style. After a week in the vast Maasai Mara wildlife reserve, the British couple headed to the powdery white beaches of Kiwayu Safari Village, an exclusive resort on Kenya’s northern coast. Previous guests at its 18 thatched huts have included Mick Jagger and princes William and Harry, but on this particular night the Tebbutts had the place all to themselves. After dinner the 58-year-old publishing executive and his 56-year-old wife, a social worker, walked in the moonlight along the edge of the sea to their secluded $1,720-a-night lodgings.

Shortly after midnight, one of the resort’s watchmen heard a single gunshot. David Tebbutt was found face down across the bed, its mosquito net cradling his head, dead from a bullet through his chest. His wife was gone. Footprints in the sand showed how she had been marched more than a kilometer up the shore to a cove where a skiff had apparently been moored. A search started immediately, but there was little hope of finding her. The resort is only a short distance south of a land that for the past generation has had no law but the gun: Somalia.

The Sept. 11 incident proved to be only the first in a series of unprecedented attacks. Twenty nights later and some 110 kilometers farther down the coast, a gang of Somali gunmen kidnapped Marie Dedieu, 66, a retired French journalist. And last week, even as Kenya’s armed forces strengthened their presence against attacks from the sea, suspected members of Somalia’s militant Islamist group Al-Shabab grabbed two Spanish women who were working for Doctors Without Borders in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, some 240 kilometers inland. The sprawling city of makeshift tents and huts has become home to roughly 450,000 Somalis who have been driven from their own country by war and famine. (A senior Shabab official denied that his group had anything to do with the abduction.)

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka

Somalia’s problems have boiled over and are threatening Kenya, one of the few dependably stable countries in the region. In the past the failed state’s pirates confined their attacks to ships on the open sea, and the Islamists focused their ransom kidnappings on aid workers inside Somalia. Now both groups are making hostage-taking raids on dry land, and the Kenyan nation itself is a victim. Tourism, a mainstay of the economy, was already hit hard by the global recession. But since the attacks began, vacationers have canceled their reservations en masse. Foreign investors have halted funding for major projects until the government sorts out its security problems. And the people whose livelihoods depend on tourism—not only the hoteliers, restaurateurs, shopkeepers, and employees, but their entire communities—have no idea when or if the affluent visitors will ever come back.

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The loss of jobs is being felt as far away as Nairobi, where tourists routinely stop over before heading out on safari and then going east to the beaches on the Indian Ocean. Many longtime residents of the northern coast have pulled out, looking for safer places to wait until they feel comfortable about going back. Although Somali bandits have been making forays into Kenya for more than 30 years, the attack on the Tebbutts was another matter entirely. Dedieu’s kidnapping showed that the first raid was not an isolated case. And the seizing of the Spanish women suggests that Westerners may be at risk anywhere in Kenya.

The Frenchwoman’s abductors clearly knew what they were about. They landed their eight-meter fiberglass skiff on the beach directly outside her winter residence, a spacious thatched hut on Manda island in the Lamu archipelago, in the early hours of Oct. 1. Dedieu had returned from her summer in France only a day before. Dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying assault rifles, the intruders first made their way to the rear of the property, where most members of Dedieu’s household staff lived, and awakened them at gunpoint, demanding in broken Swahili to be led to the ‘mzungu’—the foreigner. When one servant tried to argue, a gunman slammed her with his rifle butt.

As the Somalis forced their way into the main hut, Dedieu’s companion, a 39-year-old Kenyan named John Lepapa, leaped from his bed to protect her. One of the men fired at him, and Lepapa managed to escape through a window. At the beach hut next door, an elderly caretaker heard the commotion and ran to intervene. A gunman fired three shots at him, and the old man dived for cover in the remains of a fallen baobab tree at the property’s edge. Dedieu had no way to save herself; she’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since an accident years ago. The Somalis tried to force her to stand up and walk before dragging her out of the hut, nearly naked, while the housemaids begged them at least to carry her. Tossing their prisoner into the boat, the men put out to sea, leaving behind both Dedieu’s wheelchair and the cancer medication she’s supposed to take every four hours. The raid took less than 20 minutes.

Dedieu’s friends and neighbors are furious with the government—and particularly with their local law enforcers. People on Manda immediately began dialing the emergency number for the police station, on nearby Lamu island, but the calls went unanswered until 6 a.m., more than three hours after the attack. The cops sent a boat to Manda to investigate, but soon returned to Lamu to gather reinforcements—which was not a simple task. Although Lamu’s police have three boats, each equipped with twin 115-horsepower outboard engines, two of the boats were out of commission that morning. Instead officers had to hire one 140-horsepower craft from a local captain and requisition another from the Kenya Wildlife Serv-ice. By the time the necessary paperwork was filled out and the boats were gassed up, it was 8 o’clock. They headed north at full speed.


People on Manda knew better than to wait for the police to respond. Around 4 that morning, someone phoned three local pilots—charter air-service owner Roland Purcell and luxury-hotel proprietors Andy Roberts and Fuzz Dyer—who dressed as quickly as they could and headed for their planes. All three had done what they could in the search for Judith Tebbutt three weeks earlier, but her kidnappers had too much of a head start. This time the pilots had no intention of letting another gang of kidnappers slip away. By first light they were on the runway at the controls of two Cessna 206 planes, and at 6 a.m. they were in the air. Purcell flew solo.

They traced the coast north, with one plane staying five kilometers offshore and the other flying 10 kilometers out. Forty-five minutes later they spotted a skiff heading north, just south of Kiwayu Safari Village. The pilots had no doubt that they had found the kidnappers. “We knew we had the right boat when we realized we were being shot at,” says Dyer. They couldn’t see Dedieu, but they figured she had to be under a tarpaulin that had been thrown across the bottom of the skiff. The pilots reported the kidnappers’ location to the Kenyan Navy and circled overhead. The boat sped up, and the pilots continued to send regular updates on its position.

The Kenyan Navy had sent out a small skiff to intercept the kidnappers, but it struck a coral reef and capsized. The pilots saw the sailors in the water as the Cessnas flew on after the kidnappers. At least two of the 10 sailors aboard were killed, according to the Lamu police. One of the dead later washed ashore, and another died after being transported to a hospital in Mombasa. A third reportedly remains missing.

A little farther north, the pilots spotted a pair of Kenyan Navy attack boats that apparently had been on patrol along the border. Roberts and Dyer managed to get the mobile-phone number for the captain of one of the boats, and the pilots guided the vessels toward the kidnappers’ skiff. When the Kenyans closed in on their quarry, Dyer says, there was “a serious exchange of gunfire,” although he can’t say whether anyone was hit. The kidnappers managed to slip past their pursuers, but the attack boats gave chase and again caught up to the kidnappers, who answered with a storm of gunfire. The spatter of bullets on the water was visible near the two attack boats—and then a cloud of smoke appeared above the skiff, followed by a big splash not far from one attack boat’s bow. It was a rocket-propelled grenade, says Dyer.

The pilots watched helplessly as the skiff reached Somalia’s territorial waters around 9:15. The Kenyans broke off their pursuit, apparently unwilling to violate Somalia’s sovereignty. “They were probably scared,” says a Lamu police officer. “None of them even know how to swim.” But Purcell followed the skiff north, while Roberts and Dyer flew back to the Kenyan naval air base at Kiunga to refuel. About six and a half kilometers north of the Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni, the kidnappers beached their skiff at a deserted spit of land. Carrying Dedieu, they walked a short distance inland and settled down in the shade of an acacia tree. Purcell and his partners stayed there until dark, circling the area in relays, one plane keeping watch while the other flew south to refuel. The gunmen never moved.

The pilots say they spent the whole day in communication with foreign forces who kept promising help. The three men wanted to be there to point out the spot where the gunmen were hiding. “There was talk of French, U.S., and U.K. military being activated,” says Dyer. “That’s why we hung in until last light.” At about 4 o’clock a Kenyan Navy helicopter flew in briefly to disable the skiff, in case the kidnappers decided to sail on, but no one else showed up. The last image the pilots had before they gave up and flew home was of Dedieu and her kidnappers sheltering under that acacia as darkness descended. At dawn the next morning, Purcell returned to look for her, having memorized the acacia’s precise location, but she and the gunmen were gone.

As we went to press, there had been no public ransom demands for any of the kidnapped Europeans. The Spanish aid workers were last seen in a vehicle that was speeding toward Somalia, with Kenyan security forces in hot pursuit. The vehicle was found abandoned a day later, some 20 kilometers from the border. The aid workers remained missing. Dedieu’s situation may be even more precarious, although the French government is said to have reason to believe she’s alive. Two days after her kidnapping, members of the French Consulate were at the Peponi Hotel bar, just across the channel from Manda, when an urgent call from their embassy in Nairobi sent them frantically in search of John Lepapa to pick up her cancer medication—and late last week her captors reportedly promised that she would receive it. The Frenchwoman is thought to be in Somalia’s Shabab–controlled southern tip, possibly in Kismaayo—assuming she is in fact alive. There have been no formal arrests in connection with her case, although the elderly caretaker next door was jailed overnight after losing his temper when police questioned him.

And the kidnapped Englishwoman, Judith Tebbutt? She’s thought to be in the village of Amara, inland from the coastal town of Xarardheere, a notorious nest of pirates roughly 400 kilometers up the coast from Mogadishu. Amara is where a pirate known as Buggas held Paul and Rachel Chandler prisoner for more than a year after capturing the British couple’s yacht off the Seychelles in October 2009. Early last year the hardline Islamists of Al-Shabab boasted that they had driven the pirates out of Xarardheere, but since then the two groups appear to have reached a financial understanding despite their radically differ-ent lifestyles. Al-Shabab has gone so far as to issue a public denial that it is holding Tebbutt.

The day after the Englishwoman’s disappearance, a former Kiwayu Safari Village night watchman was arrested in connection with the case. A farmer from a nearby village tipped off the cops that Ali Babitu Kololo, a member of the hunter-gatherer Boni tribe, had been seen in Kiunga village, just south of the Somali border. The Boni have traditionally traded with their Somali neighbors and were formerly known to serve as scouts for Somali ivory poachers, back when the region still had elephants. Hearing that police were looking for him, Kololo turned himself in. A lanky, youthful-looking father of three, he was arraigned in Lamu on Sept. 19 and entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of Òrobbery with violence.Ó He admitted to investigators that he led a gang of Somalis to Kiwayu Safari Village but insisted that the men had forced him at gunpoint to be their guide.

At this point, no one can be sure just what’s behind the pirates’ apparent change of prey. Some observers think intensified military vigilance and tougher shipboard security may be causing the pirates to make a long-term shift to softer targets. “The kidnappings suggest a new modus operandi for piracy in general—that the value in piracy no longer lies in ships or vessels but in the individual hostages themselves,” says Alan Cole, the program coordinator for counterpiracy at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. He traces the trend back to the capture of the Chandlers aboard their yacht in 2009. Their captors initially demanded $7 million but finally settled for approximately $930,000 in ransom money contributed by London’s community of Somali taxi drivers hoping to rescue their country’s blighted reputation.

Others say the change is only temporary. The region’s monsoon season has deterred pirates from prowling the commercial shipping lanes the way they do in fair weather, and dry-land kidnapping may only be a new way for them to make money until the storms are past. For the time being, however, no one wants to take chances. “We are trying to head off a catastrophe,” Dyer said at a security meeting in Lamu two days after the Dedieu kidnapping. George Moorhead, the owner of Kiwayu Safari Village, was also at the meeting. He stood staring at the floor like a mourner at a funeral.

These days their tropical paradise looks more like a war zone (minus the bullet-riddled buildings). “Before, there was no security at all,” says Stefano Moccia, owner of The Majlis, a $1,700-a-night hotel on Manda island. “Now it must be forever.” Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent this past New Year’s Eve at his hotel, and Kenya’s prime minster, Raila Odinga, was a guest there in the spring. In the wake of Dedieu’s kidnapping, eight armed police officers patrol the length of Manda beach from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.—not to mention the four police officers who are stationed in front of the Peponi Hotel on Shela beach; the military helicopter now based at Manda island’s airport; and the Kenyan Navy patrol boat that sits in the channel between Shela and Manda islands—the same channel the kidnappers used when they grabbed Dedieu.

Perched on a small sand bluff just down the beach from Dedieu’s grass hut, the hotel also employs a team of Maasai night watchmen armed with clubs and belted knives, just to stay on the safe side. For what it’s worth, Moccia agrees with local authorities and other hoteliers that Dedieu’s kidnappers must have had inside information. “Someone on the island knew she was coming back to Lamu and tipped them off,” Moccia says. (Never mind that the kidnappers appeared to have no idea that Dedieu needed a wheelchair.) “No guards, right on the beach—it was easy.”

Still, police and private guards are no guarantee of safety. Kiwayu Safari Village’s Moorhead requested extra police protection in the days before the Tebbutt murder-kidnapping. Gangs of armed Somalis had been seen lurking in the neighborhood. According to Steven Ikua, the district commissioner for West Lamu, there were 20 uniformed police officers patrolling the area around the resort that night, in addition to the dozen or so watchmen Moorhead routinely employed. High seas and a strong wind kept anyone from hearing the gunshot except one of those watchmen, who told one of the cops. When asked what the remaining watchmen were doing at the time, a Kenyan government official just shook his head and smiled: “Probably sleeping.”

Will the kidnappers come back? “Not possible now,” Ikua declares. “We have put men on the border and warships at sea. We are now well equipped so that it never happens again.” Dyer isn’t so hopeful. “All of Kenya is dangerous for kidnappings,” he says. “Eastleigh [a Somali neighborhood in Nairobi] may as well be Mogadishu—you can kidnap someone in the middle of Nairobi, take them to Eastleigh, and keep them there for as long as you like. Nobody’s going to find them.” To Robert Young Pelton, author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places and editor of the blog Somalia Report, there’s only one way to be sure. “Let’s hope people drop from the sky and put some bullets in surprised foreheads,” he says. “That should dampen their ardor. Pirates are in it for the money, and because there are no penalties for audacity.”

Still, that’s no way to bring back the tourists. While Kenyan security forces patrol the country’s seacoast towns and territorial waters, resorts and hotels stand empty. Their staffs have been sent home with no way to feed their families. How desperate would they have to become before northern Kenya turns into another Somalia? No one wants to find out. But the fact is that until Kenya finds the political will to sort out its glaring lack of security, the country will continue to be more like Somalia than anyone cares or dares to admit. And for now, the waters around Lamu’s islands, ordinarily a cacophony of boat engines and tourists’ laughter, are eerily quiet.

Editor’s note: The print version of this story in Newsweek described Moorhead as sitting and wearing a jacket.

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Margot Kiser is a Kenya-based American correspondent covering piracy, geopolitics, and wildlife conservation in East Africa. She is currently at work on a memoir of her life as a safari wife in post-socialist Tanzania, where she established a wildlife-conservation area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

On NYT “Jeffrey Epstein Hoped to Seed Human Race With His DNA”

Until I read this NYT article Jeffrey Epstein’s sole redeeming feature seemed to me the fact that he produced no offspring. The idea of his moral insanity’s proliferating through the human gene pool is horrifying.

The Times describes his dreams of seeding the human race with his DNA as part of the cult-like movement called “transhumanism”—the proposition that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations, especially by means of science and technology.

The combination of aims makes a perverse sense. Epstein, after all, appears anything but human; he’s not a person who seems to suffer. Reports indicate that from day one he has been all about the money and how that money could fulfill his perverse fantasies. For him “transhumanism” is just another way to distort the sanctity of life to reflect his brain and penis, it would seem.

But then NYT calls Epstein a “serial illusionist.” Let’s not guild the lily; he’s a con man.

Epstein may be a monster that God didn’t even think to invent, but he’s not a one-off monster, an anomaly or freak. In sex trafficking he operated at the hub of a network/culture of monsters, such as Charlie Rose, Ghislaine Maxwell, Alan Dershowitz, and possibly former President Clinton—who chose to participate in sex orgies with girls as young as 14.

The article mentions Alan Dershowitz, the professor emeritus of law at Harvard, and part of Epstein’s 2008 legal team, as having been “appalled” at Epstein’s keen interest in eugenics, given the Nazis’ use of such…. to purify the Aryan race—then omits the fact that Dershowitz stands accused of having sex with underaged girls Epstein himself procured.

From a PR point of view the narrative seems aimed at distancing Dershowitz from Epstein while avoiding drawing attention to the accusations against him of sexual assault against underage girls.

Adventures Artificial Knee Shopping in London

In my experience I found surgeons to be worse than most editors when it comes to bedside manners.

I came to London in April for knee surgery with one of London’s top orthopedic surgeons. It is now eking toward the end of July and I still haven’t had surgery.


Last December I had a fall in Nairobi. An MRI revealed I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. My London GP recommended the highly lauded Professor Fares Haddad, famous for his work in football stars.

treating knee injuries and arthritis is a matter of the consultant’s opinion.