Fitness tracking Strava App reveals outlines of secret US bases (because people jog around the perimeter) around the world and as well as potentially sensitive information about military personnel on active duty.
Here’s what US Forward Operating Base Camp Simba in Lamu County, Kenya looks like.
The long vertical line in red is Camp Simba’s runway recently expanded to accommodate Hercules C-130 transport planes.
(Don’t yet see signs of Al-Shabaab – KDF running around circles in the nearby Boni forest)
I’d been on the hunt for former U.S. security firm Blackwater owner, Erik Prince, for Newsweek. At the time Prince’s Malta-based logistics company, Frontier Services Group, was sending supplies and repairing oil production facilities. Contrary to some reports, sources said he’d also been training police and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – SPLA – to fight rebel leader Riek Machar and to protect Chinese-owned oil fields. The U.N. spokesman at the time was not keen to host me apparently because a Newsweek had published an article three months previously that reflected poorly on the U.N.. They seemed to try just about everything to dissuade me from heading to the Upper Nile state, the only region producing oil at the time. I stubbornly persisted and they eventually relented. UNMISS turned out to be particularly accommodating.
Erik Prince has since pulled out of South Sudan.
A Nuer IDP camp I visited was cramped and lacking in proper health care as compared with a Dinka camp. Dozens live in a small compound in open spaces. Intimacy is more or less impossible.
Sad about Cecil? These Animals are being Slaughtered by the Thousands
Mombasa, Kenya – In July, a Russian visitor was shot dead near Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mombasa’s Old Town. Police ruled the killing a robbery. Three weeks later, assailants shot a German tourist at point-blank range, while she and her Ugandan travel companion were visiting Old Town’s open market. The woman died instantly. Her friend sustained a bullet wound in the leg and survived.
Last September, the attack on Nairobi’s upmarket Westgate Mall killed more than 70 and injured scores. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack via Twitter, vowing to continue wreaking destruction until Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia.
Violence in Kenya has been escalating. Since the attack, northern Kenya, from the Somali border to Mombasa, has suffered from a string of bomb and grenade attacks, killing dozens. Most incidents have targeted public venues such as churches, nightclubs, and bus stations. ‘High threats’
As a result of the violence and subsequent travel advisories, tourism on Kenya’s coast has dropped by four percent since January, according to the Kenya Tourism Board. Between January and May – the high season – there were 381,000 arrivals in 2014 compared to 398,000 over the same period last year.
The UK Foreign Office issued a travel advisory, warning at that time of “high threats” of terror attacks and called for the evacuation of hundreds of UK nationals holidaying on the coast. The US, Australia, and France also issued travel warnings, advising against all but essential travel to coastal areas, including within 60km of the Kenyan-Somali border.
The US embassy in Nairobi meanwhile reduced its staff. The UK went so far as to close its consulate in Mombasa.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reaction has been largely political, labelling the travel warnings “unfriendly” and added that the designation would increase panic among the populace. Draconian travel restrictions, he explained, only serve to embolden the extremists.
After massacres in Lamu County, in June and July, which chiefly targeted peasants belonging to Kenya’s ruling ethnic group, the president was quick to point his finger at the political opposition party, Coalition for Reform and Democracy. Al-Shabab, however, announced on its Somali radio station that it had carried out the attack.
Al-Shabab’s motives are economic as well as political – to weaken and punish Kenya; up to 226,000 locals are directly or indirectly employed in the country’s tourist industry during the high season, providing 4.1 percent of total employment.
Interviewed by Al Jazeera in his apartment at the Tamarind Village, Mombasa’s Governor Hassan Ali Joho was relaxed in a white Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt and madras Bermuda shorts. “I won’t lie to you; Mombasa is a small town and there are several families we know whose children have gone to al-Shabab,” said the governor, who has four children of his own.
“These are kids with no jobs, no hope, and some are drug addicts. Al-Shabab gives them $1,000, tells them to fight jihad and delivers them to the gates of Somalia.”
However, the heavy-handed response by Kenya’s security forces, who have conducted widespread arrests and have been accusedof abusing those detained, has a negative impact in establishing security, according to Joho.
“Tourism and security require planning. Preventing violence requires careful breakdown of intelligence collection information. The culprits would have been caught by now if intelligence had been shared between Kenya’s various armed forces. Now we have a situation where [the police] generalise everthing and arrest the whole world,” he told Al Jazeera. ‘Safety is relative’
Tour operators and hoteliers have blamed the media for magnifying what they say are isolated crimes that can happen anywhere in the world these days. “Terrorism is a global phenomenon” is the latest political-commercial mantra heard here.
Locals in Mombasa suggest that some of the violence is not political, in its aims or origins. “Suppliers like the pig and chicken farmers, the fishermen, are all affected by lapses in security,” said Sam Ikwaye, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers. “If you don’t have jobs then they may engage in criminal activities.”
Mohammed Hersi, chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association (MCTA) and CEO of Heritage Hotels, had just returned from a trade fair in South Africa whengrenades were hurled into a Mombasa church in the suburb of Likoni and at the Reef Hotel, in the Nyali suburb. The attack drove off tourists brought in by Mombasa’s main UK tour operator and air charter services.
“At the moment we have no British tour operators,” said Hersi. He spends most of his time managing Mombasa’s Voyager Beach Hotel, owned by the Kenyatta family.
Despite the lapses in security, there are “die-hard [British] tourists who have been coming here for decades and know Mombasa well”.
Instead of waiting for the UK to rescind travel advisories, the MCTA announced last week that it is offering British citizens – and tourists of any nationality – “inbound insurance”, covering them in Mombasa and up the coast to Lamu. The insurance “covers any terror-related attack”, Hersi explained.
“Safety is relative. Kenyans know the value of tourism. By and large, Mombasa is a safe and peaceful place,” Hersi said.
Governor Joho faces the daunting task of reviving the town’s tanked tourist industry. The 41-year-old newcomer to office presided over the peaceful Eid al-Fitr Baraza celebration at Treasury Square in Old Town. Like his colleagues – senators, MPs, chiefs – Joho wore a crisp white kanzu and kofia hat, and was last to address the crowd consisting of several hundred men and women seated under tents. The topic was security.
Before his election in March, Joho reportedly promised that by summer 2014, Mombasa would be a free port, where imported goods are exempt from customs duties.
When asked how he’d make Mombasa more secure, the governor, stretching out on the couch, replied: “My dream is to make it like Dubai.”
A security meeting was held in Lamu town yesterday attended by the new Lamu County Commissioner, Mirii Njenga, the County Chief of Security, various hoteliers and frightened residents. Local and foreign media were also present.
Kenya’s armed forces have reportedly secured Mpekatoni and other villages on the mainland. The only thing that seems certain so far is that the attacks occur at night and most people are now sleeping in the bush. During the day life has more or less returned to normal.
However residents on Lamu island say they are concerned for their safety.
Flyers (allegedly from Al-Shebaab threatening non-Muslims) posted in Lamu town on Monday caused what one resident called “a mass exodus”. Hotel staff government staff and their families are still fleeing the island. Seats on matatus out of Mokowe have been difficult to come by.
In attempt to dispel incendiary rumors causing panic, stakeholders pressed county leaders for facts and plans for immediate security measures.
1. Who were/are the attackers?
2. Where is the threat coming from?
3. Is there security in (nearby) Shela? Is there really any reliable on-the-ground security in Lamu and Shela?
Hoteliers say they cannot sustain paying for pricey private security to patrol beaches.
4. Is there a hot line to call someone in case of a problem?
5. How rapid is the rapid response?
6. Do police have working phones and chargers?
7. Is there fuel in police patrol boats?
8. After the 2011 kidnappings the government assured stakeholders of increased security.
That never happened.
“Why should we believe anything will be different this time?”
9. Who have you arrested?
10. What is the source of the Al Shabab flyers posted the Lamu town square.
Commissioner Njenga assured attendees that the Lamu County attacks “were a very temporary setback”.
While stakeholders were grateful for the meeting, the commissioner seemed less confident on how to answer the security questions than about sending a clear message to the attackers.
“The attackers were using heavy guns, but the strength of the attacking forces are minimum and not as great as those of the government.
“The hunter is now the hunted…they’re on the run, we want to finish them. They don’t belong here. We are going to handle them the way we know best.”
There was discussion of need for a website for Lamu county.
He admitted there was a lapse in security, he said, but the officers were sent home.
Lapse security and officers sent home.
He said he had no idea where these heavy guns come from.
“There is no cause for alarm or to run away. We either arrest them (the attackers) or gun them down.”
Hospitals – including King Fadhi – on the island are functioning and staffed.
Hotline numbers are expected today (Friday).
When asked why it always seems to take several hours for police to respond to crises, he said laughing nervously, we must approach this pole-pole (slowly). ”
Finally he said the attacks are unlikely to occur within Lamu island.
The origin of the flyer is still being investigated, be said, but it’s authenticity is suspicious. Could be town hooligans unrelated to attacks on mainland.
“We are still investigating, but these funny characters have nothing to with al-Shabaab,’ he said.
“This [the mainland attacks themselves] was a contract hiring of professional murderers within Lamu county. We know it may be more than one issue behind the attacks. Outside and internal groups are behind this.”
In July 2012 the British High Commission donated a $100K high speed patrol boat to Lamu Administration police to help protect the Lamu Archipelago’s once pirate-infested waters between the fabled tourist destination and Somalia.
The High Commission said it planned to donate a second boat to the Kenya Defense Forces. Whichever of the two boats appears in the photo still looks in good condition.
LAMU, Kenya – British High Commissioner and Kenya’s Administrative Police launched a high-speed patrol boat in a joint effort to buoy Lamu’s tanked tourist industry. The UK donated craft – a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) – will be based on Ndau island, an Administrative Police Marine Unit base, in the Lamu archipelago to help patrol waters near Somali border.
If the dry-land border is deemed porous, the waters are more so. Maritime piracy is only fraction of the problem. Kenya is now experiencing its own wave of “boat people” -Somalis reportedly spilling into Kenya waters to escape a war torn failed state. The identities of the Somalis is largely unknown, but may range from Al Shabaab operatives, pirates, garden variety thieves or refugees looking for relief, opportunity and soft targets in Kenya. Last month, authorities in Kiunga shot dead two aboard a boat trying to cross into Kenya that refused to stop when approached.
“I am delighted to hand over this high-speed patrol boat to Kenyan authorities, who are working hard to maintain security around Lamu,” said newly-appointed British High Commissioner, Dr. Christian Turner, at a press conference yesterday held rooftop at Lamu’s Sun Sail hotel.
The British government bought the boat from UK’s Hampshire Police for £ 40,000, using funds from Africa Conflict Pool Programme. Fully loaded with two new engines, the total amount for the boat cost £65,000 (USD $ 100, 668 or KES 8,434,000). UK gov plans to donate a second RIB boat to the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) based in Kiunga to patrol waters around Kenya and neighboring Somalia.
“We are determined to work in partnership against piracy and terrorism to make Lamu safer for everyone,” promised Turner,” including the large number of British tourists that visit Kenya every year to enjoy all that it has to offer.”
These reassurances come in the wake last year’s kidnapping on Kenya’s north coast of British tourist Judith Tebbutt (whose husband, David, was shot dead during an attack at a remote beach resort) and of Marie Dedieu, a disabled retired French journalist, kidnapped from Ras Kitau island and who died while held hostage in Somalia.
These abductions followed by those of foreign aid workers at Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee camp and subsequent grenade attacks in churches and other public areas incited Kenya Defense Forces to launch military incursions into Somalia.
Also present at the press conference and boat launch were Lamu District Commissioner, Stephen Ikua, Senior Administration Police Chief, K. Mbugua, Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Internal Security, Simeon Lesirima, who emphasized the need to manage Somalia’s “mass exodus” into Kenya.
The UK government lauded the Kenya authorities for their efforts in combating piracy and attacking terrorism and they are a key partner working on the threat from Somalia.
An early supporter of Kenya military’s Operation Linda Nchi, the UK sponsored the recent expansion of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) authorized by the UN in February for Kenya troops to do work AU troops are also doing. Further physical signs of UK support has been through providing KDF with a high-tech maritime Security surveillance equipment fixed to the bottom of one KWS airplane.
Plans are underway to provide Kenyan security forces with 10 more Land Rovers, 64 sets of night vision goggles, construction of a pier at Kiunga naval base near the Somalia border for 24-hour launch capability of naval and administration police boats, installation of cameras and equipment for surveillance in Kenya military aircraft and additional Kenya Wildlife Service and police service aircrafts.
UK gov has helped Kenya assemble a dream-team anti-terrorist unit and 40 sets of body armor.
The British Foreign Office modified travel restrictions to Lamu two months ago and at yesterday’s boat launch underscored need to further ease restrictions for British citizens to travel to Kenya.
“Magical Kenya” hosts more British citizens than any other African country, about 200,000 each year, and Turner resolves to make sure the number continues to rise.
“More visitors will in turn be good for Kenyan and British industry and jobs.”
The British government is one of Kenya’s biggest investors in bilateral trade estimated at KES130billion per year.
“I would like to see that doubled,” vowed Dr. Turner.
The meeting’s mantra was “There is no development or prosperity without security,” and the High Commissioner was not shy to stress that while tourism is vital to the health of the country’s economy, he takes the security of British citizens – as well as for Kenyans – “very,very seriously”.
Attendees at the meeting – mainly Lamu residents and tour operators – brought up need for security in advance of the development of Lamu’s future super port, a main component of the larger Lamu-port-Southern-Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport Corridor (LAPSSETT) infrastructure for export of crude oil.
Protection of the environment and land issues were grazed with promises of managed and sustainable growth and preventing the marginalization of farmers.
Lamu residents raised questions about the cost of maintaining the high-speed patrol boats and whether the boat will end up being used as a taxi to ferry people to the mainland hospital.
Ultimately, said Turner, “a stable and prosperous future for Kenya is for Kenyans to decide, not for British officials to come and tell you about. I am pleased to listen, but the time has long passed since the British government waves its fingers at Kenyans and tells them what to do.”
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.”
At an international conference in London last month on rebuilding Somalia, British Prime MinisterDavid Camerondenounced 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.
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.
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.