Tag Archives: Kenya

Update: Murder of Conservationist Esmond Bradley Martin

Update to my The Daily Beast story Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

On February 4th, 76 year-old wildlife conservationist Esmond Bradley Martin was found slaughtered in his mansion in Langata, a posh residential enclave in Nairobi.

The “knife” that police and media had described as the murder weapon was more likely a panga, the Swahili word for a machete.

A source close to the investigation later told The Daily Beast that Martin had been “tortured and brutally murdered”. The source added that of all the motives land was strongest. At the time Martin had been involved in a dispute over several acres near his estate.

One acre lots in Langata are on the market for upwards of $500,000. Martin owned over 20 acres. A neighbor said he was trying to buy more “as a buffer”.

Langata residents, including Martin, were strenuously opposed the construction of a church on a lot beside Martin’s property. A Stop Order from Karen Langata District Association (KLDA) was sent on February 6th to Internal Security and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Okengo Matiang’i Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea. The politicians are registered as owners of the one-acre land L.R No 11914/72 along Mukoma Rd.

While those mentioned in the stop order are not the main focus of the murder investigation, according to my source, “their involvement cannot be ruled out”.

Entrance to Esmond Bradley Martin’s estate

Church construction site next to Martin’s estate

A Stop [Construction] Order from Karen Langata District Association (KLDA) was sent on February 6th to Internal Security and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Fred Okengo Matiang’i Matiang’i and former Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea. The politicians are registered as owners of the one-acre land L.R No 11914/72 along Mukoma Rd

Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

UNHAPPY VALLEY

Who Killed This Man Who Saved So Many Rhinos and Elephants?

MARGOT KISER

02.11.18 1:55 PM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya—Esmond Bradley Martin was found dead on February 4, a stab wound in his neck and the floor of his home covered with blood. The famous white-haired American wildlife activist and expert on the illegal ivory trade had been murdered within the confines of his estate in Langata, a posh suburb of his adopted country’s capital.

So far Kenya’s police have pursued two lines of investigation: a robbery gone wrong; a planned murder linked to Martin’s efforts to circumvent the illegal trade in wildlife.

Now a third possibility—that Martin was killed as a tactic in an attempted land grab—has come to the attention of The Daily Beast.

On that quiet Sunday afternoon, the 76-year-old veteran of East Africa’s “wildlife wars” and his wife, Chryssee, had just shared a curry lunch with friends at Nairobi’s National Park. They returned home around 2:00 p.m. Chryssee went for a stroll in the wooded forests of their 20-acre, park-like property. When she returned to the house, she discovered the body of her husband on the second floor, a deep stab wound to his neck.

While foreigners don’t die by violence here in Kenya as often as media coverage can make it seem, their murders are prominent and so get a big share of attention.

Martin joins the ranks of prominent activists and researchers who have met violent ends while defending or observing Africa’s wildlife in Kenya and elsewhere on the continent. Particularly well-known cases are the murders of gorilla researcher Diane Fossey, and of Joan Root, an activist who died trying to save the ecosystem of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. One thing these murders have in common is that they remain unsolved, the killers never brought to book.

Other cases include the killings of Julie Ward, a British tourist murdered in the Maasai Mara in 1988, and Tonio Trzebinski, an artist killed in 2001.

While Kenya’s police force has struggled to overcome its reputation for corruption and ineptitude, the list of unsolved murders remains long.

The Kenya government’s promise to investigate the murder of Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral Boundaries  Commission’s acting information and communications advisor, has so far been unfulfilled. And the list of instantly cold cases, with the killing of Martin, may have just grown.

A specifically relevant precedent was the murder in August 2017 of 51-year-old Wayne Lotter, head of a wildlife conservation NGO. He was shot dead in Tanzania as he drove to a hotel from Dar es Salaam’s airport. Lotter’s foundation reportedly funded an elite Tanzanian anti-poaching unit, responsible for the arrest of major ivory traffickers including China’s Yang Feng Glan, known as “the Queen of Ivory,” and a slew of inglorious elephant poachers. The only item the unknown assailants took was Lotter’s laptop.

Because of Martin’s work, which often involved going undercover in remote locations around the world, the media were quick to link his murder to his activism and investigations. But others think that it was unrelated to his career. They argue that Martin was not the kind of target to draw such brutal intervention by traffickers of ivory and rhino horn.

Doubters say, sure, Martin knew who all the kingpins were. He knew how the networks operated. But he never named names. And he was 76 years old! Why would he be killed now?

Furthermore, his recent work showed the contraband trade has been shrinking. His “Decline in the Legal Ivory Trade in China in Anticipation of a Ban” (PDF) was published by conservation group Save The Elephants just last year. The report was co-authored by consultant Lucy Vigne, and showed that 130 licensed outlets in China had been reducing the quantity of ivory items on display for sale, and cutting prices to improve sales.

Police say the killing looks like no more than a botched robbery.  Yet close friends and neighbors point out that little or nothing appears to have been stolen. One, who visited the scene and asked to remain anonymous, said there appeared to be no struggle on the house’s ground floor where Martin kept his office. The considerable presence of blood on the floor above, along with the presence there of the body, indicate that that is where the murder took place.

It was in the ground floor office of his house that Martin spent many hours writing reports about the ivory and rhino horn trade. Sources say the office appeared not to have been touched at any time during the attack, as if the records of his investigations were not of interest.

So, does Martin’s murder fit the profile of other apparent assassinations?

One security expert who declined to speak for attribution told The Daily Beast no. “Bumping off [Martin] with a knife in his house on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t sound like a hit.” This Kenyan investigator—with over 30 years’ experience in wildlife management security and aviation—adds, “The traditional hit in Kenya is performed with a gun, far from home or the office.” Furthermore, “Esmond was an academic. His work did not involve direct law enforcement.”

While Martin’s work led him to strange and remote places, from Lagos to Laos, it remained abstract and probably irrelevant for most wildlife criminals.

Esmond Bradley Martin hailed from the monied class of the U.S. East Coast establishment. He was the great grandson of Henry Phipps, the Pittsburgh steel magnate and partner of Andrew Carnegie. Martin and Chryssee first arrived in Kenya in 1967, and built the home where he was murdered.

His talent for detail was evident soon after he arrived in Kenya. In his first book, The History of Malindi, published in 1974 (PDF) he traced the rise and fall of retail and service industries such as tourism and fishing. As one reviewer noted with more than a hint of sarcasm, “It is no trouble to Dr. Martin to measure the diameter and length of mangrove poles used for various purposes … more studies with such valuable minutiae are needed.”

Friends say his interest in the wildlife trade began as he learned about the various items being ferried on dhows from Mombasa to the Middle East, one of these items being rhino horn from Kenya bound for Yemen, where the then plentiful horn was used for dagger handles.

Martin was famous for his mop of hair, which was as white in the ‘90s when I first met him as it was when I last saw him a few years ago. Both times we discussed—over tea—the ebb and flow of the illegal wildlife trade.

He and his colleague Vigne often investigated as a pair. They’d go to remote places posing as buyers, one of them chatting up a shopkeeper while the other took inventory of wildlife products out for sale. His views and prowess were sought in the House of Commons, and by the most prestigious wildlife charities. The U.N. made him its special envoy on rhino conservation.

Dan Stiles, a Kenya-based American consultant for wildlife trade related NGOs knew Esmond and Chryssee for almost 40 years and carried out several ivory market investigations with him.

“It could have been more than a botched robbery, but unlikely it was carried out by angry ivory traffickers,” Stiles told The Daily Beast, adding,  “Esmond was a dearly loved and respected member of the conservation community and he will be greatly missed.”

If a botched burglary doesn’t seem to add up to a motive for murder, and if this killing wasn’t related to Martin’s work, what else could it have been related to? The third possibility is land—a highly charged, emotional issue in Kenya.

This country is changing fast. Wilderness has disappeared, wildlife has declined as livestock has increased, and grassland rapidly turns into dust. The changing climate has made droughts deeper and more frequent. These chronic factors are exploited by politicians and others to escalate tribal and economic rivalries (sometimes disguised as Islamic terrorism) and to incite violence.

In the months leading up to Kenya’s recent presidential election, violent land-related incidents increased, especially in Laikipia to the north, where several large wildlife conservation ranches are located. Such properties—potentially useful for grazing and other profitable forms of development—are the focus of those who’ll go great lengths to accomplish land acquisition. The attacks on noted conservationist, Kuki Gallman, on her 98,000 acre ranch last summer is one such instance.

While it may seem strange to deem Martin’s 20 acres in Langata such a parcel, the property’s proximity to Nairobi magnifies its per-acre value. The nearby district of Karen, looking out on the Ngong Hills, was home to Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) author of Out of Africa. Langata, which has as its stellar denizens the likes of photographer Peter Beard, was once considered Kenya’s Wild West. These days, churches and strip malls line the main arteries coming out from the city.

In the days following Martin’s death, I stopped in front of his driveway. He’d been known for keeping this property’s gate unlocked. Now, access was blocked by that massive, ornate metal gate, an “M” perched at the top. But no such barrier could stop the ear-splitting sounds of jackhammers that seemed to be emanating from within, or very near to, the Martin property. When I drove toward the other side, a section of what appeared to be pristine forest had been sealed off. It was closed for construction.

A Langata resident provided The Daily Beast with a copy of an injunction to stop “the proposed construction [beside Martin’s property] of a church and associated facilities for religious purposes.” The petition resulting in this order, was filed by the Karen Langata District Association (KLDA). Bradley Martin was a member of the KLDA and an opponent of the church construction. Numerous residents pointed out multiple irregularities and violations in the building porject.

The cease-and-desist order was issued two days after Bradley Martin’s death, but seems to have had no effect.

A known member of the congregation of this proposed church, which is Seventh-Day Adventist, is Kenya’s current Minister of Internal Security, Fred Okengo Matiang’i. His name appears as one of two parties being told to halt construction. The other name is that of Zablon A. Mabea, the former Commissioner for Lands. So, despite the injunction, the construction continues.

Martin helped fund the effort to block the church’s installation. One Karen resident who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity said that Martin was especially vocal in his opposition to the construction.

Very little was stolen by whoever it was who killed Martin. His phone was still on him. His safe was cracked, but gold and gems were still in it, according to the neighbor, who theorized someone organized the attack to make it look like a botched burglary. According to the London Times the only things taken were cash and property deeds.

Many critics of the government argue that close ties between the security apparatus and politicians account for the country’s high incidence of unsolved murders. “This puts us in a conundrum. You’ve got a stop order and you’re supposed to use the police to enforce the stop order—but the head of the police is involved with this church,” as one opponent of the construction put it.

Rumors and speculation continue to swirl. More than one neighbor of Martin’s reported that he’d received ongoing threats over the years relating to his land. Several years ago his night watchman was murdered.

“Esmond’s heart was like an unlocked gate,” said longtime friend and lion conservator Tony Fitzjohn.

Neighbors and their watchmen agreed on one point, Esmond should have kept his real, iron gate locked.

https://amp.thedailybeast.com/who-killed-this-benevolent-man-who-saved-so-many-rhinos-and-elephants-a-new-lead?__twitter_impression=true

Unintended Consequences: A Fitness App Reveals a Secret US Military Base in Kenya

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)

Alternet : ‘Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War against al-Shabaab’

Alternet http://www.alternet.org/world/death-squads-kenya-iraq-vietnam-colombia-honduras

April, 8, 2014 — Kenya’s armed forces, bolstered by millions of dollars in U.S. aid and training, are now turning to death squad tactics against civilians who are sympathetic to an Islamist group based in Somalia.

The group is Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group that claimed responsibility for a deadly attack last year on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Al-Shabaab is a jihadist group dedicated to Islamic fundamentalism and a strict form of Islamic law, and is reportedly funded by a complex web of supporters abroad, the export of charcoal to Gulf Arab states, the slaughter of elephants for the illegal ivory trade, and according to the United Nations, Eritrea. (Eritrea backs the group to bolster its hand against rival Ethiopia, a state that invaded Somalia in 2006.)

Al-Shabaab’s Westgate mall attack came after Kenya’s 2011 invasion of Somalia to fight al-Shabaab, ostensibly to combat the country’s chronic instability that was spilling into Kenya but also to shore up key economic interests, like the profitable port in Lamu, near the Somali border. Kenyan soldiers remain in Somalia, along with thousands of other troops affiliated with the African Union, which in turn fuels al-Shabaab’s anger at Kenya.

Yesterday, the Daily Beast’s Margot Kiser, reporting from Kenya, shined a light on the likely existence of Kenyan death squads aimed at people the security forces see as Islamic preachers sympathetic to al-Shabaab. Kiser wrote that there had been a spate of murders in recent months. The goal of the extrajudicial executions, according to Kiser, is to “exterminate and intimidate people believed to be associated with the Al Shabaab movement in neighboring Somalia.” Religious leaders told Kiser that Kenyan security forces “are targeting them unfairly for persecution if not indeed for summary execution,” though local authorities say they have intelligence linking imams to al-Shabaab.

Kiser profiled one death squad target in particular: Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, an Islamic preacher who admitted to recruiting young people to wage war on the Kenyan government. He preached at the Musa mosque, allegedly associated with Islamist extremism. On February 2nd, Kenyan authorities raided the mosque, leading to clashes that resulted in the deaths of eight people, including a policeman.

The preacher, Ahmed, was gunned down on Tuesday when a car pulled up and people inside sprayed him with bullets. It’s unclear who exactly was responsible, but suspicion rests on Kenyan security forces. A dirty war is being waged on Kenya’s streets, and is likely to intensify.

The U.S. has denied that it has anything to do with the death squads, claiming it has trained Kenyan security to operate in line with human rights. But those claims are dubious. America’s involvement with Kenya’s anti-terror forces is deep. Since 2003, the U.S. has given Kenya $50 million to fight terrorism; the country is one of the five recipients of U.S. anti-terror financing. And the U.S. and the U.K. provide training for Kenya’s fight against al-Shabaab.

The claims of no U.S. involvement are all the more dubious since the U.S. has partnered with Somali militias to hunt down al-Shabaab members, and because of the extensive record of U.S. support for death squads in other countries. Whether in the context of the Cold War or the war on terror, America’s support for death squads has allowed the U.S. to stand back while proxy forces achieve its goals by engaging in the most unsavory of activities: extrajudicial assassinations.

Here are five other countries where the U.S. has supported death squads.

1. Iraq

America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq unleashed immense suffering, repression and a brutal civil war drawn on sectarian lines. One of the ways the U.S. fueled the sectarian civil war was by organizing and training death squads, largely to target Sunni Arab resistance to the new political order in the country. (Saddam Hussein systematically repressed Shiite Iraqis, and the tables were turned after America invaded and deposed Hussein.)

The first reports of U.S.-trained and -armed Shiite death squads emerged in 2005. An editorial by the Washington Post then noted that there was a “campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces.” The full extent of U.S. involvement became known when, in 2013, the Guardian and BBC Arabic conducted an investigation that shed more light on the squads.

Run by Colonel James Steele, a close adviser to General David Petraeus, the paramilitary squads tortured Iraqi prisoners and eventually evolved into death squads. Their goal was to torture Sunni prisoners for information about the resistance to U.S. forces.

As theGuardian reported, “the long-term impact of funding and arming this paramilitary force was to unleash a deadly sectarian militia that terrorised the Sunni community and helped germinate a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.”

2. El Salvador

Colonel James Steele’s involvement with Iraq’s death squads came over two decades after he was involved in a similar effort in El Salvador. In 1979, a military coup sparked a brutal civil war pitting the U.S.-backed government against left-wing rebels, inaugurating one of the most bloody chapters of the Cold War in Latin America.

Steele arrived in El Salvador in 1984, where he assumed control of U.S. special forces that trained Salvadoran military units that acted as death squads. The U.S. support for these death squads became known as the “Salvadoran Option.”

These Salvadoran units murdered an untold number of people, probably thousands of Salvadorans thought to be sympathetic or part of the rebel effort. They came to notoriety in 1980 whenfour American nuns were beaten, raped and killed by a death squad. In fact, as journalist Allan Nairn wrote in the Progressive in 1984,Salvadoran military death squads were set up earlier. “During the Kennedy Administration, agents of the US government in El Salvador set up two official security organizations that killed thousands of peasants and suspected leftists over the next fifteen years,” Nairn reported. “These organizations, guided by American operatives, developed into the paramilitary apparatus that came to be known as the Salvadoran Death Squads.”

3. Honduras

Since the overthrow of a leftist president in 2009, the U.S. has bolstered support for the right-leaning Honduran government. Part of that effort has been funding Honduran police, even when they engage in death squad activities. The execution targeting suspected gang members are part of the U.S.-backed drug war in the region.

In March 2013, the Associated Press published an expose of these death squads and the U.S. support for them. The State Department has spent millions of dollars a year on the Honduran police. While the U.S. claims the money only goes to vetted and specially trained units, the AP reported that all the police squads are controlled by one man: Juan Carlos Bonilla, who has been linked to death squad activity in the past as well.

“In the last three years, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula,” the AP reported. “The country’s National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the ’18th Street’ gang, one of the largest and most dangerous in the country.”

4. Colombia

This long-standing U.S. ally was one of the first countries where the U.S. set up death squads. The Colombian government has long been engaged in a battle against the FARC, a leftist rebel group.

In 2007, historian Greg Grandin documented the history of America’s Colombian death squads in Salon. In 1962, the Kennedy administration sent General William Yarborough to the country to set up a unit to “execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents.”

“The point of death squads was not just to eliminate those thought to be working with the enemy, but to keep potential rebel sympathizers in a state of fear and anxiety,” wrote Grandin.

5. Vietnam

The U.S. war in Vietnam in the 1960s also employed death squads run by U.S. forces and South Vietnamese allies. The operations, referred to as the “Phoenix Program,” were aimed at killing suspected communist sympathizers in South Vietnam.

Members of the CIA-organized unit included Navy SEALS, Green Berets and South Vietnamese mercenary units. The “Phoenix Program” lead to the killing of an estimated 20,000 people between 1967-1972.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

http://www.alternet.org/world/death-squads-kenya-iraq-vietnam-colombia-honduras