Tag Archives: Kenya

Update-Kenya kidnappings

The first incident — the murder and kidnapping at Kiwayu — was alone brazen enough to seem  a declaration of war. As weeks passed it seemed as though that might have been a one-off, an isolated crime of opportunity. Not the handiwork of pirates. Just thugs. Maybe even just local thugs.

Then there was Marie Dedieu. Like an alien abduction, pirates had snatched her from a small community and whisked her off into a black star-less hole. Maybe not a declaration of war, but, surely, a statement. The statement being: your “closed” borders are as porous as pirate’s ratty T-shirt, your navy personnel can’t swim, and your local police are napping at the switch.

JAMBO?!  Wake up —  Kenya has serious security issues, particularly along the coast, where authorities much patrol both land and sea.

Then, whoa, two more grabbed in Kenya on Thursday. This time aid workers in Dadaab,  the world’s largest refugee camp, just inside the Kenya border.

Bad weather forced the abductors to abandon their car which got stuck in the mud. Police found the vehicle just inside the Somali border. For an instant, there was a chance police might catch up and rescue the Spanish nationals.

It’s not breaking news that Al Shabab (“Movement of Striving Youth”), a group of Islamic militants, has been thwarting efforts of aid orgs (World Food Program, for one) to deliver food to the famine victims. Not only is it a way for Shabab to make a quick buck selling the donated food in markets, but also of saying “fuck you” to the west aid.

These latest abductors had entered Kenya in the guise of famine victims — wolves in sheep’s clothing — and had been able to case the joint. Like the earlier Lamu kidnappings — it was easy. It’s the proud policy of Medicins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) not to be politically aligned and these aid workers didn’t use security, i.e. armed body guards.  And, like Tebbutt and Dedieu, they were women. Soft targets that the pirates/Shabab know will draw sympathy and whose media exposure pressures  governments to release them — at a price.

While the first two kidnappings were likely work of pirates, it’s seems pretty clear that the Shabab is behind kidnappings at Dedaab. It’s more or less confirmed that Judith is being held in a famous pirate’s nest north of Mogadishu.

While pirates initially grabbed Marie,  Shebab may have recently muscled in on the pirates. Shebab and pirates are supposed to have reached an understanding that for a hefty price pirates are allowed to moor their boats and/or pass through south Somalia, controlled by Shebab. The price is reportedly USD 300K a month.

Since militant group broke up in Mogadishu last spring, they’ve lost their backing from diaspora and other sponsors. Shabab members have dispersed and are now cash-strapped.

The number of piracy attacks has escalated this year, but their success has declined thanks to bad weather and increased security on commercial vessels. The tidy lines dividing the political Shabab groups versus piracy’s extreme capitalism are now blurred when all factions need money. Are individual hostages the new ATM’s? Easy to snatch, easy to stash for quick cash.

With no ransom demand yet either for Judith, Marie, and the other two whose names we don’t yet know, it remains whether Shebab is now operating on the pirate model of strictly business vs a political statement. Let’s hope it’s only for the money.

Crescent Moon on Manda

At least pirates have a financial incentive to keep you alive.

Mercifully, word is that Marie’s captors in a Shebab strong-hold in the south are allowing Red Cross to bring in her cancer medication. It’s not been confirmed whether she’s received it yet. Remember, they’re not permitting her medication out of the goodness of their hearts.


Suspected Pirates Abduct Frenchwoman in Kenya

Ten heavily armed gunman reportedly stormed the beach near Lamu island in Kenya early this morning, firing shots, and abducting an handicapped Frenchwoman from her sea front grass hut.
According to Lamu police, the gunmen and their hostage “went out into the open sea”.
Around 2 AM, residents of Shella, a small European enclave near Lamu, awoke to the sound of gun shots and found nightwatchmen with flashlights frantically searching the shores of the exclusive Manda island for the Frenchwoman.
Residents of Lamu know well the petite 65 year old, Marie Dedieu, a former journalist. She had arrived from France the day before to settle into her simple Robinson Crusoe-style grass hut, where for decades she had wintered.
This latest kidnapping comes on the heels of the murder and abduction on September 11th of two tourists at Kiwayu Safari Village less than 25 miles from the Somali border. Two gunmen shot dead the husband and abducted his wife presumed to now to be in Somalia in the hands either of Al Shabab or pirates.
The lay out of the Frenchwoman’s home on Manda island was similar to the accommodation provided at Kiwayu Safari Village where just two weeks ago the Tebbutt incident took place — a grass hut with no locks right on the beach. Stips of grass matting hung like a beaded curtain and was all that separated her from a coast that – although nearby an exclusive boutique hotel – is in many ways still the wild African coast.
As this latest victim was disabled and defenseless, she was ripe for the picking.
According to a witness, a total of three shots were fired; one inside the hut to scare the Frenchwoman and her two house-girls. Two more shots were fired in the direction of a nearby compound, where tourists were renting bandas.
The gunmen reportedly forced the two house girls to carry the Frenchwoman to the boat and took off in 15 horsepower (TK) engine. Witnesses also noted that the boat had engine trouble while leaving the beach.
The easy approach onto Manda island beach is also similar to that of Kiwayu Safari Village. Authorities have already arrested an elderly employee of Manda Lay, a compound of bandas rented to tourists.
Witness on Manda island (not to be confused with Manda Bay Resort) said they had several times called Lamu police emergency 999 number, but no one answered.
An exchange of gunfire between police and the suspected gunmen was reported this morning off the coast of Mkononi, the fishing town nearest to Kiwayu Safari Village, where the Tebbutt incident took place. Gunman there reportedly open fire at the police with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) from their boat. Police didn’t return fire for fear of harming the hostage.

Just as media coverage of the Tebbutt murder-abduction was beginning to die down, this abduction on land and well within legal jurisdiction of Kenya will no doubt revive further speculation as to whether pirates or Al Shabab have adopted a new MO.
It now appears as though anyone — tourists and seasonal residents alike — trying to live the simple, primitive life in a hut on northern coast of Kenya is vulnerable to whims of armed thugs.
The only responses to the Tebbutt and Manda kidnappings appear to have been through the private initiatives of local tour operators, who have sent their own boats and small aircraft to search for hostages.
Residents and tour operators are expressing outrage and frustration that the Kenyan government hasn’t taken more militant proactive measures to protect tourists from armed thugs who are all too aware of Kenya’s poor security along the coast.

Tourism, the country’s biggest revenue earner, will suffer in the beautiful Lamu archipelago, a region having the bad luck of being situated perilously close to Somalia, a failed state and considered one of the world’s most dangerous places on earth.

Loss of jobs – from hotel staff to boat drivers – will no doubt have a trickle down effect as far away as Nairobi, where tourists stay before heading on safari and to the coast.
Though environmentalists and some locals oppose the imminent construction of the deep water Lamu Port, its presence could guarantee security in the region.

Manda island

Hunter-gatherer arraigned for murder and kidnapping of British tourists

Ali Babitu KOHOLO, 25, being led to Lamu court at 9:30 yesterday. He was arraigned for his role in the Tebbutt attack on charges of ROBBERY W VIOLENCE.
He is thought to have guided the gunman to Kiwayu Safari village and to TEBBUTT’S beach cottage.


Trip to Eastleigh -A Tree Grows in “Little Mogadishu”

As a primer for my impending trip to Somalia, my friend, an attorney, picked me at Muthaiga club this Sunday to stroll the “streets” of Eastleigh, an ad hoc city within Nairobi that first sprouted as a refugee camp of sorts after wore broke out in Somalia in the early 90’s. It has since mushroomed into a full-fledged sized city – albeit not officially recognized as such. As far as I know it lacks a proper post office, schools, and

A Tree Grows in Little Mogadishu

elected or appointed officials who represent the area. It’s believed that %99 of Somalis living live here illegally. Police routinely arrest random Somalis, who within hours, bribe their way out of jail.

Chaos prevails and young men carrying several pounds of clothing or charcoal on their backs have right of way, often bumping us into the streets.

And yet, in Eastleigh, you can buy almost anything — the Louis Vuitton might be fake but the grenades and handguns are not.  My friend and I were looking for computer bags. We found a “maradadi” (nice-looking) one made of green canvas. But a zipper broke immediately.

It’s no accident that the larger complexes — essentially multi-story malls — are dubbed “Bangkok” and “Hong Kong” for the acres of smuggled goods, mostly cheap and they all looked the same. Mercifully, I didn’t see any animals for sale. I kept losing sight of Adeel, who wore khaki safari-type clothes.

I felt safe and soon realized you didn’t have to be alert as much for pick-pockets as cars that race through streets, consisting of three foot standing waves of dirt. Drivers seemed to have no qualms of running anyone over. Every car seemed to be backing up looking for a parking space. A pair of shoes lay strewn and abandoned on the sidewalk. How did they get there? Adeel explained that the owner of the shoes was likely run over.

We looked at  cheap “cotton” shirts and shiny jackets with Marks and Spencer labels sewn inside. Each suq or kiosk seemed to be peddling the same less than desirable quality goods. We resisted the urge to buy because it was inexpensive.

My friend was particularly interested in buying gold bricks. Somali men and woman selling gold-plaited jewelry had no clue, but an Ethiopian clothes salesman said he could find us “black rocks” – green, yellow and pink inside.

Let’s go, I said. He promised to organize a viewing the next day. He warned us to be wary of salesman. Most are “faruidsters”. What? Ah, fraudsters.

But we had no intention of returning.

We left empty-handed.


Lamu Painter’s Festival 2011

Artists at work outside in the elements are often – correctly – labeled “street artists”, and pass their time sketching kitsch for tourists in big cities. But nothing could be farther from how Herbert Menzer, a wild and wacky German visionary/ real estate developer/accidental 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 nineteen 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 alley ways, coping with sand flung onto their works-in-progress and the incomprehensible Swahili language. No less, though, were they 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 Byzantine alleys, Herbert Menzer, and the Lamu District Commissioner.

But did these artists, most familiar 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 the subdued European hues, worrying that turquoise skies and peachy sunsets could become easily appear maudlin, like from a souvenir stand.

When he returns next year, he vows to use colors 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 bold, broad strokes with the breadth of house-painting brushes. He was intrigued to note that by the end of the three-week marathon that he began experimenting with 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 by 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 colors was like coming home, said Dutch painter, Deiderik Vermeulen. What was he taking away from the experience? How “cheerful” everyone was – especially those at Peponi restaurant 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, who was given and/or bought many of the best paintings, “it is not about the money.”















Lamu’s Patriot Games/The Last Dorito – Junkfood Jihad

Most Sundays I join friends for “prayers” at the local fabled watering hole that feels more like a club both in decor and exclusivity.

This Equatorial club must endure the odd out of sorts tourist who flushes through, their khakis and Tevas and dazed expressions are evidence that they flew in straight from a safari in the Mara. They appear impervious to the Beach Boys psychotic drug-induced rants over at the grassy knoll desiginated for Beach Boys. Their mind boggles — I hear this in New York city all the time. But in Lamu?

The other kind of semi-tourists are the U.S. Navy boys based near Magagoni  or the so-called Manda Bay military base near the future Lamu port site. I had heard that these young bucks frequented this bar for their weekend R&R, but for all the Sundays I had genuflected over Young Pals, I had yet to lay eyes on any of them. I had assumed that they were more or less hard to detect for their stealth-like discretion. Maybe they were wandering around pretending to look like ultra-clean shaven backpackers.

Last Sunday, I got more than I bargained for — not only were they obvious by their mid-Western accents, large high-tech water proof Army issue watches and Oakley shades, they were shirtless, exposing bellicose tats, ploughed and talking to anyone who would listen. I bailed on my usual pew partners, when the boys invited me on an afternoon dhow ride replete with a fresh red snapper lunch.

But forget the fish (or indeed the young officer young enough to be my son, but who had made a pass at me all the same); I was infinitely more intrigued by the can of DORITOS that was being passed around. COOL RANCH, no less. Out of sight, out of mind, indeed. Never knew how much I missed them – the Doritos.

— “Mark” from Mississippi, all of 23, proudly confirmed that all food served on the base – even Christmas turkeys – is transported directly from the U.S. to prevent potential food poisoning by the likes of Al Qaeda or indeed by poor local Swahili fisherman. Mark had relayed this as if this action were a clever (if arguably paranoid) preemptive strike on part of the US military. Never mind that the Doritos themselves have enough poison in the form of preservatives to kill an Al Qaeda training battalion.

In the space of an hour, our lovely old Mozambique dhow morphed into a sailing college dorm party; people kept walking on a pair of broken Oakleys and an Iphone, straining with the tinny sounds of heavy metal music;  we slipped on chapitis and grilled snapper by then creamed to a paste on the wooden floor of the dhow.

I thought I had lost my appetite when I noted that a spilled can oozing a slimy cocktail of tobacco chew and Tusker beer. While the boys (and some girls) were swilling down the Vodka and Tuskers then diving off the dhow, I remained on board devouring every last Dorito, though not before slowly licking the ranch salad dressing flavor off each side.

You can take the American out of the poison, but you can’t take the poison out of an American. Give me Junk food poison or give me death!

Eid al Hajj celebration in Lamu, Kenya

Seems only fitting that an ancient Muslim tradition was celebrated today with  a race between ancient Arab fishing dhows. This part of Eid is less about fasting (Ramadan,  a word that reminds me of Papadam) than it is about the journey to Mecca in November.

Who goes to Mecca anyway?

A successful, middle-aged acquaintance, Hamid, left for Riyadh two weeks ago. Another friend of mine, Salim, tells me the rich at heart  – and wallet – get to go to Mecca, since he can prove to Allah and his peers that he can leave home for an entire month and still provide for his family. Maybe it’s a maccho thing, but this show of stamina reminds me a little of my Montana peers who abstain from alcohol for the month of February (perhaps not coincidentally the shortest month) to pr
ove to themselves and friends they are not alcoholics.

Today, as with every Friday, men wear kanzus (long white robes) and white Kofias (Swahili for hats). Women with henna-painted hands and wrists are linked with their best friends and sisters. Salim says the celebration is not unlike Christmas – family and friend-focused.  Here in Lamu, though,  the men give each other fresh new kanzus; the women exchange food and Oud (perfume). Little girls are dressed up in frills and khol eye make-up and little boys scuffle on the beach playing football (soccer).

I look over to where the “Heckling Hyenas” are usually draped over the Peponi wall eyes blazing red. But today they are supplanted by mirth –  people participating in life.  Little doubt they’re cloistered behind coral walls sucking on bangi, poor things.

I have never seen so many Swahilis in one big family outing. It’s slowly becoming a tourist attraction. Some twenty meters away around a corner, just past a mosque and gleaming new white house built for Europeans, local Swahilis are festooning a newly-constructed public area on the sea front with pink bougainvillea for this evening’s Eid festival. I’d never seen it so beautiful and bright, especially as this spot was ground zero for a recent clash between locals and Europeans. When I raised my hands to capture the scene with my camera phone, I was ordered not to take photographs. “Don’t make trouble around here”, said a frowning man with a kofia.

Who, me?