Remnants of al- Qaeda Fueling Muslim Youth in Zanzibar

1 Sep
the guardian.com

the guardian.com

During the month of February, 2014 alone three Christian churches on Zanzibar were targeted by Islamic extremists. On February 15th, a bomb exploded at the entrance to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a second bomb was thrown into the same entrance the very next day. Another bombing took place at the entrance to the Evangelical Assemblies of God Church on February 23rd- only eight days later. While the very next afternoon, two bombs exploded at the entrance to Christ’s Church, the Anglican Cathedral located in Stone Town as well as at Mercury’s Seafood Restaurant a popular tourist destination also located in the historic center of Zanzibar City. These were only the latest in a host of bombings and burnings committed against Christians throughout the city.

In January 2014, a bomb exploded outside a Zanzibar mosque in Stone Town killing one person and wounding seven after a handmade explosive device was thrown from a car as worshippers left the mosque. A cleric visiting from the mainland had preached a sermon that morning urging all Muslims to remain peaceful in spite of the Jihadi’s use of violence to achieve their aims.

In August 13, 2013, two British teenagers, Katie Gee and Kirstie Trup were victims of an acid attack as they walked through the streets of Stone Town on their way to supper. Two young men on a moped threw a jerry can of battery acid onto the girls as they sped by causing serious damage to their faces, chests, and backs

Two Catholic priests were victims of shootings; the first severely wounded on Christmas Day, 2012 just after he’d arrived home. Then again on February 17, 2013 a second Catholic priest was shot and killed. On September 13, 2013 an acid attack occurred on a Catholic priest in the outskirts of Zanzibar City.

Uamsho, a well- known separatist organization on the island, has been identified by the police as the movement behind the bombings and shootings after sending out written messages threatening to do just that- even naming the churches that would be targeted. The Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation or Uamsho as it has aptly named itself literally means “The Awakening” in Swahili. It began as a religious charity for Muslims then morphed into a Separatist movement shortly after the 1964 union with Tanzania. The goal of Uamsho since 2010 was and is to organize the islands in Zanzibar Archipelago into one Muslim country bound by Sharia Law. It resents the agreement made with Tanzania in 1964 just after it had been declared a constitutional monarchy by Britain and seeks to become its own autonomous country in union with Tanzania in the same way the countries in Europe have come together as equal members in the European Union. It also wants to impose a “public code of conduct” on all tourists visiting the islands in regards to their dress and the public consumption of alcohol. It has also suggested that all “wabara” or mainlanders originally from the continent of Africa and now living in Zanzibar lose their status as residents and be deported.

Zanzibar is an archipelago or collection of islands. There are two main islands Unguja, the main island where Zanzibar City is located and Pemba, which encompasses the smaller islands. Seeing that 97-98% of the population living in the Zanzibar Archipelago are Muslims and follow the teachings of the Qu`ran the goals of Uamsho make sense to them which has made it a very popular organization among the local citizenry. When Uamsho’s leader Sheikh Fared Hadi Ahmed suddenly went missing in October, 2012 two days of the worse riots ever experienced in Zanzibar’s history erupted over his possible abduction. Shiekh Hadi has since been located and arrested along with ten other Muslim clerics all charged with criminal conspiracy as well as the instigation of violence.

Uamsho is also very popular with other wealthy Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran who openly fund the movement. The Serena Hotel in Stonetown is owned by his highness the Aga Kahn IV, Imam of the Shia Imami Islami Muslims and direct descendent of the prophet Mohammed. While Saudi Arabia invests more than one million dollars each year in supporting Islamic Universities, madrasas, and providing scholarships for Zanzibar’s young men to study in Mecca.

It seems that Uamsho’s rhetoric appeals to a certain type of youth especially the unemployed or under-employed. Unfortunately although Muslims make up the largest population living on the islands; more than 1/3 of them live in dire poverty while even those with jobs exist on less than one US dollar a day. According to Zanzibar’s 2012 employment statistics 80% of men less than thirty years of age are currently unemployed. And the country of Somalia is only 300 miles away from Zanzibar by boat making it an easy trip. Al- Shabaab knows this and has begun to entice disenfranchised males from Zanzibar in the same way they recruit young Kenyan boys from Mombasa. Tourism on Zanzibar generates well over 500 million dollars (US) annually but few local residents ever benefit from these profits. European firms especially those from Italy have invested heavily in Zanzibar’s resort hotels but these large chains recruit their staff from the East African mainland especially Kenya instead of selecting local residents to assume well- paying positions. These same hotels pay the Tanzanian government in Dar es Salaam enormous sums of money in taxes yet little of these funds find their way back to the poor of Zanzibar leaving large numbers of unemployed youth free to wander the streets with little chance of advancement and less chance of making a good marriage. In the end these are the type of young men Islamic extremists prey upon because it is the angry and disgruntled ones who’ll throw the bombs and fire their AK-47’s on command. It is young men exactly like these who are responsible for throwing acid and tossing bombs around Stonetown lately.

As al- Shabaab and its larger affiliate al-Qaeda continue to lose respect in Middle Eastern Countries they have moved south looking for newer targets; places where Muslims have demonstrated discontent with the status quo. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center Survey conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey the majority of Muslims surveyed had an unfavorable view of al- Qaeda one year after Osama bin Laden’s death. In Pakistan alone, a good 55%, over half, rated al- Qaeda unfavorably. “Typically when people, are exposed to extremist violence in their own country we tend to see them reacting negatively to it,’ stated Richard Wike, associate director of Pew’s Global Attitudes Project.

But to better under Zanzibar’s separatist views and current opposition to its relationship with mainland Tanzania one only has to examine its rich and colorful history. Because of its prime location out in the Indian Ocean some thirty miles from mainland Africa it was an ideal place on which to establish a center dedicated to trade and commerce. Early on Persians, Arabs, and Indians did just that turning it into a base of operations for their ships as well as their merchants. By 1503, European naval powers became aware of its existence and it was subsequently claimed by Portugal and made part of its Empire. Portugal continued to maintain a loose form of control upon these islands for the next two centuries. In 1631 the Sultan of Mombasa, an island kingdom located off the coast of Kenya massacred all of the European inhabitants living there which sent the Portuguese administrators on Zanzibar into a panic. They decided to use someone better acquainted with Zanzibar to rule it and invited the Sultan of Oman, one of the smaller countries that borders Saudi Arabia and is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Said Bin Sultan was a great ruler who not only controlled Zanzibar but added a good portion of the Swahili coast from lower Kenya to current day Tanzania to his administrative territory. He established a lucrative slave and ivory trade on the island sending large expeditions into East and Central Africa as far away as the Congo in search of tribes willing to sell human beings. The newly-purchased slaves then carried the heavy tusks of ivory back with them to Zanzibar. In 1840 Sultan Said made Zanzibar his capital city rather than the city of Muscat in Oman. He also oversaw the creation of large plantations on which a range of expensive spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper were grown. These plantations were owned and run by Arab families loyal to the Sultan. Eventually this small, elite group helped him rule the island. The great Sultan Said Bin continued to rule Oman as well as Zanzibar up until his death when his two sons replaced him. By 1822 British naval ships had entered Zanzibar Harbor seeking to end the slave trade and close down all slave markets on Unjuga for good. This was no easy task but by 1842 the British were well on their way to seeing their mission completed. By 1890 Zanzibar had been made a British protectorate rather than a colony of Great Britain. From 1890 until 1913 Arab viziers were assigned by the British to govern in their name but starting in 1913 until 1963 British diplomats were appointed to serve as the island’s governors. The islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago gained their independence from Britain on December 20th 1963 and for a very short time existed as a constitutional monarchy.

And then the Zanzibar Revolution erupted without warning. On the night of January 12th, 1964  John Okello, along with 600 – 800 men many of whom were dock workers affiliated with the island’s Afro- Shirazi Party ( ASP) and with ties to other countries in East Africa stormed the local police stations, subdued the policemen there, confiscated all weapons stored in the local armories, then headed out to the government building to remove the current Sultan of Zanzibar and his Arab advisors from power. The Sultan and his minions had already left the city on his yacht. Some of the rebels quickly took control the local radio station while others searched for people of Arab and Asian descent. These were hunted down and dragged from shops and homes then beaten and shot dead in the streets. Hundreds died during the chaos of that night while thousands more escaped from harm by setting off into the Indian Ocean on their boats. After only twelve hours of fighting the rebels controlled the central government of Zanzibar.

Okello, originally a citizen of Uganda, came to the island seeking employment and found a position as a dock worker. He joined the local Afro- Shirazi Party and soon served as its branch secretary. Okello believed he had been appointed by God to break the control of the Arab/ Asian ruling class living on the island because Zanzibar rightfully belonged to Bantu Africans. Okello installed Abeid Karume, leader of the Afro-Shirazi Party, as the first President of the new country of Zanzibar. Then Okello gave himself the tile “Field Marshall” and along with his rebels continued to attack any Arabs and Asians still in residence on the islands. He then organized his revolutionaries into the Freedom Military Force and used them to patrol the streets confiscating all Arab and Asian properties on behalf of the newly- formed government. Okello believed that Zanzibar needed the support of their Bantu African allies in Tanganyika in order to remain free from Arab control so signed an agreement of confederation with this country at the first opportunity. But Okello’s reign was short- lived and by  March 11th, 1964 President Karume had stripped him of his title and seen to it that he could never enter Zanzibar again. Okello was deported to Tanzania then Kenya finally returning to his own country of Uganda where he died a broken man. On April 26th, 1964 the Zanzibar Republic merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania with Zanzibar designated as its own semi- autonomous region.

Residents of Zanzibar bristle at the mention of this agreement and the idea of a separate country of Zanzibar appeals to many. The current population of Zanzibar is about a million strong and pulls from a wide range of diverse ancestries causing ethnic tensions to simmer just beneath the surface. After Sultan Said established his capital on Zanzibar around 1940, a small group of Omani Arabs, friends of the Sultan were lured to the island with promises of great wealth. These families eventually came together to form an elite class of plantation owners and administrators who helped the Sultan rule the island while traders from India formed their own exclusive brotherhood of merchants. Although many Arabs and Asians fled during the revolution many returned once Okello had been removed and Zanzibar had been joined to Tanzania. Even on the eve of Zanzibar’s independence Arabs accounted for less than 20% of the island’s total population yet were some of its wealthiest residents who served in government positions of great power. Other residents of Zanzibar had not fared so well. These came from the mainland, Bantu Africans, descendants of the freed slaves who’d once been forced to work the plantations. And a special group known as the Shirazi, an ethnic group formed as a result of intermarriages between Bantu Africans and Persians were some of the earliest peoples to settle the islands. Many residents still feel the way Okello did, that Zanzibar should be the exclusive domain of Bantu Africans and Shirazi – not Arabs and Indians who have their own countries in which to reside.

But what has brought Zanzibar’s mixed population together in the past is its choice of religion and what is holding it together now is its religion as well. An estimated 97-98% of all islanders are Muslims and are not terrorists. It would be very easy for Muslims to stage a revolt and oust all Christians from the islands and is a testament to their remarkable tolerance that they have not. The majority of local Muslims on Zanzibar have shown great restraint and not bought into the terrorist rhetoric spread by al- Qaeda representatives visiting from Kenya. And those young men, the ones who do join al- Shabaab; the ones looking to vent their anger on someone else; they could just as easily be guided in a more favorable direction. If they were provided with the training needed to qualify them for lucrative jobs that would give them a chance to make desirable marriages; this would go a long way in quelling their destructive temperaments. It’s time the large hotels came together and joined with the government of Tanzania to tackle the unemployment crisis on Zanzibar. Wide scale employment could very well be an acceptable antidote to  increasing acts of terrorism.

Kat Nickerson                                     Kingston, RI

Massacre in Mpeketoni: “Pwani Si Kenya”, Political Retribution, or Terrorism?

29 Jun
Mombasa

Mombasa

On the night of June 15, 2014- less than two weeks ago, witnesses observed several vans filled with men enter the town of Mpeketoni and stop at the local police station. Subsequent reports now claim that these same policemen had been notified of a possible attack upon the residents living in the area earlier in the day making what eventually occurred a most tragic event indeed. After the masked gunmen who carried AK-47’s and spoke Swahili secured the station they divided their original group of 50 into smaller units then headed off to terrorize the nearby neighborhoods of Mpeketoni and Kibaon in search of infidels; shooting those who declared they were Christians and sparing those who could recite verses from the Qur`an accurately. While some of these brigands engaged in cold- blooded murder others set fire to local hotels, restaurants, and an assortment of administrative buildings creating orphans and widows in their wake. Two nights later a group of similarly armed, masked men appeared in the villages of Majembeni and Poromoko intent on looking for Christians while setting the homes of many longtime residents ablaze. By the time this killing spree had ended 58 people lay dead and another 30 had been declared “missing persons”.

Then in the aftermath of this slaughter things became doubly confusing. At first local media attributed these horrific events to the Islamic terrorist organization al- Shabaab claiming that the Somalia extremist group had assumed credit for these attacks claiming they were in retaliation for the presence of Kenyan military in Somalia and for the wanton slaughter of fellow Muslims there. But then Uhuru Kenyatta appeared on national television to give a much different explanation of the massacres. He declared that the attacks were the work of disgruntled politicians and opposition parties living in Lamu Province instead. Men who had sought to do some ethnic cleansing of their own in retaliation for past grievances over property rights and illegal land transfers. Not only that, Kenyatta claimed that these attacks were purposely directed at the descendants of some 30,000 Kikuyus now living along the coast who had been brought there by his father in the 1970’s as part of the Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme. In order to house his Kikuyus, the first President of Kenya took ancestral lands away from the Oromos and the local Muslims living in the area at that time who had laid claim to this territory for centuries. According to Uhuru Kenyatta, these were revenge killings carried out by fellow Kenyans who wanted the Kikuyu off their land and out of their villages. The Kikuyu tribe is one of the largest tribes in Kenya today whose ancestral home is located in central Kenya at the base of Mount Kenya. And to prove this, by the following week Wednesday, June 25, 2014 the Lamu County Governor himself- one Issa Timamy was arrested on charges relating to these heinous attacks.

And things became stranger still as Kenyatta and other members of his cabinet hinted that somehow former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga was linked to these attacks. Cabinet Secretary of the Interior & Coordination of the National Government, Joseph Ole Lenku went as far as to blame the current opposition party, The Coalition for Reforms & Democracy (CORD) for the attacks knowing full well that Mr. Odinga is the current leader of this party. On Friday, June 13, 2014 Odinga held the first in a series of rallies planned throughout Kenya to force Kenyatta’s government to address three of the most critical issues facing the country as of 2014: the rising cost of living, the escalation of terrorism within the country, and the reform of Kenya’s present electoral body.

Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe from the Lake Victoria region, had failed at his third bid for the Presidency of Kenya during the March 2013 elections while Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country’s first President Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu himself, had won the election. But with only a 50.5% margin of victory; he had not won this election by a considerable landslide leading many to believe that he was not the “people’s choice” as he’d previously described himself in campaign speeches.

In the 2007 Presidential election after running and losing to the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, also a member of the Kikuyu tribe, Odinga refused to accept the electoral commission’s decision and riots soon erupted on the streets of many major cities pitting Kikuyus against Luos and Kalengins. Finally in order to restore peace to the country President Kibaki resurrected the position of Prime Minister for Odinga making him the second Prime Minister in the country’s history since its independence from Britain. But in all fairness, Odinga’s claims of political wrongdoings during the 2007 elections were proven to be valid. Uhuru Kenyatta, even though he is a standing President, has since been indicted by the International Criminal Court and is expected to stand trial for crimes committed during the 2007 elections where over 1,000 people died and thousands more lost their homes and were forced to relocate to refugee camps.

So who is really behind the senseless slaughter of local residents in coastal Kenya? Many Kenyans would tell you that the new and improved Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) has had a hand in this brutal violence. This separatist organization was first established in 2008 as a platform for Muslims and Christians living along the coast especially in and around Mombasa to express their unhappiness with the substandard economic and social conditions they feel have been caused by the Kenyan government and their desire to secede from Kenya in order to create their own independent state. There is a catch-phrase in Kiswahili often bantered around the streets of Mombasa, “Pwani Si Kenya,” which means, “The coast is not Kenya.” Many residents there are convinced that the creation of a new country along the coastline would give the local tribesmen possession of their ancestral lands once again – those same lands that had been stolen away from them by any number of conquerors from the British and Persians to the Portuguese and Arabs.

The MRC is currently based in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya and the oldest with a history steeped in warfare and violence. Recently the MRC reshaped itself aligning themselves to Islamic interests which has caused many residents of Mombasa to wonder if it’s also connected itself to Islamic terrorist organizations such as al- Shabaab or Kenya’s own al- Hijra as well? It’s common knowledge around the city that the current leadership of the MRC is being funded by wealthy and influential Arabs living in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It’s also no surprise that Yeman’s considered one of the foremost training centers for al- Qaeda-connected terrorists, Results of a current survey conducted by the researcher, Paul Goldsmith on the influence of the MRC found that the organization had almost “universal” support among the people living along the coast.

In July 2012, the current Chairman of the MRC, Omar Mwamnwadzi, made this dire prediction concerning the future of Kenya’s coastal belt. “There will be no peace, this I cannot hide from you. The coast will have no peace at all.” Although he was referring to the 2013 elections which did take place in Mombasa without considerable violence his warning has never appeared more true than in the year 2014. Mwamnwadzi also stated that the people of the coast have a perfect right to secede from Kenya now because Kenya no longer has any title to this 11.8 mile strip of land. He bases his claim on a June, 1963 accord document supposedly signed by then Prime Minster Jomo Kenyatta and Mohamed Shante, Sultan of Oman granting the newly independent country of Kenya a 50 year lease on the 19 km strip of coastline known as Zanj of which Mombasa is a central part. He also stated that the MRC is in possession of physical documents and signatures that prove his claim. According to Mwamnwadzi, Kenya’s lease expired in June of 2013 meaning that Kenya has no legal right to Zanj anymore.

Government officials have taken a different view of the situation especially their interpretation of the supposed lease. In their version the 1963 Lancaster Negotiations as they were called at the time, recommended that this same strip of land be made a permanent part of Kenya and that the Sultan of Oman was compensated with money and other favors for the transfer of his land at that time once all of the documents relating to the negotiations had been signed. But members of the MRC have remained firm on their intention to create a separate state in order to right the wrongs done to them over the past centuries. Their goal- to take back the land belonging to the indigenous peoples of the coastline from those who currently control it- namely people from “up country” ( inland Kenya) the bulk of whom are Members of Parliament and government officials living in Nairobi. They remind everyone that until recently only the President of Kenya could approve of the sale of beach property along Kenya’s 300 mile coastline and that Jomo Kenyatta appropriated large parcels of land along the coastline for himself as soon as he became President of Kenya. This same property continues to be owned by his descendants. And members of the MRC are correct in claiming that most of Kenya’s shoreline belongs to the political elite of Kenya rather than the people who’ve lived there for centuries.

There is a strong Islamic influence throughout this island city and the mainland coast evident in its architecture and daily routines. Although Muslims make up only 11 % of the total population of Kenya, 60% of them live along the coast. And so, delicate, white minarets dot the winding landscape while muezzins use loud speakers to call the faithful to prayer, (adhan) five times a day. According to historical records Mombasa is an ancient settlement founded by Shehe Mvita, a Muslim of great learning, in 900AD. Eventually his descendants transformed the city into what it is today. There are still direct descendants of Shehe Mvita living in Mombasa enough so, that they actually have been given a name- “ Thenashaw Taifa” or The Twelve Nations.. Control of Mombasa alternated between the Sultan of Oman and the Portuguese from1593 until 1824 then the British took over in 1826. The Sultan of Oman returned again from 1826 – 1887 and the East African Protectorate (Britain) from1887 until Kenya’s independence in 1963. For many years Mombasa served as the capital of the East African Protectorate until the British finally made their capital city Nairobi in 1906.

I visited Mombasa with friends during the summer of 2007, lived in a white, stucco villa located on Shelly Beach and can still recall how the sensual odor of fresh jasmine mingled with the scent of the Indian Ocean as I made my way through the small shops located around Fort Jesus. In my mind there is no finer city in the world and I can understand why its residents would give their lives to keep it that way. Which is why it bothers me greatly to think that Mombasa may never experience a peaceful day again- not until the government of Kenya really starts listening to its Muslim constituency?

Mombasa has been called, “Kisiwa Cha Mvita” in Kiswahili meaning “island of war”. This is an apt description lately whether because of riots between Christians and Muslims or violent retaliations by Kenyan police. Mombasa has been on the verge of revolution for a full decade now and it seems that the current violence has pushed it far closer to the “edge of no return” than ever before. In my previous blog post I discussed the formation of Kenya’s terrorist organization- al- Hijra and the reasons young Muslim boys are attracted to terrorist organizations in the first place. Kenyan Muslims have claimed for five decades now that they have been systematically swindled out of land and businesses by inland Kenyans especially politicians who own large shares in the many resort hotels lining the coast plus they see little monies from a most profitable tourist industry which fills only the government’s coffers. And although Mombasa is the major shipping port supplying all of East and Central Africa with goods, the port itself is controlled not by locals but by a government which excludes Muslims from its employ.

I think that if history has taught us anything it’s that happy people make poor terrorists. People who are respected by the community, have good jobs, earn enough money to make personal plans and fulfill their dreams don’t go around causing trouble. But them that have no hope of building a better future for themselves and no means of improving their lot in life- they’re the ones capable of carrying AK-47’s in the streets and hiding bombs inside matatus. Until the Kenyan government understands this nothing in Mombasa will change- in fact it will only get worse.

Give these boys good- paying jobs where they can master skills that expand their horizons and watch their attitudes change. Respect their choice of religion and culture by seeing to it that tourists staying in the many resorts clothe themselves decently when walking through the streets or visiting the local marketplaces. See to it that alcohol and drugs are kept away from children and adolescents- not sold out on the streets as so much candy like they are now. Help plan a peaceful future for these young men or they will plan a much more violent one for themselves. And intolerance will only exasperate the situation no matter your belief in the effectiveness of a heavy hand. People who have no reason to hope  are a dangerous breed indeed – undeniably prone to anarchy. In the words of the conscience of 60’s, poet/ songwriter Bob Dylan “When you got nothing- you got nothing to lose.”

So who’s responsible for the massacre around Mpeketoni? What does it matter when the outcome’s sure to be the same? Whether or not the current killings are the work of opposition parties, Somali terrorists, or a disenfranchised Muslim population in the end more violence in response to these actions by the Kenyan government will only divide coastal loyalties further and push people into using more violence. The MRC claims that it has not yet joined forces with terrorist organizations but as more and more young men return to Mombasa from the training centers in Somalia thoroughly skilled in the art of terrorism and join the MRC what then?

On Tuesday, June 10, 2014 Sheikh Mohamed Idris chairman of Kenya’ Council of Imam and Preachers was shot to death by armed men driving by on motorcycles as he left his house to attend morning prayers. Idris had been threatened by members of al- Hijra and al- Shabaab for urging Muslim youth not to join with terrorist groups. He had been run out of the mosque he had served for the past 35 years by young men armed with knives because of his stand against violence and the fourth cleric to be assassinated in Mombasa in the past two years. Out of a total population of 1.2 million people now living in Mombasa, over 300,000 or 37% are Muslims. Their high numbers alone ensure that they can provide an unlimited amount of warriors willing to participate in open rebellion. Young Muslim men have demonstrated that they have become a force to be reckoned with and whether it’s due to their lack of education, meaningful employment, or zealous beliefs they will be the ones leading the revolution as Mombasa erupts and it surely will.

 

Kat Nickerson                                                     Kingston, RI

Kenyan Terrorism Evolves: The Emergence of al- Hijra (Muslim Youth Center)

1 Jun

 

On Friday, May 16, 2014 hand- made bombs left inside a matatu (mini-van) exploded In Gikomba Market located on Jogo Road, Nairobi, an outdoor market famous for the sale of second-hand clothes. Gikomba is frequented by working- class Kenyans trying to stretch their paychecks by buying their clothes on the cheap. This time 10 Kenyans were killed and upwards of 70 people injured- ordinary citizens on their way to work or engaged in bartering for goods and services together. Store fronts were destroyed and several cars demolished during the fray as people fled the scene seeking to avoid the flying shrapnel intentionally packed inside the bombs. Sadly this has become a common event in Nairobi during past year. According to the United States Embassy Kenya has witnessed a dramatic escalation in home-related terrorism during the past two years. An estimated 100 people have been killed in terrorist-related mass shootings, grenade attacks, and bombings in the past eighteen months alone.

Gikomba Market is a mere four miles away from the Westgate Mall but culturally its wooden kiosks are a world away from the sleek, ultra-modern multi- level designer stores frequented by British and Americans residing in the Westlands. In September 2014, 67 people were killed in a terrorist attack reportedly carried out by a group of young Somali men and women- part of the youth group known as al- Shabaab. But days afterwards, subsequent eye-witness accounts of this bloody massacre painted a much different picture of the terrorists responsible for shooting non- Muslims on the floor of the mall that day. According to several first-hand testimonies the armed combatants did not physically resemble Somalis, spoke Swahili like Kenyans, and knew their way around Nairobi quite well- in other words these were home-grown terrorists rather than the imported kind. The name al- Hijra, a Kenyan affiliate of al- Shabaab suddenly entered the media pool and its reputation as a Kenyan organization of Islamic terrorists spread throughout the country. These latest attacks did not target Europeans living in Kenya or tourists on safari at the Mara or sunning themselves on the shore. No, these attacks were deliberately made against the Kenyan people by disgruntled Muslim youth seeking to harm the rest of Kenya in retaliation for injustices that have brought on this rage as a result of religious intolerance.

To understand why one needs only consider the current unrest out on the streets of Mombasa namely the open hostility between police and Muslim youth especially those residing in Majengo, a crowded Mombasa slum. 4.3 million Muslims make up 11.2 % of the total population of Kenya with the largest population of Muslims living along the coast especially within the city limits. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Kenya’s most famous seaside resort area. Mombasa, is also a very ancient island of trade, only 575 miles from the Somali border which has always supported a multi-national population but in recent years this hodgepodge of cultures has become divided down the middle into Christian – Muslim groups after a myriad of shootings and riots have left its citizenry on both sides distrustful and afraid of one another. Muslim clerics around Africa have openly called for a holy war (jihad) against Christians continuously during the past five years and where in the past both sides displayed a modicum of tolerance when interacting with one another spontaneous church shootings of communicants during Sunday services have left Christians resentful and more than willing to support the actions of the police.

And so the Kenyan police – never a proponent of tolerance in the best of times has now targeted the entire Muslim population of Mombasa in their attempt to rid Kenya of terrorists rekindling memories of the KweKwe Death Squad – a special police force created to rid Nairobi of the fearful mungiki sect during the 2007 presidential elections. Dozens of Muslim families have reported the mysterious disappearance of loved ones- husbands and sons to the police only to receive no response or little information on their whereabouts. Human rights activists have accused Kenya’s Anti -Terrorist Police Unit (ATPU) of holding men in secret locations after charging them with crimes of terrorism without adequate proof to substantiate these charges. The Mombasa Republican Council has publically accused the Kenyan government of deliberately marginalizing Islamist citizens. Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) have voiced their position that the police have deliberately targeted Muslim youth in Mombasa for arrest continuing to violate their human rights throughout this secret “No Justice” campaign.

Three Muslim clerics suspected of supporting al- Shabaab and recruiting young boys have been systematically assassinated in Mombasa as a result of mysterious drive- by shootings beginning with the well- respected Aboud Rogo in August 2012 who was shot dead in his car while his wife was wounded in the leg. In October 2012, Ibrahim Omen suffered the same fate while Abubakar Shariff Ahmed renamed “Makaburi” died from gunshot wounds only last month, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, sprayed with bullets from a passing car on the steps of a north Mombasa courthouse as he waited for a ride home making violence and retribution the order of the day.

On February 2, 2014 police raided Musa mosque in Majengo on a Sunday morning after hearing that worshippers had raised a black and white flag in honor of al- Shabaab decorated with two automatic weapons pointing in opposite directions. This mosque has served as a center for Somali terrorists where young Kenyan boys have been recruited to leave for Somalia to train with al- Shabaab. Outside of al- Shabaab itself , Kenya sends more young men to Somalia to train as terrorists than any other country in Sub- Saharan Africa. The inhabitants of the mosque defied the police’s orders to disband and quickly became violent throwing stones at the police who eventually shot into the crowd. This heated altercation quickly turned into a riot after one man inside the mosque was killed by the police during the raid.

On March 23, 2014 6 Christians were killed and twenty others wounded in a Sunday morning church service in Likoni (near Mombasa) only days after two Somalis were charged with terrorism once police determined a car in their possession had been filled with explosives.

The Kenyan Muslim Youth Center (MYC) now called al- Hijra was originally founded in the Eastleigh slum, a Somali- rich section of Nairobi in 2008 by Ahad Iman Ali who has since changed his name to Abdul Fatah and moved his entire operation to Kismayo, Somalia. Sometime in 2012 al- Shabaab, established as a Somali youth group reached out to al- Qaeda establishing much tighter relations to all North- African Islamist terrorist organizations. At the same time al- Shabaab began creating closer ties with its neighboring affiliates- uniting smaller cells in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi while training their members in the art of terrorism within its camps in Somalia using seasoned instructors trained by al- Qaeda to do this. These teachers imparted a certain sophistication that had been lacking in their previous attempts producing more qualified terrorists and adding the use of social media to keep members sufficiently informed and on the move. Their choice of weapons and techniques gradually improved as well. Although al-Hijra began with a barrage of clumsily planted grenade attacks they soon learned these explosions would not produce the desired results. They soon moved on to more lethal explosions building home- made bombs easily stored inside backpacks and left in public vehicles and highly traveled places. Members of al- Hijra were even linked to the Kampala, Uganda bombings that killed innocent party- goers during the World Football Finals in South Africa during July of 2010. In 2011, The United Nations Monitoring Group on Eritrea/ Somalia warned that a home-based terrorist group trained by al- Shabaab was planning to carry out large scale attacks in Kenya and other areas around East Africa.

Most of the animosity visited against Kenya has been motivated by its military involvement in Somalia. On Sunday, May 19th, 2014 al- Shabaab militants killed at least 12 people as a result of an ambush in northern Kenya right after Kenyan jets bombed an explosives compound southwest of Mogadishu and three of al- Shabaab’s camps nearer to the border with Kenya. Kenya’s troops have also pushed al- Shabaab from the coastal city of Kismayo costing the terrorists millions of dollars in potential fees and business deals. Both terrorist organizations al- Hijra and al- Shabaab have vowed to keep up their violent attacks against Kenyans until the Kenyan government withdraws its troops from Somalia even threatening to implement “kidnapping for ransom” schemes on Americans residing within the country. What effect this will have on Kenya’s economy only time will tell? Recent unrest in Mombasa has led European tour companies to pull tourists out of Mombasa at one of the peak times of the year. Safari season will begin soon as well. The United States government has issued a travel warning against Kenya but this has been in place for a very long time ever since I began serving there in 2005. I fear things will only get worse for the Kenyan people unless the Kenyan military is able to defeat and capture the remaining members of al- Shabaab and very soon. So far the border between Kenya and Somalia is much too easily crossed for my liking.

Kat Nickerson                                Kingston,                Rhode Island

The Trial of Jean- Pierre Bemba: A Study of Avarice

14 Apr
Http://Washingtonpost.com

Http://Washingtonpost.com

 

Jean- Pierre Bemba- Gombo is one of the richest men in all of Africa let alone the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the country in which he was born. This is hard to believe at first, seeing that the DRC had been classified by the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2013 as one of the poorest nations in the entire world. How is it he came to accumulate such a vast fortune estimated at millions of dollars US during such an unstable period in the DRC’s history- as the country struggled through two consecutive, devastating wars? How did he manage to create and maintain personal businesses in the eastern and north –western sections of the country while over 5,000,000 people died- most as a result of war- related illnesses such as Malaria, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, and, Malnutrition? Ironically it was because of these wars that Bemba prospered, expanding both his legal and illegal businesses in the north and east while so many others lost everything: their land, their homes, their families.

By the end of the Second War in the Congo Bemba attempted to change his image by serving as a Vice President in the transitional government, a Presidential candidate in the 2006 election, and as a Member of Parliament. But his reputation would not improve so easily no matter how hard he tried to explain away his past transgressions after relocating to Kinshasa. When asked, most villagers in North Kivu Province recalled a very different Jean- Pierre Bemba. The one they remembered was a brutal warlord who used his personal army to: take their tribal lands away by force; kill and rape innocent men, women, and children; seize others’ businesses especially coffee and timber; establish lucrative diamond and hardwood smuggling operations with the countries of Uganda and the Central African Republic; and plunder his country’s natural resources at a time when his service as a patriot was desperately needed.

Ironically, Mr. Bemba was arrested in Brussels by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May, 2008 charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. But these five counts had nothing at all to do with his horrendous deeds in the DRC rather they were issued as a result of offenses allegedly committed by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic from 2002 to 2003 after having been invited there by President Ange- Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup against him. As the recognized leader of this militia the court held Bemba personally responsible for their actions.

Bemba’s trial at The Hague began on November 22, 2010 and continues on. But the end is in sight as the court recently declared all submission of evidence suspended and ordered both the prosecution and defense teams to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. Meanwhile Mr. Bemba had friends and members of his defense team working on an alternate plan -an illegal one that would ensure all of the charges against him would be dropped. Eventually the ICC was made aware of this plot and arrested four men suspected of perpetrating crimes against the court. Aime- Kilolo Musamba, lawyer-lead defense council, Jean-Jacques Mangenda- Kabongo, lawyer-case manager, Fidele Babala- Wandu, Member of DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary of the MLC, Bemba’s militia turned political party, as well as Narcisse Arido, defense witness. Each man including Bemba was charged with presenting false/forged evidence and tampering with witnesses for the prosecution. On April 2, 2014 the trial judges determined that the additional charges of presenting false or forged evidence and tampering with witnesses would be treated as a different case and tried separately.

But who is Jean- Pierre Bemba anyways? Born into a wealthy, political family in Bokata, Nord- Ubangi District, Equateur Province on November 4th, 1962 young Bemba grew up in the palatial estate of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko mingling with Belgian aristocrats. Bemba’s father, a successful businessman himself, traveled in the same social circles as Mobutu acting as his advisor when needed. It was a small, elite group of wealthy Congolese families who along with Mobutu divided their time between the Congo and Brussels so much so that Bemba’s older sister eventually married Mobutu’s son and Jean- Pierre became quite close to the former dictator as he neared the end of his tenure even serving as his personal assistant in the early 1990’s. After Mobutu had been exiled Bemba‘s father went on to serve Laurent Kabila as his Minister of the Economy and Industry in the newly- formed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then as a senator representing Equateur Province situated in the north-western part of the country while his son did not fare as well. The First War in the Congo would last one year (1996-1997) and as a result Laurent Kabila would capture the capital city of Kinshasa and declare himself President. One year later the Second War in the Congo would erupt when Rwanda and Uganda along with Burundi would invade the DRC after Lauren Kabila refused to keep his promises to them -lucrative mining deals in exchange for their military and monetary support during the First War. Plus Rwanda discovered that Kabila had a much closer relationship with the Hutu Interhamwe then he’d admitted.

During the First War in the Congo Jean- Pierre Bemba lost his businesses plus experienced open mistrust and discrimination by Laurent Kabila and the rest of his new cabinet because of his close connection to Mobutu. But during the Second War he rebounded and by the end of the war controlled most of Northeastern Congo as well as the major smuggling route between the DRC and Central African Republic ( CAR). This was due in no small part to Uganda’s help. Bemba gradually created his own militia, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) a local militia composed of Congolese males from the north and eastern region of the country. He soon worked out a deal with the Ugandan government: he would help Uganda gather the hardwood from Kisangani and transport it back to Kampala while in return the Ugandan army would supply, arm, and train his men. Under this transaction Bemba’s militia prospered making his force a feared name throughout North Kivu Province while at the same time Bemba began cashing in on local products from diamonds to coffee beans. According to expert witness testimony presented to the UN’s National Security Council the Second War in the Congo centered on “trade and money”. The militia that controlled the wealthiest caches of natural resources triumphed over the rest so much so that battles were no longer fought to protect the people but to control the most lucrative diamond, gold, and mineral deposits as well as secure the rights to smuggling routes across the eastern border. Eventually Uganda and Rwanda formally withdrew and the Second War in the Congo came to an end but Bemba and his militia continued their smuggling  operations as usual. According to Global Witness (2003-2004) Bemba maintained a lucrative diamond and coffee smuggling ring into the Central African Republic (CAR) using its capital city of Bangui as his base. He smuggled timber into the CAR cut from the Ituri Forest and was paid large operation fees by European hardwood companies operating in the area.

During the Second War Bemba began a deliberate campaign of terror against the local Mbuti Pygmies living in the Congo’s Ituri Forest. In 2003 Sinafore Makelo, an Mbuti pygmy, told the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Forum that during the war Mbuti pygmies were “hunted down and eaten like game animals” by the militias and that none was more deadly than the group known as the “Effaceurs” (erasers). According to Minority Rights Group International “ Les Effaceurs” were soldiers in none other than the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s men who used “mass killings, cannibalism, rape, and the threat of violence” to clear the Mbuti from the forests of North Kivu Province. According to testimony provided by Bantu farmers in the area Bemba wanted the pygmies to leave the local forests where they had lived for generations so he could expand his illegal mining and logging operations without witnesses.

Once he returned from the CAR and before leaving for Kinshasa Bemba swore he’d disbanded his MLC turning it into a political party instead but he purposely kept many of his soldiers with him claiming they now served as his personal guards. It was common knowledge around North Kivu Province that the MLC continued to oversee his smuggling operations while Bemba started newer, legal business endeavors such as his airline company and television station. By 2003 he had been named Vice President of Finance and served as one of four VP’s in the new transitional government of Joseph Kabila. He challenged Joseph Kabila by running for President in the 2006 election where he came in second then after a final face-off between the two candidates lost the election.

And then things became dangerously unclear. Mr. Bemba claimed that Joseph Kabila had used fraud to win the election but then said he would “bow out gracefully for the good of the country.” At the same time he did not attend the swearing–in ceremony nor did he give Kabila his official endorsement as President of the DRC. Yet by 2007 he had succeeded in winning a seat in Parliament as a Senator representing the capital city, Kinshasa.

It was common knowledge that Bemba housed many MLC members at his residence in Kinshasa who served as security guards. On March 22, 2007 a fight broke out between these guards and soldiers in the Congolese Army. It seems Bemba’s guards had been ordered by the government to register at a local military base where they would be eventually absorbed into the Congolese army but Bemba claimed these men served as his personal guard and for reasons of security would remain with him. Soldiers in the Congolese army showed up at Bemba’s house then tried to take his “body guards” into custody. The guards refused and started shooting at the soldiers. Although government reports were deliberately vague on the matter, eye- witness accounts around Kinshasa maintained that hundreds of Bemba’s soldiers flooded the streets resulting in open fire fights between them and Congolese troops. Many witnesses became convinced that Bemba was staging a coup in order to seize control of the government buildings. Eventually government forces brought the city under control as Bemba’s men suddenly began withdrawing from the streets. Although the government made no public announcement about the battle between the two sides and at no time referred to the fighting as a coup reports of over six hundred wounded or dead were filed by local hospitals and news agencies around the city. Meanwhile Bemba and his family fled to the South African embassy where he asked for and was granted asylum. One day later, on March 23, 2007 an arrest warrant was issued by the government charging Bemba with high treason. Bemba responded by blaming Kabila saying that the government soldiers had been sent to his home to kill him and that his body guards had only been defending him.

On March 26, 2007 the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila charged Bemba with using his militia to seize control of the capital city of Kinshasa. Bemba denied these charges claiming that his only goal was to leave the country safely in spite of the thwarted assassination attempt on his life. But before he left the country Bemba ordered the members of his militia to comply with the government’s orders and hundreds of his men registered then were integrated into the Congolese army without incurring any punitive charges.

During April, 2007 Bemba and his family lived in Portugal. While there he continued to talk openly about his fear of reprisal from Kabila’s government and the fact that he planned to return to the DRC to take up his senate seat in Parliament. But by June, 2007 he was still traveling throughout Europe claiming that he feared for his life if he returned to Kinshasa.

One year later on May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3. 2008 where he was immediately held in its detention center at The Hague. Before leaving he informed local reporters that these were false charges engineered by Joseph Kabila in order to discredit his good name and prevent him from serving as a politician in the DRC ever again.

Jean- Pierre Bemba Gombo  is a highly dangerous man and not just because of his crimes. It is his ambition that worries me most due to the fact that he has an unlimited supply of money at his disposal with which to buy his way in and out of any situation. My hope is that the ICC will sentence him to prison for a very long time and take his money away in the process. There is more than enough evidence on record to prove that the bulk of his wealth was amassed through illegal means and really belongs to the people of the DRC. And like I have warned many times in the past until the natural resources of the Congo are protected and regulated by an outside, impartial enforcement group such as the United Nations the lives of rural villagers in the east will never improve. Unfortunately, for every warlord and militia group arrested another man and his minions will come forward to take their place. There’s just too much money to be made not to take this chance.

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA

Allied Democratic Forces Take Charge in Eastern DRC: Why This? Why Now?

28 Mar
ADF    FoxNews.com

ADF FoxNews.com

 

On Friday, January 17, 2014 the Congolese army (FARDC) successfully drove soldiers in the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) from the city of Beni, North Kivu Province backed by the UN’s 3,000 strong  “Intervention Brigade” assigned to subdue all rebel activities occurring throughout Eastern Congo.  This happened after the same Congolese forces secured the city of Kamango the day after Christmas once ADF troops had claimed it the day before. While attacking the city ADF soldiers burned down buildings, wounded many residents, and were responsible for over fifty deaths causing the populace of the city to flee in terror. But the reason for this take-over is still a mystery. The members of ADF are no strangers to the people of Kamango having settled into this area themselves many years ago. Could it be that with the surrender of the M23 rebels from the same region ADF leaders have moved in to take over the lucrative illegal gold trade between the DRC border towns and Uganda? And once the ADF militia has been subdued who’ll move in next to control the smuggling operation?

But who are the ADF and where did they come from? Originally it was composed of a small band of rebels from Uganda who settled in the rugged terrain of the Rwenzori Mountains lying between the countries of Uganda and the DRC. These rebels espoused a specific Islamic ideology known as Tablighi prevalent in the Sudan. In time, their cause- reclaiming the Ugandan government brought them in contact with another group of rebels known as the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). This rebel group had also been pushed into the DRC by the Ugandan army when the DRC was known as Zaire and under the dictator, Mobutu’s control. Many of NALU members were Islamic Ugandans but there were others who had lost their political clout and /or personal fortunes once Museveni and his freedom fighters secured Kampala and ousted anyone connected with the former dictators Obote or Idi Amin. In time the ADF/ NALU morphed into one group. That happened in the mid- 1990’s but by all accounts the ADF camps reported on in recent years have dramatically changed their goals and it seems that retaking the government of Uganda is no longer a top priority for them. Plus after having been forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan army the ADF established permanent camps moving into the Congo- side of the Rwenzori Mountains for good. It’s estimated that as much as 60% of ADF’s current fighting force is composed of Congolese rather than Ugandan nationals now.

The Ugandan NALU integrated into the Nande community in Eastern Congo settling near the city of Beni. Their leader Enoch Nyamwise became a famous Nande politician who was contracted by the dictator Mobutu during the first war in the Congo and used his men to patrol the border between the Congo and Uganda. As the revolution raged on Nyamwise and his men became heavily invested in both legal and illegal activities as they began trading with neighboring villages in Uganda and it is said that it was these contacts between Congolese rebel militias and the Ugandan army that served to establish the first gold smuggling routes. By the time the ADF joined them they began augmenting their smuggling revenues by adding “kidnapping for ransom” ventures, mineral mines, logging industries, taxis, and borda-borda drivers to their economic empire.

Eventually most of the village militias on both sides of the revolution morphed into political parties after the wars in the Congo ended but the militias attached to each party never formally disbanded and remain armed and active to this day. This easy access to organized groups accustomed to using violence to get what they want has had a significant impact on the continuation of the war-like atmosphere pervasive throughout all of Eastern Congo.

By the time the year 2000 arrived gold smuggling had become “big” business in Beni. In 2013, the Enough Project reported that 98% of all the gold illegally leaving Eastern Congo was being sold out of Uganda specifically mentioning the actions of one Major Helaire Kembi, a former officer in the Congolese Army who deserted his post along with many of his men to head a highly lucrative gold smuggling operation in the area. One Congolese official confessed that gold worth millions of US dollars crosses the border into Uganda each and every day making it an extraordinarily profitable venture. Right now there are at least 15 different rebel militias operating in the Beni region alone- all jockeying for trading rights to the gold but it seems that M23 managed to gain control of the largest portion of the operation less than one year ago.

Then everything changed; the United Nations Intervention Brigade entered the fight and the Congolese Army began defeating M23’s troops so much so that M23  formally surrendered in November of 2013 ending their 20 month rebellion. Colonel Makenga and his men took refuge in Uganda where they still remain so what has happened to their gold smuggling operation? And around this same time ADF began changing its image from a small, local militia of less than 1,500 men into something far more dangerous.

Intelligence videos made by Ugandan operatives showed ADF troops engaged in formal training sessions led by men suspected of having connections to the Somali terrorist organization, al- Shabaab. According to the African Defence Review Burka –clad women were also observed living in certain Rwenzori camps while helicopters began making regular supply deliveries.
Rumors that new ADF recruits had been sent to Somalia to train began circulating throughout the area. It was common knowledge that the ADF continuously received funds from the UK, Kenya, and the Sudan but these monies had never been thought to be that significant. Then their troops were spotted carrying new, more advanced weapons including rocket launchers. Has the current leader of the ADF, Jamil Muhula rekindled his ties with al- Qaeda or has a new connection been forged between the two groups? Is al- Shabaab training ADF soldiers to become mujahideen – international mercenaries of terror? And if so, who’s paying for their services? Or does al- Shabaab or al- Qaeda seek to become the next masters of the illegal gold trade themselves now that M23 has been removed from the picture?

ADF’s motives remain unclear. Why would the ADF attack Kamango on Christmas Day after attacking it for the first time at the end of July, 2013? Why did they return three days later to take the city again only to behead 21 civilians? Why did they urge the villagers to flee to Uganda and above all, why would they act like an invading army when they too live in the Beni area and were sure have relatives and friends living in the city. Most ADF soldiers are Bandandi – Congolese ethnic Bakonzo so why would they turn on their own people. It’s not a logical move to invade a city knowing that UN troops are in the vicinity with orders to destroy all wayward militia groups. These men may be smugglers but they are intelligent business men as well who sell the produce from their farming operations in the local markets. What would possess them to anger and alienate their customers so? What was their motivation? It had to be something dire enough to cause them to jeopardize their livelihood. I suspect it had something to do with warning other groups in Beni away from M23’s operation? Was this the reason for the beheadings? Did they conquer Beni to lay an official claim to M23’s former gold operation by murdering the competition or were they paid to provide military support for another much stronger group like al- Shabaab- intent on picking up where M23 left off?

According to my sources in the area prior to Kamango ADF troops always followed an unofficial set of guidelines but predictable ones nonetheless: 1.) Never attack the Congolese Army only fight back in self- defense. 2.) Never attack large groups of Congolese civilians, and 3.) Avoid residing in villages; remain in the forest camps.

Whatever the reason, the ADF managed to anger the United Nations Security Council which on January 30th of this year reiterated its former mandate to MONUSCO ordering that all rebel groups be made to disband and that M23 troops be prevented from regrouping. It also resolved to continue to enforce its previous arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes on the DRC especially on those in the Kinshasa government. The UN Intervention Brigade presently consists of a force of 3,000 soldiers from the countries of Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi as well as another 17,000 troops serving in MONUSCO, the United Nations fighting force assigned to the protection of the Eastern Congo.

Defeating the rebels may lessen the immediate crisis but it is far from a real solution to the problem. Until the United Nations makes a unilateral effort to connect all sections of the country together by providing a reliable infrastructure nothing will change. Men will continue to come forward declaring themselves warlords and forming entirely new militias because there is no mechanism in place to stop them. The DR Congo is estimated to contain 24 trillion dollars US in untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold, and copper. That sum is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of the European Union and the United States of America combined. With that much money at stake there are millions of men even other countries willing to do whatever it takes to secure some of that wealth for themselves.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations, The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the third largest country in Africa and at 903,563 square miles is about ¼ the size of the United States of America. Yet according to the United Nations Development Index for 2013, 87.7% of its citizens live below the international poverty level. How can a country that rich in resources provide so little for its own people? The biggest problem is that most of the country’s wealth is being illegally smuggled across its Eastern border because the DRC has no infrastructure; which means – no dependable roads connect the 11 separate provinces in this country together, the government is located too far to the west of the country to do anything about it, while the rich deposits are located in the East in a very isolated mountainous region lined with tropical rain forests much too dense to cross.

Travelers in North Kivu district constantly come across roads that merely stop in the middle of nowhere suddenly turning into foot paths. Most roads turn to mud as soon as it rains and there are little to no repairs made on the existing ones. Plus traveling by car for any length of time is an impossible task for there are no dependable gas stations, hotels, stores, or restaurants in the rural areas- and above all, no law enforcement agencies. That means no police force and above all, no one to turn to if something goes wrong unless you’ve been adopted by the local tribe. No one travels far in the Congo except for Congolese soldiers grouped together in small bands who walk the roads by day with automatic weapons in hand dispensing justice to those who pay them the highest fees. There are local buses but they will only take you one or two villages away from home and operate within the same province. Pulling into a border town feels very much like entering the bar scene in Star Wars I where violent assaults literally occur at the “drop of a hat”.

The rule of thumb when entering Eastern Congo – “if you haven’t packed everything you’ll need to take you in and out of there, don’t go!” Nothing will ever improve for the people of Eastern Congo until the minerals have been adequately protected and North Kivu Province is opened up to the world at large.

 

Kat Nickerson                      Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                               March 27, 2013

East African Leopard: Victim or Victor?

28 Feb

As I investigate the steady decline of the “ Big Five” game animals throughout East, South, and Central Africa: Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Buffalo, and Leopard only the leopard has developed the ability to adapt to the urban sprawl and the human population growth occurring throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Even the Cape Buffalo herds that once roamed freely over the African savannahs are now confined to wildlife preserves because it was found that they contaminate domestic cattle with diseases like Anthrax, Foot & Mouth Disease, Rabies, and the dreaded Rinderpest and that is only a partial list of maladies. And although the total subspecies of African Leopard, Panthera pardus, pardus has decreased due to civil war, poaching, land conversion, and irate farmers it has not suffered the critical decline in numbers that the lion, elephant, or rhinoceros have.

In 2008 The International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN) classified the African Leopard as “Near Threatened” on their Red List of Threatened Species rather than “Endangered” like that of the lion, elephant, and rhinoceros but warned that it could soon be changed to “Vulnerable”. The African leopard was declared officially extinct on Zanzibar, an island belonging to the country of Tanzania in 1996 where there have been no confirmed sightings of any leopards since. And while the African leopard is not considered endangered in East Africa, there are sections of West Africa where the leopard population is in critical decline as well as in Asia, where subspecies such as the Snow Leopard approach extinction.

What makes the African leopard so able to survive when other species have not? Well first of all, it’s a loner with no need for an extended family and does not seek out the company of other leopards except to mate. Although females stay with their cubs from birth to around eighteen months of age and sometimes the fathers remain nearby to protect the infant cubs from strange males for the most part, leopards are not social animals. The female leopard gives birth to two to three cubs at a time then stays with them until the cubs are large and strong enough to accompany her on the hunt. Infant cubs are born with their eyes closed preventing them from moving beyond the den. The mother leopard typically keeps them hidden for the first eight weeks of life changing her den’s location often so that the cubs scent is not detected by lions or hyenas on the prowl. Under ideal conditions the mother suckles her cubs for at least three months introducing them to freshly-killed meat around six/seven weeks of age. She will remain with her cubs up to 1 ½ years but then she leaves them and resumes her previous nomadic lifestyle. As attentive as she had been as their mother the female leopard will never look for her children again

Secondly, the leopard is an intelligent animal forced to depend on its wits. The leopard or “chui” in Kiswahili is called the “ghost” for many reasons. For the most part this medium- sized cat occupies the same territory as lions. It cannot expect to confront these larger predators and win so has learned to outsmart them by demonstrating a higher level of stealth and guile. It spends most of its time hidden from view especially during the day stretched out across tree limbs high up in the air. A Maasai hunter once told me that leopards have the souls of ancient warriors inside them and still remember how it feels to be human. Maybe he’s onto something there and that’s why they’ve acclimated so well to the presence of humans beings on their land? It is whispered around the fire at night that by the time you see a leopard it already has you in its grasp and that is so true. It is as silent and capable a hunter as ever lived.

I have been on safari many times and have yet to see a leopard in the wild and am not alone. It is the only “savannah mammal” I have not seen. During my most current safari to Murchison Falls, Uganda we drove for a full seven hours looking for leopards and spotted none but sometime later that evening on his way to dinner my safari guide saw a large adult male rummaging through the garbage heap behind the lodge. I began to suspect that this mysterious creature might have adjusted far better to the presence of tourists than they had to him. As I asked around I heard stories about leopards roaming the area near the building at night so much so that guests of the lodge were warned away from entering the woods surrounding the lodge after sunset. Contrary to popular belief, leopards hunt during the day as well as at night but seem to do their best hunting and cover the most territory during the hours between dusk and dawn.

The African leopard might have a reclusive nature but it also has a curious one. Rather than fearing man and avoiding civilization it seems to be quite willing to exploit  human settlements to meet its own needs. According to wildlife biologists it has easily made adjustments in its previous routines as man’s pushed further and further into its natural habitat changing its hunting patterns and acclimating to new food sources. According to the latest research on the movements of East and Central African leopards there has been a significant increase in the number of sightings near villages and cities lately. Official sightings of leopards have been reported in the urban areas of India, Pakistan, Tanzania, Nigeria, China, and Saudi Arabia as well. In a study conducted by the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan, (2005 -2007), 97 out of a total of 125 leopard sightings – were in and around human settlements. Traditionally leopards do not actively hunt human beings for food but a starving leopard will devour any source of fresh meat and leopards have had no reservations attacking humans when threatened in the past. During 2004, 14 people in Mumbai, India were killed as a result of what were officially identified as “leopard” attacks.

Leopards are not picky eaters and are more than willing to select their food from among a wide range of prey. They are not even reluctant to scavenge off the carcasses of dead animals when provided with the opportunity to do so. According to wildlife biologists 92 different prey species have been found in the stomach contents of deceased African leopards including insects, birds, rodents, large and small antelopes, and baby herd mammals. Infrequently, adult males have been known to hunt adult wildebeest or zebra and although they are much smaller than the average adult lion they have great strength for their size and can haul victims weighing three times their size up into the trees. This willingness to select food from such a diverse range of living things helps ensure they will survive no matter the extent of the changes in the local fauna.

African leopards can call almost anywhere on the African continent home easily acclimating to most types of terrain from high- altitude mountainous regions, forests (woody and tropical) grasslands, savannahs, to hot semi-arid deserts. In 2005 a study conducted by Ray et al. estimated that the African leopard has disappeared from at least 36.7% of its previous historical regions with the worse losses occurring across the Sahel belt (from Mauritania to the Sudan), Nigeria, and South Africa but its populations have not dramatically declined in other regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Darwin’s discussions on “Natural Selection” he explained that “in the punctuated equilibrium model of environmental and biological change, the factor determining survival is often not superiority over another in competition but the ability to survive dramatic changes in environmental conditions” If so, my money is on the African leopard.

And then as if fated to support my point of view on the adaptability of the African leopard, an Indian leopard showed up on the streets of Meerut, India two days ago where it thoroughly terrorized the residents there. By all accounts this was no frightened animal although it seemed a lost one entering a hospital, apartment building, and then of all places, a movie theatre in its attempt to escape. I am including a link to the original article. Well worth reading and the photos are spectacular especially the one showing the leopard breaking through a wall into the street.

Why the animal appeared in a crowded district during the day is unsettling and gives some indication as to how comfortable the creature had become around human beings. And its willingness to enter buildings filled with the scent of human beings is even more unnerving. According to statements from bystanders in the crowd it appeared confused but never panicked. Who knows how many nights it prowled the streets of Meerut feeding on garbage, small dogs, and large rats as it developed a “feel” for the area? And according to the article this is only the latest in a series of visits by leopards to other urban areas in India.

In a world where so many species are being pushed to the brink of extinction by the relentless demands of the human race; it seems the leopard has decided to fight back.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/02/24/leopard-meerut-india/

There is also an alarming video on YouTube uploaded by NDTY- type in ” Leopard filmed snatching dog from Mumbai home”

Kat Nickerson                                                                                                                                                                                           Kingston, Rhode Island

Congo’s Conflict Gold: Now Who Controls the Gold Corridor?

13 Jan
http:// Africareview.com

http:// Africareview.com

As with any issue there are basic facts that need to be considered before the rest of the story makes any sense. So I shall start by posting the most crucial information first. According to a 2013 United Nations Report concerning “Conflict Gold” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), “98% of all gold taken from mines in the DRC in 2013 was smuggled out of the Congo illegally and sold to gold traders in Uganda. The value of this gold has been estimated to have been between $313 million dollars (US) and $409 million dollars (US). Potential tax revenues collected by the government of the DRC would have been over $8 million dollars (US) had this gold been sold though legal channels. Could the many wars in the Congo as well as the diverse rebel groups living there be nothing more than a ruse used to cloud the real objective- the illegal removal of gold and minerals from the DRC by the countries which border it and the countries which profit by selling this gold on the international market?

On Thursday, December 12, 2013 a representative for M23 signed two documents agreeing to lay down their arms and fight no more while the government of the DRC promised to support the eleven points agreed upon by both parties in the newly- composed peace settlement. This meeting took place at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya arranged and brokered by Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya while Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and Joyce Banda, President of Malawi looked on. At the conclusion of this eighteen month war many living in East and Central Africa felt that this truce continued to be an uneasy one. Only one month earlier to the day DRC’s government negotiators had refused to sign a cease-fire agreement with M23 in Kampala, Uganda because they objected to the title of the settlement agreement. Some of the major concessions in this pact: 1.) M23 will transform into a political party. This is nothing new; most of the political parties in the DRC today started out as militia groups. 2.) An exchange of prisoners on both sides. 3.) Resettlement of the 800,000 people displaced by the fighting. 4.) Establishment of a national committee charged with investigating claims and awarding damages related to the confiscation or destruction of property and/or goods during the war.5.) Reintegration of M23 troops into Congolese society.

Both sides agreed that “there would be no amnesty for those soldiers wanted for war crimes” but the specific terms of this condition is relatively unclear. Does this mean that all officers indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands for “Crimes against Humanity” will stand trial there or does President Joseph Kabila have something different in mind? Might the government of the DRC conduct its own “war” trials and if so, just how impartial would they be?

By November 2012, M23 appeared to have the better army as it had won most of its major engagements against the Congolese Army (FARDC). Eventually it fought its way into Goma; taking this, the capital city of North Kivu Province  located but a few miles from the border shared between the DRC and Rwanda. About this time civilians on both sides of the border began a running dialogue about the improved quality of M23’s weapons (unique AK-47 rifle barrels); the brand new uniforms and mud boots they had been issued; and especially the hats they wore which were identical to those worn by soldiers in the Rwandan army. In the opinion of many residents close to the fighting Rwanda had openly supported M23 from their side of the border going as far as to help plan the entire insurrection.

But by November 2013, M23 began to incur severe losses. Two possible reasons for this turn of events: 1.) the appearance of MONUSCO’s UN Intervention Brigade in the eastern Congo, a 3,000 member force composed of African soldiers from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. This military arm of the UN has been charged with eliminating the armed rebel groups in the Great Lakes Region. Their knowledge of the region as well as the use of advanced technology when added to the original Congolese forces (FARDC) in the area helped them outmaneuver and outfight M23. 2.) It also appeared as if any monetary support as well as the weekly supply train of weapons, materials, and recruits donated by Rwanda suddenly ceased. Although Rwanda has always denied any involvement in the M23 revolt, government officials there may have become reluctant to continue supporting M23 once Britain, the United States then the UN Security Council began to openly question their level of participation in this war.

But it was also common knowledge that M23 also supported its war through funds raised by smuggling gold across the border into the neighboring countries of Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda but especially Uganda. Word on the street was that M23 forged a lucrative arrangement with the government of Uganda then opened a special smuggling route that it used to move large amounts of gold into the capital city of Kampala right into to the hands of specific gold traders there. Almost any citizen of Uganda can tell you that his/her country removes some gold out of mines located near the border between Uganda and the DRC; but none of them produce enough gold to justify the immense amount traded in Ugandan markets then funneled into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by shady gold dealers. From where did all of this gold originate?

In a November, 2012 a special report to The United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee written by a “Group of Experts” stated that a major smuggling ring led by M23 officers moved conflict gold through the border town of Bunagana straight into the Kampala gold market. The town of Walikale was also named as another locale where the “gold corridor” operated in North Kivu Province.

And the more pressing question? Now that M23 has agreed to the conditions of this latest peace accord what rebel group will inherit its gold smuggling operations? Who out of the more than 30 other political militias operating in and around the border region along eastern Congo as of 2014- has the power and the contacts to make that happen? My money is on the new and improved ADF- NALU an organization created by the merger between the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda. ADF has recently changed its ideological objective from that of a small, grass-roots retaliatory group seeking to overthrow Musesveni’s government in Uganda to a more structured Islamist- governed Congolese organization with official ties to al- Shabaab. It’s not the same group it was even three years ago which made some Ugandan journalists doubt that it was ADF who launched the first attack on the settlement at Kamango on July 21st, 2013. Two attacks later- the final one coming on December 28th, 2013 and most reporters were convinced that ADF-NALU had been responsible for all three raids.

But what would induce the ADF to change its operational tactics as well as its political affiliation? It has always had close ties to Sudan’s Sunni Muslims (Tabliq) and still receives some monetary support from them. The old ADF would have never attacked the Congolese army save in self- defense. They have nowhere the resources of the Congolese army nor could they hold off an attack by armed military forces (FARDC) for long. So why risk the lives of their men? They are a small locally-based set of camps spread throughout Beni -Lubero territory with about 1,200 men at their disposal; although their numbers may have increased lately as they have been visited by members of other terrorist organizations who have conducted training sessions at their camps. Most of these rebels are no longer Ugandan citizens as before and this new generation of fighters has Congolese  Bandandi roots and relatives living in the local communities surrounding them. So it would be unusual for them to attack and kill Congolese civilians without a compelling motive. And why would they try to capture an entire town when they do not have the manpower to hold it for very long? What would they gain by provoking the Congolese army and alienating the very people with whom they conduct business every day?

When interviewed after the third Kamango attack in December, 2013 many of the residents there reported that “the armed men urged them to flee into Uganda”? Seems like the ADF wanted the people to vacate the premises immediately rather than secure the town for themselves and if so, why? This shall all be discussed at length in my next blog.

Kat Nickerson                                                    Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                       January 12, 2014

Islam’s Jihad against Christians in East Africa: Why Isn’t This on the Nightly News?

20 Dec

While I can’t remember Muslims and Christians hugging in the streets of Kampala or the markets of Nairobi during my summer stays in both cities starting in 2005; I do not remember much at all in the way of open confrontation. Granted it was an uneasy truce but even though Muslims and Christians did not embrace one another openly they seemed comfortable enough to live aside of one another in relative harmony until a few years ago. I was comfortable greeting my Muslim neighbors with “As- salaam alaykum” when in the marketplace even memorized the entire Adan after having been woken up each morning while it was still dark outside to hear each muezzin’s unique version of his call to prayer over the loud speaker. I loved it so much I began singing it in Arabic along with the muezzin every morning and felt that the words were a wonderful way to start the day. So I was not prepared for the violence that began to escalate right about the time of the July 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals.

Africa has always been a place of diverse religious beliefs from the old religion of the ancestors, Rastafarians, to the more organized faiths such as Sunni and Shia Islam as well as a range of Christian denominations. Toleration seemed the order of the day as everyone went about freely worshipping God in their own way. But then an extremist Islamic terrorist group replaced the dictator, Major General Mohammed Siad Barre in Somalia in 1991 while the American forces invaded Somalia in the Battle of Mogadishu in October,1993. It’s official name is Harakat al- Shabaab al- Mujahideen, The Movement of Striving Youth and yet it is now referred to as al- Shabaab, “the youth.” Actually the organization did begin as a youth group allied to the Islamic Courts Union Government in 2006 that pledged to bring a fundamentalist Islamic state back to Somalia. And this would not be hard for any Islamist group to do. According to a report from Pew Research Center in 2006, 98.6 % of all Somalis are Muslims and most Sunni Muslims.

It was not long before al- Shabaab earned notoriety for its ideology attracting experienced war- savvy veterans from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It was also no secret that it had begun to receive financial and administrative support from al- Qaeda. At one time al- Shabaab controlled the capital city of Mogadishu as well as the port of Kismayo until African Union forces drove them out in 2011 and 2012 respectively. They pretty much stayed within their own boundaries until their first large scale terrorist attack in Kampala at the Kyadondo Rugby Club in July of 2010. Suicide bombers out on the field that night killed several people and wounded many others as they watched the World’s Cup final game. Later on al-Shabaab took credit for the attack stating that it was in retaliation for the Ugandan forces participation in the African Union currently fighting in Somalia.

And then the attacks on churches commenced. On July 3, 2012 seven masked gunmen first threw grenades then opened fire in two churches in Garissa, Kenya not far from the Somalia border killing seventeen and wounding fifty. By Easter time 2012 Muslim extremists calling themselves, “Muslim Renewal” vowed to attack Christian churches throughout Tanzania causing fear to grow throughout the Christian communities there. On February 17th a Father Musli was gunned down right outside of St Teresa’s Catholic Church in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean belonging to Tanzania. A Pastor Kachili was murdered in the Geita region of Lake Victoria after he intervened in a dispute between Muslims and Christians over the right to butcher livestock. In the words of Muslim Renewal, “Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches… we are not finished….prepare for disaster.” And in Tanzania, on May 10, 2013 a bomb was thrown into the newly- built St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where the Vatican envoy and the Archbishop of Tanzania were in the midst of celebrating mass during the consecration of the new church. Two people died as a result of the blast and sixty innocent parishioners were injured. Tanzania has a  Muslim population of 13, 450,000 that is 29.9% of its total population.

According to Lila Gilbert author of Saturday People, Sunday People,” her new book that discusses the reason 850,000 Jews were made to flee Muslim countries in the mid- twentieth century. The title of her book comes from an old Islamic saying, “First the Saturday people then the Sunday people,” meaning, “First we will kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians”. Friends of mine in Kenya believe that Islamic terrorist groups have deliberately targeted churches in an attempt to scare Christians away from attending church. Next Wednesday is Christmas Day, one of the most important Christian holydays of the year; one can only hope that another Muslim attack does not mar the celebrations in East Africa on that day but what an ideal time to send a message off to the entire world?

And al- Shabaab has forged a stronghold in the country of Kenya as well. Muslim cleric Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, of Mombasa who goes by the name, “Makaburi” has been identified by the UN Security Council as a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan males into al- Shabaab. In 2012, the Council banned him from leaving Kenya and froze all of his assets. He had been known to have told young men “go to Somalia and fight for al- Qaeda and kill US citizens”. He believes that the words of the Qur’an justify his actions and all of the violence. “There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. The prophet did not teach us moderation in Islam- Islam is Islam.” Makaburi admits. “It’s not right for the United States or any other country to interfere with how another country wants to rule itself.” Makaburi has been accused of recruiting young boys as “jihadis” willing to make the trip from Mombasa to the island of Lamu then set sail in a small boat to the coast of Somalia. According to one disheartened recruit, “He told us that if we fought money would be given to our families and we would gain a place in Paradise as a reward for our commitment.”

His success at retaining these young men could directly relate to the massive unemployment problem in Kenya at the moment especially for its young people. According to a 2012 report from the World Bank, Africa’s youth are and will continue to face severe unemployment prospects. In Kenya, the current youth unemployment rate is 40% and many of those who are employed find themselves underemployed in low-paying jobs in which they do not get to use their education and degrees. What’s more as of July 2013, 80% of Kenyans are less than 35 years of age and 75% are under 30 years of age meaning there will be an entire glut of young people looking for work at the same time. It seems as if Sheikh Makaburi knows something of these young boys’ frustration and uses their lack of meaningful activity to his best advantage. According to one recruit, Makaburi announced, “instead of sitting around in the slums doing nothing, it’s better to go to Somalia and fight for your religion so you’ll go straight to heaven.”

Mombasa, a large resort city off the east coast of Kenya, with an equally large Muslim population and has been the center of violent riots lately in response to the killing of two Muslim clerics Aboud Rogo Mohammed in 2012 and Ibrahim Rogo Omar only two weeks after the Westgate Mall shootings. Both uprisings broke out in Muslim districts of Mombasa and the Salvation Army Church was set on fire this time around.

And then the Westgate Mall shootings occurred on September 21, 2012. Terrorists (4 gunmen in all) claiming they were members of al- Shabaab entered the mall equipped with grenades and AK-47 assault rifles and shot anyone in the mall who could not satisfactorily prove to them that they were Muslim asking them to cite verses from the Qur’an or the name of Mohammed’s mother in Arabic in order to stay alive. Those who could not were summarily executed regardless of age. And in true “Millennium” style one of the terrorists used his Twitter account to send short messages out to the world describing their actions. When the armed troops finally made it to the glass doors of the entrance twenty dead bodies blocked their path into the main lobby. What US news reports did not include was that Westgate Mall is located in the Westlands, a wealthy suburb of Nairobi and the site of many of the foreign embassies including the United States Embassy. Was al-Shabaab sending a subtle message to the United States diplomatic mission in Kenya reminding the embassy that it could come much closer to Americans in Kenya if it so desired?

And what about the two British tourists who were attacked on December 12th, 2013, seven days ago as they were on their way to a safari in Amboseli National Park? According to all reports a man tried to throw a live grenade into their Toyota Land Cruiser as the car slowed down on one of the major roads out of Mombasa. Fortunately for them, the man threw the grenade at a closed window making it bounce back into the street. But on December 14th, only four days ago passengers riding into Nairobi on a matatu (mini-bus) were not so lucky. Four people were killed and others wounded after a bomb placed inside the matatu suddenly exploded. Today is December 19th, the fifty year anniversary of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain. I have spent the entire day wondering if al-Shabaab will make its anger felt in Kenya today as national celebrations take place.

What I do know is that from all accounts al- Shabaab’s ranks grow stronger and that it holds a real grudge against the United States for invading its country in 1993 and repeatedly interfering in its country’s leadership. Remember for centuries, Somali males have earned reputations as fierce warriors and great hunters all over Africa along with very long memories. I am surprised that the American people have not been warned about the continuation of terrorist attacks all over East Africa especially on churches. The Westgate Mall incident was highly publicized; why not these other violent raids? After studying the total picture it seems like every attack al-Shabaab has made has been part of a deliberate course of action and none of these incidents could be considered emotional strikes or the results of spontaneous outbursts. These men may be young and they might be inexperienced but they seem to have gained the attention of other more powerful terrorist organizations like al- Qaeda real fast. I would not be shocked to learn that these same young men are in the midst of acting on plans that lead them to methodically stage terrorist attacks in locations around Europe as well as the United States. Hopefully, the great nations of the world will sit up shortly and pay closer attention to the escalating progression of Islamic terrorist attacks in East Africa so they’ll be ready to foil further attempts long before they begin to experience the consequences of their inaction inside their own borders.

Huria a Kenya!!!

Kat Nickerson                                          Kingston, RI                                              December 19th, 2013

The Demise of the African Elephant: On the Road to Extinction

14 Dec
by Kat Nickerson 2009

by Kat Nickerson 2009

This blog is about the African elephant and its perilous future in Sub-Saharan Africa. I have been on several safaris in Kenya in the past few years where I followed wild herds of African elephants and each journey holds a special place in my heart- beyond memorable. My two best adventures occurred in Tsavo National Park and Amboseli National Park both located in Kenya where I was allowed to take hours of film and photographs of various herds roaming the savannahs there. I have posted two favorite pictures of a bull elephant and the rest of the herd  taken on the Maasia Mara.

by K Nickerson

by K Nickerson

There are two species of elephant: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. The African elephant has also been dived into two sub-species: the savannah and the forest elephant. Savannah elephants live out on the flat, grass-covered plains such as the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania. Savannah elephants are most numerous and are found in 37 countries south of the Sahara Desert while the forest elephant populates the dense rain forests of West and Central Africa. According to a current study from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign recently published in the Journal of PLos Biology. After studying samples of the elephants’ DNA, Alfred Rocca, lead scientist for the group, maintains that these two sub-species are vastly different from one another- as different as the Asian elephant is to the Wooly Mammoth.

No matter its origin, the elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. Female elephants live together with their babies and young children in herds with the oldest and wisest matriarch (female leader) in charge. Male elephants are allowed to live in the herd until they become adolescents (12-15 years) then are made to leave to roam their home ranges alone. The bulls will visit the herd from time to time in order to mate with the females and may stay with the herd for a while but eventually they return to their solitary way of life. I have seen male elephants meet at a water hole in Tsavo in the evening where they shuffle from side to side welcoming one another with their trucks raised as they emit a series of low rumbling sounds. They detect these vibrations through their feet, skin, and trunks but as soon as they’re done drinking off they go- all by themselves again. I have also seen groups of three to four bulls roaming the preserve together during the day but eventually they separate and each one goes his own way. The bull elephant’s ability to exist alone in some of the most perilous places on Earth gives you some idea just how powerful an adult male elephant must be. No other animal- even lions can take down a bull elephant in the prime of his life and rarely try unless they are desperately hungry. Even then, it would be the lions that would fare the worst in the ensuing battle. A bull elephant can accurately be described as the king of his domain.

Elephant herds move around using regular migration patterns that were established many years ago usually built around access to water holes and availability of food. These routes have been traveled the same way for hundreds of years. It is the matriarch who recalls this route best and leads her family through the yearly migration path. Elephants may remain at one site for a time but eventually move on traveling through their home range year after year in a very predictable course. Home ranges can vary; they may be as small as 24 square miles or as large as 6,000 square miles. Elephants do not recognize country boundaries so many herds cross national borders in their attempt to complete these migration treks. Their long treks between countries has made it very difficult for scientists to get an accurate read on the total number of savannah elephants and identifying the entire population of forest elephants has been a much more difficult venture . Herds of forest elephants are well hidden by the dense underbrush of the tropical rainforests and covered by a dense canopy of trees.

There are three things that are responsible for the African elephant’s move towards complete extinction: 1.) an ever increasing human population, 2.) the harmful effects of climate change, and 3.) criminal poaching ventures.

Encroachment by Humans
Amazingly, a recent Population Reference Bureau Report released in September, 2013 predicted that Sub-Saharan Africa will record the world’s largest population growth from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion people between 2013 and 2050. By the year 2050 the current population in Africa will have more than doubled by 1.3 billion people making Sub-Saharan Africa the largest growing region in the world. If these predictions are correct Sub-Saharan Africa will overtake the continent of Asia with the highest rate of population growth. In the past, Sub-Saharan Africa’s numbers had not increased significantly due to the high number of HIV/AIDS deaths as well as high infant mortality rates. But improvements in access to health care and medicine around the area has been credited with creating a larger population that is living longer than ever before. According to the report, women in sub-Saharan Africa still average 5.2 children during their lifetime, compared to 1.6 in Europe and 1.9 in North America.

As the human population increases throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, people will need more land upon which to build their houses and establish their gardens and fields. That means that the elephants will get less and less of the same area to roam. The home range of the African elephant has been reduced by 20% over the last decade due to human expansion. In Rwanda, a country equivalent in size to the state of Maryland, the elephant population of 100 animals is expected to decrease over the next 20 years, while the human population of 7.5 million is estimated to more than double during the same time period.

And if the predictions concerning Sub-Saharan Africa prove true, a record number of human beings will continue to take land away from the wild elephant herds and in the not so distant future wild elephants will lose all access to their traditional migration paths. Even now this dilemma has pitted farmer against elephant in an all-out war as the herds continue to follow their annual migration routines despite changes in the land. Elephants have been credited with stampeding over houses and eating entire harvests leaving the subsistence farmers in their wake homeless and hungry as a result. In response, farmers have turned on the elephant by poisoning local water holes and maiming elephant herds that come too close to their villages and fields. Elephants have nasty tempers and continue to kill human beings every year. In 2010 an American woman living in Kenya was trampled to death along with her baby while on a hiking tour just outside of Nairobi.

In 2010 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a wildlife toolkit to help African farmer’s protect their crops from wildlife looking to eat or destroy their crops. They were encouraged to do things like shoot the elephants with Ping-Pong balls, make and throw dung bricks, as well as create beehive fences to keep marauding elephants from destroying their property. Seems elephants are afraid of bees and even the sight of their hives is enough to keep them at bay. According to the FAO the annual cost of elephant raids to crops ranges from $60 dollars US to a farmer in Uganda to $510 dollars US to one living in Cameroon.

At best this is a feeble attempt by the UN to stem a monumental problem. Eventually there will just be too many people occupying the land and no room for the herds of wild elephants to roam. And no amount of Ping-Pong balls will solve the real problem! Penning wild elephants together is not the solution either. Results of wildlife studies have concluded that wild African elephants do not adjust well to changes in their migration routines. Females are directly influenced by habitat conditions and population densities so birth rates can severely decrease in high density or nutritionally stressed herds. Wild herds were not meant to live in close proximity to one another and can become anxious and unsettled even hostile when forced to live too close to other groups.

Climate Change
In a study commissioned by the World Bank, researchers concluded that from a global perspective the world is headed for “average temperatures 4 degrees (Celsius) warmer than pre-industrial times by the end of this very century.” Food security will be the overarching challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, with additional dangers from droughts, flooding, and drastic shifts in rainfall.

The report also stipulated that climate change will not affect all countries of the world equally. Some of these destructive effects will be experienced by the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa which in turn will affect their food supplies, individual economies, and coastal regions, while limiting arable land and fresh water. These nations will be less able to adjust to these hardships producing an increasingly unstable environment, which in turn could promote wars between struggling countries and peoples.

The 1.5°C-2°C warming in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to bring about increased droughts and higher aridity causing farmers to lose between 40 to 80% of the fields where maize, millet, and sorghum were traditionally grown. This is expected to take place during the 2030s and 2040s. By 2080 annual precipitation should decrease by about 30% in southern Africa, while East Africa will see more rainfall. Entire ecosystems will change and many types of grasslands will turn into woodland savannas instead decreasing access to pastoral ranges needed by livestock and savannah elephants. What will become of the wild African elephant when their home ranges flood in the east but dry up in the south and their current ecosystems drastically change?

According to Dr. Richard Leakey, world renowned wildlife expert, “climate change is a bigger threat to elephants, tigers, and the rhinoceroses than poaching. In pre-industrial times, animals threatened by these changes could simply have migrated, but human development on their lands means that this option has largely disappeared.”

Poaching
As with many crises in Central and East Africa one is never too sure just who the good guys are and nowhere does this seem more apparent than when applied to the current poaching situation that has escalated to outrageous proportions in Sub-Saharan Africa. I would like to tell you that the poaching situation as it currently exists is all the work of terrorists and criminals- and to some extent this is true; but when the entire history of the regulation of ivory is examined it makes for a far more complicated and confusing story than that.

First of all the African elephant has come close to extinction before and the ivory trade has steadily grown since the 1940s. In the 1960s, raw ivory cost between $3 and $10 per pound but by 1975, the price had risen to $50 and by 1987, it was $125 per pound. By this decade there was also a newer manufacturing procedure in place in the Orient that allowed for the mass production of ivory carvings for the first time. This, in turn, led to a rising demand in Asia and an increase in poaching in Sub-Saharan Africa. From 1979 to 1987, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan, (in that order,) were the primary buyers of raw ivory.

The herd population increased during the first few decades of the twentieth century; especially during World War I and II when the world powers were too busy killing one other to hunt elephants. But then the wars ended  and after a few more peaceful decades during which these same African countries were engaged in fighting for their own independence from European control the herds began to be overhunted again mostly by rich, white hunters in search of safari trophies. While African elephants have been hunted for several centuries, the mass killing of elephant herds as a business started in the 1970s. By the end of the 1970’s it was obvious that something had to be done so the first world ban on elephant ivory was put in place and it seemed a fairly successful ruling until a resurgence in poaching occurred in the 1980’s.

By all estimates, the elephant population in Sub-Saharan Africa decreased from about 1.2 million to 600,000 animals in the 1980’s. Kenya alone lost almost all of its wild elephant herds to poachers during this decade. By 1986, approximately 75% of all raw ivory for sale on the international market had originated from illegal sources –amounting to the tusks of 89,000 elephants. Furthermore, sanctions imposed on smugglers were not nearly severe enough to stop the poaching from occurring. For example, a truck owner was fined only the equivalent of $3,000 for transporting 2 tons of illegal ivory to an East African port.

Threatened with extinction again in the 1980’s, elephant ivory was banned from international trade by the 1989 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) but there were also two sanctioned sales of ivory stocks to China and Japan in 1999 and again in 2007. And sadly in November 2002, delegates from both the United Nations and the United States attending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Chile agreed to ease the 13 year old global ban on ivory by allowing one-time exemptions to Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to sell off tens of millions of dollars’ worth of ivory culled from elephants who had died of natural causes in their national parks although the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe were denied their request to do the same. The UN delegation heartily endorsed this agreement while the country of Kenya begged them to reconsider their position. Many delegates were horrified by the lift on the ban warning that the glut of ivory on the far-eastern market would rekindle international poaching endeavors once again. Teresa Telecky, a delegate representing the US Humane Society at that time aptly predicted that the ‘legal sales of ivory would revive the previously dormant black market for ivory.” And she was right.

Carl Safina, an environmental writer, blamed the recent rebound in elephant poaching after years of progress in the 1990s and early 2000s on the UN and US delegations as well. After passing an ivory ban in 1989, CITES delegates led by the UN and US delegations voted to relax the rules again  in 2008, allowing previously stockpiled ivory to be sold in China. This provided a legitimate cover for illegal ivory smugglers, and according to Safina, “up to 90 % of ivory sold in China now comes from newly- killed elephants.”

At the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, Joyce Poole co-director of Elephant Voices stated that Sub-Saharan Africa had sustained “its worst year yet.  More than 7% of all its wild elephants were killed in 2013 alone- and that translates to 40, 000 elephants. And now anyone with a decent rifle can join in the hunt. Terrorist groups like al- Shaaab working in Kenya out of Somalia, The Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as the Janjaweed of the Darfur region in Western Sudan have all taken to poaching ivory and opened new trade routes in order to finance their operations. And if that were not bad enough, the military in certain African countries has turned to poaching in order to subsidize personal endeavors as well.

In August, 2013, M23 rebels accused government soldiers from the DR Congo of selling guns to elephant poachers. My sources tell me it was common knowledge in the area at that time. And the best one, in September 2012, soldiers serving in the Ugandan Army (Ugandan Peoples Defense Force) who had been assigned to protect the eastern section of the DR Congo were accused of killing 22 elephants in the Garamba National Park using a helicopter to gain access to the herd. It was determined that 15 of the 22 animals had been “expertly” shot in the head from up above. The Ugandan soldiers denied these allegations but the park rangers were convinced it was the Ugandan army stating that “the UPDF operated the only helicopter that flew over the park.”

And in the End….

When the tusk of one African elephant can earn an African poacher a year’s salary desperate men resort to killing elephants in order to feed their families. So what will it take to save the elephant? Whether the African elephant herds can survive in spite of smaller home ranges, climate change, and poachers remains to be seen but this will only happen if the world comes together in an organized way to create a viable plan to save them. It is true that terrorists now threaten the herds but even if they disappeared tomorrow the wild African elephant would still be well on its way to extinction. There must be an international plan in place before things like human encroachment and climate change even begin to  jeopardize the elephants’  existence. If not, how will we ever explain to our children that we stood by and watched as the mighty African elephant disappeared from the face of the Earth? It’s good to be back.

Kat Nickerson                         Kingston, RI                                                    December 11, 2013

Accused Elderly Witches in Africa: The Logic of Misfortune

12 Jul

MZee

Belief in the spirit world of the ancestors has withstood colonialism, missionaries, organized religion, revolution, independence, and modernization throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa. Common beliefs about witchcraft and witches have been passed down from one generation to the next for centuries and in the countries of Kenya and Tanzania everyone knows that:

Witches use the power of our ancestors against us
Witches have grey hair and red eyes.
Death comes to those who have been bewitched
A young person cannot die unless he/she had been bewitched
Never look a witch in the eye.

But lately these long-held convictions about witches and witchcraft have become particularly evident as village mobs use them to target the elderly and justify killing them in heinous ways from poisoning to burning in order to stop the evil juju (magic) from destroying the village’s good fortune. Daughters and sons as well as immediate family accuse elderly men and women of witchcraft in order to cash in on their inheritances that much sooner. And Africa is not the only continent that had has engaged in the reoccurrence of witch hunts. The countries of New Guinea, India, and Mexico have also killed their fair share of witches in the past few years.

Europe also contended with its own obsession with witches. For three hundred years (1450-1750) countries in Europe did their best to eradicate the presence of witches in their lives by conducting 100,000 witchcraft trials where a good half of these led to the execution of the ‘witch’. Even back then 75 % of all those convicted were women. While in the countries of Hungry Denmark and England 90% were women. Yet in all fairness, 90% were men in Iceland and another 50% were men in Estonia and Finland.

But here is a timeline of recent witch killings in Africa alone and these were only the more sensationalized cases. Remember, for every reported incidence authorities suspect that are at least ten more elderly residents who suddenly go missing and their disappearances are not reported to the local police.

July 5, 2013 – Kenya, police report that at least 20 elderly people killed monthly in Kilifi County on account of witchcraft allegations.
May 10, 2013- Zimbabwe, two elderly women accused as witches die after drinking a potion forced upon them by a local healer
March 30, 2013 – Zambia, two elderly people identified as witches axed to death. Woman (63) axed to death by her nephew and man ( 89) by his son
Feb.12, 2013- Kenya, 11 elderly residents identified as witches burned to death by a Kisii mob
June 2012- Mozambique, 60 cases of violence against elderly connected to witchcraft reported in first quarter of 2012.
June 2011, Mozambique, 20 elderly people identified as witches killed between the years 2010- 2011.
June 2009 – Kenya, 5 elderly suspected of witchcraft (two men and three women) burned to death in Kisii in front of the entire village. (There is a video of this on YouTube.)
March 2009- Gambia, 1,000 villagers most of whom were elderly rounded up by police, army, and President Yahya Jammeh’s personal guard then made to drink potions which made them very ill and several died, all because it was claimed that president’s aunt died on account of witchcraft.
May 2008 – Kenya, killing of 11 elderly suspected of witchcraft ( eight women, three men) in Kisii.
April 2003- Uganda, 1 man beheaded because of suspected witchcraft.
June 2001- DR Congo, 800 alleged witches reported killed in the dry region of the Congo
May 2000- Ghana & South Africa, several hundred woman killed by mobs in refugee camps accused of being witches.
1998-1994- Tanzania, 5,000 people killed in witch hunts over four years ( Amnesty International) 80% were elderly women killed by young men between the ages of 16-35.
1988- 1970- Sukumaland, Tanzania, 3,072 accused witches were killed in Sukumaland more than two-thirds of the total witch killings for Tanzania. Approximately 80% were women between 50 and 60 years of age

Finding witches and removing them for the good of the community was a tribal affair even in colonial Kenya. In the famous Wakamba Witch-killing Trials of 1931-1932 , Mwaiki, a Kamba woman was killed in 1931 by tribal leaders and members of the ruling council of her tribe after they established the fact that she had bewitched another woman in the village. The case was known as Rex v. Kumwaka s/o of Mulumbi and 69 Others, and tried in the Supreme Court of Kenya. Sixty of the original seventy defendants were sentenced to death. Their death sentences were ultimately commuted by the Governor of Kenya but the defendants were sentenced to prison terms instead. In their defense the men maintained that as leaders of the tribe they had the legal right to identify and remove witches for the good of the community by killing them in the traditional way.

 Might this be caused by poverty?

But what is responsible for causing this recent resurgence in the preoccupation with witchcraft and the need to rid the community of witches? According to Jenni Irish in her article, Massacre. Muthi, and Misery: Women and Political Violence (1993), in regions where the belief in witchcraft is entrenched accusations of witchcraft and witch hunts escalate in communities under stress. Communities under threat seem to revert back to long-held superstitions.”

In his report , Poverty and Witch Killing – 2005, Review of Economic Studies, Edward Miguel, used rainfall variations to estimate the impact of what he called ‘ income shocks’ on murders in rural Tanzania. He found that extreme rainfall ( drought or flood) led to a large increase in the number of witch killings (elderly woman killed by either relatives or mob violence) but no other types of murders. He claims that poverty and violence go hand in hand due to poor harvests and famines and determined that there were twice as many of this type of murder in years with extreme rainfall as in other years. Kenya’s unemployment rate rose to a staggering 40% in 2013 compared to a mere 12% in 2006. As of 2013, 16 million Kenyans had no formal employment and 70% of those who are employed are underpaid. (United Nations Development Program , 2013). According to Mr. Kenneth Kamto deputy governor, Kalifi County there are three reasons why young men kill witches: lack of education, dire poverty, and lack of employment.

 Is  this  a gender issue?

Watch any woman in rural Kenya and you will be exhausted just watching her perform her many duties. Village women build the houses, plant the crops, tend the gardens, cook the meals, care for the children, and operate their own businesses on the side yet are still considered the property of their husbands and any profits they make are turned over to their husbands. There is a wise saying about Kenyan women. “Give a Kenyan man a few shillings and he will piss it away. Give a Kenyan woman the same amount and she will start her own business doubling her money in a week.”

Men have control over women except for widows. Older women living alone, making their own decisions, owning their own homes, controlling their own money and resources may make the men of the village somewhat jealous at first but then their belief in witchcraft could very well taint their logic. It could cause them to think: “ Here is a woman living by herself healthy and prosperous at an age where there are not that many old people alive due to hardship and disease especially the AIDS epidemic.” Now if you were a young man with no one over thirty in your immediate family you might find it odd that here is a woman clearly more than double that age making out better than anyone else in the village. It might make you mad especially if you were not doing all that well yourself. ( 80% of Kenya’s unemployed population is between 15-34 years of age.) And so at some point you would probably ask yourself; What could account her good luck? Remember most of the elderly killed in African witch hunts are women.

And there are not that many older people alive in Kenya to begin with where life expectancy for women throughout the country is 57 years of age (World Bank,2012) especially in the rural villages because they would be the age of the first group of AIDS-related deaths starting in 1981 and prior to the distribution of free anti-retroviral medications. Their loss is very evident in the current demographics for Kenya, 85% of all Kenyans are less than 35 years of age that figure does not leave much room for a large elderly population. (United Nations Development Program , 2013) So even getting to see a very old person in your village might be a rare sight.

Could traditional healers be to blame?

Most village healers cure their patients by placing the blame for the illness or the misfortune on someone else rather than something else and seek retribution or retaliation for their client. They also receive hefty payment for their services? So who is the safest person to blame in this situation certainly not a real witch? Well it’s best if it is someone who would not be able to retaliate and someone who looks the part? Want to make sure your client is satisfied and pays on time- then accuse the elderly. According to statements made by the woman and men currently residing in the few Rescue Centers across East Africa many of them were identified as witches by traditional healers in their villages- some of whom urged the mob to come for them.

And what about the real witches like the ones who live in the mountains above Kitui? The ones none of us mention but everyone knows exist- the ones able to inflict the real damage. No one accuses them of anything or would dare mention their names out loud and no mobs of young boys hunt them down or burn them in the village square. Why not? It’s because these men, and they are all men, have the real power and the knowledge to use it. We all know about them but the real wa’ganga truly scare us and have yet to be mentioned in any articles regarding witchcraft I’ve seen so far. After all the accounts I have read on individual witch burnings not one witch stood up and cursed the people trying to kill her. Now don’t you find that a bit odd if she really was a witch? What would she have to lose? But we all know what the real wa’ganga would do in the same situation and that is why they are left alone.

And then there are religions such as Islam and Christianity who have done an exceptional job of introducing the idea of the devil and evil into the previously neutral idea of African magic (juju) and in creating a lucrative business by charging exorbitant fees to perform exorcisms or cleanse witches. Not only are these victims abused by family and neighbors but exploited by the same religious organizations that profess to love them.

Although police throughout East Africa seem to be trying to stop these witch killings more elderly will die until this craziness has finally been made to stop. Hopefully more Rescue Centers will be opened in all of the rural counties in Kenya and Tanzania giving these poor souls a place to go where they will not be harmed. Imagine defying the odds by living for so long in such a harsh environment only to have your eyes gouged out and your hands chopped off by the very people you once raised only because your hair has turned white and the smoke from the fire caused your eyes to become red- now that is the real tragedy here. I suspect that most elderly men and women accused of witchcraft really die of broken hearts.

Kat Nickerson                                            Kingston, Rhode Island      USA

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