NAIROBI–Barack Obama is visiting his father’s homeland for the first time as president, and he could hardly have chosen a more critical moment. Kenya was once a peaceful nation known for safaris and beaches. But it has, sadly, evolved into something resembling a police state—the result of the Kenyan government’s response to a recent onslaught of terrorist attacks.
As Kenyan security forces attempt to defend their nation, terrorism analysts and human rights activists say they’re going about it all wrong—inflicting collective punishment on Muslims and clamping down on press. Now, one very big question remains: Can President Obama convince Kenya’s leaders to take action on terrorism and human rights?
Millions of Kenyans are celebrating the long-awaited return of Barack Obama, who on Friday will visit his father’s homeland for the first time as president to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi.
Obama’s visit will focus on economic development and counterterrorism efforts within the country against the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, but it comes amid widespread abuse by Kenyan security forces of Muslims, refugees, and journalists. This has raised worries among rights advocates that he risks lending undue legitimacy to one of Africa’s more unscrupulous regimes.
Obama is visiting a country whose human rights record has taken a notably downward turn. Following years of steady attacks from al Shabaab militants within Kenya, including an assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013 that killed 67 and the massacre of 147 people at a university in Garissa earlier this year, local security forces are said to consistently engage in extrajudicial activity in the name of fighting terrorism, and are accused of harassing journalists and undermining press freedoms.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Cynthia, an LGBT activist in Burundi, was thrown in jail and beaten up by police after she gave a radio interview defending the rights of gays and lesbians. Upon her release she fled to Kenya.
Raj, a gay teenager from Kampala, Uganda, was found kissing a boy in his high school locker room and the principal called an all-school assembly to shame him. The principal then ordered teachers to beat him. Afterward Raj’s father drove him to jail and asked police there to further punish him. After several days of beatings, the police released Raj, and he too fled to Kenya.
Mbonimpa, a gay man who fled Congo’s civil wars for Kenya as a boy, was reported to police at Kakuma refugee camp by his own mother. Ineligible for asylum, he’s living in Nairobi where he hopes no one will learn of his sexual identity.
Gay Ugandans fleeing a wave of homophobia have been covered widely in the international media. But LGBT people are fleeing countries across East and Central Africa, where religious crusaders are pushing forward anti-gay laws.
Over the course of four months, GroundTruth interviewed and stayed in touch with LGBT refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Ethiopia — all countries where anti-gay ideology is on the rise.
Going where few Western reporters dare, Sudanese journalists document the relentless fight in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains
In rural Africa, time is measured in seasons—planting season and harvest season, rainy season and dry. In South Kordofan, there is another: bombing season. It’s the period roughly between December and July when Khartoum sends troops, rockets and warplanes to attack civilians in their homes, markets and schools.
Jacob Kushner and Anthony Langat
NAIROBI, Kenya — Two years after Ugandan legislators proposed a law that would condemn active homosexuals to death, a precedent is spreading throughout the region.
In Kenya, one political party is now working to do the same after drafting a lengthy anti-homosexuality bill that it hopes Kenyan lawmakers will soon enact.
“For our local citizens it proposed life sentences. For the foreigners we propose stoning to death,” said Vincent Kidaha, President of Kenya’s Republican Liberty Party. “There is no African, no Kenyan who is born homosexual. It’s not natural.”
Decades of war have divided Somalia into three regions, each with its own government. What they share are the challenges to prosecuting sexual assault. In south-central Somalia, which includes Mogadishu, Somalia’s largest city, survivors of sexual violence have particularly scant hope for justice. The U.N. counted 1,700 rapes between January and November 2013 in Mogadishu; the total number of rape convictions that year in all of south-central Somalia was two.
“You’re more likely to be arrested for reporting than are your perpetrators,” says Antonia Mulvey, founder and executive director of NGO Legal Action Worldwide, an NGO that works to prevent sexual assault and improve justice outcomes for survivors. “The climate for impunity is very large.”
Today, though, Mulvey and her organization think they’ve found the solution: a one-stop center where victims can report their crime to police while also receiving medical care, legal counsel, and psychological support. Though viewed as crucial to finding justice for survivors of sexual abuse in Mogadishu, setting up the center will be a tall order in the region, where there is barely any law enforcement, a history of abuse of women, and a tradition that mandates rape be dealt with by local clan elders rather than the official justice system.
But a model for success is 450 miles away in the city of Hargeisa, the capital of a region of Somalia known as Somaliland.
Award-winning freelance journalist Jacob Kushner talks about his work in Caribbean, East and Central Africa
Kushner said he turns away from the idea of the ‘courageous’ journalist who flocks to the scene of the danger or major breaking news.
“When you’re one of 50 journalists standing outside a mall in Nairobi and you’re all sitting there not knowing what’s going on, pretending to be authoritative, I think the courageous thing is to get out of there, go home to your computer and research Al-Shabaab,” Kushner said. “Find a less sexy but honestly more important way to report the story.”
Read the full Badger Herald article.
Phyllis Omido receives the Goldman Environmental Prize Monday, but the battle for justice is only beginning.
In the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, a rogue lead-smelting factory has left a path of destruction in its wake: at least three dead workers, hundreds of failed pregnancies and stillborns, and more than two dozen children suffering lifelong health effects from breathing in polluted air and stepping in toxic runoff.
The damage might have continued were it not for one Kenyan woman who fought to close down the plant and save an entire community—even amid death threats and an attempted kidnapping.
Today, 36-year-old Phyllis Omido is being honored with the Goldman Environmental Prize, given each year to six exceptional individuals—one from each continent—who undertake “sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.”
The prize is the beginning of yet another journey for Omido: She plans to use the $175,000 award to sue the government agencies that knew about the problems at the smelting plant but did nothing.
“As long as there is no justice, we will keep pushing,” she says.
Read Omido’s story at TakePart.