A slow life working aboard Kenya’s century-old train from Ground Truth on Vimeo. Produced by Jacob Kushner.
For service workers at the Nairobi Railway, breakdowns and delays limit time-off, and there’s no overtime pay
MOMBASA, Kenya – In its heyday, the Nairobi railway employed some 24,000 people. Day and night, they worked to keep freight and passenger trains running between what is now Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, and the Indian Ocean at the port of Mombasa.
Today, the Rift Valley Railways Consortium employs only 3,000 people. The railway itself has changed little in more than a century since it was built by the British imperial power. Trains still bobble up and down, side to side as they roll along outdated, narrow tracks. Train traffic, derailment and other delays strand cars for hours in the middle of a national park.
In April, the China Road and Bridge Corporation announced plans to replace the historic railway with a new, modern line. Workers will lay a set of standard-width tracks that will allow freight trains to traverse them at much higher speeds. Most workers seem hopeful the new line will attract more tourists and other passengers, and that the influx of customers will translate into higher wages and benefits for the workers, too.
Read the full story and watch the video at GlobalPost
In the nation’s public sector, there are huge disparities between the highest earners and the low. Now, Kenyans are fighting over who should take a cut.
Anthony Langat and Jacob Kushner
NAIROBI, Kenya—Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ignited a nationwide debate over government employee wages this month when he surprised the country by announcing he would reduce his own salary by 20 percent.
The move signaled the beginning of a fierce debate over government wages, which are rising out of control: This year, public sector salaries are expected to eat up 54 percent of all tax revenue and equal 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to cabinet secretary in charge of the Treasury, Henry Rotich.
“The recent growth in public sector wage bill is unsustainable and unacceptable,” Kenyatta said in a March 10 speech that sparked the wage debate. “If we maintain this trend we would be dedicating an ever larger share of the wealth we produce as a country to the remuneration of public servants.”
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
NAIROBI, Kenya —Today marks six months since gunmen trained by the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab stormed a popular shopping mall here, in a siege that left 62 civilians and five Kenyan soldiers dead, and at least 200 others injured.
The victims consisted of both Kenyans and expatriates. Their families and friends remained traumatized by the attack and angered by the government’s response, during which Kenyan soldiers looted the mall, even while bodies remained strewn about.
The Israeli-owned Westgate Mall opened in 2007. It was a popular hangout for Kenyans and expatriates alike until it collapsed during the September 2013 siege. But one group of Kenyans in particular holds a uniquely intimate connection to the mall and the event that destroyed it: These hundreds of Kenyans were employed in the mall’s 80 shops and restaurants, and depended on the mall for their livelihoods.
Their wages, small by western standards, supported their families or paid for their continuing education.
When the gunshots erupted, workers fled side-by-side with patrons. Some hid from the gunmen for upwards of 11 hours before being rescued. In small acts of heroism, some workers led others up or down staircases to safety, or out back doors.
In the aftermath of the attack, some were transferred to other franchise locations owned by their employers. But many lost their jobs entirely.
Six months later, GlobalPost asked mall employees to reflect on how the attack changed their lives and how they are coping with its long-lasting effects.
Read the full story and watch the video at GlobalPost.
Vincent Gallo Kebogo used to work at an ice cream shop called “Mama Mia,” located in the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Six months after the mall was stormed by the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab, Kebogo reflects on the devastating attack and how it has affected his life.
A botched investment by Kenya’s social security agency may delay workers’ retirement benefits, make a Chinese construction firm richer and leave thousands of small landowners with nothing.
By Anthony Langat and Jacob Kushner
NAIROBI, Kenya—This, says Samuel Wambiri, is how corruption can disrupt a life in Kenya.
Ten years ago, the 54-year-old father of three purchased a small plot of land on the outskirts of Nairobi for a modest 315,000 shillings. That’s about $3,700, which Wambiri agreed to pay over 10-years. And upon that land, Wambiri built a home where he and his wife could retire.
But last month, just as Wambiri had finished paying it off, the agency that sold him the land announced some troubling news: Wambiri would have to pay 920,000 shillings, or $10,824 more — four times more than his original investment. That’s because the Nairobi County governor decided Kenya’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which sold the land, needed to build a sewage system and access roads through it at significant cost.
The NSSF announced it would transfer the cost of the utilities to the landowners themselves.
“I was happy that I had finally finished paying for my land,” Wambiri said. “I was looking for somewhere to settle, and I settled.”
But now, Wambiri and an estimated 5,500 fellow small-parcel landowners in Nairobi’s Tassia II neighborhood may be forced to vacate their new land altogether if they don’t find a way to pay the bill.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
An increasingly supportive church and other signs suggest Kenya may be departing from its neighbors in the region by accepting homosexuality.
NAIROBI, Kenya — For years, homosexuality was as unlawful in Kenya as it was in neighboring Uganda or in Nigeria — countries where anti-gay sentiment is growing.
Kenya’s penal code prescribes up to 14 years in prison for men who commit “acts of gross indecency” with other men or for any person who acts “against the order of nature.” It’s the same maximum sentence that existed in Nigeria, and seven years greater than what was until recently the maximum punishment in Uganda.
Uganda’s parliament passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The Ugandan president said on Friday that he plans to sign the bill. President Obama on Sunday condemned the move, and warned “such discrimination could harm its relationship with the United States.”
In January, Nigeria’s president signed a law that also orders that homosexuals be imprisoned for life and even makes gatherings of homosexuals illegal, including those held by advocacy or rights organizations. The law has already led to numerous arrests.
But in Kenya no such attempt has been made to reduce legal protections for gays, and many Kenyans seem increasingly willing to accept homosexuality as a fact of life, or to move beyond political posturing over the subject altogether.
With the United Nations convening in New York next week to debate a new set of global development goals, one Kenyan rights group wants justice reform to have its day in court.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s leading legal rights group Thursday called on Kenya’s government to pressure the United Nations to adopt “justice” as one of its primary global development goals beginning next year through 2030.
Declaring Jan. 30 “Access to Justice Day,” Kituo Cha Sheria (the Center for Legal Empowerment) engaged Kenyans in a televised conference to rally the nation toward what it says is much-needed judicial reform here and around the world.
“A large population of the poor and marginalized are living outside the protection of the law,” wrote the group in a letter urging Kenya’s UN representatives to introduce justice as a new development goal during next week’s meeting the UN’s Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.
The United States spent $2.8 billion to help Haiti rebuild, but the results have been a disaster of a different kind.
By Jacob Kushner
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In the four years since Haiti’s disastrous earthquake, the United States has promised $3.6 billion in aid, at least $2.8 billion of which has already been spent.
Has it helped? GlobalPost examined more than one dozen studies and audits to estimate how much of that money made it through US government and NGO bureaucracies to the ground in Haiti — and what good it did there.
Read the article at GlobalPost.
Thousands sought refuge on the island of La Gonave four years ago. But little help ever arrived, something permanent residents know all too well.
ANSE-A-GALETS, Haiti — To traverse the 13-mile stretch of Caribbean Sea to the island of La Gonave, one must choose between three types of boats, none particularly safe.
First there are the “fly boats,” speed boats with outboard motors that race a dozen people from one side to the other. From time to time they flip over. Few records exist as to how many people survive.
Then there are the two large steel ferries that carry a few hundred passengers slowly across the sea each day. In 1997, one of those ferries sank, killing 200.
Last, there are the sailboats — wooden ships built from hand-carved lumber and pieced together with hammered nails. Their canvas masts are reminiscent of those in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie franchise. They carry everything from rice to dry cement, motorcycles, cars and trucks.
In better times, Haitians travel to and from the 300-square-mile island as a matter of routine, however risky. In times of emergency, like the massive earthquake of four years ago, they come to La Gonave in droves.
In the first 19 days after the earthquake, 630,000 people fled Port-au-Prince, 7,500 of them to La Gonave, according to a 2011 study. Untold thousands more fled there from other earthquake-affected areas. Some NGOs put the total at 20,000, which would mean the island’s normal population of approximately 100,000 increased by between 15 and 20 percent almost overnight.
To feed and house them all would have required a substantial amount of the $9 billion pledged by international governments for Haiti’s recovery. But little of that aid — or the aid allocated by private donors — reached the people of La Gonave, GlobalPost found. Most of the migrants returned to the mainland in the months after the earthquake, leaving permanent residents in a dire state.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.