In a nation known for minerals, a controversial crop is on the rise.
Before he started growing weed, Koti spent his days digging holes and tunnels, mining for morsels of gold. He would smoke weed — or bangias he calls it — to overcome his fear of the darkness that he faced underground. As a teen, he saw a tunnel collapse, trapping five fellow miners — only one was rescued. “It’s dangerous,” says Koti, of the illegal minerals trade that many eastern Congolese families depend on. “People were dying.”
The tragedy frightened him, but with no other source of income, he was back at the mine the next day. Then, in 2007, a foreign mining company kicked Koti and the other small-time miners off the land. With no other job, he bought cannabis seeds from a neighbor, planted them and, six months later, harvested a crop of cannabis that measured in the kilos. “I had no other job,” says Koti, who asked that his real name be withheld out of fear of authorities. “So I decided to start growing marijuana.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second-largest nation by area, is known for nefarious trade in copper, coltan, cobalt, tin and other minerals. But now, tens of thousands of Congolese like Koti are setting their sights on a different sort of illegal resource: cannabis. The United Nations estimates that Africa produces 10,500 metric tons of cannabis — a fourth of all the marijuana in the world. Between 27 million and 53 million Africans use the drug, making up about one-fourth of all weed users worldwide.
But while cannabis farming comes without the physical fears that accompany mining, it carries its own share of risks, wrapped in politics from across the Atlantic. Decades of U.S. and international pressure are a key reason why cannabis cultivation is illegal in Congo. In 1961, the U.S. voted in favor of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which added marijuana to the list of drugs that were banned internationally. The way to solve America’s drug “problem” was by pinching off the global supply, or so the thinking went.
Farmers can’t receive international aid to grow an illegal crop. It also leaves them vulnerable to harassment from corrupt police officials.
The penalization of cannabis in Congo is endorsed by the U.S. at a time when many states are decriminalizing the drug at home. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has funded “alternative livelihood” programs to shift Afghan farmers away from cannabis. And in 2005, the U.S. vetoed an international attempt to “reschedule” cannabis as a less dangerous substance — a move that could have opened the doors to deregulation.
On the trail of police who stormed a village, burned down homes, stole livestock – and murdered an 80-year-old man.
One May afternoon along a dirt road in a remote swath of Kenya’s Baringo County lay the remains of an elderly man. Wild animals had eaten his flesh, torn off some of his limbs, and dragged his body – now mostly bones. A purple shawl and a yellow football jersey clung to the skeleton.
Witnesses say nine days earlier, several truckloads of police officers raided their village, burning their huts and stealing their goats. Officers then threw rocks at the elderly man who had tried to escape. They loaded him onto a truck, dumped him by the side of the road and shot him.
Reporting by Al Jazeera corroborates witnesses’ accounts that on May 9, Kenyan police murdered 80-year-old Ekurio Mugeluk and left his body to the wild.
What It’s Like to Be a Refugee in Germany’s Conservative Stronghold
One afternoon, in a plaza in the center of Dresden, a tall man with a fatherly face and glasses insists that our interview be videotaped. Tourists and natives sit on patios eating sandwiches and ice cream as the man’s colleague tries to get the video camera working. An old man in a straw hat approaches me to admire my interview subject. “Just so you know—in anti-Islamic dialogue, he is the No. 1 in Germany! That’s why they call him a Nazi. And he is definitely not a Nazi.”
With the camera finally ready, the man begins his speech, gesticulating as though to a live television audience, even though only a couple curious onlookers are watching. He warns of a surge of radical Islam in Germany. It’s the result, he says, of the masses of Muslim refugees—men in particular—who have arrived here in recent years on the pretense of seeking asylum.
“Islam is used as a legitimization of rape and the willingness to achieve power through terrorism,” he tells me in German through an interpreter. “They have a totally different culture and a totally different attitude toward women and violence.”
The man’s name is Michael Stürzenberger, and he’s one of the better-known figures in a movement called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA. PEGIDA rose primarily in opposition to Germany’s open-door refugee policy. In a calm, matter-of-fact tone, Stürzenberger tells his imaginary audience that the Muslims want to build 100 mosques in Munich. “They want to eliminate Judaism and Christianity,” he says. “They are friendly to the outside. But that is all part of their agenda.”
Within an hour, Stürzenberger’s audience is no longer make-believe: He’s on a stage in the center of the plaza, speaking before a crowd of some 2,500 PEGIDA enthusiasts. They’ve assembled to air their grievances against Islam, liberalism, and the media. They use terms like Lügenpresse (“lying press”), a rallying cry used by the Nazis that recently found its way from Germany to America, in the form of social media posts from certain Donald Trump supporters. “There is a TV crew here from Texas called Infowars,” Stürzenberger tells the crowd. “They are the good ones—they are for Trump. Be nice to them.”
Cornelius said the drive to Arabal would take an hour, but it’s been more like three. Already a full day’s journey from Nairobi, we chanced that by dark we could reach the Arabal river and make it back to the town of Marigat to sleep. But now the sun is inching westward and our car is running out of gas.
This isn’t a place you want to be stranded for the night. Baringo County is in the midst of a war over livestock. A severe drought has forced Pokot herders to drive their cows and goats from the dry flatlands up into the beautiful mountains above Lake Baringo in search of grass. But this land is inhabited by Tugen, and the Tugen are struggling to feed their own livestock as it is.
In central Kenya, grass and vegetation can be a matter of life and death, and not just for the animals. Pastoralists depend upon milk and meat for their livelihoods. Deprived of that income, entire communities can become food insecure. For many families, livestock are their only assets: they have no bank accounts, no land to farm.
Combine those stakes with the fact that experts believe there are 530,000 to 680,000 guns in circulation among civilians in Kenya. Guns have long been traded across Kenya’s porous border with Somalia, but some have recently been traced to Uganda and South Sudan. Most herders who carry them do so for self-defense—to protect their animals from raiders. But others use them to raid.
Some of the Pokot who have crossed into the administrative region of Arabal this year fall into the latter category. Since the drought began late last year, there have been dozens of shootouts between Tugen, Pokot, and the police. Thousands of heads of livestock have been stolen, though just how many thousands is anyone’s guess.
Survivors of these shootouts speak of the Pokot as if they were immune to bullets, as if they were sharpshooters who never missed, as if their ammunition were infinite. But survivors are hard to find.
Read the feature story at Roads & Kingdoms. Reported with Anthony Langat, photos by Will Swanson.
For nearly three days, 61-year-old Tristan Voorspuy watched from his conservancy as the tourist houses on the ridge burned. On Sunday around 11 a.m., Voorspuy rode off, unarmed, nearly four miles into the bush to confront the herders who had set them ablaze. Several agonizing hours passed before air surveillance spotted what appeared to be his horse lying on her side near one of the burnt houses. It wasn’t until nearly dusk that a brave Kenyan conservancy employee made it to the scene and returned with the news: Voorspuy was dead. His body lay in a pool of blood, with bullet wounds to his head and chest, between a badly burned lodge and an empty swimming pool.
“It was revenge,” says Mworia, for the decision by conservancy owners to ask authorities to expel the herders, which they did in violent ways.
Laikipia is located in central Kenya in the heart of the Great Rift Valley. It is home to one of East Africa’s largest concentrations of wildlife, from elephants to rhinos and buffalo to packs of wild dogs. An estimated 86,000 tourists visit each year to explore parts of the 32 vast conservancies and ranches that occupy a third of Laikipia County. Many adore Laikipia because it is so remote, situated far from the more popular safari parks that flood with tourists during the dry seasons.
Over the past seven months, however, the peace for which Laikipia is known has given way to a war over grass. A severe drought that began in the fall of 2016 caused nearly 3 million people in northern Kenya to need emergency food assistance. The lack of vegetation caused herdsmen to drive thousands of cows, goats, and sheep southward from nearby counties to where, quite literally, the grass is greener—on private conservancies and ranches, including Voorspuy’s.
Many of these trespassing pastoralists see Laikipia’s wildlife not as wonders to admire, but as pests. Buffalos trample their cattle; lions devour their sheep. So the herders, some of whom were armed, began to kill the wildlife. In a matter of months, they decimated many of the largest animals that roamed the conservancies.
“Pretty much every wild animal we have has been shot by these herders,” says Sean Outram, manager of Sosian Ranch. Packs of wild dogs—the most endangered large carnivores in East Africa—have been all but wiped out. Dozens of Laikipia’s estimated 5,000 elephants have died in the conflict, as have hundreds of buffalos. Fifteen elephants and at least 12 giraffes were killed on Sosian alone. “Anything that moves has been shot—some of it for the skins, some of it for trophy. Some just because they wanted to shoot it,” says Outram.
There may have been something deeper to the herders’ resentment. Many of Laikipia’s conservancies are owned and managed by white people—Kenyan descendants of British colonialists or immigrants from Europe and other African countries. People like Voorspuy. “The tribesmen who murdered Tristan Voorspuy saw not a farmer whose life had been spent in Africa and who provided employment for scores of local people, but instead just a rich, white interloper on a horse who challenged them on land they demand to claim as their own,” wrote Max Hastings, a former safari tourist of Voorspuy’s, in the Daily Mail. “Unless its government shows the will and means to restore peace to Laikipia, which means expelling this murderous throng of invaders by force of arms, the nation’s future stands at risk, and its priceless wild heritage faces the prospect of near-extinction.”
Read the feature story at Outside Magazine.
In the quarter of a century since, many foreigners arriving in Germany have experienced the warmest of welcomes – but a few have experienced chilling acts of hatred. This series explores how a small minority of ultra-xenophobic Germans has tarnished their nation’s reputation as a haven for the world’s displaced masses. These stories are primarily told through the experiences of immigrants and asylum seekers who survived xenophobic harassment or attacks.
Their stories are the exception to the norm: incidents of violent xenophobia are rare in Germany compared with other countries. Indeed, Germany has welcomed more asylum seekers in recent years than any other European nation – the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and magnitudes more than the far more populous United States. When faced with the largest exodus of people since World War II, none of these nations welcomed refugees as unconditionally as Germany did. It’s precisely because of this reputation that Al Jazeera is taking a hard look at what happens on the occasions when that welcome culture goes awry.
This is the first story in a 7-part series. Read it at Al Jazeera.
Story 2: Ibraimo Alberto, a Mozambican immigrant and child of former slaves, encountered many opportunities in Germany. But he also experienced racism, big and small, in the east and west– including the murder of a friend. Read his story at Al Jazeera.
Story 3: The climate of fear and tension among more recent refugees arriving to Germany reached a climax one afternoon in October 2015 when a 32-year-old German man enticed a four-year-old Bosnian boy named Mohamed away from his family and abducted him. Read the story at Al Jazeera.
Story 4: On a cold night last year, some 70 Germans, mostly men, surrounded a bus of refugees in the small town of Clausnitz and chanted at them to “go home”. On the bus were 15 asylum seekers from Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan. Their hostile reception by protesters who blocked their path made international headlines, reinforcing stereotypes of small-town Germans as racist and blemishing Germany’s so-called “welcome culture.” Neither the refugees nor the demonstrators wanted this. But then, neither had a choice. Read the story at Al Jazeera.
Story 5: On Halloween night, Abu Hamid went into the kitchen to grab some food when he noticed sparks of light outside the window. Sensing danger, he and his roommates rushed out of the kitchen just as a booming explosion shook the house, shattering the windows and sending pieces of glass into one man’s face. Local police had failed to see a connection between a series of right-wing protests against refugee housing shelters. It wasn’t until news outlets as far away as Berlin began pressuring authorities to take action that Germany’s federal prosecutor took up the case. In a dramatic SWAT-style raid, federal and state police arrested five suspects believed to have formed an organised anti-refugee militia. Read the story, Escaping Aleppo only to encounter terrorism in Germany, at Al Jazeera.
Story 6: A lawyer and his family fled death threats in Pakistan, so they flee to Germany for safety. Instead, their building is attacked–firebombed–by right-wing Germans. Khan wondered whether Germany would accept their asylum applications, and allow them to stay. “Tomorrow, I don’t know what will happen,” Khan said. “Maybe Germany will say, ‘Out!'” In fact, it did. Read the full story at Al Jazeera.
Story 7: Each week in Dresden, a group of refugees and Germans gather at a nondescript cafe hidden from view, pushed back from the street. The cafe provides a safe space for them to mingle with the locals to chat, practise their language skills, and sip tea and juice. It’s one of many spaces that have popped up across Germany to welcome refugees, help them with their asylum applications, teach them German, or just for engagement.
But this particular space, known as the “international cafe”, rests in an uncanny location. Dresden, the capital of Saxony, is a stronghold for Germany’s anti-immigrant politics. Each week, thousands of protestors chant that refugees should “go home” and denounce what they see as the Islamisation of Germany. Read the full story at Al Jazeera.
On the run from the armed cattle rustlers of rural Kenya
On a hot morning in May, Wilson Kemei stands with an old Soviet rifle in his hands, ready to protect the hundreds of people taking refuge in a tiny, makeshift camp in Baringo county. They have fled there after gunmen shot and killed their neighbours in January.
Six years ago, Kemei was recruited to the Kenya Police Reserve (KPR), a ragtag militia whose members wear mismatching uniform – a camouflage jacket here, green army trousers there, with toes poking out of rubber sandals. They receive as little as a single day of training before being handed a gun, weapons like the wooden-stock SKS rifle clutched by Kemei.
“It’s not good,” says Kemei, 41, of the malfunctioning weapon. “You have to cock it one bullet at a time.”
The reservists are tasked with carrying out the work that Kenya’s police and armed forces have been unable to do: fighting off armed bandits who are terrorising Baringo county and other parts of central Kenya as they steal livestock and shoot anyone who gets in their way.
Once you’ve read about the problem, check out the solution: Seeds of Green: As drought kills Kenya’s livestock, some herders are fighting hunger by growing their own grass. By Anthony Langat and me for U.S. News & World Report.
Kenya has become a safe haven for scores of refugees fleeing war and famine in neighbouring states. But that sense of sanctuary doesn’t always stand true if you’re young, vulnerable and gay. In secret hideaways and temporary homes, LGBT refugees are being forced yet again to hide their true selves, instead of walking out into the world with pride.
In the aftermath of disaster, Haitians ask what makes a city.
Port-au-Prince was decimated when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. Buildings crumbled, the parks turned into tent camps for the displaced, rubble blocked the streets. But as the years progressed, from the balconies of Pétionville you could see something new taking shape in the distance, several miles north. Settlements began to appear on a barren landscape, shacks and tents spreading over dusty plains.
No land titles were given, and there was no guarantee of how long people would be allowed to stay. Nonetheless, desperate for space, tens of thousands of Haitians flocked to the area, arriving from the camps that had erupted throughout the capital. Some came from places that were hardly affected by the earthquake at all but who’d been living indebted to landlords, paying hundreds of dollars in rent each year, in a country where most people live on less than $2.50 a day. Establishing a foothold here was a way to become homeowners for the first time, and to finally escape the noise and hustle and violence of the cities they found so suffocating.
Before the earthquake, the only people who visited these remote mountains did so to pray. It offered a quiet reprieve from the city, a place to be alone in nature. They referred to it as Canaan, the biblical promised land where Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, the land of milk and honey. “This Canaan has the same history,” one Nazarene pastor, who was among the first to move there, told me. “This is our honey.”
Honey or not, this emerging city is the earthquake’s most visible legacy: an enormous expanse of winding dirt roads lined with houses, scattered among which are thousands of shops and markets. Into this labyrinth, an army of NGOs, charities, and international agencies have arrived to infuse Canaan with public parks and plazas, drinking water and money for schools—things the Haitian government has neglected to provide. But with these gifts come tension: Suddenly there are resources to compete for, and an incentive to be the one in charge of allocating them.
NGOs aren’t the only force complicating Canaan’s fate. Haiti’s government itself has been playing catch-up, struggling to create a social contract between people and their government. As to which comes first—the rights or responsibilities of citizens, the roads or the taxes—the state and the citizens don’t easily agree. And if that weren’t enough, Canaan’s very existence is being threatened by a man who claims that the land upon which it was built was taken from him illegally—a claim Haiti’s government has every incentive to ignore.
In Canaan, as in any city, people—the rich and the poor, the powerful and weak, the complacent and the desperate—were destined to get in one another’s way.