Progress on labor rights in the city of Mombasa sets a precedent for the rest of the country.

MOMBASA, Kenya – One of the first tests of Kenya’s progressive new labor law began slowly.

First, piles of trash formed outside restaurants and shops here in Kenya’s island city. Then traffic jams brought downtown Mombasa to a standstill when, after two agonizing months without a paycheck, most of the city’s 2,600 public workers went on strike in protest.

Three years ago, such organized action would have been illegal in Kenya. But a clause in Kenya’s new 2010 constitution explicitly guarantees workers the right to organize, bargain collectively—and to strike.

And so, when Mombasa officials reacted to the strike by going to court to force workers back to their jobs, the judge ruled in favor of the workers. In a matter of days, Mombasa’s city employees were back to work with pay after officials scrambled to fix the glitches in the county’s new payroll system that had caused the problem.

As workers across Kenya look to benefit from their progressive constitution, Mombasa’s public sector may serve as a model for what the new standards can accomplish.

Read the full article as it appeared at GlobalPost.

A Maasai woman collects her papers before voting in Ilngarooj, Kajiado County, Maasailand, on March 4, 2013 during the first nationwide elections since the violence-wracked polls five years ago. (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

While the Westgate investigation simmers, Kenyan women protest a more systematic type of violence.

NAIROBI, Kenya – Two weeks before the shooting at Westgate mall, a scandal erupted within Nairobi’s political scene. The city’s governor, a man, delivered a slap to the face of a leading female parliamentarian Rachel Shebesh. It was caught on video and immediately made national news.

But reactions to the incident revealed Kenyan society remains divided in how it perceives of acts of violence against women. Some say Shebesh deserved the slap for becoming confrontational with the governor. Others say it was an unprovoked act of physical violence that should be prosecuted as an assault.

The division is stark: Many men and some women in Nairobi fall into the former category, but advocates for women’s rights say the incident highlights how violence against women continues to permeate Kenyan society.

“Men make jokes that you have to discipline a woman so she knows that he loves her. And we treat it as a joke,” said Helen Macharia, 70. “We need to start treating it as it is—abuse.”

Read the full story as it appeared at GlobalPost.

To single out Chinese companies for entering into shady business in the DRC is to miss a fundamental point: Western firms have been at it for centuries, and still are.

Last January I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to research Sicomines, China’s controversial $6.5 billion megadeal in which Chinese companies will construct roads, schools and hospitals in exchange for mining and untold billions of dollars worth of copper and cobalt with Congo’s state mining agency.

On a sunny morning in the south-eastern mining city of Lubumbashi, I called a Congolese official to pose some hard questions about the deal – particularly, what happened to the $350 million ‘signing bonus’ that was handed over by the Chinese. But I hardly got a word in before his response betrayed his fear as to the more sensitive concern on his mind: “Is this about COMIDE?”

It wasn’t, of course. But perhaps it should have been, because the corruption scandal that burns hottest among Congolese officials today has nothing to do with the Chinese. In 2009, the International Monetary Fund started a $551 million loan to improve the DRC’s business climate through a series of projects. As a condition of the loan, Congo’s government would have to make all its mining contracts and transactions public.

So it must have come as a surprise to the IMF when Bloomberg revealed the DRC had sold its 25% stake in a copper mining venture called COMIDE SPRL – a trade the Congolese government hadn’t disclosed. The IMF responded to the news by refusing to renew the loan, meaning the DRC will essentially forfeit an incredible $225 million because a few Congolese officials didn’t want the world to know what they were up to.

Read the full story as it appeared at Think Africa Press. 

By Jacob Kushner And Jason Straziuso

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The Sept. 21 terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall produced a raft of questions that haven’t always had clear, complete answers. The answers to some questions about the attack have changed over time. Other questions haven’t yet been fully answered.

How many attackers were there? How many hostages? Were there any hostages at all? The Associated Press attempts to define what is known and not known about the deadly mall attack.

Read the full AP article as it appeared at Bloomberg Businessweek.

A giraffe eats a food pellet from the mouth of a foreign visitor at the Giraffe Centre, in the Karen neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The risk to the country’s tourism was one of the first concerns expressed by officials during the initial days of the Westgate Mall siege, but tourists continue to fly to Kenya for safaris and beach vacations seemingly despite a number of foreigners being killed in last week’s attack. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

By JACOB KUSHNER

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — When Ohio resident Bill Haynes heard about the shooting at Westgate Mall by Islamic extremist gunmen last month, he considered canceling his upcoming 17-day safari to Kenya and Tanzania.

“You can’t help but be concerned,” said Haynes, 67. “Here’s a place we’re going to be in about five days and there are some terrorists shooting the place up. That would cause anybody to give some pause.”

Acting on advice from a friend in Nairobi, Haynes went through with his trip except for a stop at Lamu, a coastal city near Somalia where a French woman was kidnapped in 2011.

The risk to tourism was one of the first concerns officials expressed after the attack that left at least 67 dead including 18 foreigners. Tourism generates 14 percent of Kenya’s GDP and employs 12 percent of its workforce, according to Moody’s Investment Services and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Moody’s predicts the attack will cost Kenya’s economy $200 million to $250 million in lost tourism revenue, estimating it will slow growth of Kenya’s GDP by 0.5 percent. Kenya’s 2012 GDP was $41 billion.

Read the full story as it appeared at the Associated Press.

As Africa welcomes more Chinese migrants, a new wariness sets in
In Congo, Chinese are settling in with businesses and bargains that locals love. At one copper smelting plant, Chinese and locals work together but live apart.

LUBUMBASHI, CONGO — Some 6,000 miles away from his home in China, Robin Wei awakes on a cot beneath a white mosquito net. He gets dressed, opens the door of his bunker, and walks out into the rainy season toward the factory where he works.

Four years ago, Mr. Wei bade goodbye to his wife and daughter in Shanghai and boarded a flight to the heart of Congo’s mineral belt. He lives and works at a Chinese-owned smelting plant that extracts copper from the rich ore, which is then sold for wire and pipes that go into building skyscrapers and cargo ships.

Congo also holds nearly half the world’s known reserves of cobalt. It has vast reserves of high-grade copper, tantalum, and tin. Just 10 years ago, a ton of copper could fetch $1,700 on the world market. Today it goes for about $8,000.

Wei is one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese men and women – as many as 1 million by some estimates – who, at least for now, call Africa home. (Wei goes home to visit his wife and daughter once a year.) China has been investing heavily in Africa for more than a decade, and both China and its migrants are in what could be called a settling-in period as the story of a fast-growing Africa and a rising China unfolds.

Read the full story as it appeared at the Christian Science Monitor. This story was adapted from the new e-book China’s Congo Plan.

 

Buy Now on Amazon

What does China see in the world’s poorest nation? An opportunity for big business. Congo is known for poverty and conflict, but it is home to an enormous wealth of buried minerals such as copper, whose value is rising on the world market. Already, tens of thousands of Chinese men and women have left their families behind to live in Africa to dig and process ore.

Now, two Chinese state-owned companies are opening the biggest mine Congo has ever seen. In exchange, they’re spending billions of dollars to build new roads and modernize Congo’s infrastructure.

But will Chinese mines and roads help transform Congo in a way Western aid and business has not? Or will Chinese businessmen and Congolese officials get rich while the people continue to live in poverty?

In “China’s Congo Plan”, Jacob Kushner takes us street-side to a grand, Chinese-constructed boulevard in Congo’s capital Kinshasa, to a mountain range where Congolese men, women and children dig for minerals with picks and shovels, and to a factory where Chinese immigrants melt aqua-blue rocks into molten copper lava. Two years after China overtook the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner, Kushner brings us inside the world of China’s rise in the continent.

Kushner’s reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and his research was advised by faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. “China’s Congo Plan” was awarded the Grand Prize in the Atavist Digital Storymakers Award for Graduate Longform, sponsored by the Pearson Foundation.