Fair Trade and other certifications have led to better wages and benefits at some flower farms, but progress is inconsistent.

An employee at Simbi Roses in Thika, Kenya, trims and weeds beds of flowers in a greenhouse. Workers here are now given safety gloves and thorough training, but a recent report revealed workers in some of Kenya’s flower farms still suffer from chemical burns and other injuries on the job. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

THIKA, Kenya — On a bright Tuesday morning in central Kenya, Mark Chirchir paces up and down rows of red and yellow roses. He watches over workers as they seed, plant and water the rose bushes, then clip the stems, strip them of their leaves and bunch them into bouquets for export to Europe and the United States. Production surges around Valentine’s Day and Christmas.

An environmental specialist at the mid-sized flower farm Simbi Roses, Chirchir, 37, remembers an era when workers would sustain injuries on the job — rashes or even eye burns from the spraying of chemical pesticides.

“In the past we used to use very toxic chemicals, but with time we are phasing those out and replacing them with soft chemicals and biological organisms to feed on pests,” he said.

This is one of many improvements in worker protections here in Kenya’s blossoming horticulture sector. Kenya is the world’s fourth largest exporter of cut flowers, employing approximately 100,000 people whose wages directly support an estimated half-million more of their family members.

But not all flower companies here have followed Simbi Roses’ lead by paying workers higher wages, offering more benefits and taking steps to ensure worker safety.

Read the full article as it appeared at GlobalPost.

From a society split between Muslims and Christians comes a model for peaceful political change.

Maria Kashonda pages through her copy of the proposed constitution she helped draft as a member of the Constitutional Review Commission. She says People are putting aside their religious differences to fight for guarantees of rights like education and health, which she says are universal. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

ZANZIBAR, Tanzania – Political divisions in this East African nation are so profound that to achieve some sort of unity may, paradoxically, require dividing the country even further—into as many as three governments within a single state.

That’s the proposal put forth by a group of politicians drafting a new constitution intended to usher in prosperity for all Tanzania’s people, urban and rural, rich and poor. That task appears even more daunting given that Tanzanians are further divided by religion, split between Christians and Muslims and those who are animist or practice local religions.

And yet the one thing nearly everyone in Tanzania agrees on is that religion should have little or nothing to do with the constitutional process.

“Wherever you are, you want good education, health services—these things are universal,” said Maria Kashonda, member of the Constitutional Review Commission. “People are putting aside their religious differences for these.”

Read the full story as it appeared at GlobalPost.

GlobalPost sits down with Superintendent Seline Awinja on gender-based violence and times when “there is no womanhood and no manhood.”

Kenyan law enforcement officers look as several hundred Kenyan protestors march towards the police headquarters on October 31, 2013 in Nairobi to deliver a petition of over a million names demanding justice after men accused of brutally gang raping a schoolgirl were let free. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Seline Awinja, one of Kenya’s highest-ranking female police officers, smiles proudly as she recounts the ranks she’s advanced in her 26 years with the force: From constable to corporal to sergeant to senior sergeant to inspector to chief inspector — and now to superintendent of police for Nairobi’s Njiru district.

Awinja, 46, sits at a desk in a tin hut that serves as her command post. Plainclothes officers enter repeatedly to tell her about a dispute unfolding between armed thugs and a landowner over control over a nearby plot of land.

She fires back at them in Swahili, telling them to “bring their big guns” and hold the peace until a judge can be summoned to arbitrate. “Deal with them like a man,” she yells, and sends them off.

As the US military this year lifts its longtime ban on women in combat roles, a similar debate is unfolding within the Kenya Police. In the United States, female American soldiers and their allies argued the ban limited women’s ability to rise through the ranks into the military’s highest positions. In Kenya, a legacy of female officers serving in only secretarial roles has only partially faded: Today only 11 percent of Kenya’s 73,000 police officers are women, according to a United Nations estimate.

Recently, female police in Kenya have been called upon to staff ‘gender desks’ at local police stations to handle cases of sexual and domestic violence of the sort that Kenya’s male-dominated police force is notorious for failing to take seriously. Kenya made international headlines last month after police in Western Kenya set free three suspects in the gang rape of a woman known as “Liz” rather than investigate or charge them.

GlobalPost sat down with Awinja to ask what drove her to pursue a position of leadership that few of her female counterparts share — and how she approaches her role.

Read the full interview as it appeared at GlobalPost.

Kenyans are abuzz with hope that its newly-discovered resources will enrich the country, but is Kenya prepared to make the most of its natural wealth?

Flaring in the night at a oil site in Turkana County, Kenya. Photograph by DEMOSH via Think Africa Press.

Kenya, a long time outlier in a continent known for its mining and oil, is now facing the prospect of a natural resources boom itself. And Kenyans are abuzz with hope that the country can harness its newfound mineral wealth to propel East Africa’s largest economy even further.

But while these discoveries could provide a significant source of revenue for Kenya, disorganisation within Kenya’s mining ministry, and controversy surrounding one Canadian company in particular, raise concerns that Kenya may be unprepared to regulate and benefit from its forthcoming resource surge.

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

People with albinism in rural Tanzania live in fear of attacks by those who believe their body parts will bring them riches.

Zainab Muhamed’s daughters play in their Dar es Salaam home, where the family fled after unfamiliar men attempted to enter their previous home in southern Tanzania. One year ago, a different group of men arrived here demanding to see one of the daughters, presumably with sinister motives relating to her albinism. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — One October night in Tanzania’s southernmost Mtwara region, a group of men with their faces covered pounded on the wooden door to Zainab Muhamed’s home and told her to open up. They would not say what they wanted — but it was obvious.

Muhamed had just given birth to the second of two daughters with albinism — a genetic abnormality resulting in an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes that makes the bearer appear extremely pale.

Today, many in rural Tanzania still believe that procuring the arm, leg, fingers, skin or hair of an albino person and brewing it into a potion will make them rich. Tanzania’s deep-rooted superstitions about albinos surfaced in 2006 as a wave of violence against them erupted across rural parts of the country.

Since then, “these myths have resulted in 71 documented deaths in Tanzania, 38 attacks including deaths in other African countries, 32 attempted murders with some victims left mutilated in Tanzania and other parts of Africa,” particularly Burundi and Kenya, according to a 2012 report by the albino advocacy group Under the Same Sun.

Read the full article as it appeared at GlobalPost and NBC News.

As the nation grieves, few Kenyans direct their anger toward Somali immigrants here. But that hasn’t stopped police from singling out Somali communities.

A 20-year-old Somali refugee demonstrates the gate to her family’s apartment that a Nairobi police officer threatened to break open before the family paid him a 2,000 Kenyan shilling ($25 US) bribe to leave. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

NAIROBI, Kenya — In the middle of a crowded downtown street stand two hundred men and women, listening to a religious debate between a Muslim cleric and a Christian priest.

The two take turns shouting into a microphone that amplifies their voices to the curious onlookers: ‘The Bible says…’ the priest begins. The cleric responds, “The Koran says…” and so on.

The ritual has become a daily phenomenon as Christians and Muslims come together to discuss their religions here in Eastleigh, the heart of Nairobi’s Somali Muslim community. But this religious debate held a special significance Monday, exactly one month after gunmen including at least one Muslim of Somali heritage began their deadly siege of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.

Read the full story as it appeared at GlobalPost.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — By almost any measure, job prospects for young people in this East African nation should be bountiful.

Tanzania ranks among the world’s 30 fastest growing economies and spends a higher percentage of its GDP on education than all but 26 others. In theory, this should correspond to the rapid creation of new jobs and an abundance of well-educated young people to fill them.

But Tanzania is facing a youth unemployment crisis rivaled by few other nations in the world. In 2012, Tanzania was home to more unemployed 15 to 24-year-olds per capita than 109 other countries. In a survey by the non-governmental organization Restless Development, out of over 1,000 young people across Tanzania, only 14 percent reported working a formal, wage-earning job.

Read the full story at GlobalPost.

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.