When Kenya kills: A family’s quest for justice


Hamisi Athman Suleiman was a hardworking man. Born to a large Muslim family in the rural area of Mtongwe, just south of Mombasa on Kenya’s coast, Suleiman was a daily laborer doing odd jobs in the apartments of the military officers who lived at a naval base a short walk from his home.

On Jan. 11, sometime between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., some of those military officers allegedly murdered Suleiman, 37, leaving his body in the woods.

According to eyewitnesses, interviews with local justice officials and documents from an array of civil rights and government accountability groups — as well as a full review of Suleiman’s court case — indicate he is one of hundreds of Kenyans and refugees who have been killed by Kenyan police and other law enforcement officers in recent years.

Read the full GroundTruth investigation at PRI’s The World.

Kenya’s anti-terror police are inflicting terror of their own


NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan police have fueled the fires of Islamic extremism and may actually be undermining the country’s security in an overzealous attempt to protect it, according to human rights activists and advocates for police reform.

Widespread allegations of police corruption, brutality and arbitrary arrests that target Kenya’s Muslim minority population appeared to inform President Obama’s comments in a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday, part of Obama’s first trip to his father’s homeland since becoming president of the United States.

“What we have found through hard experience — I have shared this with President Kenyatta — is that if you paint any particular community with too broad a brush, if in reaction to terrorism you are restricting legitimate organizations, reducing the scope of peaceful organization, then there can have the inadvertent effect of actually increasing the pool of recruits for terrorism and resentment in communities that feel marginalized,” Obama said.

Read the full GroundTruth story at PRI’s The World.

Did Obama Avoid the Difficult Questions in Kenya?


Till Muellenmeister/Getty

In an age of terrorism, many countries — the United States among them — face a difficult balance between security and civil rights. For Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the fight against al-Shabab is no less than “existential.” But human rights groups here say the way Kenya is fighting terrorists will only cause instability and insecurity in the long run. When Muslims see their peers extorted, or worse, by the police, the natural response is anger. A few may even be drawn into the arms of the terrorists, says Mgandi Kalinga, an investigator with local human rights group Haki Africa. A few is all it takes. And so, “the security situation in Kenya is compromised by the government itself,” Kalinga said.

More than any other U.S. president in history, Barack Obama has the chance to shape the course of Kenya’s fight against al-Shabab, not just because of his Kenyan ancestry, but because the United States has helped fund it and train those who are carrying it out. His visit to Kenya over the weekend offered an unprecedented opportunity to influence its parameters.

Did Obama dodge the difficult questions?

Read the full story at OZY.

Can Obama Push Kenya to Take Action on Terrorism and Human Rights?


President Barack Obama reviews a Kenyan Defense Force honor guard in Nairobi. (Photo: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

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?

Read the full story at TakePart.

Obama Heads to a Kenya in Turmoil on His First Visit to the Country as President

VICE Magazine

VICE News.

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.

Read: VICE

In Africa, being gay makes you a target for extortion


Eric Gitari, the head of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, one of the main (and only) Kenyan LGBT advocacy groups, poses for a portrait in the NGLHRC offices. Jake Naughton/The GroundTruth Project

By Anthony Langat & Jacob Kushner

NAIROBI, Kenya — LGBT advocates in Kenya say blackmail and extortion of gay people is on the rise, enabled by the fact that homosexuality is both unaccepted and illegal here.

Read the full article at GroundTruth.

Guns, knives and rape: The plight of a gay Ethiopian refugee in Kenya


Jake NaughtonGroundTruth Project

Chased away from his home country by gun-wielding homophobic men only to be raped in Kenya and abused by police there, Ibrahim, a 33-year-old gay refugee from Ethiopia, tells his story.

Read the full article and see photos by Jake Naughton at GroundTruth.

Inside the nightmares of Africa’s LGBT refugees


Raj, a gay Ugandan who arrived in Kenya on his 20th birthday, sits in a park in downtown Nairobi. Jake Naughton/The GroundTruth Project

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.

Read the full story at GroundTruth or the Huffington Post. 

Going where few Western reporters dare, Sudanese journalists document the relentless fight in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains


Nuba Reports

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.

Read the full story at Vocativ.

In Somalia, a new approach to justice for rape survivors


Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Read the full article at TakePart.

This article was featured on the Huffington Post Honor Roll and by the Solutions Journalism Network, which named the piece among the Best Solutions Journalism of 2015.

The Single Mom Who Shut Down a Toxic Plant Readies for Round Two: Making Them Pay


Jacob Kushner / TakePart

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. 

BURNED OUT: World Bank Projects Leave Trail Of Misery Around The Globe

GlobalPost/GroundTruth, Huffington Post, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

By Jacob Kushner, Anthony Langat, Sasha Chavkin and Michael Hudson

Gladys Chepkemoi was weeding potatoes in her garden the day the men came to burn down her house.

After her mother-in-law told her that rangers from the Kenya Forest Service were on their way, Chepkemoi strapped her 1-year-old son on her back and hurried to her thatched-roofed home. She grabbed two tins of corn, blankets, plates and cooking pans, and hid in a thicket.

She watched, she said, as the green-uniformed rangers set her house ablaze.

After they were gone, she came out of the thicket to see what was left.

“What used to be my home was now ashes,” she said.

The young mother is one of thousands of Kenyans who have been forced out of their homes since the launch of a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. Human rights advocates claim government authorities have used the project as a vehicle for pushing indigenous peoples out of their ancestral forests.

They are not alone.

In developing countries around the globe, forest dwellers, poor villagers and other vulnerable populations claim the World Bank — the planet’s oldest and most powerful development lender — has left a trail of misery.

Read the full story of the World Bank’s role in the displacement of the Sengwer at the Huffington Post or at GroundTruth. Jacob Kushner and Anthony Langat reported this story for GroundTruth. It is part of a larger project by the ICIJ that found the World Bank has displaced an estimated 3.5 million people across the globe in the name of “development.” 

UPDATE: This investigation won the 2015 Online News Association Award for Investigative Journalism.

‘Playing Straight into the Hands of al-Shabab’

Foreign Policy Magazine


Kenya’s counterterrorism approach following the Westgate Mall attack is crude — and may actually be spawning more violence.

NAIROBI, Kenya — At around 7:30 p.m. on March 31, three blasts went off in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood. The explosions, which police say were caused by grenades, killed six and injured around a dozen civilians congregating at two local cafes in the suburban area, which is dominated by ethnic Somalis.
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The bombings were only the latest in a spat of terror attacks following the September 2013 siege of Westgate Mall by Somali gunmen, which left 67 people dead. In December, a grenade blast killed four people in Eastleigh. In late March, unidentified gunmen entered a church near the coastal city of Mombasa, killing six. In all, nearly a dozen attacks that bear the marks of al-Shabab, a jihadist group based in Somalia that was responsible for the Westgate attack, have rattled Kenya since last fall.

Police are taking a high-profile approach as they respond to these attacks, detaining thousands of Somalis and Kenyan citizens of Somali heritage. But stops and arrests are not based on intelligence. Rather, police officers simply scour ethnic-Somali neighborhoods, sweeping up civilians from the streets.

Terrorism analysts say this sort of policing may actually be making Kenya less safe. As indiscriminate profiling becomes the fabric of security procedures, hundreds of thousands of Kenyan-Somali Muslims — a group from which al-Shabab affiliates are actively attempting torecruit — have something to be angry about. The government’s ethnic-focused, and often brutal, anti-terror tactics thus may be fueling the very attacks they are meant to suppress.

Read: Foreign Policy Magazine

Kenya redefines marriage in a blow to women’s rights


A push by Kenya’s president and male-dominated parliament to overhaul marriage bodes ill for the nation’s wives, socially and economically

NAIROBI, Kenya – President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a new marriage law this week that drastically restricts the rights of women in wedlock.

Human rights advocates here and abroad are condemning the law, which grants men the right to marry a second, third or even fourth wife without the previous wives’ permission. Currently, certain traditions allow men to take multiple wives, but only if he first gains their approval. There is no law that allows women to take multiple husbands.

“Parliament has discovered it has this ability to formulate laws that serve its interest,” said Tom Odhiambo, professor of cultural studies at the University of Nairobi. “Because many (members of parliament) are married to women whose social status and education level is below theirs, they can always go home and say “the Constitution allows me to marry a second wife.”
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After parliament passed the regulation, Kenyans waited for nearly one month to see whether President Kenyatta — who stands accused before the International Criminal Court of committing crimes against humanity during Kenya’s violent 2007-2008 Presidential election — would risk further soiling his human rights image by signing it into law. Christian and Hindu leaders joined human rights advocates in calling on Kenyatta to veto the Act, saying polygamy violates their religious edicts.

Read the full article at GlobalPost.