Controversial Railway Splits Kenya’s Parks, Threatens Wildlife

National Geographic

Andrew Renneisen

As dawn breaks, nine Kenya Wildlife Service rangers dressed in camouflage and brandishing rifles assemble at an airstrip. They are equipped with a Cessna, a helicopter, and a caravan of Toyota Land Cruisers and other SUVs. Their mission: find, tranquilize, and collar Tsavo’s savanna elephants to see how well they traverse a new rail line that has recently split their habitat in two. It is the first time in history that elephants are being collared specifically to study how they interact with human infrastructure.

Read: National Geographic

On the Run

VICE Magazine

Jake Naughton

The plight of Kenya’s LGBT Refugees

 “God has a book of life,” Mugisa told his worshipers. “He remembers your name. But to be written in this book you need to do good.” Mugisa turned to his congregants. “Mulondo, Lujja, Kasule, Nansamba: You want to be able to say, ‘God, I served you when I was in Kakuma camp.’ You want to be able to say, ‘I served you in Uganda. Remember me. This is what I have done, remember me.'”

Mugisa glanced around his congregation of LGBT worshipers, catching the eyes of a few of them. Unable to ignore the trepidation on their faces, he comforted them. “Trust me—one day we will be out of this place.”

Jake Naughton

Honorable Mention (runner-up), 2016 Immigration Journalism Award, The French-American Foundation; Official Nomination, “Outstanding Magazine Article,” 2017 GLAAD Media Awards; Shortlist, 2017 One World Media Print Award.

Read: VICE Magazine

Will LGBT Ugandans Ever Be Free?

Playboy

Photos by Jake Naughton

Inside the Fight for a Queer Country

Just a few years ago, Kampala was a nightmare for LGBTQ Ugandans, some of whom were beaten and stripped in the streets, chased by angry mobs or jailed.

But you wouldn’t guess that from the relaxed atmosphere at Cayenne on Kampala’s north side. Few people seem to notice the transgender woman dancing by the pool, and if they do, they don’t seem to care.

Javan is tall and has a face that’s hard to read, punctuated by a small stud on the left side of her nose. She moves her elbows and shoulders like most men but her hips like most women. She belongs to a generation of queer Ugandans barely old enough to remember when the antigay fever first erupted here, in 2009.

Read: Playboy

Resurrection Science

WIRED

George Steinmetz/Corbis

Biologists Could Soon Resurrect Extinct Species. But Should They?

“Until we make space for other species on Earth, it won’t matter how many animals we resurrect,” writes M.R. O’Connor in her book Resurrection Science. “There won’t be many places left for them to exist.”

“Paradoxically, the more we intervene to save species, the less wild they often become.”

Read: WIRED

The Chinese Company Eradicating Malaria in Africa

The Atlantic

Han Haidan

In 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it was committed to eradicating malaria across the globe.

It was late to the game. That year, Chinese scientists working with a Chinese philanthropist had already begun eradicating malaria from the small African nation of Comoros. Now they’re setting their sights on a more ambitious location: Kenya, the East African nation of nearly 50 million people.

Read: The Atlantic

Listen: The China Africa Podcast

Waiting to Walk … Out.

HUCK Magazine

Photos by Jake Naughton

Kenya has become a safe haven for scores of refugees fleeing war and famine in neighboring countries. 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.

Read: Huck Magazine, The Outsider Issue

On the run from the armed cattle rustlers of rural Kenya

The Guardian

Photograph: Will Swanson

In Kenya’s Baringo County, police reservists are tasked with carrying out the work that Kenya’s real police and armed forces have been unable or unwilling to do: fighting off armed bandits who are terrorizing parts of central Kenya as they steal livestock and shoot anyone who gets in their way.

Read: The Guardian

THIS IS HOW THE HEART BEATS

Books

THIS IS HOW THE HEART BEATS: LGBTQ EAST AFRICA 

BY JAKE NAUGHTON AND JACOB KUSHNER 

ORDER NOW: IndieBound / Amazon / Barnes&Noble

This book is a celebration of diversity, of resilience, of love, of standing up to one’s oppressors, and overcoming. This is the LGBTQ community of Uganda. This is my community. This is our reality.” — activist Ruth Muganzi.

Same-sex relations are illegal in thirty-two African countries. Most, including Kenya and Uganda, were former British colonies, and the legacy of the colonialists’ anti-gay legislation can be felt to this day.

This Is How the Heart Beats (The New PressFebruary 2020) by acclaimed photographer Jake Naughton and noted writer Jacob Kushner is a powerful and intimate series of portraits of LGBTQ Ugandans, Kenyans, and other East Africans. Some have decided to stay in their homeland despite the discrimination and abuse they face there. Others have fled as refugees, applying for resettlement to a part of the world where they will not be persecuted for who they love.

In a world with more refugees than ever before, and at a time when prejudice toward refugees runs high across the globe, this work illuminates the stakes for one group at the center of it all.

The book includes supporting texts by Jacob Kushner, a foreword by Ugandan queer activist Ruth Muganzi, and an essay by Cynthia Ndikumana, a transgender activist from Burundi. 

Book Details: The New Press, Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62097-488-98 x 10, 152 pages. List Price: $21.99 (US). Media Contact: Andrea Smith / Andrea Smith Public Relations: +1 646-220-5950 Email: andreasmith202@gmail.com

ORDER NOW: IndieBound / Amazon / Barnes&Noble

Kenya Could be the Next Country to Strike Down a Colonial-Era Law Against Homosexuality

WNYC The Takeaway

Jake Naughton

Cynthia is a lesbian activist and refugee from Burundi. She fled to Kenya after authorities found out she was gay. There she lived in hiding while hoping for resettlement abroad. Photo: Jake Naughton

The law in question is a colonial-era ban on “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is part of the penal code in dozens of former British colonies. Many of them are former British colonies with the exact same law on the books. 

The activists who brought the case contend that the law is used to exploit and extort, and that it is used to justify discrimination against LGBT people. Opponents have said they will consider alternative measures if the law is overturned, including, potentially a referendum. 

Joining The Takeaway to explain what’s at stake is Jacob Kushner, a freelance journalist based in East Africa. Listen to the full interview at WNYC’s The Takeaway. Produced by Beenish Ahmed.

Gay-Rights Activists Hoping for a Legal Victory in Kenya

The New Yorker

Simon Maina

Kenya’s penal code punishes acts “against the order of nature”—usually interpreted as sex between men—with up to fourteen years in prison. It also prescribes up to five years in prison for “gross indecency with another male person,” which is often interpreted as other, undefined sexual acts between men. Worldwide, at least seventy nations—more than a third of all countries—still outlaw homosexuality, and it remains illegal in more than thirty of the fifty-four African countries.

L.G.B.T. activists in Kenya are taking on these laws. Changing a society’s values would take generations, they reasoned, but striking down an unjust law could be accomplished in just a few years. Read: The New Yorker

Uganda Attempts to Shut Down Controversial Silicon Valley-Funded Schools

Columbia Global Reports

School children in Malindi, Kenya, February 2018. Photo by Ian Ingalula, Creative Commons.

Bridge International Academies was conceived in 2007 to be the McDonald’s of global education, promising to better educate poor students using Nooks and standardized curriculums for as little as $6 to $7 a month. Using tablets and standardized curriculums in each country, Bridge operates more than 520 schools, teaching some 100,000 students in Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and India. It’s currently expanding in Asia with dreams of reaching an ambitious 10 million students across the world by 2025.

But Some African parents may be uneasy about the idea of a western-conceived company disrupting something they hold so dear: control over their children’s education. Bridge threatens to globalize—or perhaps, to westernize—the sector on which many Africans bank their families’ futures.

Read the full story at Columbia Global Reports.

In Kenya’s Baringo county, police raid, burn and murder

Al Jazeera

A bullet cartridge for a G3-type self-loading rifle is one of 14 found near the blood-stained dirt where the body of Ekurio Mugeluk first lay [Will Swanson/Al Jazeera]

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.

Read the full investigation at Al Jazeera. Reported with Anthony Langat and Will Swanson. 

Guns, Grass, and Cattle

Roads & Kingdoms

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.