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.

The War for Grass in the Heart of Kenya’s Safari Country

Outside Magazine

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.

“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 Tristan 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. 

Nudging in Nairobi

U.S. News & World Report

An emerging science is helping Kenyans make smarter decisions about bargaining, sanitation and more.

Last year at primary schools in western Kenya, social scientists were busy performing dirty skits in front of hundreds of children. The script went like this:

The facilitator pretends to go to the bathroom behind a tree, then wipes using a thin leaf or piece of paper. But the leaf or paper rips, and she reacts with surprise upon getting (imaginary) feces on her hand. But she doesn’t wash her hands. Instead she wipes them on her clothes, then goes to shake the hand of one of the students, or picks up a mandazi – a doughnut – and offers it to a student to eat.

The students recoil in disgust, and the facilitator’s work is done: She has just implanted a “disgust trigger” into the kids’ brains – a simple, but powerful psychological reminder that forgetting to wash your hands is gross. And it works.

Welcome to behavioral psychology, the emerging science that seeks to nudge people to make smarter decisions.

Read the full story at U.S. News & World Report.

Kenyans face health crisis as a doctor strike enters its fourth month

USA Today

Empty beds at a hospital in Kenya where patients have been turned away because there are not enough doctors working to treat them. Staff say typically the beds would be full of patients. Jan 30, 2016 (Photo: Jacob Kushner)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NAIVASHA, Kenya —  Nancy Ndirango grimaced in pain as she waited eight hours at a hospital here with a broken right leg, the result of a fall on her way to school. But there was no doctor to see her because they are on strike.

“People can die,” Ndirango, 17, complained. “(The government) should pay them what they’re asking so they can get back to work.”

Ndirango’s plight at the eerily empty hospital in this town, about 50 miles north of the capital, Nairobi, is being felt by millions of Kenyans as a national strike by 5,000 public-sector doctors demanding better pay and work conditions enters its fourth month. They walked off the job Dec. 5 to protest the government’s failure to make good on a 2013 agreement to double salaries and hire thousands of new doctors to fill a severe shortage of physicians.

“Sadly it’s the lower class that’s suffering,”said Judy Karagania, a resident in opthalmology at Nairobi’s largest public hospital. Sometimes, overcrowding in Kenya’s underfunded public hospitals can be a matter of life or death.

Read the full story at USA Today.

Dorcas Kiteng’e: A victim of Kenya’s doctors’ strike

Al Jazeera

Jacob Kushner/Al Jazeera

One month after Al Jazeera published the story of Dorcas Kiteng’e’s struggle for cancer treatment in a nation whose doctors are on strike, the 25-year-old has died due to lack of proper care.

Some 5,000 public sector doctors walked out on December 5 after Kenya’s leaders failed to make good on a 2013 agreement to raise salaries, hire new physicians and improve conditions in public hospitals. The standoff between the health ministry, which lost $53 million last year due to corruption, and the doctors, continues to drag on. Nobody knows how many hundreds or thousands of Kenyans have died as a result of the government’s refusal to pay and the doctors’ refusal to return to work until that happens.

This is the story of one of those victims – the final days in the life of Dorcas Kiteng’e.

Read the article at Al Jazeera.

The struggle to create ICT jobs for Africa’s youth

Africa Renewal Magazine

Young people across the continent aspire to careers in Africa’s blossoming information and communications technology (ICT) sector. But many encounter major barriers that prevent them from finding jobs in the industry. “We have a lot of young people. But unfortunately they come from neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of opportunities,” says Tim Nderi, the chief executive officer of Mawingu Networks.

“Do people have access to the internet, and is that access afford-able?” asked Microsoft’s Anthony Cook in an interview with Africa Renewal. “As you think about moving towards a knowledge economy, you have to be able to take the bulk of the population with you.”

Read the full feature story in the Special 2017 Edition of Africa Renewal Magazine and read the sidebar, “Teaching Africa’s Young Techies,” which features the Moringa School in Nairobi.

Kenya’s health system on the verge of collapse as doctors’ strike grinds on

The Guardian

Kenya’s hospitals have almost ground to a halt, with millions facing a third month in a row without healthcare as doctors strike over low pay and poor working conditions.

The public healthcare system has long been overburdened and underfunded, but has now virtually stopped functioning after 5,000 doctors walk out in December after attempts to reach a compromise with the health ministry stalled.

“The machines break down frequently, the doctors are overwhelmed. The patients, they are so many that they are lying on the ground,” said Dr Judy Karagania, an ophthalmology resident at Kenyatta National hospital (KNH) in Nairobi, who is taking part in the industrial action.

Karagania and her colleagues are refusing to return to work until the government makes good on a 2013 agreement to dramatically increase salaries, hire thousands of new doctors and address drug and equipment shortages.

As the standoff drags on, Kenyans are suffering from the lack of care.

“The army doctors are turning away patients,” said Karagania, who normally works as a resident medical officer at KNH. “They’re only handling the emergencies of emergencies.”

Read the full article in The Guardian.

In a World of Closed Borders, Deciding Who Deserves Asylum

The Nation & The Nation Institute Investigative Fund

Fenced in: Some refugees at Kakuma are segregated for special protection. /Jake Naughton

At Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, workers face few humane options

From Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Ethiopia, refugee workers are being forced to make painful choices regarding the future of more than 21 million refugees, part of a record 65 million displaced persons around the world. They must choose between political and economic refugees, individuals and families, the healthy and the sick, the elderly and unaccompanied children, gay and straight. They try to move those most in need of help to the front of the line for resettlement somewhere safe.

But when it comes to triaging the world’s humanitarian crises, there are few humane choices.

Read in the February 27, 2017 edition of The Nation Magazine.

In Kenya, doctors’ strike leaves a nation ailing

Al Jazeera

Kenya’s public sector doctors began striking two months ago to protest against the Ministry of Health’s failure to implement a 2013 agreement which included raising salaries /Jacob Kushner

Kijabe, Kenya – At the bottom of a winding, tree-lined road, a crowd of patients spills out of the entrance of a private hospital waiting room on to a patio and a dirt parking lot. It begins to rain, and a man on crutches tries to hobble into the cramped building for cover.

Sitting in a wheelchair outside the door is Dorcas Kiteng’e, a 25-year-old woman suffering from cancerous growths in her ovaries.

“They’re pressing down on the spine, they’re paralysing her,” says Mwende Mutambuki, Kiteng’e’s sister-in-law“She can’t walk. Back pain, leg pain – I’m hoping it hasn’t spread.”

Kijabe is the third hospital they’ve visited since they arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week, looking for an oncologist who could perform the surgery, only to be turned away.

“They sent us to Agha Khan,” says Mutambuki, referring to the private Nairobi hospital that’s regarded as one of the nation’s finest. “But we know we were not going to be able to afford that.”

She fears time is running out to save her sister-in-law: “It’s a matter of life or death.”

Two months ago Kenya’s public sector doctors walked out on strike, and millions of Kenyans who normally depend on them are beginning to overwhelm the nation’s private hospitals, particularly in rural areas.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera.

Permanent Displacement

Pacific Standard
/Jacob Kushner

/Jacob Kushner

Inside Kakuma, Kenya’s 25-Year-Old Refugee Camp

In 1992, the U.N. formally recognized Kakuma as a refugee camp — a temporary shelter. A quarter-century later, Kakuma hosts more than 150,000 refugees — victims of all manner of East African calamities, from Ugandan homophobia to political unrest in Burundi. Presently, it is filling up once again with people fleeing civil war in South Sudan.

Long before the Syrian civil war, before millions of people began fleeing to camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere in search of safety, Kakuma was something of an icon in the global refugee crisis. Today, it stands as a solemn reminder of the permanence of humanity’s displaced masses.

Read: Pacific Standard Magazine

In East Africa, empowering passengers to demand a safe ride

U.S. News & World Report
/JACOB KUSHNER

/JACOB KUSHNER

NAIROBI, Kenya — On a sunny afternoon in Nairobi, 37-year-old Francis Raymond Adika climbs into the front seat of a matatu, or public transit van, and slides next to the driver.

“I lost my brother in an accident,” says Adika. On August 15, 2001, a matatu was speeding down the wrong side of a two-lane road in Nairobi trying to pass traffic. When it swerved back into the correct lane it slammed headfirst into a truck. Adika discovered his brother’s body in the Nairobi morgue. He was 19, just days away from his high school graduation.

A Jesuit missionary who travels extensively across Africa, Adika says it isn’t just in Kenya where people lose their lives to reckless driving. “I lived in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia – the carnage was just the same.”

Each year, 1.24 million people die in road accidents worldwide. By 2030 that number is expected to triple to 3.6 million, making road deaths the fifth-largest cause of death in the developing world – worse than AIDS or even malaria, according to the World Health Organization. Africa is the hardest hit, with 26 road deaths for every 100,000 people – nearly 50 percent above the global average.

But a series of scientifically rigorous, randomized control studies by Georgetown University may have found a simple way to dramatically reduce deaths on East African roads. By placing stickers inside buses and matatus that encouraged passengers to tell their driver to slow down, researchers discovered that the number of insurance claims fell by half for long-distance vehicles and by one-third overall.

Read the full article at U.S. News & World Report.

KENYA: Two gay brothers and their family are on the run

TakePart

Jake Naughton

“We have a bad, bad story,” begins Gloria Ibara, a refugee from Burundi and the mother of four. Sitting on a mattress in a simple Nairobi apartment, she tells me of her problem: “They want to kill our family.”

Gloria, whose bright smile accents her worn face, was born in rural Gitega province to a family of farmers. As her children grew, Gloria came to realize her son Eric was gay. (The names of the family members have been changed out of concern for their safety.)

At first “I told him to stop, that it’s not good,” Gloria says. But over time she decided that “that’s the way he was, and he couldn’t change it.” So she went on loving and caring for him just the same.

In many parts of East and Central Africa where homophobia is rife, parents react harshly on learning that a child is gay. Parents feel enormous pressure to either “fix” their gay kids or disown them. I’ve met dozens of LGBT refugees who have fled their home countries and escaped to Kenya, and only one—a woman, also from Burundi—wasn’t disowned by her family. So when Gloria learned that her son Eric was gay, it was extraordinary for her not to reject them. Stunned as she was when she later found out that her older son, Claude, then well into his teens, too was gay, she supported him too. It’s for that reason that they are now a family on the run.

Read their story at TakePart.

Can Science Save Development Aid?

Pacific Standard

(Illustration: Chad Hagen)

Randomized controlled trials are the popular centerpiece of an emerging data-driven approach to figuring out precisely the best way to end poverty. Can a return to the scientific method fix the global aid industry?

For too long, “accountability” in the aid industry has meant nothing more than ensuring that a donor’s money was spent the way an agency said it would be. Rarely did organizations examine whether their spending achieved a positive impact (improved access to water, for example), much less one that stood the test of time (meaning the well didn’t dry up).

But recently, many aid organizations, including theInternational Rescue Committee, a New York humanitarian aid group specializing in refugee assistance, have used RCTs to, among other things, evaluate methods for nudging parents in Liberia toward more effective parenting techniques and tocreate highly effective community savings-and-loan programs to combat poverty in Burundi. It’s easy to see why charities are attracted to RCTs: They can make an aid agency’s work more efficient and generate solid evidence of progress to show funders.

As organizations continue to conduct more of them, RCTs are disproving many myths upon which we’ve designed development aid for years, not least of which is our longtime preference for projects over cash. If the data shows, as the RCT of GiveDirectly’s Kenya program did, that it’s most effective to hand a family $1,000 with no strings attached, then that’s precisely what we should do.

Read: July/August print edition of Pacific Standard Magazine 

From human waste to community space

Solutions&Co

Photo / JACOB KUSHNER

On an overcast morning in Nairobi, commuter buses drive down a crumbling road into Kibera, a densely packed slum. A sign at the bus station reads “public toilets,” but the doors are locked.

It’s estimated that Kibera has just one toilet for every 2,500 of its approximately 250,000 residents. Without toilets to relieve themselves, people “use any means, whether it’s a [plastic] bag or a can,” explained Fred Amuok, Community Liaison for a Kenyan rights-based organization called Umande Trust.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 million people die every year from diarrhea, often the result of poor sanitation. There’s also a financial cost: studies show that Kenya loses US$324 million each year in missed work hours due to sickness brought on by poor sanitation. According to the sanitation company Sanergy, four million tonnes of fecal sludge escape into Kenya’s waterways and fields every year.

But Umande Trust has come up with an innovative approach to providing affordable toilets for Kibera’s residents and turning human waste into cooking fuel–one that’s already been working for more than a decade.

Read the full story as it appeared on Impact Journalism Day 2016 at Solutions&Co by SparkNews.

The Secret Lives of Nairobi’s LGBT Refugees

Newsweek

An HIV-positive, gay refugee from Uganda stands outside the house he shared with dozens of other LGBT refugees on the outskirts of Nairobi. JAKE NAUGHTON

For months, nearly two dozen gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans had been living in a large house on the outskirts of Nairobi in an area called Rongai. Long after a court struck down Uganda’s infamous anti-gay law—dubbed the “Kill the Gays” bill for a death penalty provision in an early draft—LGBT people in Uganda were still being disowned by their families, hunted down by neighbors, jailed by police, even killed. Hundreds fled Uganda—mostly to Kenya, where they are faring little better.

Many of these refugees grew up in urban, middle-class families and loathe living in a hot, squalid refugee camp, as Kenyan law requires of all refugees. They are city people, accustomed to partying at secret gay clubs in Kampala.

One afternoon last December, a Kenyan man came to the gate of the Rongai house with a warning: Neighbors were plotting to attack the gay refugees that night and run them out of town. The refugees didn’t wait. They fled, scattering to different apartments across the city.

Read in the June 10, 2016 print edition of Newsweek