Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Threat of Terrorism in Kenya, and the Kenyan presence of US Troops

This week, York based student Lottie May gives her insight into the threat of terrorism in Kenya, and reflects on why there is still sometimes a presence of US troops.

The Threat of Terrorism in Kenya

The threat of terrorism hangs heavy over Kenya- worrying the local Kenyan communities, as their economy is dependent upon the wealth that tourism brings. The slightest piece of bad news deters travellers from the UK. When speaking to the hotel manager he confirmed that his bookings are down by 60%, impacts of this resort to him having to let staff go. With employment rates at a low, for some their only chance of employment is with the hotel. I built up a friendship with one of the waiters through my frequent visits to Watamu. However, this year I returned to find that he, along with many others, had lost his job. When getting into contact with him again, I found that he has travelled to Sudan in search for work. Once earning a decent salary, he will send the money home to his family. This is a common occurrence in countries like Kenya or the African Continent, showing the sacrifices families must make to get by.

A prominent threat that has been recognized worldwide is the threat from Somali terrorists and Pirates, again contributing greatly to Kenya’s economy. This affected my family and I directly, with the possibility that we weren’t able to travel to Watamu with it being so close to the boarder of the restricted area in which the government had issued. This was the same year when fireworks were banned for New Year celebrations; seen to act as a hazard with the terrorist attacks in Nairobi at the time. Although the threats of Somalia terrorists and Pirates have undoubtedly decreased, you can see the country now taking serious precautions to prevent any potential threat within vulnerable areas.

On my visit to town, I walked past a local church. What was brought to my attention was the people entering the church were being scanned for weapons. It is clear from this that, although very minimal, the locals are doing their best to protect themselves and their communities. However it is difficult not to notice that the resources that they have for security aren’t a fraction of the security surrounding and protecting my hotel. It seems that the life of a Western is more valuable than that of a local Kenyan? Incidentally, something that is an on going concern and threat of the Kenyan peoples daily life, these frequent terrorist attacks in Mombasa are so rarely heard of back home- is that because no Western people have been killed?

The presence of US Troops in Kenya

One of the most constant aspects of my holiday to Watamu is the people, with the same individuals return each year. However to my surprise I’m sharing the resort with 15 US troops. Stationed here until May; I had some initial concerns about their reason for being here, particularly with Kenya’s increasing rate of terrorist attacks. 

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

After speaking to them it was pleasing to note their role here is one of education and welfare support. The US has invested heavily to develop the local Kenyan people’s understanding of enhanced farming techniques (fish farms), improving their environmental and social awareness. These all aim to help build strong, stable relations within the country to gain peaceful communities. In the long term this works to grow a sense of self-sufficiency amongst the Kenyan people, striving for a more independent country. This proactive strategy not only improves the way of life for the people, but also makes them less susceptible to the influence of radical fundamentalists who prey of dissatisfaction and encourage violent behavior. When speaking with the Lieutenant it is clear that are doing as much as they can to put things right and essentially avoiding any unnecessary conflict taking innocent lives.

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Kenya Diary - Reflections on Watumu by Lottie May

York based student Lottie May spends every Christmas in Watumu, just North of Mombasa. She has kindly shared some thoughts with us. Enjoy her fantastic insight to this amazing country.

Reflecting on tourism - What is the 'real' Africa?

It’s hard to remember the last Christmas I spent at home; the typical English Christmas isn’t familiar to me that’s for sure. Instead when December comes around my family and I set off to Watamu, Kenya – a small village 2 hours north of Mombasa and 1 hour south of the Somali border. Undoubtedly we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, first visiting the continent 7 years ago, we are drawn back every single year. So December 2012 it’s no different; once again we settle back into our usual resort, apply the sun tan lotion and get comfy on the sun beds. 

All you can see is the serine white beaches and the clear blue Indian Ocean reaching for miles. The deserted surroundings allow the faint whistle of the breeze and the crashing of the waves to ring in our ears as we doze in and out of our sleep.

The break and drastic change from the normal hectic lifestyle back in England, makes it extremely easy to get into this daily pattern, wasting away the days one by one. I can’t fault people for doing that, as long as they understand that sitting in a resort, is far from the ‘real’ Africa. You can’t say you have been to Africa until you venture from the haven of tourism, characterized by the stereotypical holiday privileges, which are expected by holidaymakers. The built up hotels, running water and food at hand all come unnaturally in this country and stepping out into the local villages strongly initiate this realization.

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

Kenyan Culture and the great Sense of Community

The contrast between environments when simply walking beyond the exit of the hotel still amazes me. When first visiting Africa I remember it being very overwhelming. This is down to the main fact that you can’t walk for more than 5 yards without being approached by someone. However despite the slight irritation of this, the majority means no harm, only there to greet you or maybe try to sell you something hoping to make small profit. This is common within the African culture with all the communities being so tightly intertwined, showing a genuine sense of compassion for one another. This is not only displayed when simply walking down the dusty African lanes, but also through organizations set up to help individuals in the communities. 

Visiting the Rainbow Orphanage

One of these organizations in which I regularly visit is the Rainbow Orphanage, run by an American woman called Linda who sold all her worldly possessions to build this orphanage. The facilities are very basic with no electricity and the children are squeezed into bunked dorms. They have so little but are so happy and grateful. Rainbow orphanage is full to the seams and Linda often has the difficult task of turning away small children who are left overnight waiting at the gate. Many of the children have AIDS – an epidemic in this part of Africa affecting 1 in 4 people. Linda draws her inspiration from her religious beliefs; indeed this is the value base, which guides the behavior within the orphanage. I feel so humble watching these small children sing grateful thanks for the food they have been given for the day – a bit of rice and some dried goat. Then I return to my hotel and face the buffet of luxurious foods that their minds could not even imagine.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Amnesty International

Amnesty International

Who are Amnesty?

Amnesty International was founded in July 1961 by British lawyer, Peter Benenson and they are based in London. They are a non-governmental campaigning organisation whose main focus is to protect people and their human rights especially when it involves justice, fairness, freedom and truth. Support for Amnesty is worldwide and they have over 2.8 million members in more than 150 countries all helping in different ways.

What do Amnesty do?

Amnesty really believes that if people work together then the changes that they strive to make can happen – the power of team work. Amnesty have many on-going projects and some of their most recent include campaigning for women’s human rights and the issues that prevent them from having the freedom they deserve. Other campaigns that Amnesty has been working on are the abolition of the death penalty and security and human rights in countries such as Egypt and Syria.  

Success Stories of Amnesty

On their website, Amnesty specifically state that they don’t take credit if, for example, a government changes its laws. However every year, Amnesty receives messages from people’s lives that have been improved since Amnesty started campaigning. These messages reinforce Amnesty’s belief that working together can really make a difference. The Amnesty website shares some of their great stories including one about Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti.

The Nigerian government were concerned that his music contained political criticisms and they felt threatened by this. After he had repeatedly been beaten up and arrested, the government sentenced him to 5 years imprisonment. Amnesty came to the defence of Fela and started campaigning against his prison sentence. They argued that it was an unfair sentence as Fela hadn’t actually been prisoned for a criminal offence but because of his political behaviour which hadn’t been violent. Amnesty was contacted by many of his fans from all over the world and with their help Fela was let out of prison after 18 months.

Feeling inspired to join Amnesty?

Amnesty has made it so easy to become a member, you can do it all through their website and it’s very cheap to do! An adult can join Amnesty for £24 a year or £2 a month or even better for students - £7.50 for the year! Both of these include a welcome pack, an Amnesty magazine every 2 months and a say in Amnesty’s future.

Want to do something good in 2013? Stand up for human rights around the world – join Amnesty. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Nigeria: Witchcraft and Oil Spills

Nigeria is a country located in western Africa and has an estimated population of 162.5 million people (Source: Trading Economics). It is considered to be an LEDC, a Less Economically Developed Country. One of their key industries is oil exportation and it brings a lot of money into their economy.
But did you know that there is a link between the oil industry and witchcraft? In this blog we’re going to have a look at the link between the two. 


What is witchcraft? 

Looking back in history, there are many tales and articles that mention witchcraft.  One of the most famous ‘tests’ to prove somebody was a practicing witch was to throw them into a lake. If they sunk, they had been wrongly accused but if they floated, they were a witch and would most likely be killed. 

This may be a thing of the past for many of us around the world however unfortunately for some countries, people are still being accused of witchcraft, and in Nigeria’s case, it’s the children.  

Oil Spills in Nigeria

As we have already mentioned, the oil industry is very important to Nigeria, but it has its problems. One of the main concerns is the infrastructure of the industry, which is based in the Niger Delta. The fields are all very small which means there are a lot of pipes, the majority of them being over ground, connecting them together. 

The general maintenance and up keep of these pipes is not very good which means that they have started to corrode which leads to leaks that spill across the land. The environment is being badly damaged because of this and is making a lot of the land uninhabitable. According to Amnesty USA, local people and NGOs are reporting that the pipes in the Bodo area have not been replaced since 1958”

Oil spills can stretch over a vast area which is why they have such a serious effect on the landscape. Many plants and animals suffer and crops are killed because of the pollution in the ground and water. The people who live in the area suffer from various health problems as a result. 

So how does this link to 'witchcraft'? 

Unfortunately, the people in Nigeria don’t have such easy access to the technology that we do so many of the adults are left uneducated. Only the first six years of school are compulsory. Many Nigerians living in the Niger Delta don’t realise that the problems they have such as illnesses, death and famine are because of the oil leaks.  They blame the oldest child for 'witchcraft', which they believe can cause death in the family.  Their beliefs in witchcraft are influenced by corrupt Church leaders who want to profit from so called 'exorcisms' and cultural beliefs in black magic. 

As Stepping Stones Nigeria explains, “This fear stems from the belief that a spiritual spell can be given to a person through food and drink”. They go on to say that their soul leaves their body to be initiated into witchcraft.

The Reality of 'child witchcraft' in Nigeria

Unfortunately for the accused children, they are exposed to traumatic punishment from the people around them. Shockingly, some of them are chained up and tortured in churches to try and get them to confess, some are poisoned to death and others are publicly humiliated and murdered or abandoned. 

There are groups that have been set up to fight for the rights of these children including ‘Stepping Stones Nigeria’. Not only do they help the abandoned people by giving them food and clothes and medical treatment for their injuries but they are trying to educate the people of Nigeria to stop these acts of violence and hopefully change their attitudes towards witchcraft.  

Stepping Stones Nigeria are also trying to raise awareness about child witchcraft and these acts of violence that may not be well known to the rest of the world.
References on 'Witchcraft' in Nigeria