The Enemy Within Part 2: Addicted To Pain.

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Addicted to Pain

 

 

Fatuma

Fatuma Mohammed Masuo in a police mugshot.

Fatuma Mohammed Musuo left her home in Siyu Island and headed to Mombasa for a shot at a better life. In the decade that followed however, she got embroiled in the murky world of Al Shabaab men, marrying three of them in unions that always ended tragically.

No one really knows how she met her first husband.

“She just told us one day that he had met a man and the two of them were living as husband and wife,” one of Fatuma’s siblings told the Sunday Standard. No other information was forthcoming from their estranged sister.

“Whenever we tried to prod her for any more details she was coy, just telling us that the man was from Nyanza and that they planned to have a family,” the sister says. The Masuo’s were pretty closely knit. They took social life seriously and when Fatuma told them that she had already gone in the family way and wanted neither attention nor ceremony to this fact, they were shocked at this gross deviation from the Swahili way of life she had been brought up in.

Fatuma stopped communicating with her family. She no longer participated in social events such as weddings and funerals. She was closed up. But even in this isolation, she was sporadically reaching out to another of her relatives constantly updating her on the growth of her family.

“When she got her fourth child, I decided to visit,” the relative says. “She looked to be struggling. The house had no furniture and only had the mattresses in the different rooms. No radio no television. Even the kitchen had no food.”

Later that evening as the relative left, she was heartbroken.

“I cried all the way to Malindi,” she says. “My sister was living a completely broken life.”

First Love

In reality though, Fatuma and her husband had deliberately chosen this way of life. They could never be too comfortable and were always ready to pack up and go anytime they heard an unfamiliar knock on the door.

The man from Nyanza that the Masuos had been told about and who eventually married their daughter was Kassim Omolo. Details of how and when the two met remain scanty, but Fatuma’s relatives said he was struck by Fatuma’s Bajuni beauty, her silky hair, full lips and round eyes under which dark patches would develop after years on the run.

On her part, Fatuma was attracted to Omolo’s dare devil nature. He was a man who paid attention to the little details. In his line of work, ignoring even the tiniest of detail could prove fatal. Multiple interviews show that after she knew about his exploits as an Al Shabaab explosives expert, she was smitten.

Together, the two became a modern day Bonny and Clyde, collaborating on a number of projects in Mombasa and were part of the numerous grenade attacks that took hold of the coastal city in the wake of Kenya’s incursion into Somalia.

Kassim was wanted for the 1998 US embassy bombings and his alleged ties to the bombing’s mastermind Fazul Mohammed, whose wife was from Siyu, Fatuma’s home island.

Their roller-coaster relationship came to an end in June 17th 2013 when a team of anti- terror police raided their home in Mombasa’s Kisauni estate. Omolo was shot dead after what police described as an exchange of fire.

 

To Fall Again.

Soshi killing

A police officer walks out of the house in which Mohammed Soshi was killed.

When Omolo was away, Ismael Mohammed Shosi, another alleged member of the Shabaab underground was making himself comfortable in Fatuma’s Kisauni flat.

Shosi was the main suspect behind the killing of CID officer Mohamed Ibrahim, who was guarding a bank in Bondeni on March 25. His G-3 rifle was stolen after the attack. Police said at the time that Soshi was known for carrying out attacks while dressed in a hijab and had become a feared operator.

The two hit it off, and former neighbours said that Soshi would pass by Fatuma’s house on random evenings.

“He could be spotted on the verandah of Fatuma’s house in the evenings,” a source told the Standard, the two chatting late into the night enjoying the breeze of the coastal city.

Her four children too interacted with Soshi, who many thought would be the natural replacement of Kassim in the home. Fatuma’s family though insist that there was nothing between them other than friendship.

Soshi’s family says their son was never a terrorist, and the police was wrong in killing him in his house in Kisauni in September 2016. After this Fatuma went on the run, abandoning her four daughters in pursuit of her freedom. As she did this, she ran into the embrace of Farid Awadh, also wanted on terror charges.

Police alleged that Farid, called Faridi by his friends, was trained by Al Shabaab militia in Somalia and that he worked with Shosi at some point.

Faridi and Fatuma lived together in various parts of the country for close to a year after the death of Soshi. Unlike her previous other relationships though, there were no verandah moments as the couple tried to stay ahead of a fast closing grip on them by the country’s ant- terror police units.

On April 16th 2017, the bodies of both Fatuma and Faridi were found somewhere in Naivasha, their life on the run coming to a brutal end, with Fatuma leaving behind four daughters who all went to live with family first in Siyu, and then to a grandfather in Somalia. The eldest daughter, now 17 and who witnessed the assassination of her father Kassim Omolo is no longer under the care of her grandparent. Family member fear she could have joined the terror group, hoping to avenge the death of her parents.

 

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The Unseen War Part 2: Ukunda’s Dance With Radicalisation

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Ukunda’s Dance With Radicalisation.

Ukunda Map.JPG

In 2008, a group of men, previously held in Ethiopia over terror- related charges were flown from a stint in detention in Addis Ababa and straight to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The men, arrested 18 months earlier had been fingered by several international agencies and governments over alleged links to terror cells.

The eight who are all citizens of Kenya were arrested on diverse dates between January 7 and 11, 2007 in Kiunga, Lamu, that strip of Kenyan coast that licks the Indian Ocean. Subsequently they were removed from the country and handed over to Somalia and Ethiopian authorities.

But by the end of that year, and through the intervention of a high ranking politician who was eyeing the vote rich Muslim block in the divisive 2007 elections, conversations  about their return were ongoing and in October of 2008 they came home.

After touching down at JKIA, they were flown to Moi International Airport where a convoy of vehicles waited for them. Six of the men were from Kwale County, and on that day they made a triumphant entry into the sleepy town to a rapturous welcome. In the eyes of those who received them, they were heroes.

In Ukunda, they were at the centre of a county with one of the highest Al Shabaab recruitment rates. Scholars and researchers say that almost half of the 1500 returnees that came back into the country between in the years leading up to 2016 called Kwale home.

“One of the key reasons is that Kwale has had so many conflicts since 1992. We have had them in 97 clashes, the 2002 Kaya Bombo violence, the Mlungunipa 1 and Mlungunipa 2 skirmishes. If you have a conflict that has never been addressed the risk of having a standby militia is always very high,” Hassan Ole Naado said in an interview with sister station KTN over the shocking numbers of returnees in Kwale. Naado is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).

It is not just the conflicts that fuel tensions in Kwale. The county has been home to some of the most radical clerics, some killed, others on the run. Many of them remain active recruiters of Al Shabaab members and custodians of radical ideologies.

 

A history of Violence.

Ukunda mosque

Sheikh Amir Khamis Banda addressing the media after a police raid in masjid Chai, in Tiwi, Kwale.

Ukunda’s history of conflict can be traced further back to 1989 when a police contingent raided the Guraya Mosque in Mombasa’s majengo. A decade later, another similar attack took place, this time on the night of August 12th 1998 when Masjid Chai, in Kwale’s Tiwi area was raided.

Police reports say that on that night, a unit was hot on the heels of a wanted man, Ramadhan Athman, who was on the run after an assault charge had been put on him three weeks before. Through tip offs from the public, they were able to trace him to Masjid Chai on that night.

Unknown to the police, a wedding was going on and when they stormed the mosque with guns and boots, six people lay dead including one policeman. The groom, Ali Mwajefa, too was killed. It later emerged that the couple was being wedded for the second time after   radicalised voices within the mosque claimed that the first wedding hadn’t been conducted with the strictness that was required. Because of this, the mosque’s Imam Abdulkarim Mwatachuka who was also killed that night, ordered for a repeat of the ceremony.

Ramadhan Mwajembe, the Imam who had conducted the couple’s first wedding three years earlier told the press that the couple repeated their wedding after joining the Answar Sect that demanded a purified wedding.

Proponents of the sect included Sheikh Abdul Azziz Rimo, himself a native of Ukunda as well as the yet to be infamous Aboud Rogo.

The then Interior Security Minister Marsden Madoka offered another explanation, saying that the youth within the mosque were commemorating the anniversary of the Likoni killings that started off with an attack on a police station within the township on the night of August 13th 1997.

On that night, hundreds of armed individuals invaded the station, stealing guns and killing 13 people, including six police officers making away with 20 rifles and 5,000 rounds of ammunition in what appeared like a preparation for large scale attacks in the run up to national elections later that year.

 

Family Ties.

Masjid Musa

A shot of Mombasa’s Masjid Musa Mosque.

But as the back and forth went on between local leaders and the state over the masjid Chai attack, another recognisable voice from the coast lent his voice to the debate. His bone of contention, the foreign funding for the expansion of mosques within the South Coast.

“Such foreign funding causes religious discord internationally. His funding makes the imams of these mosques sing to the tunes of their paymasters,” Sheikh Khalid Balala said at the time.

It is this foreign funding that would bring together a group of men bound by a common home, a shared sense of victimhood and a skewed belief systems who cemented all these ties through unbreakable bonds of marriage.

When in one of his sermons, Aboud Rogo, the self-confessed radical cleric believed to have recruited many youth to Al Shabaab,  declared that ‘true mujahedeen are from Ukunda’ he had this close knit group in mind.

The first in this circle is a near recluse called Hassan Mwayuyu. Mwayuyu was a slick operator whose base of operations was Ukunda Town. Those who knew him said he was annoyingly polite who answered to calls of ‘Sheikh’. He only moved from his sewing machine when he was going to one of two places- the mosque or his house.

But underneath the calm and collected look was a dark secret. Anybody who went to or wanted to go to Somalia had to get his permission. Those who felt they could go without his blessing ended up executed.

A family man, he thrived in marrying off his children to fellow believers and on one occasion duped both his daughter into marrying a wanted terrorist.

The bride groom, Salim Nyiru was so wanted that he never showed up for his wedding. The bride only realised this after the man who had taken the vows disappeared after the wedding and for Nyiru to appear that night. But it was too late. Nyiru had already got a bride for himself.

Nyiru was not his only wanted son-in-law. With the Rogo connection, he married off at least three of his other daughters to men similar to him, his sons-in-law sprinkled all along the coastal strip from Tanzania, Kilifi and Mtwapa.

Another of the Ukunda wanted men is Ramadhan Kufungwa. A native of Ukunda, Ramadhan became an all too willing successor to Al Shabaab cells after the deaths of Rogo and Makaburi. Investigations by the Sunday Standard show that after inheriting this block, one of the first things he did to earn his stripes was organise the 2014 Mpeketoni massacres.

To do this, Kufungwa, mobilised the Mombasa and Kwale youth into vicious gangs that run roughshod through major towns in the coast, violently robbing shops, pedestrians and businesses in what they called ghanima– the spoils of war. The proceeds from the robberies are put into the planning of the June 15th – 17th killings.

Some of the participants in the Mpeketoni attacks were part of the group that made that triumphant entry into Ukunda from Ethiopia in October of 2008.

“There is still some sympathy within the community over these people,” Professor Halimu Shauri, Associate Professor at Pwani university’s Department of Social Sciences and a long time researcher on the on conflicts within the coastal region says. “The solutions cannot lie on a hard approach only.”

As this war between the good and the bad goes on, the economy of Kenya’s coastal strip continues to suffer. The tourism industry the region depends on for survival is barely hanging on. As a consequence, unemployment rates among the same, easily impressionable youth continue to rise.

Over the years though, Rogo, Mwayuyu and Nyiru have all been killed. Kufungwa remains at large, but if history is anything to go by, his number too will soon come up, flashed by security agencies in relentless pursuit.

Excerpt from The Unseen War- Part 1. An investigative piece commissioned and published by Standard Media Group

 

The Unseen War Part 2: The Originals

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The Originals

 

A madrassa student recites a poem

 

News of Aboud Rogo’s death cut through the Mombasa heat like a hot knife to butter.  The fire brand cleric went down in a hail of bullets and as he breathed his last in the mini-van that also carried his wife and father-in-law, there was a feeling that his death would also call time on what the 44- year-old had come to represent- a brand of radical Islam that advocated for the creation of a caliphate in parts of Kenya.

Seven years after his death, the country continues to grapple with the problems he, and like-minded religious preachers throughout the country came to represent. The killing of Rogo was the beginning of a new set of problems for the country. Problems that had been created long before the cleric took the podium in Mombasa’s Masjid Musa’s mosque, willingly lending his voice and face to a jihad he was convinced had to be fought.

He might have been the face, but Rogo had an able team around him. Some known, most of them unknown and blessed with the gift of effortlessly blending in with the communities within which they lived, constantly pushing known boundaries of citizenship, religion and common decency. But before this group had their collective grip on mosques around the country, there was a predecessor whose teachings they swore by.

 

The Genesis.

origiiii

Sheikh Abdul Azziz Rimo (Centre and in white) while appearing for his sedition charges in a Mombasa court.

 

The biggest news out of 1972 could have been the Munich terrorist attack that led to the death of 11 Israeli Olympic team members and a German police officer. But for Abdul Azziz Rimo, a young Digo boy from Ukunda, the year was special because he received an-8-year scholarship to the Islamic University of Medina, Saudi Arabia. When he returned, he was a changed man.

His outlook on life had morphed into something different. More importantly, his understanding of the religion he was born into had changed, irredeemably.

“Rimo returned to Kenya and embarked on da’wah, which he referred to as jihad, amongst the local Digo Muslim community of South Coast,”  Hassan Juma Ndzovu, writes in his paper Kenyan Jihadi Clerics published in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs late last year.

His preaching became more intolerant, always insisting on a form of Islam he thought to be purer than what other clerics were teaching.

Soon, he found himself preaching a message that went against the very state that hosted him, often disparaging the government of the day.

“The critical and articulate Rimo called upon his audience to reject the application of secular laws. While adopting this position, he enjoined Muslims to support the unregistered Islamic Party of Kenya, believing it will usher the rule of the law of God to the Muslims of Kenya.” Ndzovu says.

On February 12th 1990, Rimo, dressed in a crisp white kanzu and looking unshaken was presented to Mombasa Law courts where he pleaded guilty to sedition charges. He told the court that he indeed told worshippers at a mosque in Ukunda that he had no confidence or respect for the then president Daniel Moi and that Moi’s  government should be overthrown.

The court ordered he sees a psychiatrist, after which he was jailed There was little room for alternative thought processes back then. Rimo, like many others at the time, found himself serving a six-year prison sentence on sedition charges.

But prison only emboldened him. When he was released, he went back to his home in Kenya’s South Coast and together with a select group of dedicated followers secluded himself and cut off anything he deemed haram from his life. The way of dressing of his followers was strictly controlled. Followers were told to shun various values such as education. The committed were told to quit their jobs and instead opt for careers such as carpentry. He believed his was the purest form of Islam, and he was obligated to get as many people as possible aboard Mv Rimo.

Unfortunately though, his articulate firebrand rhetoric which just fell short of inciting violence made a lasting impression on some of his students. Students who would years later, get one over their teacher and lace the inherited provocative rhetoric with something more intoxicating- a call to arms.

The seeds of radicalisation Rimo had sowed sprouted and grew into a tree whose trunk remains too thick to cut. One of the branches of this tree was Aboud Rogo, a former Ford Kenya grassroots politician with deadly ambition.

 

The Successors.

Makaburi

Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, also known as Makaburi. Makaburi’s influence was so wide and far reaching that in 2012 the United States government designated him a terrorist

Rogo started out as a democrat. But events leading to the 1992 multi-party election and its unfolding effects in coastal Kenya revealed his true nature to himself. He, like many of his contemporaries in coastal Kenya opted to abandon the various political parties they previously associated themselves with, for the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK).

By then, IPK was accused of training guerrillas to take part in subversive activities against the government and of fomenting tension between the central government and populations along the Kenya coastline. The party was banned. Stifled, Rogo retreated to the place he felt most comfortable in- the mosques.

For close to a decade and a half this was where he thrived. Though alarming, his radicalised sermons were not entirely isolated. Different voices in mosques across the world were starting to grow an audience similar to his. In the late 1990s, global focus moved from transnational networks of extremist terror organisations from North Africa and the Middle East to the emerging Al Qaeda, a militant Islamist multi-national organization founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden and several other volunteers during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Kenyans were to be violently introduced to Al Qaeda during the 1998 US embassy bombings. Osama’s Al Qaeda terror group, through a proxy, the Liberation Army for the Islamic Sanctuary claimed responsibility for the embassy attack that claimed more than 200 lives.

Apart from this, something more exciting was happening in neighbouring Somalia- the emergence of an Al Qaeda offshoot- Al Shabaab movement, which was basically Rogo on steroids. The cleric wasted no time in associating himself with them. Over the next 14 years, Rogo placed himself right in the middle of Al Qaeda and by extension Al Shabaab operations, playing a key role in not only furthering the group’s ideology, but in recruiting for them as well.

The Nairobi bombing emboldened him. After seeing a mission planned and executed by his close confidant Fazul Mohammed, his fervour for a caliphate within the country grew some more. By the mid-2000s, Rogo, now the resident imam at masjid Musa in Mombasa, realised the kind of power he possessed. And with this power, he embarked on a mission that led to hundreds of men travelling to Somalia for what they believed was a holy war.

dini ni AK mabegani (religion is having an AK-47 on your shoulder),” he says in one of his sermons.

Rogo was a hypnotic figure at the centre of a society and a generation eager to latch on to anything that would give them hope in a world they thought had all the hallmarks of injustice.

Vijana nawaambia tuendeni Somalia tukatafte pepo. Peponi hakuna shida za maji, shida za askari, (I tell you young men and women to go to Somalia where there are no water shortages)” Rogo says in another sermon. At the time, Mombasa was struggling with chronic water shortages and the idle and unemployed youth were in constant collision with the security forces. Security forces that Rogo himself had encountered as a 34-year-old in 2002.

Kikambala

On November 28 that year, a terrorist attack on paradise Hotel, Kikambala, killed 15 people. Again, similar to the 1998 attack, another Al Qaeda affiliate Al Qaeda in East Africa claimed responsibility. The Rogo family land licked the boundaries of the hotel, and himself as well as his father were among the first people to be arrested over the attack. This was not Rogo’s first brush with the law, and it wasn’t his last. After a series of court appearances spanning close to two years, Rogo and his father were found not guilty.

“There is no evidence direct or circumstantial which connects the accused to the Al Qaeda network and their involvement in the preparation, planning and the bombing of Paradise Hotel,” part of the ruling delivered by Judge J.L Osiemo read. “There is no evidence that any of the 4 accused had known those suicide bombers before nor is there any evidence that they had met and pre-arranged a plan to prosecute any common unlawful purpose. Where is the evidence that connects the accused to the murder of the deceased persons at Paradise Hotel? None, none at all.”

The judge further ruled that the only evidence that connected Rogo to the Qaeda net-work was cell phone communication between his mobile phone and one Abdi Karim who the prosecution alleged was the main player and the co-ordinator of Al Qaeda activities in the country.

“You are free, you may walk out of this court to your freedom. Your sweet freedom as guaranteed in the constitution of this Republic,” Judge Osiemo said in the June 9th 2005 ruling. And Rogo walked right into a newfound fame.

Almost always, Rogo’s sermons were followed by a short talk by another of his allies, Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, also known as Makaburi. Makaburi’s influence was so wide and far reaching that in 2012 the United States government designated him a terrorist.

“Abubakar Shariff Ahmed is a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan Muslims for violent militant activity in Somalia,” a UN Security Council statement said. “He provides material support to extremist groups in Kenya (and elsewhere in East Africa). Through his frequent trips to Al Shabaab strongholds in Somalia, including Kismayo, he has been able to maintain strong ties with senior Al Shabaab members.”

Together, their messages hit home and Friday sermons were a must- attend event for hundreds of youth in Mombasa. So when they told young men and women to cross over to Somalia and fight alongside their brothers for a preservation of their religion, they obliged.

 

The New School.

Ahmed Iman Ali

Their sermons were not limited to Mombasa. The two travelled the country, holding lectures countrywide. It is in one of these lectures that Iman Ali, an engineering graduate of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology first interacted with the preaching of these two radicals.

In January 2007, Iman Ali had led an angry mob of youth from Pumwani into the mosque, interrupting a mosque committee meeting, after which they threw out five of its members, mostly old men, whom the youth accused of corruption. A few months later, Iman Ali was elected the secretary of the mosque committee.

In a few years, the ambitious young man had become a crucial spoke in the radicalisation wheel. Together with Rogo and Makaburi, he becomes a key recruiter for Kenyans heading into Somalia to join Al Shabaab. Iman provides the infrastructure that recruits men into Al Shabaab and creates the Nairobi cell that grows from the Muslim Youth Centre, a grassroots organisation he founded, and into Al Hijra, the third arm of Al Shabaab operations.

The deaths of Rogo and Makaburi in 2012 and 2014 respectively forced Iman to flee into Somalia. It is from here that authorities believe he continues to orchestrate some of the most brutal attacks on Kenyan soil by Al Shabaab.

Excerpt from The Unseen War- Part 1. An investigative piece commissioned and published by Standard Media Group

 

 

The Unseen War- A botched Amnesty

 

Nkaissery. File

Former Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery

On April 14 2015, General Joseph Nkaissery, the then Minister for Interior made an announcement that threatened to tear the country’s top security organs right through the middle.

After years in the bush that were punctuated by periods of unwarranted bloodletting, some 300 men and women with paramilitary training and a cultivated penchant for war wanted to come back home with nothing but the guns on their shoulders to try and pick up the pieces of lives they had abandoned in their quest for jihad.

A  series of events, including  the brutal assassination of a friend of the state forced the government’s hand, and on that hot, sunny Tuesday in what just missed the threshold for a roadside declaration,  the General announced an amnesty to all men and women who had  crossed the Kenyan borders to train with terror group Al Shabaab in Somalia.

But this didn’t go down well. One group, led by a high ranking public servant in the Interior Ministry was against any form of leniency towards the returnees.

Army generals, who had gone to battle with some of these boys wanted nothing to do with the amnesty. The thought of having these boys back home was upsetting. Hundreds of Kenyans had died as a result of their direct actions. At the very least, the public servant insisted, the boys had to at least confess to their sins.

The other group respectfully acknowledged these fears but backed the decision by Nkaissery. Led by a long-term Provincial Commissioner as well as the then intelligence chiefs, this group argued that any form of violence against the returnees would spiral into something unmanageable that would play out in more violence. They said the war on terror had to move away from the battlefields and into the communities that supplied the terror group with willing participants. To win, reason had to triumph over brawn.

With the uneasy calm that followed Nkaissery’s announcement, many more came back. But life for them and those who knew them was never the same. The toddlers the young men and women had left behind had grown into teenagers who learnt about their parents from hushed conversations.

But voices of these Al Shabaab returnees continue to sip out, upsetting both former comrades and law enforcement who would rather pretend that they do not exist. The truth, however, is that hundreds roam the country, running from the shadows of police and remnants of the terror group, carrying with them memories of a troubling period. Memories and experiences that can be tapped into by remaining Al Shabaab hardliners to devastating effect.

The discussions at the village baraza somewhere in Kwale were getting to Mohamed Bakari Mazuri’s nerves.

Increasingly, speaker after speaker was talking about something that was close to his heart. A chief and an NGO- type were busy telling the villagers to look out for danger signs that could mean their sons or daughters had joined Al Shabaab, the blood thirsty militia that had declared war on Kenya and its citizens.

“They might start to keep beards or to lock themselves in rooms. They might even become intolerant to any other kind of religion apart from what they think is holy and only listen to specific preachers,” the chief said. “If you see any of these signs, come and report.”

Bakari, himself a returnee, exhibited none of these stereotypes. He didn’t spot an unkempt beard. He wasn’t locking himself in a room and listening to radicalised preaching all day. He wasn’t even remotely withdrawn. In fact, Bakari was the life of any gathering he was in.

So after the baraza, Bakari approached the chief, pulled him aside and said:

“I want to tell you a few things in confidence and colleagues know I am talking to you. If something happens to me, they will come for you and you will not like it.”

He said he was a returnee. And there were 300 others just like him living dangerously on the fringes of society.

“They are tired and want to come home,” he said. “If you can guarantee us our safety then we will come out in the open.”

With his message delivered, Bakari faded back into the crowd of locals he had emerged from.

Up until that point, the return of the returnees had had devastating consequences. Daughters were disowned by their fathers. Sons were frog marched to police stations by sobbing mothers who knew deep in their hearts that the time with their wanted sons was limited and that hiding them without the knowledge of authorities would put whole families in danger.

Those taken to police were registered, to remain within earshot distance of law enforcement while walking around with targets on their backs.

The majority however survived outside the boundaries of being disowned or outed to the police. They retreated into their cells in different parts of the country with nothing but the guns on their shoulders and their experiences of guerrilla warfare.

After coming back from the brutal war, they never really found forgiveness from the state. Neither were they free from suspicion from other returnees with whom they served in Somalia. A compromise became necessary.

 

Kaguthi. File

Former PC Joseph Kaguthi.

 

Trial and Terror

The compromise came in the form of a proposal by Bakari, the charming man who somehow got the ear of those in charge of security within his county, Kwale.

When bakari next made contact with the chief, the state was ready for him. The state was ready to grant them amnesty on condition that they fully surrender and know that they would be under surveillance for the rest of their lives.

He had no problem. He left the meeting location somewhere in Ukunda Town and took the news back to his people. He told them the government was ready to give them three things: Amnesty, facilitation and integration.

“The returnees agreed to first register 60 of their members with government as a pilot. They wanted to see how this would go,” a source who was part of setting up the government amnesty programme said.

The 60 were the less militant ones. Men and women who’d been in Somalia for less than a year. Their experience in combat and participation in terrorism paled in significance to what others had done.

After a series of consultative meetings between different county commanders from Tana River, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu, the list was pushed further up to the Ministry of Interior where insiders say it was received by the then minister Joseph Nkaissery in Nairobi.

But there was a problem. No one in government knew what would happen after the 60 men and women presented themselves to the state. It didn’t seem like there was a plan in place.

“Some of those in charge of the amnesty did not understand the complexity of the problem properly,” Joseph Kaguthi, the former chair of the Nyumba Kumi Initiative and one of those entrusted by government to midwife the program said.

There was no history of such a project and, like many other government projects, the Amnesty Programme remained in place only on one side of a piece of paper. The other side contained names of 60 individuals who had given up one life for the hopeful pursuit of another. Another source says after the surrender of the initial 60, there was no urgency in the program.

Bakari, the exuberant returnee, was on the other hand becoming anxious. He had held his end of the bargain by brokering the safe surrender of his people to the state. But safety was not all they wanted. They wanted more. And in the absence of it, murmurs of a betrayal started going around and people started pointing their noses towards him every time they thought the government had sold them a bad deal and that Bakari had brokered a nightmare.

Karma always gets around. At roughly the same time when these discussions of potential betrayal were going on something else happened that would break the trust between government and the returnees and in the process catalyse the coldblooded murder of Bakari.

 

Subira. This should be the cover (holding) image for the story..jpg

Subira Sudi Mwangole, succeeded Bakari as the link between the returnees and the state. He too was gunned down.

 

The Backlash.

On April 16th 2015, some two weeks after the bloody Garissa University massacre and 6 months after the initial 60 returnees presented themselves to government, residents in the coastal resort city of Mombasa woke up to something new.

Two billboards with photographs of nine individuals wanted over links to terrorism were placed along major streets in Mombasa.

“Wanted! Dead or Alive. Ksh2million each (reward),” the billboards read.

Some of these names were also on the initial list of returnees only known by a handful of people.

The returnees felt slighted. Someone might have leaked the names to elements outside the agreement. Again, the noses pointed to Bakari, who a few weeks before had held a modest public wedding. His looked like the only life that was back on track.

To the eyes of his former friends, the math just didn’t just add up. He was in talks with government. Many of them had just been publicly outed. He had just done a wedding.

“They found themselves between a rock and a hard place,” Sociology professor at Pwani University Halimu Shauri says. “He was never fully embraced by the community and his former colleagues in Al Shabaab never trusted him again. He was walking around with too many secrets.”

Because of this, death became the only guarantee for lifelong silence.

One evening Bakari, the man who had been to Somalia, Uganda and even Afghanistan on various missions, received a call while in the company of his wife in their house in the outskirts of Ukunda. As he often did, he slowly excused himself and walked out of the house to talk to the other person on the line.

The second he closed the door behind him a lone gun man walked right to him and shot him three times from point blank range before calmly walking away. He had survived many things, but not the assault from the rifle.

With no link to the returnees, the government came up with another initiative to placate the initial 60 after intelligence reports showed the continued involvement of some returnees in criminal activities all along the coast. Subira Sudi Mwangole, was now the link between the returnees and the state.

It was ten months later that some movement with regard to the amnesty program was seen again.

On Monday February 22nd 2016, the then Interior Permanent Secretary Karanja Kibicho unveiled a group of 19 youths at Matuga Training Institute, including five women, whom he said were part of a group of 48 former radicals who had surrendered to government.

As an intervention he said the returnees would get brand new motor cycles as well as dairy cows on a livelihood programme supported by the state and other non-state actors.

“These announcements were an oversight. You can’t do it overtly. The enemy is within us. Anyone paraded as a returnee would be dead in a few days,” Kaguthi says.

This, the returnees said, made them marked men and women. Plus, it pitted them against the thousands more disenfranchised youth within the coast region. All in all, before the news had settled, returnees who had chosen not to surrender quickly repossessed thee motorcycles and used them for their own gain. The intended beneficiaries were left at a worse place. First, they had been outed. Secondly, they had no livelihood.

“Young people in their prime left to be spectators to development were seeing their age mates, wanted by police, being given livelihoods. They were bound to get angry,” Prof Shauri says.”

Subira was gunned down barely weeks after the launch of the motor cycle and dairy cow returnee livelihood program.

Learning Curve.

Four years after the Amnesty Programme was introduced by government it has had chequered successes. Critics say the set-up was wrong from the initial stages. When it was still at conception stage, the team that included Kaguthi and a host of religious leaders and scholars proposed to go to Columbia and see how the South American country set up its own amnesty programme for thousands of FARC rebels who had denounced their bloodthirsty ways.

A key difference between what Colombia had done and how Kenya was going about with her amnesty was that one was anchored in law and the other, according to Professor Shauri ‘just fell short of being a roadside declaration.’

Colombia’s parliament passed laws protecting FARC’s guerrilla fighters from persecution for minor crimes committed during the country’s 52-year civil war. Rebels found guilty of committing serious crimes, such as massacres, sexual violence or kidnapping, do not fall under amnesty.

The Colombia trip never materialized.

“Someone up there decided we should go to Indonesia instead,” Kaguthi says.

But even the Indonesia trip aborted over what the career civil servant terms as ‘vain competition and barren bickering’ within different institutions entrusted with the country’s security.

“There is no legal basis for protecting anyone in the Kenyan amnesty,” Prof Shauri says. “But it is all we have.”

After all this though and the deaths of Bakari, Subira and many more, coastal Kenya remains an ideological battleground for radicalisation and counter radicalisation narratives and time remains the only judge in this duel.

Excerpt from The Unseen War- Part 1. An investigative piece commissioned and published by Standard Media Group

Forgiveness, not death

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On 15th January 2016 Mohammed Awadh left Mombasa with three of his friends for their home in Kwa Jiwa in Malindi town, some 115 kilometres away.

Mohammed, like the rest of his friends had never been home in close to three years. But they were convinced that Kwa Jiwa, the sprawling settlement on the edge of town was the only safe space left for them.

Particularly after a billboard on the Likoni Crossing and another one in town had some of their faces.

They were wanted, with a Sh2million bounty on their heads.

Mohammed felt indebted to one person, his mother. It had been years since the man saw her. What he didn’t know though, was that as the band of friends moved from one coastal town to the other, an unshakeable shadow too was trailing them.

Barely days after they made it to Malindi, all four lay dead. Mohammed was shot through the mouth. A post-mortem report showing he was shot at close range. A single bullet that made a mess on its way out, opening up a hole the size of a tennis ball at the back of his head.

“They never gave him a chance,” (Zeinab Awadh), Mohammed’s mother says. “He wanted to come home and was ready to surrender.”

Mohammed, a slim boy of dark complexion curly hair and stubborn forehead was the first born in a family of three. His mother was respected member of the community. In fact, for many, she remained the link between the community and the state as a village elder in an ecosystem in which distrust between the people and the state runs deep.

“As a mother I believed he was destined for greater things. He had drive and ambition. He wanted to be an engineer,” she says.

For an outsider, Kwa Jiwa looks like another settlement in coastal Kenya. Narrow, dusty streets on which houses share walls with business premises on one side and mosques on the other. Little children run around oblivious of the dangers posed by the numerous tuk tuks and boda bodas. They hardly notice the odd car.

The Recruiter.

But in 2014, Mohammed came face to face with another kind of danger. And it lurked in the house next door, personified in a respected, religious businessman who spent his time between Malindi and Mombasa.

And it is this man, armed with the allure of success, a warped idea of Islam and looked like the son every mother wished for,  who unbottled the young man’s secret ambitions. Ambitions birthed after an encounter with the police, that would later, according to Kenyan security agencies, mature into a blood thirsty orgy of violence.

“He became angry after the incident,”  Zeinab says. The incident she talks about happened one evening in mid-2014. He had just received his first salary from his first job as a cybercafé attendant.

On his way home, his mother says, Mohammed met a police officer who demanded to know why the young man was not at home.

“He frisked him and got took away all the money he had been paid, some Sh18,000,” Zeinab says. “That’s when he vowed revenge.”

By the end of that year, he disappeared from home, becoming a living statistic in the number of Kenyan citizens who crossed over to Somalia to join terror group Al Shabaab.

Nothing in the boy’s life would have indicated that he would be a recruit for the terror group. There were no red flags. No outward signs.

“This is what security agencies are grappling with now. There is no template for an Al Shabaab recruit. Their backgrounds and motivations are diverse,” Pwani University Halimu Shauri, Associate Professor at Pwani University says. “None of them join for a holy war.”

 

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Revenge.

From phone conversations with Mohammed, Zeinab says her son joined the terror network for two reasons, both of them entirely selfish.

“He wanted to Kill as many policemen as possible because of the incident he had with them. And equally important was that he was promised a joining fee of Sh1million,” Mohammed’s mother says.

Only one of these ambitions came through.

“He never got any money. After he came back, he used to call me and say he didn’t even have food for the day,” she said.

Mohammed may have been the apple of his mother’s eye. But through his own admission, he was no saint. The two million bounty on his head was as a result in his involvement in some of the most brazen attacks including the random shooting of policemen within Mombasa County as well as links to the Garissa University massacre that led to the death of 147 people, most of them students.

“He said he never went to Garissa. But he admitted that he had done some bad things to men in uniform,” the mother said. For her, mistakes on earth shouldn’t go unpunished.

“But only God has the right to take away someone’s life,” she says. “People who want to change can be forgiven.”

Unlucky for her and her first born son, the state hardly forgets. Neither does it forgive. And in the end,  the punishment was death, and it was swift and painful bringing to an end a mother’s four year wait for her son and some closure to the ones who survived those killed by Mohammed.

Excerpt from The Unseen War- Part 1. An investigative piece commissioned and published by Standard Media Group

The Unseen War- The Enemy Within.

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The Enemy Within.

On October 16 2011 when Kenya’s armed forces invaded southern Somalia in the middle of a severe famine hoping to eventually capture the port city of Kismayo and cut off what at that time was thought of as the most vital lifeline for the group, Fatma was a 15year old whose main concern was whether the henna she had applied the previous night would hold on to her fingernails for long. She had no idea that within three years, she would be in Somalia training new recruits, going toe-to-toe with people who had committed to protecting the family she had left behind.

I killed. I watched people kill

Fatma’s hands are not soft. Her body is not wrapped in layers of baby fat. Her face is kind and her smile bewitching. Her voice sounds like it is suspended in age, stuck somewhere between a tenor and a soprano. Too deep to be a woman’s, but not deep enough to be a man’s.

Her oval eyes are clear. Sometimes she sees you, sometimes she doesn’t. Most of the time, she sees the faces of the five men she shot dead. Her ears are hidden deep behind her head scarf. Sometimes she hears you, sometimes she doesn’t. Most of the time she hears screams from the dozens of men and women she saw beheaded for something as trivial as a refusal to sleep with yet another man.

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Fatma, during the interview.

 

A burn scar runs across her right forearm. For her though, the scars in her life run deeper than her skin. They are in her soul. In her heart. And most importantly, in her mind. Three years after she came back home, the memories of her life as an Al Shabaab wife have refused to leave her.

“I can never forget what I went through,” she says. Unknown to her, neither can the country she once called home.

She spoke to the Sunday Standard ten days after giving birth to a son whose father remains in the dark about her previous life.

“He knows nothing about me,” she says. Only three men know her story. The first is her father. The second is the man who took her to Somalia. And the third is a Kenya Defence Forces soldier who saved her from the forest then made her his wife.

Her story could start from Mombasa, her place of birth, but it really doesn’t. It starts when she turned 19 and fell in love with a 24 year old food vendor in Mombasa who had a lot more going on than the viazi karai and tamarind juice he sold off the streets.

“He was good to me,” she says. “Treated me right and said all the good things.”

Just months after meeting him, she moved out of home to stay with him in Mombasa’s Bombolulu area. He was giving her all the things she couldn’t get at home.

“He was attentive to my needs. He brought me gifts and listened to me,” she says.

One day, he came from work and said business was not good. And that he wanted to try his luck as a fisherman.

“He said he had friends who were leaving for Lamu by boat and were willing to have us on board,” Fatma says. With all her heart, she followed him. But the boat did not dock in Lamu. It proceeded further north to Kismayo. No fishing happened.

“But I couldn’t ask any questions. He was the man of the house,” she says.

Even when handed her over to a group of strangers and then walked away, she didn’t ask questions. When this second group handed her over to yet another group she chose silence again.

“They had guns. I was in a forested area, I felt helpless,” she says.

 

The Recruit.

Research by Pwani University Professor Halimu Shauri indicates that many of the women who end up fighting alongside the jihadists in Somalia are victims of circumstance.

They are duped by husbands who are already members of the group. Some are kidnapped while others are betrothed to Shabaab husbands by their fathers.

Many of those who get there die from the vagaries of a war they know nothing about. Those who survive become part of the war fabric, their lives a synonym for bloodshed, terror and pain.

A year into her captivity, Fatma had risen through the ranks somewhat even as she received news of the death of her husband in battle. She was entrusted with her own unit. This was when the little traces of innocence that still clung to her fell off.

“I had to be hard,” she says. She was in charge of ammunition and explosives in one of the camps. “I know about C4. I know about IEDs. I know about blowing things up.”

She also knows how to kill.

You were either with them or against them.

“Did you kill any soldiers,” I ask.

At full height Fatma is not small. She stands at just over 6 feet. Her thin physique, straight back and long arms make her appear even taller. Imposing even.

“Yes,” she says. “I am not proud of it. But it was war. Kill or be killed.”

Her war came to an end as her second year as a Shabaab operative drew to a close.

In a night ambush, the Kenyan military overran their camp. Casualties were heavy on the Shabaab side. That night, none of the things she had heard in the preaching of slain cleric Aboud Rogo or his counterpart Makaburi could save her.

“I escaped the perimeter being set up by the army and hid in a hole in the ground.” But the hole could not hold her forever, she emerged from it to plunge right into the next phase of her life. One that saw her move from outlaw, to living within Kenyan military barracks as the wife of a serving soldier.

 

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A KDF unit within Boni Forest where dozens of Al Shabaab   members are believed to be holed up

 

Stockholm’s Syndrome

“Something must have attracted me to him,” she says of the Kenyan soldier who stumbled upon her in her hiding place. “He ordered me to be still. He said if I moved he or any other soldier around would shoot me dead on sight.”

Tired and with no energy to fight back she obeyed.

She says the soldier, and a friend later came for her, tied my hands and feet and wrapped me in some form of canvas and bundled her onto a vehicle.

“I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t see outside. I was moved like cargo from one vehicle to another. Every time this happened I was given some water and biscuits,” she says.

The next time she saw daylight she was being helped out of a lorry in darkness and led into a house.

“The soldier then told me he would lock me inside the house for my own safety and that I’d be taken care of,” she says.

Twice a day, someone would bring her food and water.

“He used to visit me in the house. He told me about his life and eventually we became close and he proposed to make me his wife. I had nothing to live for. I knew if I went back home id be dead,” she says, her eyes moisten up a bit as she talks about the soldier who got her from the front-line to a house in Garissa town.

“He got me a new ID with a new name,” she says. “Soon he was transferred to a military base in central Kenya.

Together they left Garissa for his new deployment as husband and wife.”

“But why couldn’t you run away? How did you trust that he would not kill you,” I ask.

“If he were to kill me, he would have done it in the bush. Not in a house that everyone knew was his. But perhaps he liked me,” she teases.

The fairy tale ending she hoped for was not to be.

In 2017,less than a year after beginning her new journey, her soldier died.

“He died from complications from HIV. I don’t know if I gave it to him or he gave it to me,” she says.

And just like she had done so many times before, she picked up the different pieces of her life and ran.

This time to Malindi, where she has started yet another life with a new husband unaware of the blood on her hands.

Many of her former peers registered as returnees with various government agencies, an option she is against.

“Once you get on any list either the police or the Shabaab will hunt you down. Either way you will be dead before long.”

Excerpt from The Unseen War- Part 1. An investigative piece commissioned and published by Standard Media Group

Lamu IDPs bear the brunt for a forgotten conflict tearing their lives apart

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As the month of August approached and the political noise from the rest of the country rose to a crescendo, an ongoing conflict in the Southern Coast of Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy continued unabated.

Here, party manifestos, campaign posters, placards, T-shirts have no place in the collective psyches of the residents. Their days are punctuated by more urgent thoughts. The men think about more concrete things.

“I worry about where my family will sleep tonight. Where I will get food and when I will go back home,” Johnson Mketta said. He is among the hundreds of Nyongoro residents that have run away from their homes to a camp at Katsakakairu primary school grounds.

“We don’t know what to do anymore. We feel lost,” he said.

For close to five years now, an insurgency in this Kenya’s coastal region has gone on almost silently. More than twice, strangers have walked into homes. Called out the names of the men inside. Pulled them out. Tied their hands behind their backs. Lay them down on the brown soil.

Soil that they have cultivated over years to feed their families and fatten their animals. Soil that they have turned to mud and put up the walls that make their houses. Soil that, eventually seeped up blood as it came from their slit throats as they bled to death.

“Sijui sisi tulimkosea nani, kila siku ni hatari tu,” Mketa says. “hatuwezi panga chochote. Maisha yetu yote yamepanguliwa.”

An on-off curfew since 2014 has not helped. The deployment of contingents of the military, the police and the General Service Unit has done little to deter terrorists who strike, then melt away into the surrounding areas. It seems, at least for now, that the security forces are losing the war against the insurgents.

And it is people like Mketa who are bearing the brunt of it all.

A month ago, Katsakakiaru primary school used to have a playing ground. The thinning grass at the centre of field perhaps an indicator of the amount of joy time off class and a kickabout of football brought to the students of that school.

Now white tarpaulin tents occupy that space, their roofs competing for space with the cross bar of the goal posts on either end of the football field. Under the tarpaulin stand frail stick frames bending to the maximum from the weight of the tarpaulin.

The shelters are closely packed together, arranged in neat rows with narrow corridors between them. Children have other children on their backs. Privacy is a distant memory. There are no bathrooms. There are no toilets. The pygmy bushes nearby offer the only cover for a call of nature.

“When it rains, all our dirty secrets are washed back to where the shelters are,” Mketta says.

The fathers are away to the nearby town of Nyongoro and Witu looking for menial jobs to do. The mothers are lighting fires out of the hope that the husbands will come back home with the day’s supper.

The children are lost in their own little world oblivious of the worries and fears their parents fight each night, eagerly waiting for the day to break but silently fearing that the sun might bring with it some more bad news of gruesome murders which always seems to be just around the corner.

 

 

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A section of the IDP camp at katsaka Kairu. Dozens have fled their homes over recent attacks attributed to the Al Shabaab militia. Dark nights and hungry days fill the lives of those living under the white tarpaulin tents. PHOTO/ Daniel Wesangula

 

 

Days to the election, masked men raided Mketta’s village in the still of the night. When they left, six of his friends lay dead. Throats slit open.

“That is why we left our homes to this place,” he says. “We do not know whether we will ever go back home.”

On August 2nd, as both Jubillee and Nasa were preparing for their final election campaigns, three people were killed after the militants attacked a passenger bus and a car at Nyongoro area in Witu, Lamu County.

The incident happened on Lamu- Garsen highway, police said. Four other people were left with serious bullet wounds. The deceased were in a Toyota Rav4 vehicle which was attacked and burnt by the militants. The bus was on its way from Mombasa to Kipini at about 3.30pm when the incident happened.

Driving on the main Garsen- Mokowe road from either direction is a ride disrupted by not only the roughness of the road on some stretches, but the numerous police check-points.

The rumbling police lorries, speeding landcruisers and occasional military armoured vehicles provide a blanket feeling of security for a traveller. But for many residents, it is a representation of the state attempt to pacify an area that seems keen to become the country’s problem child.

“We keep asking ourselves why these attacks continued almost unabated while we have all these security men here? Why is it so difficult to keep our people safe,” Kitsao Ndokolani says.

On election eve, a main power transmission line was hit by the insurgents plunging almost the entire county into darkness and panic.

Kistao is a son of Nyongoro. He was there in 2014 when Al Shabab ran havoc in neighbouring areas and went on a blood thirsty spree on a dark night that left almost 60 people dead. Before that, they had visited their terror on Mpeketoni town. Successive attacks led to more deaths.

The more deaths led to the deployment of more security personnel to the county who have never left and to some, continue to chase after their own shadows.

“We have had curfews. We have had bans on road transportation. Our lives have ground to a halt. Our lives are becoming worse, not better.”

Schools have been closed, with the education of hundreds of children in an area whose education standards are lagging behind the national average put on hold.

“We are at a bad place,” Mketta says.

Katsakakairu means ‘black forest’ in the local Giriama dialect. And as the sun dips behind the white tarpaulin roofs at the IDP camp of the school, the women still tend to their fires. This time though, a few of them have places sufurias with water on the three stoned fire places. Sparks escape the embers before entirely being swallowed whole by the dark sky.

The men start walking into the camp one by one. Some with some meat, others with some bread, other with nothing. All of them however, carrying with them the hope for a return to a normalcy that seems distant. A past that Nyongoro residents continue to long for.

After the death, curfews and economic depression, Lamu residents look forward to a new dawn

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Tawfiq Ahmed’s mornings are a reflection of the place he calls home. He doesn’t like to be rushed. He likes to be in control of his time. The chubby faced man feels like he has his own destiny in his hands and the lords of fate have nothing on him. But the past two years have sent his head on a spin. It seems that for those two years, he relinquished all control and his days were determined by other factors.

“Nyinyi mumetembea Lamu mumeona shida yoyote (Have you seen any problems in Lamu)?” he asks.

He likes to sit on an easy chair on kikoi draped cushions looking out towards the sea. “I spent more than a year without looking at my guest book. We were not getting any bookings,” he says. “We only started to get calls recently. We pray that such misfortune does not visit us again.”

Tawfiq’s life, like that of many other people in Lamu County, was affected by the 2014 Mpeketoni massacre. Official records put the death toll at more than 80. Witness accounts at the time said most victims were dragged from their houses in full view of their families and led to their deaths.

The aftermath of the orgy of violence hit hard. A dawn to dusk curfew that lasted almost a year was imposed. Livelihoods for a county that depends on trade on the mainland and tourism for the archipelago suffered.

And perhaps, for the first time in his life, Tawfiq admitted he is not in control of his fate. “We got calls on that day from friends outside the country asking us if Lamu was safe. We did not know what was happening,” he says.

News was slow to filter into Lamu. Bahari Beach House, the hotel that Tawfiq runs, has neither TV nor radio. There is an internet connection but who would want to be bogged down by the cares of the world transmitted in a virtual reality when confronted with the natural beauty that Lamu has to offer?

“The next calls I got and for the month that followed was only for cancellations. The next year was rough on us,” he says.

To cope, the hotelier, who has lived his whole life on Shela beach, had to look for an alternative means of income. “I am not a herder but I had to look for cows to rear,” he says.

But now, after the death, the curfews that stifled life and what looked like a looming economic depression, the island is rising again to claim its rightful place. “We are getting bookings now,” Nina Chauvez of the Moon Houses in Lamu says. “We are slowly getting back to where we were before the crisis set in.”

For Nina though, the crisis could and should have been prevented. “We sank that low because of an irresponsible media. All illustrations of the story in local and international media were of Lamu Island. This is a perception we have tried to fight for so long,” she says.

On October 1, 2011 at around 3am, an armed gang docked their speedboat on the white sandy beaches of Manda and stormed into the house French national Marie Dedieu and abducted her. The Kenyan government said the abductors were Al Shabaab militants. The kidnap came three weeks after a UK couple was attacked further north.

Two weeks after the abduction, Kenya waged war on the Al Shabaab, resulting in a drawn out guerilla war that snaked out of Somalia and into Kenya, bringing with it venom that threatened to eat away the peaceful existence of the island.

The repercussions of Kenya’s foray into Somalia were immense. On the mainland, fear was planted. “Many left and have never been back. Life has been different since then. Harder,” Irene Mutua, or Mama Joshua as her friends know her, says.

Many more residents left Mpeketoni after the 2014 massacre. On the night of the attack, her stall was razed to the ground. Since then, she has been unable to lift herself or her business up. But amidst the ash, some have started to make baby steps towards a return to normalcy.

Moving on has come at a price and Walid Ahmed Ali knows this too well. “Now if you stand up against anything, they call you Al Shabaab,” he says. Last year, Walid and a few of his friends from the Lamu Youth Council were arrested on allegations of having funded the massacres. He was later released without charge.

Walid believes a broader all-inclusive future awaits the residents. “We have hit the bottom. We have seen how it looks like and we don’t like it. We can only move forward from here,” he says.

Lamu residents believe that the scars from a difficult two years are fading, and that it is only a matter of time before she blossoms into her natural beauty once again.
And when this happens, maybe, just maybe, Tawfiq will start looking forward to controlling his fate once again.

At what cost development?

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On the morning of August 22nd, Samia Omar woke up with a divided conscience. She spent the whole morning trying to reconcile the two sides into one. But by 2pm she had given up the fight and she submitted in her resignation as the Lamu County Trade, Tourism, Culture and Natural Resources Executive

“As County Executive for both investment and natural resources, my mandate and obligation to the public is conflicted between promoting investment in Lamu, and preserving the environment,” said Ms Omar. “Having read the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the Lamu Coal Power Plant, I am convinced that the project will have irreversible and profound impact on Lamu,” she said as she handed in her resignation letter.

For decades, Lamu County was known for its tourist attraction sites and its agriculture based businesses. But over the past three years, a lot more is being associated with it, key being a coal mining plant billed as a savior to Kenya’s energy needs.

Labelled by the Government as a Vision 2030 project, Lamu’s coal power plant is expected to produce 1,050 megawatts (MW) of electricity upon completion – a 50 per cent addition to the 2,200MW on the national electricity grid.

However, Lamu’s local community, leaders and environmental campaigners have united in opposition to the project, in what is slowly evolving into a fierce conflict between mega infrastructure and local community interests in a region caught Iin the dilemma of protecting its heritage while at the same time playing its part in nation building.

Amu Power, a consortium that includes local firms Gulf Energy and Centum, is spearheading the development of the Sh200 billion power plant, with the Investment and Power Construction Corporation of China charged with construction. Construction of the power plant on 869 acres in Kwasasi, 20 kilometres off Lamu town, was scheduled to begin last September.

Its owners have billed it as the first of its kind in the region. But as the plans to satisfy a huge power appetite continue full steam ahead, Lamu residents continue to share their reservations over the long term effect of the project. And they vow to do all they can to stop what they term as an intrusion into not only their lives, but the existence of future generations too.

“We have been against this project from the beginning. Coal is dirty energy and its effects are detrimental,” Ishaq Abubakar of the Lamu Youth Alliance says. “We are not anti-development but no one in the world has ventured into coal mining and faced no long term consequences.”

Ishaq says if the project starts the livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen who fish in the waters near the plant will be at stake.
“Plus the health problems as a result of the pollution will take its toll on the population,” he says.

Key among the issues raised by Ishaq is the inadequate public participation of residents on the project.

He says an Environmental Impact Assessment Report was submitted to NEMA on the 14th of July 2016 by Amu Power, the invitation of comments from the public was made on 29th July 2016, giving 30 days for comments – due by the 29th of August 2016.

A public hearing was held on the 26th of August 2016, contrary to the law which requires that it is held after comments are submitted (29th August) and in a place accessible by most affected people – it was held in an area inaccessible to most residents of Lamu, due to distance and costs.

As the custodian of the electorates’ wellbeing Lamu governor Issa Timammy need to ensure his people’s interest comes first.

“All over the world coal is a controversial source of energy. But the country has an energy shortfall and this project might go a long way in bridging it as long as the proper conditions are set for its production,” he said.

But residents say there can never be proper conditions coal mining.

“The project is being set up at the heartland of the community. And this will be sure death to the mangrove forest around the islands,” he says.

Ishaq also says the investors showed no practical way through which the local community will benefit.
Timammy however says if all s done according to plan, there will be job opportunities for Lamu residents.

“The only thing is that my people are choosy when it comes to employment opportunities. We should learn to take what is available. Plus it may also open up business opportunities for Lamu residents,” he says.

Lamu is a world heritage site for its flora and fauna and its ancient civilization. And as the world moves on towards green energy, why is coal a priority?

“We have an opportunity to harness wind power, solar or even get energy from the sea waves. But the national government has focused on coal. We need to make sure all steps are followed before production kicks off,” Timammy says.

Environmentalists argue the initial EIA Report the climate change impact that the coal plant will have in the areas micro climate and that this will be inconsistent with Kenya’s commitments in international law.

Kenya committed to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030 according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They say this project will increase emissions significantly.

The dilemma that faced Lamu’s former executive on tourism, trade and environment has been magnified and has trickled down to the residents who are now choosing sides.

“You are either pro development or anti-development. There is no space for those concerned about the environment. That is why we have to keep speaking up,” Ishaq says.

For now, Lamu county holds on. The air remains pure and the mangrove forests reaches out to the sun. But for how long?

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Age old injustices at the heart of coast land problems

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Story originally published in the Standard on Sunday on October 23rd.

Joseph Baya Mketa remembers an incident that happened in his village when he was a small boy. And when he speaks about it, even in adult hood, his eyes tear up and veins pop out of his neck. One morning, friends and neighbours woke up to a gruesome scene.

A woman in their village had in the still of the night been stabbed severally in the back. She lay face first onto the loamy clay soil of her village. She was a new mother and the villagers immediately embarked on looking for her infant child as they waited for policemen to come and get the woman’s body from the crime scene.
After an hour of looking and with the whole village seemingly giving up on ever finding the baby, a cry pierced through the hot sun. It seemed to be coming from where the body lay. Curious, bystanders flipped the body over. The woman’s child, dusty, and sweating had latched on to her mother’s right breast. The left one had been chopped off.

“The fight for our land is represented in this death. Our ancestors, just like the dead mother did, will not forsake us and will keep us safe at the most difficult of times,” he says.
The difficult times for Baya and his Mijikenda clansmen have lasted longer than they had anticipated. For them, home continues to be elusive more 50 years after independence.

“Rais wetu Uhuru Kenyatta akizaliwa sisi tayari tulikua IDPs. Na mpaka leo hatujaruhusiwa kwenda nyumbani,” Baya says.

But theirs isn’t a unique plight. In fact, displacement of whole communities from large tracts of land within the former coast province goes back further than the most recent dislodgement of populations as a result of the Mpeketoni massacres. Further back than the 2012 violent evictions following clashes between the Pokomo and Orma. It goes back further to just after independence, when whole communities such as Baya’s were evicted from their ancestral homes again, as a result of violence. Bloody violence from what is officially known as the Shifta War.

Between 1963 and 1967, a secessionist conflict in Northern Kenya broke out. AT the heart of it was a desire by the inhabitants of Northern Kenya to secede to Somalia. This move was met by brutal force by law enforcement. Leading to the deaths of thousands and the uprooting of whole communities from their ancestral lands to concentration camps for what they termed as ‘safety reasons.’

The insecurity trickled south from Northern Kenya to parts of the coast and eventually to Baya’s village.
“We were moved to Witu from our village in Nyongoro. The policemen told us that that was the only place that they could keep us safe,” Baya says.

That was in 1964. They haven’t been back since.
For Baya and many others, the war was merely a smokescreen. A smokescreen to get them off their land and push them away.

“And this is what we will not accept,” Baya says. “We are known to be peaceful. But when pushed to the wall we will push back. But through legal ways.”

Now, quickly fading headstones of the graves of his forefathers lie within a private ranch. He and his people have become trespassers on what they say is rightfully theirs.

“All my people are here. Why do they want me to move out? Move away from the graves of my fathers and mothers,” Mketa says. Next to him, teenage girls pound maize using a motar and pestle.
Large tracts of land in Kenya’s coast are occupied by squatters and even larger ones are held by group or individually owned ranches. Ranches that indigenous populations blame for almost all the land wrongs in Lamu county. Wrongs they say the political class is unwilling to right.

Issa Timamy is a tall man. He walks upright but his shoulders are beginning to hunch around the edges. As the first governor of Lamu county, he has been tasked with the delicate matter of getting his people land. And at the same time balance the needs of the private sector amidst a flurry of big money infrastructure investment. His in tray contains part of the Lamu Port South Sudan Transport corridor project (LAPSET), a controversial coal plant, insecurity fears, a struggling tourism industry and a squatter problem.

“I asked for it. So I have to deal with all these things,” Governor Timamy says. “Our land issues may be historical but we have modern day grabbers who have taken advantage of our people to steal their land from them,” he says.
Since 2013, the Lamu county government has revoked illegal titles that covered over half a million acres of land.
“All these belonged to individuals with connections in Nairobi. Speculators would even without setting foot in the county hive off parts of government land and process title deeds for themselves. Then send law enforcement to evict the populations living on the land who for generations had not sought ownership documents,” Timammy says.

 

Fatuma Mzee Ali doesn’t know her true age. But she knows she has been in this world for ‘far too long.’
Severally, her home in Pangani Old Town, almost 20 kilometres from Witu town has been razed to the ground.
“Sasa tumekua kama kuku ndani ya maji,” she says. “Hatujui kuogelea na hatuna wakutuokoa.” She has seen successive evictions on the basis of insecurity and just like Baya, she was first evicted on the basis of the Shifta War.

Now history is repeating itself and her 35 year old granddaughter Asma Salim is living it.

“Pangani Old Town is an ancient town. Our forefathers came here from Tanzania. How is it that suddenly we are squatters? Where were the ranchers when our people came from Tanzania,” she asks.
Nothing about Pangani Old Town can speak of its illustrious past. In cact it looks like a new settlement. Bushes have just been cleared. Thickets burnt to create space for houses. But upon closer inspection, exposed concrete floors from an age past creep up from the ground.

“Every six months or so, they come and chase us away and burn our houses and all our belongings,” Asma says. “And every so often we return to our land.”
Area Chief Yahya Abaraba says 305 families have been living in the area since before independence.

Now, the land is claimed by Amu Ranch.

In the early 70s, Francis Njeru Chege and his family sighed in relief as a Kenya Army truck sputtered to a stop in the middle of nowhere. The journey had been treacherous, and as the party jumped off and beat the brown dust off themselves, he looked around and wondered how they could even call the bush next to him home.
More than 40 years after his arrival in Mpeketoni to settle in one of the first settlement schemes in the region, he has become a land owner. With several other individuals, he is a shareholder of Amu Ranch, that claims ownership of the areas around Pangani Old Town.

“We paid the government for that land,” Chege says. “The trouble is that at the time of the sales and leases, very few people were enlightened thus many were left out of the ownership schemes.”
He says many of those claiming ownership to various lands have already been given alternative areas to settle in.

“Families have been allocated land. But there seems to be a delay in processing the title deeds,” he says.
Governor Timamy has an explanation for this.

“There are too many competing interests on land matters in Lamu. Even the residents are listening to too many people. Now, almost every community with a claim to land here is in court. Effectively our hands are tied because even matters that would have been resolved amicable are now before court,” he says.

Nyongoro and Pangani residents, where Baya and Asmaa live respectively have pending matters before court.
“How do you now bring the ranch owners and the residents to the table? Because truth be told, some of these ranches have existed for a very long time. Longer than any of us have been alive,” Timammy says.
His official sea front residence is on a serene stretch of the Island between Lamu town and the exquisite tourist attractions of Shela beach. Further across, sits Manda Island. Also affected by land issues.

“Huku kumenyakuliwa tu na watu. Hatuna vyeti vya umiliki,” Swaleh Athman Guyo says. His father was part of the original 363 families settled on the island as IDPs also during the Shifta War.

“To date, we are squatters yet we have seen people come here recently and have their title deeds,” he adds.
The residents from Nyongoro, Pangani, Mokowe and even Lamu think they know why they are not getting what they say is rightfully theirs.

“Hii yote ni kwa sababu ya LAPSET. Kila mtu sasa atazama Lamu,” Twahir Khalif Aman or Kamanda wa Manda says. He says speculators are grabbing anything and everything on the county.

“Wananyakua mpaka kaburi za mama zetu,” he says.

The country is heading into an election year. For large parts of the coast, land ownership remains a thorny issue that will dominate campaign rhetoric and, according to others, an issue that has led to the loss of lives.

“Our young men have been killed agitating for their land rights. In 2014 four of our young men were killed. The murders were blamed on Al Shabab. But we keep asking ourselves how terrorists would call out their names one by one, cut their throats open and leave,” Baya says of the 2014 Poromoko and Majembeni attacks on 17 June 2014, a day after the Mpeketoni massacres.

Baya says those killed were key witnesses in ongoing land cases between his community and privately owned ranches.

For Lamu, competing interests from private developers, the national government and local communities will have to strike a balance.

A balance that will enable future generations live out of the shadow of bitterness as a result of landlessness. A bitterness passed down from generation to generation. A bitterness of displacement. A bitterness so personal to Baya, Asma and Twahir. A bitterness they hope will end with their generation.