Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Man succumbs to jigger infection in Kenya

A jigger-infested man died in Kandara district over the weekend. Officials of Ahadi Kenya, an anti-jigger organisation, had gone to Kagira village to help victims register as voters when news of the man's death arrived.
"The family of the victim is at pains explaining how they have tried all manner of treatment to save their loved one," said Ahadi Kenya ambassador Cecilia Mwangi. Most of the victims could not be able to hold a pen or use the thump print as their hands were badly infested. Ahadi Kenya had hired vehicles to take them to registration centres in Kandara.
The team moved from house to house picking the victims. Ahadi Kenya executive director Stanley Kamau appealed to the government to allow victims with old generation IDs to register and take the exercise door to door.
He added that the 45 days given by IIEC for the registration are not enough for people who cannot even get out of their homes to renew their IDs and register as voters. More than 300 people have so far died due to jigger-related complications in the last three years according to Ahadi Kenya.

THE US has asked Kenya to expand the Daadab refugee camp to ease congestion in one of the largest refugee camp in the world.

Reuben Brigety, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration said the US has been in talks with the" Kenyan government to expand the camp and increase screening services for refugees.

Brigety raised concerns over recruitment of young refugees by Somalia's al Shabaab militants and urged the Kenyan' government to protect refugees from these insurgents. "We are aware of the threats that refugees face and we are reaffirming that they must remain neutral," he said.

Brigety also said Kenya has the right to close its borders if there are security concerns but it needs' to adhere to the international law on refugees.

"Kenya closed its borders with Somalia in 2007 but more Somalis continue to pour into the country to escape fighting in their country.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bold Refugee newspaper-KANERE close shop



I recently decided to fly to the Kakuma refugee camp to do a story for The Star, Kenya’s newest independent daily. The overcrowded camp is in Turkana, about 290kms northwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. I have been to several refugee camps in the Great Lakes region. But to be honest, I have never seen resilient refugees as the ones at Kakuma refugee camp.
I have been here several times, highlighting the plight of the refugees. But my goal this time round is to meet some refugee journalists whom I learnt operate from this particular camp. I am eager to learn how these journalists run a publication, with nothing to call a tangible newsroom like the one I am used to in Nairobi.
Here, they have turned the sufferings of a refugee camp into a powerful reported narrative.

In a 30 page newsletter, these journalists tell the stories of the challenges at the camp. They have established a monthly system of news reporting, pooling their skills for the investigation and reporting on events around the camp.
KANERE is the name they have given their monthly newsletter.

I met journalist Atem Deng, a 27 year old Sudanese from the Dinka ethnic group. From afar, Deng is just another young man in this refugee camp. But from the looks of how he is dressed - clean blue formal shirt and black official trousers-he gives me a picture of an educated man.

His small manyatta or thatch shelter does not, however, speak much of him. “I was pursuing a Diploma in Community health. But one day, I got back from my normal day in school only to find my home raided and my parents killed, I had to run,” Deng recalls. He explains that he had to walk for months coming to Kenya. He has been at the Kakuma Refugee camp since 2005.

He was introduced to the KANERE family –his education was an asset. The group takes pride in its diverse background – made up of refugees from all over the region –which helps keep the stories varied and balanced.
“I had not written anything before for publication. But my friend taught me of how to be a journalist. I accompanied him to the field to gather news,” he explains. But the friend soon left to the US through a resettlement programme. Deng was left to fill the shoe of the gone friend, who was also from Sudan.
He explains that the best brains of the newsletter will always be picked to be resettled in third countries hence negatively affecting the publication in terms of manpower.
After my conversation with Deng, he refers me to25 year old Ajirah Abdirahman from Somalia. She has been pursuing adult education at one of the Kakuma schools. She is dressed in a maroon burqa and a black buibui. With her she is carrying a paper bag with books. Talking to her, I realize she is struggling with English. But this is a young woman who has decided to beat all odds facing a Somali woman to pursue a career and possibly a better life.

Ajirah left her war torn country after it was raided by militias. She came to one of the biggest refugee camps in the world, Daadab Camp, in Kenya. She was among the first Somali refugees to be transferred to Kakuma after Daadab became overcrowded.
“Once I got here, I took the opportunity to learn some English and enrolled in the adult education classes,” she says. Her teacher then mentioned about KANERE as there was no Somali writer on their staff. She decided this would be her opportunity to put what she has learnt to practice and so she took up the challenge as a Somali writer for KANERE.
Ajirah explains that the lack of resources inhibited the groups from getting the best stories. “When you want a good story, you have to understand the background of it but we didn’t have that option,” she says.

In addition to the lack of training, the team copes with only one camera was available along with one “temperamental” computer with a lousy internet connection, Deng added. After struggling with limited resources and training the KANERE voluntary team would seek UNHCR’s help to print the publication.
However, the publication today is no more.
“The last publication of the paper was last year in December, the sponsors did not give tangible reason as to why they cannot support us anymore but I get the feeling it’s from highlighting the real issues in the camp,” Deng explains to me. The newspaper grew into a source of hope for many of the journalists involved, through the passion of the writers and the possibility that their work could create real change and reach a global community of humanitarians.
“The first few times we did real stories of real people, there was no problem with the humanitarian organizations, but later they decided to monitor our stories and they would only publish the ones that would give them mileage,” says Deng. “We are beggars here, we depend on the food rations from the organization, once you portray them badly then you could kiss the rations --or at least better treatment goodbye, this caused most writers to be careful on what to write about,” he adds.
According to the UNHCR officials the paper stopped because of the unprofessionalism of writers and some of the writers being repatriated to other countries or transferred to other refugee camps.
”Most of the writers are not professional journalists, every time we have to repatriated refuges to other places and most of the Kanere writers have left and we are also working on ways where Kanere would be recognized by the Kenyan Government,” said Emmanuel Nyabera UNHCR spokesperson.
But this unusual but fascinating venture of refugees-turned-journalists, confronting issues they face everyday in Kenyas wilderness, did not live to see many days as the paper closed down. Ajirah and the rest of the crew still investigate cases in hopes of reviving the publication one day. On top of the many problems faced by the refugees such as lack of food and health risks, they now face being denied the right of speech.
UNHCR however refutes the claim and KANERE was shut down for lack of funds and not because of the threat that the KANERE posed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trouble in Daadab refugee camp

NCCK Distributes Condoms in refugee camps.

By Fatuma Noor

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) are at loggerheads with National Council of churches for distributing Condoms in Daadab refugee camps.

Supkem exerted a strong pressure towards the United Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to ban the National Council of Churches of Kenya from operating in Daadab refugee camp.

In a letter to UNHCR, SUPKEM urged the immediate cessation of NCCK’s activities and its subsequent departure from Daadab.

Local religious leaders led by Garissa Branch Chairman, Mr. Sheikh Abdullahi Salat, had since asked the UNHCR to ban NCCK from operating in the camps that is now teeming with about 300,000 Somali refugees.

“ NCCK should not be dishing out condoms like food toan area where majority of people living there are of Somali community, something that’s against our culture” said Sheikh Salat.

Over the past few months, SUPKEM’s reports have surfaced of hard-line Christian evangelical groups using their charity work to spread the word of Jesus.

"They are like vultures, swooping in to take advantage of the poor and those injured by the wars in Somalia” Sheikh Salat added.

An email response to SUPKEM Garissa branch, the head of UNHCR in Dadaab, Richard Flower, said the agency is working in accordance with the international laws of human rights.

“It is difficult to comprehend the reason for this kind of reaction and why now” read part of the email.

The NCCK head office in Nairobi is yet to respond to the allegations.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

UNHCR appeals more money for refugees

UNHCR appeals for US$60 milion for Somali refugees

The UN refugee agency UNHCR appealed on Wednesday for US$60 million to help displaced Somalis and refugees in four neighbouring countries.

The four countries in need are Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia where there is a high number of refugees. In Kenya the fund will also be used to extend the Ifo refugee camp in Daadab in the North Eastern Kenya.

According to the officials, UNHCR needs US $ 424.7 Million for the 2010 budget for the Four nations, has received 36 per cent of its global comprehensive needs budget.

UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner T. Alexander Aleinikoff, who has visited Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya within the past two weeks, said that the displacement crisis is worsening of the situation inside Somalia. He added that UNHCR needs to prepare fast for new and possibly large-scale displacement.

"We need to be ready. We have a duty of care to strengthen efforts to provide protection and to improve the living conditions of a refugee population. We also need to be prepared for the possibility of continued instability in Somalia and the population displacement associated with that," Aleinikoff said on the agency’s website.

Moses Okello, UNHCR's representative in Ethiopia, told reporters on Wednesday that some 25,000 Somalis were expected to cross the border over the next few months to flee the ongoing fighting in Somalia. UNHCR office in Ethiopia will need 13 million dollars to help upcoming refugees.

About 2,300 Somalis refugees are now entering the country each day, according to a government agency in charge of refugee affairs and other 67,000 already present as of April. Another 42,000 Eritrean refugees are now in Ethiopia.

Why I hit George Bush with shoe

An interview with the unrepentant Iraqi shoe thrower, Muntanzeer al- Zaidi

By Fatuma Noor in Geneva

More than two years after his size 10 shoe spun through the air towards the former United States president George W Bush, Muntanzeer al-Zaidi – the man the world now knows as “the shoe-thrower” says that if given a chance he would do it again.

The still very bitter Zaidi was spoke to me after presenting a paper on challenges facing the Iraq journalist at the ongoing Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2010 in Switzerland Geneva.

Said he, “I did it for every drop of innocent blood that has been shed through the occupation or because of it, every scream of a bereaved mother, every moan of an orphan, the sorrow of a rape victim, the teardrop of an orphan.”

Even the nine months he spent in an Iraqi prison and the torture that he went through while in prison, did not change his rebellious feeling about the invasion of his country or even the man he threw the shoe at two years ago last December.

“Despite everything that I went through, I still believe that the invasion of my country was wrong because the Americans turned us against each other and they killed a lot of people to what they believed was right,” he said.

Zaidi criticised the war in Iraq, calling on the international community to bring those responsible for the war "led by George Bush" to justice.

Zaidi says that the Iraq journalist have been reporting on nothing positive but killings of its citizens and everyday more than 150 deaths are reported and a number of journalists have been killed covering on this same issues.

“We have lost lots of colleagues who were brave reporters against what the Americans are doing and those that portray what’s really happening in the ground but they never live long because they are target which makes it not a very easy place for any journalists to work.”

Zaidi said that in recent years more than a million victims have fallen by the bullets of the occupation and Iraq is now filled with more than five million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. Many millions are homeless inside and outside the country.

Speaking of the traumatic effect of covering the war, he said, “Every day as soon as I finished my professional duties in reporting the daily tragedies, while I washed away the remains of the wreckage of the ruined Iraqi houses, or the blood that stained my clothes, the horror remained with me.”

He says that on the day he was sent to cover President Bush’s press conference, he saw an American soldier killing an innocent seven-year-old girl in a school playground and it was this incident that tipped him over the boiling point.

“Once I got there and this criminal called Bush started telling more lies about how his soldiers would do this and that, I could not hide my anger anymore and my shoe was my closest weapon so I seized the opportunity.”

He says that he did not do it to become famous and he denies that he is a hero. He says he was motivated by feelings of humiliation. It humiliated him to see Iraq humiliated and to see Baghdad burned, people killed. “Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation” he added.

“I travelled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and heard with my own ears the screams of the orphans and the bereaved. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless and the opportunity came and I took it” he said.

Speaking to Zaidi more that two years after the world famous incident one can hear the bitterness in his voice, his anger towards the former president and all the soldiers that killed thousands of Iraqi people during the invasion.

“I say to those who reproach me: Do you know how many broken homes that shoe which I threw had entered? How many times it had trodden over the blood of innocent victims? Maybe that shoe was the appropriate response when all rights were violated.”

He however says that despite his bitterness against the Americans then, not all of them are bad people as most of the American people were against the war but the person in power was too arrogant to listen to anyone.

“Bush was ignorant, he didn’t even know what he was doing, his mission was to wipe Islam out of this planet and he wanted my country under his boot, I could not take that and I did what I had to do.”

After throwing the shoe at Bush, Zaidi was arrested and had to spend nine months in jail and it is this time that he says that was tortured by the US army and his own government for his actions.

“I was tortured, they did all they could think just so they could punish me for what I did, but not at one time did I say I was sorry and thats what the Iraq government had said” he claims.

Across Iraq and in every corner of the Arab world, Zaidi was feted for his action. The 20 words or so he spat at Bush – "This is your farewell kiss, you dog. This is for the widows and orphans of Iraq" – have been immortalized on YouTube, and in many cases memorised.

After Zaidi, a correspondent for the Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV threw the shoe Promises of money, gold, camels and virgin brides for a Muslim hero were never kept.

"I blame the media because they said I would become rich for doing what I did, that I would become a multi-millionaire, something that never was, am still the same young man I was then and trying to meet ends meet just like any other journalists and the small gifts I got I used for the foundation” he continued.

In Geneva Zaidi announced the launch of a foundation to help the Iraqi widows and orphans who were the major victims of the war in Iraq and he says that this is in part the gift that he had received for his act.

“I’m making an appeal on behalf of my people and I announce the launch of a humanitarian foundation for my people," Muntazer al-Zaidi said during the interview with the Star.

“Al Zaidy foundation is meant to help with the thousands of widows whom their husbands were killed and the children whom their parents were killed defending what’s rightfully theirs” he said

He said that his life is still in danger in some part of the Iraq and despite the many countries approaching him for asylum he says he is not ready to leave his country and he will continue to fight for what he believes in.

“ I’m not leaving my country, I will continue working as a journalist because that’s one way to bring all the rights violated in his country to light”