The mutilated body of an albino toddler has been found in Tanzania with his limbs hacked off, the latest such killing for body parts for witchcraft, the police said on Wednesday.
The United Nations condemned the attack, warning that with general elections looming – when people may turn to witchcraft to boost political campaigns – albinos in Tanzania were facing a “dangerous year.”
The one-year old boy, Yohana Bahati, was seized by men with machetes from his home in northern Tanzania’s Chato district overnight on Saturday, with police finding the body on Tuesday afternoon in a forest area close to his home.
“His arms and legs were hacked off,” regional police chief Joseph Konyo said.
The baby’s mother Ester Jonas, aged 30, is in a serious state in hospital with machete cuts to her face and arms after she tried to protect her baby.
The killing follows the kidnapping in December of a four-year-old albino girl also in northern Tanzania. Multiple arrests were made but the child has not been found.
UN country chief Alvaro Rodriguez said he was “deeply concerned by the abductions of these two young children,” saying that at least 74 albinos have been murdered in the east African country since 2000.
The UN repeated its fears that attacks against albinos could be linked to looming general and presidential elections in October 2015, leading political campaigners to turn to influential sorcerers for help.
“These attacks are accompanied by a high degree of impunity, and while Tanzania has made efforts to combat the problem, much more must be done to put an end to these heinous crimes and to protect this vulnerable segment of the population,” he added.
“This is the year of elections in Tanzania and, as some analysts have suggested, it could be a dangerous year for people living with albinism.”
Albino body parts sell for around $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75 000, according to the UN.
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It affects one Tanzanian in 1 400, often as a result of inbreeding, experts say. In the West, it affects just one person in 20 000.
The child’s father, who was nearby during the attack, is being questioned by police.
This was a conversation with Daniel, a destitute man in Nairobi, Kenya, posted on the internet last August. That night, thanks to a stranger, he received a cooked meal of ugali and stew. Then came more donations of food, money, clothes, a bed and a shack for him to live in.
Here lies the power of Homeless of Nairobi, a Facebook page pricking the conscience of those who take such things for granted.
It is “a virtual home” for the homeless people of the Kenyan capital and one of the few places where they are seen, heard and dignified.
The page features photos, conversations and updates on volunteer projects, such as a group effort on Christmas day that fed about 600 people with 600 loaves of bread, 500 packets of milk, 500 bananas and about 50 bottles of soda.
Not every story has a happy ending. “Today is a heartbreaking day for the Homeless Of Nairobi project,” read a post in November. “Over the past two months, we found a home for a wonderful man called Daniel… It has now come to our attention that Daniel has now left the house in favour of the streets once again. It is hard to understand why but we had told him that there is no pressure on him to stay.”
Building a movement The page was launched last year by Sham Patel (29), who was born and raised in Nairobi but spent three years as a student in Liverpool in the UK. Like many other residents, he gave little thought to people without a home until a chance encounter gave him a flash of empathy and changed his perspective.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve seen homeless people on the streets of Nairobi,” he recalled this week. “They have become part of the wallpaper of this city. For a long time, I didn’t see them as people but as pests who bother people for money. We’re conditioned to think like that by an apathetic society from when we’re young. We’re pre-programmed.”
But then one rainy day, on his way to the gym, he saw some homeless people huddled under a plastic sheet. “It made me think about how I’d feel if that was me or my parents out in the rain without shelter and food. I decided then that it was time to try to make a small difference where possible so the next day I took them bread and milk and started a conversation with them and it was incredible how much they knew about life and their philosophies and belief in God was astounding.”
Patel added: “They shared the bread with me. In fact, they offered it to me first before they ate. Since then, I’ve decided to talk to and spread the stories of as many homeless people as possible with the hope that we can build a movement that will lead to finding ways to help these men, women and children that much of society and our government has discarded.”
One of his major inspirations for the format was Humans of New York, a popular website cataloguing photos, snippets and stories from the US city’s inhabitants. Patel met its founder briefly and was advised: “Just go for it.”
Since then he has gone out day and night, gathering dozens of photos and stories, and the page has gained more than 3 000 likes on Facebook. It offers a rare insight into the pitiless conditions of the homeless in a major African city who have little social support or sympathy from the police. Some turn to drugs for escapism from hunger, pain or misery. A poignant entry on Thursday with a picture of children read:
“How much is the bottle of glue you’re sniffing?”
“We get it for about 30 shillings.”
“So why don’t you buy a small meal with that 30 shillings?”
“Because that meal will not even be enough to fill my stomach. That food will not help me when it is cold at night or when I am hungry again. The glue lasts longer and helps me forget where I am.”
According to the charity Kenya Children of Hope, in 2007 it was estimated that there were 250 000 – 300 000 children living and working on the streets across the country with, with more than 60 000 of them in Nairobi.
Mixed responses Patel said he gets a varied response from those he asks to take part. “Most of the time, the homeless people are really happy just to talk to someone and we can talk for a pretty long time. Other homeless people aren’t so friendly because of their lack of trust or because they’re high on something or the other.
“But it’s been pretty mixed. There was the time I was almost robbed by three homeless people and there was another time we were chased down the street by a homeless guy who, it turns out, is a little psychotic or just really angry. But for the better part, most homeless people are very accommodating even though they do not trust the colour of my skin.”
Patel, who also runs Myrobi, a company that deals in T-shirts and marketing materials with a business partner, says he hopes to achieve “big things” with the Homeless of Nairobi project, including crowd funded projects and a homeless shelter where people can learn skills such as pottery, farming, mechanics and stitching.
“We want to have a psychiatry unit at the shelter because a lot of these homeless people have seen and endured things that human beings should not see. For example, the homeless girls being raped in town constantly.
“These people need psychiatrists to help them deal with the problems they’ve faced. We don’t just want to create a place where we dump homeless people and feed them. We want to bring them back from the brink they stand on. And their resilience proves that it is possible to do exactly that.”
It is a funny thing, the African’s relationship with his Africanness. Like the Christian discusses ‘the flesh’ when falling into the temptation to commit sins, the African brings up the question of Africanness when defending his anti-social behaviour.
Although it may seem perfectly natural for me to choose anger in such a situation, I decided to skip that step and muse on the meaning of “decency” in the mind of the modern African.
To whom shall we credit such a notion, but the missionaries? To me, it seems the term is only ever used to demonise some part of the African population. Whether it is homosexuals, or women wearing miniskirts, the question of Africanness is only ever brought up when violations of human rights are committed by Africans. But where did such an idea begin?
It is easy to surmise my previous conclusion, with an examination of even the simplest look into African history. With the introduction of European missionaries to African society came the idea of “decency” – more so the idea that the scanty attire of traditional Africans was indecent.
For how else can this notion develop organically in the minds of people who live in one of the hottest climates in the world? Surely, it cannot. We cannot claim that an obsession with covering up the bodies of women – a very Victorian obsession – could have developed naturally in the minds of African people.
I say “African” and not “Kenyan” because this issue is not confined to one African country. Just last year Swaziland talked about enforcing anti-miniskirt laws that were penned during, gasp, colonial times. Even in my native Botswana, there was a time when young girls were warned against wearing revealing attire at the bus station. This is not a Kenyan issue, it is an African issue.
To take it further, this is not a dress issue, it is an identity issue. More specifically, this is a crisis of identity. There must exist some conflict in the mind of a man deeming a woman in a miniskirt indecent when only a century ago his ancestors deemed even less clothing perfectly acceptable. Particularly when events still exist in the contemporary setting where African women dress in said traditional attire without protest from the very men happy to police the dress of women in urban settings. The disjoint in logic can only be rationalised by a mind in conflict.
In condemning the miniskirt, the modern African joins in the tradition of condemning his ancestors – a tradition inspired by the European missionaries of the 18th century.
I say this because even those that condemned the behaviour of these men used words like “barbaric” and “primitive” to describe them – in other words, they used the language of colonialism. Even in the minds of those that deplored this behaviour, there swam images of some immoral ancestors that went about undressing women.
This too is a symptom of an identity crisis, of associating decency with Other, and then going further to associate the immoral acts committed in the name of correcting indecency with barbarism, or quite clearly pre-colonial Africanness.
Both assumptions are founded in missionary teachings, whether asserters know it or not. It is this idea that pre-colonial Africans truly were morally bankrupt. This is incorrect.
Even in the most patriarchal societies (if there is such a scale), I doubt that undressing a woman in public would happen without consequence. The dignity of a woman may have not belonged to her, but it belonged to somebody (likely, a father or husband) and doing whatever it took to violate it would not have gone unpunished. Our ancestors were not a group of speaking baboons: they too, had standards of conduct.
Ultimately, when situations like this arise, it is necessary that we examine our thinking and then act accordingly. We cannot allow people to use African culture as a scapegoat. We must be able to see if anything is to be deemed “barbaric” it is the idea that enforcing European missionary ideals in modern Africa is in some way “right.” We must examine our beliefs about decency and dignity and reconcile them with a switch in thinking: with an embracing of the realities that we inhabit. It should be a priority for us in this day and age to correct mentalities that defend any violations of basic human rights and use understanding of history to inspire the creating of environments that nurture and heal our social, religious and mental conflicts. And for this to be done, we should know that there are no [insert african nation] problems, but African problems.
Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites
The grainy mobile phone video shows a mob of Kenyan men surround a woman and grab, grasp and yank her clothes until she is naked. Several such videos have emerged recently of attacks by males who deem a woman to be provocatively dressed. The attacks have created a groundswell of anger that saw mostly women protesters flood downtown Nairobi on Monday.
Rachel Machua wore what she called “a little black dress … my normal outfit” to Monday’s protest. She views the recent attacks as stemming from socio-economic conditions: Lower income men are attacking successful, well-dressed women.
The attacks are not overtly religious in nature, though this is a conservative, mostly Christian country. The women at the march described “normal” levels of sexual harassment over the years and said that peers will warn other women that “you’re gonna get undressed” for wearing a particular outfit.
“Kenyan men are in different groups. My father wanted me to be here and said you can dress however you want. Then there are others who think you are out of their reach and they try to victimise you,” said Machua (26), who runs an aid group called Transforming Generations.
Women play an active role in Kenyan society. The country’s foreign minister is a woman, though few women hold high-ranking elected office. Parliament is a virtual men’s club, unlike in neighboring Rwanda, where more than half of parliament is female.
After the recent attacks, elderly Kenyan women are said to have rescued the naked victims by giving them a shawl to cover up.
James Wamathai, said he was marching because he believes in equal rights. “I think it’s really horrible and no women should have to go through that,” said Wamathai (33), who does commercial media work. “It’s a weird sexual fetish. If you see some of the videos some of the men are groping the women. … But it’s not based on anything (like religion) because in Africa we didn’t used to wear clothes.”
Just 100 metres from the march’s meeting point, park worker Ulda Akinyi emptied trash. Akinyi looked at the demonstration with disdain, and said she has instructed her three daughters to dress conservatively for fear of attracting unwanted attention. “Wearing miniskirts is the devil’s work,” said Akinyi.
Men gathered against a nearby fence. Most said they didn’t support the cause. A man who gave only his first name, John, said he didn’t want Kenya’s women to “seduce” him by wearing revealing clothing.
“It’s like three-quarters naked if you are wearing one of those short skirts,” said David Ndongo, who works on one of Kenya’s mini transport buses known as matatus, where women can also face harassment.
The hashtag #MyDressMyChoice is trending on Twitter since yesterday, with many users voicing their outrage against the incident and their support for women to dress as they wish.
Those who attack/ violate women on pretext of manner of dress not only dehumanize her but reveal themselves as beasts! #MyDressMyChoice — Martha Karua (@MarthaKarua) November 14, 2014
Stripping women is barbaric! God has not appointed anyone to police others on his behalf. These are criminals! #MyDressMyChoice
While Kenyans went about their daily lives, a flock of birds, hidden in plain view, fluttered onto our dinner plates and captured a nation’s imagination.
Social media pundits describe them as a pyramid scheme. Skeptics sneer at this idea. Locals in the markets, at chama meetings and around their dinner tables never tire of discussing them. You see, these little wild things are at the epicentre of a health revolution in this nyama choma country. They should be. We Kenyans take ourselves too seriously and build too many castles in the air to notice nature’s solutions all around us. This time it has come in the form of a bird the size of a small fist.
A helping of two quail eggs a day is said to be the answer to multiple problems. One of its benefits is a rather well-known secret on the streets. Every witchdoctor’s cut-and-paste poster that hug school walls, lamp posts and every nook available, emphasises an endemic problem. “We cure male weaknesses!” is their tagline. Well, a simple quail’s egg is said to improve blood circulation as it strengthens the heart muscles, increasing the male libido and stamina. Packed with protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, a quail egg is not only considered a superfood, but an aphrodisiac too. Don’t overdo it though. A poor chap from Nairobi’s Komarock suburb gulped – on a friend’s advice – 30 raw quail eggs during a sleep-over at his girlfriend’s house. He woke up on the other side of town where people rest in peace.
Like everyone else, we dread poverty and aspire to the good life. We have to. The ugly face of poverty tends to relentlessly peep into our living room windows, its ugly grin announcing the fate that awaits anyone who slips. From local politicians, office workers, informal workers, public administrators, and even the jobless, every Kenyan is a hustler. The broke sod in the pub has to run errands, wash cars and wipe tables to earn just a cigarette or drinks.
Now quail farming is the new side hustle. It has attracted thousands of would-be entrepreneurs who have been bitten by the famous ‘wildebeest migration’ bug. Here’s how it works: One person tells his friends that his half-acre strawberry farm brings in a million bob every three months. The next thing you know, his friends have taken up strawberry farming and it becomes the in thing.
A quail farmer was featured in the local newspaper last year. His quail business was minting a fortune and incurring negligible expenses. You see, a quail bird is low-maintenance: it gobbles 20 grams of feed a day, unlike a chicken that consumes 120 grams. Within a few weeks, there were small banners on shop fronts, walls, and, street light pillars proclaiming the magical powers of this brown-freckled bird. Enterprising Kenyans quickly did their research and sent off their applications to the Kenya Wildlife Service to become… quail farmers.
Quail farming is a million-shilling business with the promise of boosting many incomes in a country where the masses are constantly chasing the elusive shilling. To qualify to be a quail farmer, one completes an application form from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), a government agency in charge of the country’s wildlife. Their officers then come around to inspect the cages for housing the birds. They need to be kept in a warm and dry place in well-ventilated cages that are far from modern pollutants. After their applications have been approved, farmers pay a fee of R150. Permit holders are also subject to impromptu inspections and any violations of the permit’s conditions can result in the licence being revoked. Last year the government handed out more than 5 000 licences, and thousands more are still pending.
The opportunities are boundless if one can capture the still young Kenyan market. However, KWS say the market is becoming saturated, so many farmers are now eyeing the more lucrative Chinese market. There are over 172 000 Google search results about quails from Kenya. The quail farming business has also taken off online – you can now purchase chicks or eggs from a number of sources.
In December 2013, a single tiny quail egg was retailing at slightly more than a dollar in Kenya. Considering a chicken egg costs 8 US cents, quail farmers were making a killing. A day-old quail chick was retailing at an average of R45. The problem with the wildebeest migration bug is that now the lucrative quail market is flooded by too many entrepreneurs and we are experiencing a glut. Like a gift from the skies, now the common man can enjoy the benefits of this bird which was previously only affordable to the middle class. Now, you can purchase a day-old chick for R15 while a quail egg costs between R2 and R3.
The gist of the matter is that this quail business is not only about money. As any health and nutrition buff will tell you, natural food is best! Lately our country is experiencing a surge in lifestyle diseases as western corporates scramble to satiate our rising appetite for junk food. The rich AND poor are dying in droves from cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart-related ailments. Our government has actually banned the importing and selling of GMO food products.
The reality is that cheap processed food is available everywhere, and is easier on the pocket, but the Kenyan middle-class is awakening to the fact that money is not true wealth, health is. Going green and eating healthy is the new rave. And consuming quail meat and eggs promises a plethora of health benefits. It’s said to be a detoxifying agent, an immune booster and stress reliever. It helps with digestive tract disorders, stomach ulcers, anemia, tuberculosis, heart problems, bronchial illnesses and diabetes. It can alleviate migraines and give you healthier hair, while keeping hypertension, digestive disturbance, gastric ulcer, liver problems and blood pressure under control. A quail egg a day may indeed keep the doctor away.
With all these ‘super natural’ powers, I suggest government should fund two quail eggs a day for each child in public school instead of wrestling with a costly laptop project that’s way beyond their depth. The quail phenomenon is a healthy socio-political, economic, and spiritual answer to Kenyans’ problems. Right now, I’m off to have my own dish of fried aluru (quail) accompanied by wild vegetable herbs and brown ugali (a cake made from corn).
Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer based in Nairobi.