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Monday, April 22, 2019

Magadi saga exposes the ugly side of capitalism

Daily Nation

Lake Magadi
Tata Chemicals Limited mines soda ash in Lake Magadi. The company is engaged in a dispute with Kajiado County Government over rent arrears. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
In Summary
  • The takeover of more than 224,000 acres of Maasai land by the East Africa Syndicate has been one of the most controversial colonial undertakings.
  • This month, Governor Joseph ole Lenku led residents in storming Tata Chemicals Limited, as the company is known today, demanding rent arrears of Sh17 billion according to him.

The first time I drove to Magadi, some years back, what struck me was the manned drop-arm barrier. I recall telling a colleague, “Here is the only town with a gate.”
Magadi was hot, too hot — and it reminded me of the words of Blaney Percival, the big game hunter, who in 1900 dismissed the place as unsuitable for human occupation.
“If I owned an estate in hell and an estate in Magadi, I would prefer hell,” he wrote in his diary.
For starters, Blaney Percival is the man credited with bringing former US statesman Theodore Roosevelt to East Africa for a hunting safari in Juja plains before he went to vie for the presidency.
President Roosevelt, in his book, African Game Trails: An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist, actually talks glowingly of Percival as “a tall, sinewy man, (and) a fine rider”.
Magadi, when I went there, was both a town and a company, and there was a thin line between the lichen-like relationships between officials of both the company, the Ol Kejuado County Council and the locals.
It was the only company in Kenya that I know of today that employed a mortuary attendant and had a cemetery.
Besides the army of nurses, it also employed a few well-paid doctors who worked at the 55-bed Magadi hospital. Medical service at the hospital was then free — even during the days of cost-sharing.
The company had also built dormitories which housed outpatients willing to stay in Magadi town until they got better to trek back home.
In these dormitories, food was free and all locals had access to free water and cooking gas since the company did not want locals to cut trees.
Along the railway line from Magadi to Konza, the company had built many water tanks which were regularly filled with clean water for livestock and human consumption.
We saw a wide range of water bowsers which ferried water to the villages not covered with piped water from Nguruman escarpment.
Officials of the company told me that this was part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) — but on the face of it, it masked the exploitation of the Maasai land resources by a global giant.
If you have read Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and the recently published The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis, the story of Magadi will resonate for it is a story of massive exploitation of African resources.
Magadi played the local activists, elites and politicians like pawns in a chessboard.
In my tour around the country, I have never seen any other private or publicly listed company, either at the mercy of these elites and politicos and willing to do anything to do business — so philanthropic and overly generous to an extent that it exposed the ugly face of capitalism.
By then, I was told that they were using Sh140 million for the 4,000 residents of the town. The company held enormous economic and political power in Ol Kejuado.
But looking at the poverty and lack of investments in Magadi after 100 years of exploitation of trona worth trillions of shillings, one question that lingered in my mind, is a question often asked throughout the continent: Lake Magadi has the world’s largest deposit of soda ash but all around there is nothing to show, why?
The answer lies in the lack of transparency in the governance of natural resources, corruption, and illegal outflows.
When I visited Magadi, the company was still under the British conglomerate, Magadi Soda Company, before the 2005 purchase of controlling shares of Brunner Mond — the world’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of soda ash — by India’s Tata Chemical.
That Magadi was the cash-cow of local activists and elites was known then.
And today, the County Government of Kajiado believes that this soda ash investment would help it balance its books — only if the company paid the land lease arrears and is transparent in its dealings.
This month, Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku led residents in storming Tata Chemicals Limited, as the company is known today, demanding rent arrears of Sh17 billion according to him.
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A family from Kakamega calls for help to bring back their kin stuck in Saudi Arabia

Everlyne Saliku Onamu has been wounded after she went to Saudi Arabia to look for greener pastures. Her family members are appealing to the government to help them bring her back. [Duncan Ocholla/Standard]
A family from Eshisiru in Lurambi sub-county has called on the Government to help it bring home their kin stuck in Saudi Arabia.

 Everlyne Saliku Onamu, 40, travelled to the Middle East in 2015 in search of a job but is now wandering the streets of Saudi Arabia. “She was excited about the prospects of landing a job, which could enable her support her children,” said Irene Onamu, her elder sister. According to Irene, her sister was among several other women from the county hired through an agent in Nairobi to take up domestic jobs in the Arab state. The family said the agent has apparently gone underground, offering little hope that her sister will come back home. “We recently learnt that my sister was in big trouble when photos showing her wandering in Saudi Arabia went viral on social media, she looked fatigued, dirty, weak and lost,” said Irene. Everlyne is believed to have fallen ill in October 2018 the time during which the family lost touch with her completely. The family said her employer threw her out on the streets and never paid a penny.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bobi Wine draws parallels as Bouteflika 20 year-era ends

Nairobi News Logo
By Nahashon Musungu April 4th, 2019 1 min read
Uganda’s youthful MP Robert Kyagulanyi has ‘congratulated’ the Algerian people for successfully instituting a regime change in the country through protests. Eighty two year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned as Algeria President on Tuesday in the wake of weeks of protests from civilians opposed to an extension of his two-decade stay in power.
Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, referred to Bouteflika as a ‘despot’ and noted that ‘people Power is stronger than people in power’.
“Another powerful despot is pushed out by the people,” the famed artist wrote on his social media pages.
“Like Uganda, Algeria is a very youthful country and this man and a few of his henchmen have been trying to impose themselves on them. This time the citizens told him ENOUGH IS ENOUGH until he was forced to resign. Mind you Algeria has one of the strongest armies in Africa. When the protests started, the army and police attempted to break them down. They brought all manner of weapons to scare the protestors away. When the citizens stood their ground, the military was left with no option but to side with the people.”
Bobi Wine has attracted fame and criticism for his decision to stand up to President Yoweri Museveni’s regime.
President Museveni has been in power for 33 years.
Bouteflika has meanwhile asked his country for ‘forgiveness’ in a letter published by the Algerian Press Service. He said he was ‘proud’ of his contributions but realized he had ‘failed in his duty’.
He added that he was ‘leaving the political stage with neither sadness nor fear’ for Algeria’s future.
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US calls on Burundi to rescind decisions against BBC and VOA

Cyclone Idai threat to food security, health in Southern Africa
Television director of Burundi's National Radio and Television, Nestor Bankumukunzi, poses in the studio in Bujumbura, May 15,2015.

In Summary

  • Both broadcasters were suspended, initially for six months, in May last year in the run-up to a referendum that opposition politicians and activists said was designed to extend the president's rule for at least a decade.
  • The U.S. State Department on Tuesday called on Burundi to rescind its decision to suspend the U.S-funded Voice of America and ban the BBC and to allow journalists to operate freely in the run-up to elections in 2020.
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday called on Burundi to rescind its decision to suspend the U.S-funded Voice of America and ban the BBC and to allow journalists to operate freely in the run-up to elections in 2020.
“This decision raises serious concerns for the freedom of expression enshrined in Article 31 of Burundi’s constitution, as well as for Burundi’s human rights obligations,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.
“We call on the government to rescind its decision and we urge the government of Burundi to allow all journalists to operate in an environment free from intimidation,” he added.
Both broadcasters were suspended, initially for six months, in May last year in the run-up to a referendum that opposition politicians and activists said was designed to extend the president’s rule for at least a decade.
Hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces and half a million have fled since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in 2015 he would run for a third term in what his opponents saw as a breach of the constitution.
He won reelection.
Last May’s referendum overwhelmingly approved changes that could let the president stay in power to 2034.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika asks Algerians for 'forgiveness'


Thursday April 4 2019
Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. "To err being human, I ask forgiveness for any failing," he said. PHOTO | STR | AFP 
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Outgoing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has asked his country for "forgiveness" in a letter published by the Algerian Press Service.
The president, who has been in power for 20 years, said he was "proud" of his contributions but realised he had "failed in [his] duty".
He added that he was "leaving the political stage with neither sadness nor fear" for Algeria's future.
His resignation on Tuesday came after six weeks of anti-government protests.
Last week, Algeria's army chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah, had called for him to stand down.
In a letter, the 82-year-old president expressed his "gratitude" for "the signs of affection and respect" from his "dear sisters and brothers".
"To err being human, I ask forgiveness for any failing," he continued.
Mr Bouteflika also "implored" Algerians "to remain united and never succumb to division" after his resignation.
The octogenarian leader suffered a stroke six years ago and has rarely been in public since.
Pressure had been building since February, when the first demonstrations were sparked by Mr Bouteflika's announcement that he would stand for a fifth term in national elections.
The president later withdrew his plans and reshuffled Algeria's cabinet to quell accusations of corruption and cronyism, but resigned this week as protests continued.
Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house of parliament, is expected to become caretaker president for three months until elections.

Maids Abroad: Out of frying pan in Saudi Arabia into fire back in Kenya


April 2, 2019 (2 days ago) 6:34 pm

Before Juliet could come back to her motherland from Saudi Arabia where she worked as a domestic worker – 18 hours a day for three years – she was forced to decline food and any work to compel her employer to release her/CFM NEWS
, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – “I fainted… my malnourished body couldn’t bear the news as the brutal reality that my three-year savings that would’ve amounted to more than Sh1 million were no existent – not a single penny.”
Every coin was earned through sweat and denying herself a comfy life from 2014 to late 2017.
The news that threw her into a spin was relayed by her own mother who she consistently sent money for safe custody.
“All along, I had comforted myself that my mum was saving, at least not everything but enough to see us through for some time,” she says.
One would be mistaken to think that the cash was invested in some income generating project, but there was not a single trace.
And as if that is not enough, a good explanation was not forthcoming.
“She said nothing to me, beyond the fact that life had become expensive,” an emotional Juliet told Capital FM News during a Skype interview she described “opened healing wounds, but necessary to create awareness.”
Juliet did not have cash to sustain her family even for another week and it was back to the drawing board.
– Back to tough times in the Middle East –
This is the tale of Juliet, a Kenyan woman whose dream was crushed but is now back in the Middle East, to retrace her steps and resume the painful journey she had started back in 2014.
Before Juliet could come back to her motherland from Saudi Arabia where she worked as a domestic worker – 18 hours a day for three years – she was forced to decline food and any work to compel her employer to release her.
She spent those 72 hours to crying until the employer gave in and gave back her passport after a year of being refused to travel back home.
“I really wanted to come home. In my mind, I knew that my life will never be the same since I had religiously sent all my salary to my mother’s account,” she told Capital FM News.
And truly, her life has never been the same, but not in the manner she had hoped and worked for.
What was more heart wrenching was the fact that her daughter, whom she had left with her mother had since dropped out of school for lack of school fees.
“What happened to the cash?” is a question Juliet has failed to get answers to a year down the line.
“I forgave my mother, but I will never forget.”
One might fail to understand Juliet’s story until you dig deeper.
Why would she send all her savings? Why would a mother be so insensitive? And even, one would ask, who is her mother?
– Health difficulties –
After three years of drinking untreated salty water in Saudi Arabia, her kidneys developed some complications. The bottled water in the house, she said would only be taken by her employer’s family and relatives.
In a country where high temperatures are a norm, she would drink the salty water but only when the thirst was dire, obviously draining her body system.
“At times I cannot even stand,” she says.
“You need to seek medical assistance,” I implored her. But she asked this question, which left my eyes wobbly. “I go to the hospital with what money?” she posed with finality.
-I was running away from my husband’s beatings-
Before she went to Saudi Arabia, Juliet’s health was good and to crown it, she was happily married for five years.
She still recalls how they would go to the market, deeply in love, holding hands with the man who would later turn to be her worst nightmare.
She had a nice paying job until the axe of unemployment fell on her.
“We would quarrel over petty stuff, but I only called it quits after he started being violent,” the mother of one says.
After years of doing laundry from one apartment to another hoping to feed her daughter, mother and siblings, she landed the opportunity to work in the Gulf.
“The agent narrated enticing stories that I couldn’t wait to go there,” she vividly recalls.
And miracles happened… the agent was able to get her a passport and air ticket in two weeks.
It is a journey that started at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), landing in Sharjah, Dubai, where she boarded a connecting flight to Saudi Arabia.
“In Dubai, I waited for the connecting flight from 7pm to 8am,” she still recalls explaining how she drank tap water in the airport restrooms, since she had not eaten anything for 24 hours.
Juliet was received ‘warmly’ at the airport by her employer.
Everything went well until she arrived in her employer’s 17-bedroom mansion.
There was this dusty kitchen store with a mattress on the floor that would be her room for three years.
All her personal belongings were confiscated – including her phone.
“The thought that I couldn’t call home and talk to my daughter killed me, but I told myself, it’s just for a while,” she consoled herself.
The three months that followed, she says, they were torturous.
It was work, work and more work with no salary to begin with. “I was on probation,” she would later learn.
At the same time, she was learning Arabic since “my employers didn’t know even a single word in English. We would speak in sign language.”
But one weird thing happened after the three months, she was told she could not keep cash with her – not even in a bank account.
The only option was to send it back home, to her mother through a money transfer company.
-Back in the Middle East in pursuit of my dream-
After two weeks of regrets and deep pain at her mother’s rental house in Nairobi, she again left her daughter.
This time she did not go to Asia but headed to Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa to join a friend she met in Saudi Arabia and had fallen into the same fate.
While there, she would sell fresh water and juice along the streets of Mombasa.
At the end of every day, the returns were not enough to provide for her only meal in 24 hours.
After it became evident that her motherland wouldn’t provide for her let alone the family, Juliet decided to make a “shameful return” to the Middle East, but this time in Qatar.
“I am in Qatar, which is a better country because I have a day off and I can save money in my M-PESA,” she noted during the Skype interview.
Even now, the duty of being the first-born is weighing on her shoulders heavily – she must send cash to cater for her three siblings’ secondary school fees and that of her daughter who is in class 3.
And after a long day at work, she has to retire to bed, not to sleep, but fight depression.
“I got depressed after all this. My life is complicated,” she says..
In the next four years, Juliet hopes to be reunited with her daughter and family, being more financially stable and ready to invest.
“I miss having my baby with me, but I have to pursue her dream first… our dream,” an emotional Juliet explained.
“I will not faint again,” she has vowed as she marches towards a fresh four-year journey.
NB: Juliet is not her real name since she requested anonymity to protect her family from unnecessary criticism.
(Maids Abroad is a series of tales by Kenyans who return home to nothing after years of working in tough conditions in the Middle East)

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