Tag Archives: Al-Shabaab

What it is like for Kate Copstick living, working and running a charity in Kenya

Journalist Kate Copstick’s work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya has been covered in this blog over the last few years. 

Mama Biashara helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small self-supporting businesses which may give them a lift to a better life – a hand up, not a hand out. It also gets involved in educational and health care projects.

In the last blog here, rather than cover the charity’s work directly, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary which give an impression of the things she encounters more generally in Kenya.

Here are some more brief, edited extracts starting more than a week ago. Fuller versions appear on the Mama Biashara Facebook page


Faith (14-year-old, raped and impregnated by her father; mentioned in the last blog) is STILL being held by Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi. The psychological and emotional toll of being imprisoned like this is unimaginable. I suspect the monsters of Kenyatta Hospital are responsible for destroying this girl’s ability to trust another human being forever.


Arriving in Mombasa is like walking in front of an industrial hairdryer and it is fabulous. The Shiloh (our accommodation of choice) is full of Somalis who are here to unload cars at the docks, so we have to go upstairs where there are four more rooms. However they cost 7.50 a night instead of 4.00. And mine has no water. But there is no choice. 

Mombasa has got rid of the massive rubbish dump at the bridge that used to make the trip into town such a nightmare. The acres of mountains of rotting shit and unrotting plastic have gone. So has the smell. They have even put down some top soil and there are small palms and sunflowers growing. The water on the other side has lost its slick of disgustingness. It is a transformation. One has to wonder quite where it has all gone… but the ride to town no longer requires a facemask and a strong stomach.

I bloody love Mombasa.

“We end up having our little funding workshop on the beach…”


Vicky is trying to find a safe place to meet the first groups who want funding.

Since the bombings came back, especially here on the coast, every meeting of people is suspected of being Al-Shabaab planning something nasty.

And stick a white woman in the mix and it is imagined nothing good could possibly be happening. The last time we were here we were arrested, if you remember, and spent six hours in Ukunda Police Station. Vicky was seriously traumatised by that and she is terrified of it happening again. 

Which is how we end up having our little funding workshop on the beach. 

We are on the beach till the sun goes down and then go to our usual place for pilau. Chef must be having an off day as mine tastes like grit and Doris ends up puking violently at the side of the road.

And while she is puking I find myself in the middle of a to-do. 

As Vicky and I are sitting, a scrawny boy comes up to the table and extends a hopeful hand. As he does so, an elderly man stomps past and absolutely whacks him with a rolled up newspaper. 

I can barely believe what I see but, as soon as I realise what has happened, I chase the man into the restaurant. He has disappeared.

As I come out, I see the same boy being manhandled by an extremely disagreeable type dressed in raggedy brown and looking like he is not entirely sober. I stomp across, get between him and the boy and demand that he leave him alone. He grabs, I grab and push the boy behind me. We then have what is best described as a stare-and-twitch-off. He has obviously never been confronted by a crazy old Scottish lady at full throttle and is at least 50% weirded-out. 

I give him the Copstickian Death Stare. He is not that impressed; he stays where he is and just glares back at me. Then he twitches as if to come forward and I twitch sideways, keeping the boy behind me. I shout at him to go away (sorry, not very Kill Bill but the best I could do at the time). He growls back. 

Then a bloke from the restaurant arrives. The dodgy raggedy bloke leaves and I release the boy who runs off in the opposite direction. The restaurant man says the boy is a thief. Raggedy bloke is there as a look out. He comes almost every night. 

I suggest that:

(a) getting some foul layabout from a nearby gutter to beat him up is not going to help the boy and

(b) if this is the case, then he is obviously being run by someone of whom he is more afraid than he is of getting beaten at the restaurant. Restaurant man shrugs and says: “He is just chokora” (a street child).

What with the gritty pilau, the food poisoning and the on-street fighting, I have enjoyed myself more.


Sadly, no beach today. Vicky’s groups are coming from the other end of Mombasa. Two groups have become four but, again, I know how hard it is to triage people’s misery and need.

We meet in a little space at the end of the row of upstairs rooms at our place. It is really quiet and safe. As I sort out chairs, I am joined – no more than four feet away – by an incredibly handsome monkey. Grey fur and a black face.

I have nothing for him, but we sort of chat and tilt heads at each other. 

He then, as he crouches, opens his legs and I see he has: 

(a) the most beautiful cobalt blue testicles and

(b) a full-on monkey erection, which is sweetie pink.

Relatively speaking, this boy is most impressive. Every so often, he passes a little money paw over his tiny pink policeman’s helmet. The only people I have ever seen do this are male porn stars on set – just to ‘keep the engine running’. 

I am thrilled with my new friend. However, sensing no food in the offing, he goes and we start work. 

We see a group who are being abused and frequently drugged then gang-raped – a group whom Vicky describes as “funky Moslems” (non-strict Moslems living in a very conservative area). Again, like yesterday, the wives of the strict Moslem men hire thugs to sexually abuse the children to force the mothers out. Plus women from the Kokoto mines where sexual abuse is constant. And a group of reformed female prisoners who are being seriously abused in their community. A good variety of businesses, and everyone is relocated to somewhere safe. 48 adults and 176 children.


Back in Nairobi.

Tonight we have electricity.

Today, I looked in a mirror for the first time in ten days because my cheeks felt sort-of scaley. Bloody forgot about my lupus not liking the sun and I have now got two crusty red cheeks. Slathering on the cortisone and hoping it will go away.

For some reason my right hip is giving me the most appalling gyp. Slathering on the diclofenac.

I took my methotrexate this morning and just met Felista but had to cut and run to the nearest space and puke and retch for ten minutes.


The view from Copstick’s far from luxurious home window… She used to live in a metal container…

Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Travel

Kate Copstick’s charity work in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Kate Copstick when in Kenya

In the latest weekly Grouchy Club Podcast, comedy critic Kate Copstick explains the work of her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya and where the money raised goes to.

NB The following brief extract includes graphic sexual description. It begins with Copstick talking about the Kenyan border with Somalia.

The border is very, very porous, so there’s a lot of refugees, mainly a lot of women – all the people who are being as completely fucked-up and fucked-over by Somalian extremist Moslem groups as anybody outside the country. And these ladies have come to rest in Lamu, which is just off the coast of Kenya. It was, at one point a very nice, posh tourist resort for people who wanted to live in ancient villas and whatnot.

But, since the main beach activity became getting kidnapped by pirates, it has become less popular.

So these Somali ladies are there and we got to hear through someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew this lady’s daughter… We got sent this little video.

WhatsApp is an app that Africans use all the time to send pictures of everything and I get sent videos on it all the time and I have yet to receive a video where you go: Oh, that’s lovely!

It’s always something hideous that’s been shot covertly or because someone needs my help or because we’re being threatened. I get quite a lot of threatening videos – you know – This will happen to you if you don’t back off…

And what are the pictures?

The ones that they send to frighten me are usually of people being burned alive and  beaten up. But this one was – and it’s slightly fuzzy so, at the beginning – and it’s small because it’s come from WhatsApp, so I put it on my laptop – and I went: Ooh..What’s th… Oh my God!…

It was like a purple, fist-sized lump of flesh with three kind of big holes going down into it with pus around the edge of the holes. And, just as you’re thinking Fuck me! that is somebody’s labia majora, a finger comes in with white glove on – a plastic glove – and lifts it up and the shot ‘develops’ to go right into the entrance of this lady’s vagina, right underneath the clitoral hood. And it’s just alive with hundreds of maggots…

Copstick goes on to explain how Mama Biashara will help. Also updated HERE.

The latest Grouchy Club Podcast can be heard on Podomatic and is also available to download from iTunes.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Poverty, Somalia

Comedy critic Kate Copstick on that ‘rape blog’ and her hellish trip to Kenya

Copstick and Alastair at the Mama Biashara shop yesterday

Copstick and Alister at the Mama Biashara shop yesterday

Since 2008, comedy critic Kate Copstick has been running her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya.

As well as health care projects and workshops, it gives small grants and helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small businesses which may give them a lift to a better life.

Last week, she returned from one of her frequent visits to Kenya. Her trip there coincided with the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall.

“So you had a hellish time in Kenya?” I asked her yesterday at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush. Also in the shop was volunteer helper Alister.

“It was probably,” she said, “bad karma following me after my unforgivable suggestion in your blog… You know what I did, Alister? Looking back, I can’t believe I did it – I suggested that women might like to take a little responsibility for their actions.”

“Alister, were I to meet you in a bar and I was already pissed and I wrapped myself round you, bought you several drinks, had more drinks myself, asked you if you wanted to come home with me, took you home, upstairs, got naked with you, lay down on the bed with you, what would you think I was planning?”

“A sleepover?” suggested Alister

“So you would not leap aboard and fuck my brains out?” asked Copstick.

“Definitely not,” said Alister. “Although, if I worked for Help The Aged, maybe I would.”

“Well,” said Copstick, “just because I suggested if a girl acts like she’s up for it, dresses like she’s up for it, walks like she’s up for it, talks like she’s up for it, drags a guy into a horizontal position and takes his clothes off… then he might get the idea that she was up for it… Apparently that’s wrong.”

“So,” I said, “some may argue this resulted in bad karma in Kenya.”

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

Copstick on happier earlier trip

“I arrived in Nairobi on the 16th of September,” said Copstick. (That was the day the blog was published.) “And, from that very first day, it went wrong. My mate Dave, the man with the car – ‘Dave The Deathtrap’, they call him – had had his Deathtrap confiscated. So I had to get a regular taxi. I bunged everything in the back and thought: Well, at least it’s a shiny, lovely, new taxi so we’re not going to get stopped by the police.

“So we were stopped by the police.

“They did all that stuff of shining the torches in the back of the car right in your eyes. They couldn’t find anything wrong with the car, so they said: Oh, you have committed an offence. You’re not wearing your seatbelt. You have to pay a fine.

“So I said: OK, terribly sorry. Take me to the police station, charge me and I’ll pay the fine. At which point, they dragged me out of the car and said: It’s not for you to tell us to take you to the police station! It’s for us to decide to take you to the police station! 

“I said: Terribly sorry. That’s what I meant. Take me to the police station, charge me and I’ll pay the fine – at which point there was lots of Kenyan harrumphing.

Why can you not just pay the fine here?” they asked.

Well, if I pay it here, I told them, it’s not a fine, is it? It’s kitu kidogo (meaning something small i.e. a bribe) and I don’t pay kitu kidogo. There was a great deal more harrumphing. I kept insisting on being taken to the police station. They thought I was crazy, but they let us go. I remember thinking I so hope that’s not an omen, because I’d never been stopped before on the way from the airport. But then there was the whole Westgate shopping mall hoo-ha – the attack by Al-Shabaab terrorists.”

“You weren’t near there?” I asked.

“I can’t afford to shop there,” said Copstick. “But, to show they were doing something, the police started randomly rounding up boys in slums and either arresting or shooting them and a lot of the Mama Biashara workshops we had planned were cancelled because the idea of a white woman dressed in black having meetings with lots of young guys in slums was just going to be tempting fate too much… The police would have been saying: Ey! You are Samantha!

“They called Samantha Lewthwaite (the UK-born white woman who was initially suspected of being involved in the Westgate attack) Dada Mzungu, which means White Sister, so the shouting would have gone: Ey! You’re Dada Mzungu! – No! I’m Mama Biashara! 

“Even I thought it would be tempting fate because, once you’re arrested in Kenya, such a world of shite opens up.

“So I went off to Owendo down near the Tanzanian border – the arse end of nowhere, fairly ghastly – but Mama Biashara is doing loads of stuff there and it’s fantastic.

“The first night I arrived I was full of Yoohooo! Marvellous! Tomorrow, up-and-at-em! Loads of good work to do!

“So I go to bed – I had a little cupboard they slotted a bed into – and, in the morning, I get up and stand on a 1,000 shilling note, which is worth about £8. I think: That’s very strange. But there’s another one on the floor and then I find my bum bag which is open and I think This isn’t good, so I check and there’s maybe 10,000 shillings left where there had been around 100,000 shillings.”

“How much is that?” I asked.

“About £800,” Copstick told me. “The youngest son told me he had woken up at 5.00am and the front door was open. They reckoned somebody the previous night – somebody who knew the house and had had money from me before and knew where I kept my money, knew I always brought cash and knew where I slept – had come in and hidden somewhere, probably under my bed, and come out when everyone was asleep, taken the money and gone out leaving the door open.

Copstick, in London yesterday, remembers her Kenyan trip

Copstick, in Mama Biashara yesterday, remembers the trip

“News update – as always, your blog is the first to know – they think they might have found her. There’s a local woman who had previously been given money by Mama Biashara who all-of-a-sudden, despite having no money, paid off all her children’s school fees including arrears, bought school uniforms for them all and disappeared. So, with Sherlock Holmesian logic, they think it might be her.

“The thing is I don’t want anything horrible to happen to her. It’s more in sorrow than in anger. She wasn’t really stealing from me. She was stealing from everyone else who could have got a grant from that money. It’s alright for me. I can come back to London and my apartment in Shepherd’s Bush to the high living to which I am accustomed and the slightly stinky toilet.”

“Indeed,” I said, “you were never going to end up with the money yourself. You only had it there to give it away.”

“Yes,” said Copstick, “But it did start to put even more of a downer on the trip and I did develop something of a pouty lip.

“And, when I went back to Nairobi, the police were still rounding up all the wrong people with added GBH…”



Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Terrorism