Tag Archives: Kate Copstick

BBC Studios and Channel 4 risk court case by ripping-off President Obonjo…

#JusticeForObonjo !

BBC TV has a track record for simply stealing ideas.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics agrees: “They do have a bit of a rep for being sticky-fingered.”

I mentioned one case in passing in a 2013 blog in which the Beeb tried to rip-off an idea the late Malcolm Hardee and I had. 

Which brings us to the current great rip-off scandal involving BBC Studios.

Monday 12th August sees a one-off event at the Edinburgh FringeAn Audience with President Obonjo: in effect, a fake press conference by the original African comedy dictator. This should be quite an event. Fur will fly.

Everyone on the UK comedy scene seems fairly gobsmacked at the utterly blatant rip-off of Benjamin Bankole Bello’s widely-known, much admired and increasingly prestigious character President Obonjo – an African military dictator adrift in the UK – which he has been building on the UK comedy circuit for the last ten years…  

The BBC have sold a non-broadcast pilot idea to E4 (part of Channel 4) featuring an African military dictator adrift in the UK but in what – on the basis of a trailer promoting it – appears to be a wildly racist lowest-common-denominator pile of steaming crap.

I am, perhaps, being too generous.

The general perception of the BBC (and, guilty by association) Channel 4 is that they are either 

  1. blatant thieves or 
  2. an amateurish shambles who don’t know anything about the live comedy industry…

When news of this rip-off first surfaced a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that it was, indeed, a rip-off. But, as I blogged at the time, there was and is another – perhaps worse – possibility:

The (as it turned out) ironically-titled 2015 Fringe show

“If the BBC Studios Comedy team are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.”

When this scandal – for scandal it is – blew up, the BBC producer associated with the apparent rip-off, Ben Caudell, contacted Benjamin Bello for a meeting on 22nd July… presumably to try to smother criticism. 

He was apparently a tad surprised when Benjamin turned up with the aforementioned Kate Copstick, the most revered and arguably most fearsome comedy critic in the UK. It is not irrelevant that Copstick trained as a lawyer.

So let us be generous and presume that the BBC did not wantonly steal the idea from Benjamin. Let us assume that they are simply incompetent.

At the meeting with Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name) and Copstick – speaking in his capacity as a member of the BBC Studios Comedy team – Ben Caudell claimed never to have known about the widely-known President Obonjo character before the scandal blew up – although ‘President Obonjo’ had been performing on the live circuit over the last ten years, had staged two well-reviewed Edinburgh Fringe shows and had had multiple contacts with the BBC over a period of years. 

Ben Caudell also detailed how the BBC’s character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK had been developed separately from any knowledge of the existence of ‘President Obonjo’, an African military dictator adrift in the UK.

Interestingly, Copstick was later told by another BBC production person an entirely different story of how the BBC ‘innocently’ developed the entirely original character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK. 

A load of bull (Photo by Christian Wiediger via UnSplash)

The cynical might observe that, if you are going to tell potential porkies, at least agree beforehand on the same story. At least one (or more) of these conflicting stories has to be bollocks.

Anyway… Ben Caudell said, in his own defence, at the meeting with Copstick and Benjamin Bello (ie in front of witnesses), that “I don’t have much to do with live comedy… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

This might go some way to explain how a BBC producer or a bunch of BBC producers (I believe the collective noun is ‘a bullshit’ of BBC producers) could be totally and utterly ignorant of an act which had been playing the London and UK circuit for ten years – widely known – AND had staged two well-reviewed (4-star) Edinburgh Fringe shows AND had multiple contacts with BBC TV over several years specifically about the President Obonjo character (the BBC response at that time had been: “We like what you do”).

Let us be clear that the BBC rip-off character was (allegedly) thought-up by BBC producers, progressed after discussion and development with others to the top of BBC Studios Comedy tree without anyone realising there was a President Obonjo act. Allegedly.

President Obonjo had been twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition with videos submitted in 2012 and 2014. The character was considered for the BBC’s own Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme in 2018 and President Obonjo sketches were submitted to BBC3 earlier this year.

Bear in mind that the BBC’s ‘Colonel Banjoko’ character was (allegedly) created by people who had never heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s original character President Obonjo. There is a striking similarity in names going on there.

I had thought Ben Caudell might have gone for the My Sweet Lord defence in which George Harrison copied I think note-for-note Ronnie Mack’s country & western song He’s So Fine but said he had not consciously copied the song: it must have got into his subconscious after hearing it.

The increasingly prestigious President at the 2017 Fringe

But, no, Ben Caudell, speaking on behalf of BBC Studios, was not saying he or anyone else had seen or heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s President Obonjo character when creating their Colonel Banjoko character.

They could have said they didn’t like ‘President Obonjo’ and had been inspired to create a ‘better’ and different character.

But no. The claim was that no-one at all at any point in the development and commissioning process had ever heard of or seen the President Obonjo character… (Reminder: the previous BBC response to viewing the President Obonjo character: “We like what you do”)

So Ben Caudell suggested:

“As a gesture of goodwill, we will use best endeavours to feature President Obonjo in some way in an episode of a potential future series. This would of course be subject to broadcaster and commissioner approval.”

So no real offer of anything.

As Copstick wisely says: “As soon as they say best endeavours, they’re really not interested.”

When pushed further, Ben Caudell suggested: “How about this: to demonstrate that we really do want to acknowledge President Obonjo, why don’t we – with your permission – do a video version of your poster idea in our pilot? We’re thinking of doing a VT explaining Colonel Banjoko’s rise and fall. A photo of President Obonjo could feature in that, as the Colonel’s predecessor. How does that sound?”

Worth remembering here that it is a non-broadcast pilot which would not be screened on-air.

Last week, Kate Copstick got in touch with Karl Warner, Controller of E4, pointing out that the proposed BBC/E4 series “with its curiously, closely similar spoof African dictator will destroy (Benjamin Bello’s) act, his career and his livelihood. We met with Ben Caudell, who is producing the pilot. He gave one version of how the character came to be, since when we have been assured by someone else of another version (completely different) of how the character came to be. He (Benjamin Bello) is looking at a ten year career disappearing. Should this show be allowed to go ahead he will have nowhere to go with his character… his career… his creation.”

Karl Warner replied: “We’re satisfied that there’s been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Studios in this case.”

Note that Channel 4’s statutory public service remit includes that it should “be innovative and distinctive.” 

I think a hollow laugh might be in order at this point.

Obviously, Copstick, I and Benjamin Bello have discussed the problem. This part of our discussion might be interesting, remembering that Copstick and I have a TV production background and Copstick trained as a lawyer:


President Obonjo and Copstick in Edinburgh

COPSTICK: Ben Caudell talked vaguely about the people upstairs. But, basically, anyone who has any power at the BBC doesn’t want to have anything to do with this and they’re just going to carry on. He can do nothing. 

The men in suits will not react, because they are so sure they are more powerful than anybody and can just wait until it all goes away. Or they will mumble something about “best endeavours”. 

There was a chance when we met him that he was actually vaguely decent and was thinking Well, maybe there’s something we can do that will keep everybody happy. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think he was just sent in there like a canary in the mine. They think it’s all going to go away.

I contacted a very prominent QC who specialises in Intellectual Property who says we have a reasonable case on several fronts. I asked to what extent could sections of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights, as taken on by the EU’s Human Rights legislation, be used in an Intellectual Property case where the victim has kind-of shot himself in the foot because he has previously sent off ideas to a company. And, as we know, ideas are not copyrightable. 

JOHN: That’s the massive get-out clause for all broadcasters ripping-off people’s ideas.

COPSTICK: Yes. The fucker is that Benjamin sent the BBC ideas and one of them was not a chat show but, from what I’ve read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your rights in your own Intellectual Property are your human rights, because your Intellectual Property is seen as an extension of yourself – especially where it’s something like a character. So, even though you are fucked under UK statute law, because you sent them ideas, there is the Human Rights angle.

JOHN: What did the QC say?

COPSTICK: He said: “That’s interesting”… Given than Benjamin has been doing this character and only this character for ten years, you could argue that it is his business… It is a business he has created and a business in which there is a lot of goodwill. It is a ‘brand’ and there is a lot of goodwill. So, by doing what BBC Studios and Channel 4 are doing, they are infringing the goodwill of the brand. Which is (a) true and (b) very monetisable.

JOHN: Well, I’m not worried about a court case. I would welcome the publicity!

COPSTICK: We will fight if necessary and the embarrassment factor for them would be at absolute maximum.

JOHN: And the QC would work pro bono…

COPSTICK: Yes.

JOHN: My angle is that, even if they didn’t rip it off intentionally – which stretches credulity a bit – the only alternative explanation is that they are incompetent idiots.

COPSTICK: They are worse than incompetent idiots. They are dangerous and damaging. 

JOHN: …because they are knowingly going to destroy a career built-up over ten years…

COPSTICK: Yes. They are going to destroy a career AND… they don’t care!

JOHN: And, given that Ben Caudell is married to an actress, Diane Morgan, it’s shocking that he doesn’t care more about performers’ careers.

COPSTICK: They really don’t care and also, even if everything they say is true, then what does that say about the attitude of BBC Television Comedy to live comedy? Live comedy is only important to them as a place where they go to steal ideas.

Although Benjamin did not send them a format with the President in a talk show format, by putting AN Other President in the talk show, they have more or less stolen the character as long as there’s enough similarity between the two presidents. What they will do is change his back story.

BENJAMIN: I talked to an Intellectual Property lawyer too and one of the things that President Obonjo does is he is very prominent on social media including YouTube videos and he is talking in character. 

JOHN: You are so prominent all over the place that it is inconceivable – unless the producers at the BBC are utterly incompetent and simply not even remotely doing their job properly – that they didn’t know you existed. The only way in which they could not know you existed was if they were totally inept.

If they claim that nobody developing or commissioning comedy at BBC TV or at Channel 4 had ever heard of you, it implies nobody at BBC TV Comedy or at Channel 4 Comedy knows or cares anything about live comedy over the last couple of years, let alone the last ten years.


#JusticeForObonjo !

President Obonjo’s 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show

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How Edinburgh Fringe virgin Michael Livesley is coping or not with the chaos

It is performer Michael Livesley’s first Edinburgh Fringe.

In London last month, he talked to me about his show for a blog before the true madness all started.

He is now staying in Leith, the port part of Edinburgh.

So how is he faring?

Well…. Here he is with an update…


THE FIRST DAY

My first Fringe arrives with all the promise of a funeral in January. I have to say that I have dreaded this moment for months. Sleepless nights, flirtations with Kalms abuse and the nagging self doubt which plagues all who entertain the notion of becoming a part of the world’s biggest Arts Festival have become my constant companions… and now the day is finally here. 

“Here I am in Leith. Bowed and unbroken…”

Here I am in Leith. Bowed and unbroken, in the very heart of Irvine Welsh territory.

My landlord informs me “Leith is no’ Edinburgh and Edinburgh is no’ Leith”. 

To the untrained eye, this is not apparent and I soon learn that the red Tennents’ ’T’ is ubiquitous in both and a universal symbol for serious drinking comparable with the Green Cross symbol for a pharmacy.

For almost two decades I have locked myself away, literally digging my grave with my own teeth. After losing half of my body weight, some 10 stones/140lbs, I am now attempting to turn decades of anxiety and addiction and ultimate redemption into a Fringe show. Losing the weight was easier.

I have brought flyers, posters, my coffee machine plus a party pack of Kalms with me. I have also learned my script to the letter, which I have quickly realised is far too rigid and straitjacketing – an apt simile as it is mental health and its attendant obesity which brought me here. 

I have a lot to learn, which is why I am here. My hope being that I emerge on August 25th battle-hardened and ready for the next chapter next year. 

Like my body weight, tonight I intend to throw half of my script away and just talk. We shall see what happens…

THE FIRST WEEKEND

Michael Livesley – “It has been a steep learning curve”

It has seen a steep learning curve. My show is free and everybody else seems incredibly skilled at hustling. Yet I often don’t ask for money at the end of my shows. The pride which was thumped into me during my childhood in Lancashire making my tongue recoil like a lipstick into my head at the mere suggestion of asking anyone for what I wrongly interpret as ‘charity’.

On Saturday night, not far from the Free Sisters venue I’m performing in, I stopped a lady with a two-tone pink and black hairdo from being assaulted by a man who I later realised was her boyfriend. She spoke to me in broken English yet, when her phone rang, she answered with a thick Scots “Hullo hen…”

She did not want me to call ‘the Polis’ so I put her in a cab and she left the scene.

On Monday morning, as I stared dolefully from my Leith window, I noticed a suited and booted businessman yelling orders into his iPhone whilst sipping his frappuccino with a bandaged nose and two black eyes. No doubt a souvenir from a lively ‘transaction’ with an associate over the weekend.

After my gig on Sunday night, I ended up being dragged into a bar somewhere in Leith and playing a piano accompaniment for a chap who I swear was Den Hegarty from Darts as he rambled incomprehensible poetry into the mic. I had only gone out to buy a Sunday Post newspaper.

The sheer amount of waste paper here astonishes me, and as I sheltered in a grotty doorway on Cowgate during a Hoots Monsoon I watched rivers of it run in the gutters and sang…

“I’m just sitting watching flyers in the rain.
Pretty flyers down the drain…”

…to myself.

An apt metaphor for the dreams which can be dashed here.

I once recall reading a piece in which Kate Copstick referred to the ‘horror’ and ‘terror’ of the Fringe. 

Seconded. 

It is the biggest test of will and ego I have ever encountered. As my ‘show’ has worn on, it is apparent that its sheer Northern-ness is going over the audiences’ heads. Up to now I have rewritten half of it, and it seems to work better. Half the Man – Half the Show.

TUESDAY, WEEK 1

Half the Man is really hitting its stride now. The Fringe is a crucible in which shows are forged like no other. But, as Kate Copstick said, until you’ve faced its ‘fear and terror’ you can’t assess what it is that you actually ‘do’.

WEDNESDAY, WEEK 1

It’s almost 12 months since I ate sugar in any form, but reet about now I could saw some fucker’s head off for a box of French Fancies! The Fringe in a nutshell!

Great show tonight. Really getting there now, about 50 people in. I think the venue holds about 120. I’ve made a decent whack every night. I got about £120 out of the bucket tonight.

SATURDAY, WEEK 1

Well, tonight’s show was certainly an ‘experience’! A packed house, good.

But the first two rows were pissed-up nobheads who had obviously been out on the booze all day and heckled and shouted their heads off throughout. The worst bit being their laughter whilst I was talking about me mum dying. 

Still, at least I didn’t jump offstage and kick the fuck out of the baldy bellend lad leading em all. 

After disrupting the show and ruining it for everyone they then, of course, fucked off just before the end so as to not put any money in the bucket. 

I felt bad for those there to hear the show as there were many and, like all who go through this, I feel I could have handled it much better. 

Hey-ho! All part of the experience.

Here in the photo I am staring oot the baldy bellend…


ADDENDUM

After reading Michael’s reference to him in this blog, Den Hegarty contacted me to say: “Sadly, not me – though the speaking incomprehensibly bit sounds the part…”


 

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Edinburgh Fringe latest – BBC Studios slag-off live comedy + a secret new gig

Up at the Edinburgh Fringe, anything and everything is possible…

Michael Livesley – after and before

I am not up at the Edinburgh Fringe, but feedback is starting to trickle in.

First-timer Michael Livesley, Half The Man in a comedy show at The Free Sisters about how he lost half his body weight and much else, emailed me, saying:

“The first night went well. No idea what to expect but my hope is to emerge from the Fringe battle-hardened and ready for the next chapter next year.”

Doyenne of comedy critics Kate Copstick released the first of her Slaughtered podcasts at this year’s Fringe…

The original President Obonjo cast a pod

…In it, she interviewed controversial man-of-the-moment President Obonjo (Goodbye Mr President at the Voodoo Rooms) and she revealed that a BBC Studios executive – not unconnected with ripping-off President Obonjo – speaking in his official role as a BBC Studios producer – told her: “Live comedy isn’t as important as it thinks it is”.

More of this in a future blog.

Meanwhile, blonde bombshell (she will hate that) and social/sexual campaigner Samantha Pressdee – according to the aforementioned Kate Copstick, “almost certainly the most uninhibitedly entertaining proponent of female empowerment you will see” contacted me to say: “The recruitment campaign for the Barmy Army has started.”

Samantha’s dossier aims “to ignite potential”

When I saw the last of the London previews for Samantha’s Fringe show Covered (directed by award-winning Phil Nichol), she gave me a ‘Dossier’ aimed to “ignite potential in the 1 in 4 people who will experience mental health issues.”

At that point, she had already signed-up comedy performers Juliette Burton, Dave Chawner, Laura Lexx, nutritionist Michelle Aucutt and life coach Andrea Bradley.

Now, at the just-started Fringe, Samantha tells me: “On my second night, I am proud to say every audience member signed up and received their copy of Uncovered: The Dossier.

Tony Slattery and Samantha Pressdee bonding in Edinburgh

“I also met my hero Tony Slattery. He is so inspiring. I told him, “I’m bipolar too,” and he replied: Nice to meet you both.

“He was even more lovely in person than he is online which is VERY lovely. He gave me loads of cuddles and his email address. I hope to get him involved in my Pulling It Together project. I am also adopting him as an uncle.”

The gaffer-taped Fringe shoes

She continued: “I brought 13 pairs of shoes to Edinburgh (none of them sensible). So it was not as big a tragedy as it might have been that I broke one shoe on arrival at my venue’s press launch (PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court).

“You cannot,” she says, “even tell that it is now secured thanks to the magic of gaffer tape.”

The preview of her show which I saw in London was preceded by a video which included – blink and you miss it – a clip of her yolk-covered appearance in the annual Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show.

Until 2017, this show took place annually around midnight on the final Friday of the Fringe in the Ballroom of The Counting House (programmed by the Laughing Horse Free Festival).

Bizarrely – and surely a coincidence, given that the Malcolm Hardee Awards ended in 2017 – I hear that there has been a sudden change of schedule at midnight on the final Friday of this year’s Fringe with an un-named potentially two-hour show being shoe-horned into the Counting House Ballroom.

The Edinburgh Fringe is always full of surprises and there are another three weeks to go…

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Good advice for performers going to the Edinburgh Fringe this – or any – year

Performers will expose themselves at the Edinburgh Fringe (Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph via unSplash)

After yesterday’s blog, I got an email from a comedy performer I know. It read:


I am finally getting on with the job of writing my show after making reams of notes for months. Hopefully two months gives me enough time to write and learn it, though I intend the thing to be shaped up in Edinburgh more than here in isolation.


The Edinburgh Fringe is in August.

This was my advice to him, her or them.

Who knows what the correct PC form of address is any more?

Not me.


Don’t repeat any of that to Kate Copstick, doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers.

She gets annoyed at PRs or managers asking her not to review an act in the first few days of the Fringe because the performance needs time to ‘bed in’.

She says if the show isn’t perfect on Day One, it shouldn’t be brought to Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh is not part of an ongoing process. It is the aim.

If you do one bad gig at the Fringe, the word may well get round and, if a reviewer is in that day, the review will be online for as long as your career survives (which may not be long if you perform half-prepared shows) and beyond. 

In two – five – seven years time – it will say in print that you are a half-cocked performer – unreliable – or shit. Doing one bad Work in Progress gig to thirty people in a pub in Scunthorpe is arguably throwaway. Doing one bad gig to five people in Edinburgh could be a disaster because they will go home and badmouth you in totally different, widespread parts of the country.

And one or two or three of those unknown five punters in Edinburgh may well be reviewers or TV researchers or comedy bookers who will remember your half-prepared act forever.

If they are just ordinary punters, you are still up shit creek because you have an audience who are such comedy fans they came to the Fringe and now they will be badmouthing you to other comedy fans in Norwich or Plymouth or London or wherever.

The other bad news is you must never ever cancel any show in Edinburgh. If there is only one person in the audience, play full-throttle to that one person because they may change your life. If you perform a half-ready show, it may damage your prospects; if you cancel, it may destroy your prospects.

Charlie Chuck, unknown, at his first Edinburgh Fringe run was not getting audiences and was thinking of going home in mid-run. I advised him not to.

He stayed.

One night after that, he had an audience of only three. 

Unknown to him, two of them were on the production team of a forthcoming, not-yet-made Reeves & Mortimer TV show. As a result, he became a regular on two of their series.

Once, when I was a TV researcher looking for acts, I turned up at a (free) show. I had seen the act before and it was interesting, but I had never seen them do a full show. I was the only punter to turn up. The act cancelled the show because, she said, “it won’t be worth you watching me with only you in the audience”. I would never ever risk using that act who has – inevitably – now faded away.

Anyway…

Edinburgh is not somewhere to hone an act. It is the real thing from Day One.


This morning, I checked with Copstick that it was OK to paraphrase her view in a blog. This is her reply and expanded view.


Ignore her opinion at your professional peril

I think if you are taking stand-up to Edinburgh you have no place mumbling about previews and looking for wriggle-room from audiences or critics on the basis that it is your first show of the run. You are a person in a space talking to other people in the same space. for money (either from ticket sales or from money in a bucket). 

It is not Phantom of the Fucking Opera on Ice. If the mic fails, you talk a little louder. Spot fails, turn on the overheads. Sound spill – be funnier than the sound spill.

If you purport to be a professional and are happy to take money from people then – SPOILER ALERT – you will have many ‘first nights’. 

It is up to you (as a professional which means you do it for money) that you learn to cope with the horror and terror of it all without making the audience feel that it is up to them to make sure it goes well.

First Night should just be a statement of fact, not a cover-all excuse.

And don’t get me started on ‘Work In Progress’ shows performed to 2,000 people at a time in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre for the same money for which you could see five comics who might do something that might surprise you. Even if it is not as polished as it might be on a first night.

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Praising the Lord in Kenya, as dirt is shovelled over a dead 12 year old boy…

Copstick is in Kenya

Journalist, comedy critic and charity-founder Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya.

She is, once again, working there with her charity Mama Biashara.

Here are the latest extracts from her journal.

Fuller versions are posted on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Moses (left) enjoying his favourite nyama choma (roast meat)

Friday 26th April

We head for Mutalia, near Ruai, to visit the family of Moses who died of meningitis last Monday, aged 12. Mama Biashara buys him a coffin. And coffins are important in Kenya. 

We were with Moses in 2010, when he arrived at Felista’s suffering from extreme malnutrition. His baby brother had a serious chest infection, his sisters had infections in liver and spleen and his big brother had a growth on his back. 

Their ‘father’ had abandoned them after their mother died. That was 2010. Their great uncle took them in when they left Felista and Mama Biashara paid school fees and bills. Now the children are with their great aunt. ‘Great’ both in the sense of being their great uncle’s wife and ‘great’ in looking after them when she herself has very little and four children of her own. They call her mum.

All the children flourished. But Moses was the little academic star. He was always No 1 or No 2 in his class. He wanted to be an engineer. He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Science tells us we are all stardust, but Moses, more than most. I hope that wherever he is, whatever he is, he is shining brightly.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was seeking a loan from China

Saturday 27th

The market is full of people worrying about the Chinese invasion, new taxes and getting angrier by the second at a government that borrows vast fortunes to build roads while people starve. Everyone – even the Kikkuyu – is finding some happiness in the fact that the president has just come from a trip to China without the extra extra extra loan he went asking for. 

“The Chinas say No. I am very happy,” says one of my pals and we all nod vigorously. 

The personal debt of each individual Kenyan is calculated to be just over £1,000. Much more than a huge percentage of them see in a year. 

Now, do not get me wrong. I am a HUGE fan of their cuisine, the noodle is my staple food. I am in awe of their State Circus and their religion seems lovely. I personally do not have a phone made there, but many of my best friends do. However, the Chinese have all but destroyed the Kenyan fishing people in Lake Victoria. 

Our ladies (and men) who were doing SO well for many years have now returned to prostitution, Doris says.

What happened was this. 

The Chinese came, at the invitation of the Kenyan Government, they saw, they liked the tilapia and the tilapia business. They bought entire boatloads of fish, removed the eggs, shipped them back to China and now China farms Lake Victoria tilapia and sells it back to Kenya where it is bought, frozen, sold in supermarkets, because it is much cheaper than the fresh stuff which comes from Lake Victoria. And the Kenyan Government allows this to happen. The Kenyan fishing people of Lake Victoria are collateral damage. 

Moses: “He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Meningitis”

Tuesday 30th April

Today is Moses’ burial. 

Langata Cemetary is huge and we are over at the back amongst what Felista tells me are temporary graves for those who cannot afford permanent resting places. 

There is a huge crowd. People from the school, people from churches and I have no idea who else. Also a couple renting out chairs, a bloke selling peanuts and someone setting up a little stall selling soft drinks and snacks just behind the seating area. 

We take our places and, as a tiny, shiny little man in a shiny suit welcomes us, there is much clanking as scaffolding for a gazebo tent is erected and the coffin placed underneath. 

I am invited to sit with the family which is very touching and a great honour. Dinah has pretty much arranged everything and I think it is due to her that so many have come. 

The proceedings start with the tiny, shiny man explaining that we should all be rejoicing because this was God’s plan for Moses. I am thinking that, if it was, it was a rubbish plan. 

We then sing for around ten minutes about how great the Lord is and how wonderful/excellent/glorious/powerful/great/amazing/fabulous is his name, clapping and doing that step-dig step so beloved of the Four Tops. 

Then there is a lovely, lovely bit where people come up and talk a little about Moses (including, in an unexpected turn of events, me). 

Dinah spoke wonderfully and some kids from the school sang. But, apart from that, it was like an extended episode of Nairobi’s Got Pastors. 

There were about six or seven of them, welcomed to the microphone by the tiny, shiny man who has missed his vocation as a comedy club MC because he really whipped up the applause for each pastor. And the pastors’ wives. And every church elder who was with us. And anyone who ran a youth group, church choir or had at any time had anything to do with any church. 

I understood about 60% of what each of the suited and booted septet was saying but no one really mentioned Moses.

They name-checked their churches and I wish I had counted the number of times the words Bwana Sifiwe (Praise be to God) were uttered because I think a record must have been broken. 

I am invited to view the body. I say goodbye and wipe dust off the window covering him. Then there is a scramble for others to see him. 

I have no idea who these people are. 

There is more extended praising of Jesus’ name in song.

The family (and I) are surrounded by the suited and booted ones and prayed over with still no mention of Moses. And then we go to the graveside, marching, as we do, over dozens of unmarked graves. 

Now things rachet up a notch with much howling. 

As Moses goes into the grave, a brightly-dressed woman flings herself to the ground and threshes around shrieking. Most ignore her, but she upsets the small children. 

It turns out that she is an aunt. The mother’s sister. It turns out there is actually a family who have ignored these kids for the nine years they have been with Mama Biashara. The shrieking one is a little late in her feelings for her nephew. 

We stand as the grave is filled-in, which is horrible.

It is made even more horrible by a weeny woman with a bad weave who bursts into enthusiastic song about rejoicing. 

She really goes for it. 

For a long long time. 

Praising the Lord, as dirt is shovelled over a dead twelve year old boy.


Mama Biashara works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. It gives grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. It offers training and employment in everything from phone repairs to manicures. It has built a children’s home, which it still supports. It has created water-harvesting solutions for drought-devastated areas. And it helps those fleeing female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sex slavery and child rape. It receives no grants and survives totally on personal donations (and sales at its shop in Shepherds Bush, London), 100% of which go to its work, none of which goes to Kate Copstick. She herself covers all her own personal expenses, including her accommodation costs and her travel costs.
www.mamabiashara.com

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How illegal detentions of the poor are continuing in Kenyan hospitals…

Last week’s meeting of the monthly Grouchy Club in London

British journalist Kate Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara was set up to give small start-up grants to disadvantaged people in Kenya to fund small self-sustaining businesses.

But it also gets involved in other social problems it encounters.

During her most recent visit to Kenya, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary.

When last posted, there was an unresolved story about a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who had been raped by her father, recently given birth to his child and was being illegally held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

Copstick has now returned to the UK.

During last week’s meeting of Copstick’s Grouchy Club, held at Mama Biashara’s charity shop in London, I asked what had happened to Faith…


The administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi

COPSTICK: I spent many days in Kenyatta trying to organise her release. It’s horrific. Kafka could never write anything to compare.

A couple of days before I was leaving Kenya I thought we had done it and then we just lost grip. I had been about to go to the press…

JOHN: I thought you had already gone to the press.

COPSTICK: Well, the Standard ran an article. But I think that was just because they picked up on all the stuff I’d been venting and then what they had were stories of the same thing happening in other hospitals.

But Faith is out of Kenyatta now and so is the baby. We got the Children’s Services involved and they went to court and they got a court order for Faith to be released… Imagine having to get a court order to get a little girl out of hospital…!

I left Kenya on the Sunday. She was released with the court order on the Tuesday.

She’s out but, unfortunately, because she had been detained illegally in the hospital for so long, by the time she was released her newborn baby had got an infection. So the baby is not well and now Faith has developed an infection and they are too terrified to let her go back to Kenyatta in case it all starts again. 

JOHN: Do they know what the infection is?

COPSTICK: Well, just one of those ghastly I’ve been kicking around in a hospital for too long infections.

JOHN: At least Mama Biashara got her out, though.

COPSTICK: She is out but now we… There is a new problem with a girl who was gang raped by three men. Everyone is too terrified to take her to Kenyatta Hospital, because it will just all be a nightmare. So she has gone to Nairobi Women’s Hospital. She is going to have to have a full hysterectomy because… well, when you are 11 years old and you are gang raped by three men double-teaming you, your insides end up pretty much mush. 

That was about four weeks ago. And because there’s been no money, she’s just been there. She has to sleep on her front because there is too much pain and there is basically vast amounts of pus. There is no morphine; there is no anything. You might get paracetamol if you are lucky.

So she is now at Nairobi Women’s Hospital where they will do a full hysterectomy they’ve said… That will cost – by the time she has had the operation – probably £1,500.

JOHN: Presumably there is no equivalent to Britain’s National Health Service.

COPSTICK: There is no health service as such. There is a government hospital. But all they are really interested in is getting any money that they possibly can off of anyone. And nobody is prepared to take responsibility for anything at all ever.

What happens all the time in Kenya is that you go in, you have your operation or whatever you want and then they don’t let you out because you can’t pay your bill. And every day that you are kept in they charge you. So your bill goes up and up and up and up. 

What happens is that you get people living rough in the grounds of the big hospitals. So when you go there, people are being kept within the hospital grounds. They live rough within the hospital grounds sometimes with their children. In places like Kenyatta, there is actually a small like a kindergarten school which has grown up because there are children who spend so much of their young lives there that they go to school there forever.

JOHN: And because they are living in the grounds, they have to pay more…?

COPSTICK:  They are charged for everything and they are detaining people because they can’t pay their bill, so the bill just keeps rising. It’s pretty-much standard. Private hospitals, government hospitals, everything hospitals.

Last year, a guy brought a case against Nairobi Women’s Hospital because his father had gone in, had an operation, couldn’t pay the bill and they were detaining him and the bill just escalated and escalated and it was a like a million shillings which is about £10,000. And the guy took the hospital to court saying that it was an infringement of his father’s rights. In the Kenyan constitution as well as some of the U.N. rulings, you have the right to ‘freedom of person’ – freedom of movement. 

And he argued quite cleverly that detaining his father in the hospital was an infringement of his right to freedom of movement and freedom of person. And the judge agreed and this is massive –  humongous. It was all over the newspapers. 

But it doesn’t make that much difference because, in Kenya, nobody tells the little people about any of these things so they didn’t get to know about any of that which is why the leaflets that Mama Biashara sends out – showing what their rights are – are so important. We give everybody the knowledge. 

When I was in Kenyatta I said to one of the heads of one of the departments who don’t give a shit: “You know there is a High Court ruling…”

Kenya has a common law system because it’s based on the English legal system and that means that the last highest decision in a court is the law. 

I said: “So in this case, this is the decision and this is now the law.” 

And the woman turned around and said to me: “Not here.” 

Inside some place like Kenyatta Hospital, they are just a law unto themselves.


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 gets no official funding of any kind and relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Kate Copstick and the sexually-abused girl being held in a Nairobi hospital

British journalist and occasional TV producer Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity. 

In the last couple of extracts from her diaries (HERE and HERE) mention was made of a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who was raped by her father, recently gave birth to his child and was being held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

This is in clear contravention of last year’s Kenyan High Court ruling on detention of patients which states that it is illegal for a Kenyan hospital to detain a patient for non-payment of fees.

Now read on in these extracts from Copstick’s diaries this week…


MONDAY

Kenyatta National Hospital.

I am there the entire day. I am not one of life’s gifted ‘waiters’.

This is a place Kafka himself would struggle to create.

It is a big monster full of little monsters.

I go from little social worker to Head of Department, to Bill Management to Finance to Administration, back to Finance then back to Social Work. 

We are in “just following orders” territory here. 

But, in Kenyatta National Hospital, we get: “We are waiting for feedback”. 

The buck is thrown around like a rugby ball in a grudge match and it is blindingly obvious that none of these people gives even the tiniest, the most transient, the least fuckity of fucks about a 14-year-old girl, raped and impregnated by her father who has now been held like a prisoner for over one month. 

They see a bit of paper. And they see their nice quiet office. Some see nothing because they are simply too incompetent. Some worry because they see a mistake that they have made. All rush to point fingers in the direction of anyone else. None is bothered by the law of Kenya.

I am there six hours. Everyone is going home. I give up. Even David, who has been waiting outside, is practically catatonic with boredom and no one does nothing better than David.

I go and meet Mary of the Mary Faith Home. We have been in touch during the day. 

She has just had a 12-year-old girl left with her who is so badly infected and damaged she cannot sit down. So far, they think, she has both syphilis and gonorrhea. Makes sense as she was being abused by both father and uncle over several years. Since she was five. 

Mary leans forward and says, “She told me her uncle said to her: I know here at the front is for your father. But here at the back, this is mine.”

THURSDAY

Latest update on 14-year-old Faith, currently going into her fifth week of incarceration at Kenyatta National Hospital. I have spent days in the place trying to get anywhere near an answer, let alone an explanation, much less a result. But today the CEO has sent a minion down from on high to take her file. 

The excellent Standard newspaper printed a full page piece on illegal detention of patients in Kenya and hospitals yesterday.

Coincidence ?? 

Hopefully the continuing abuse of this poor girl will be ended sooner rather than later. I have never experienced anything like the working – and non-workings – of this place.

TODAY – FRIDAY

Faith is still detained illegally in Kenyatta National Hospital.

Now, apparently, it is because the Director of Corporate Services has failed to sign a bit of paper.

Apparently he is in a meeting.

… CONTINUED HERE


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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