Tag Archives: tribalism

Kate Copstick in Kenya: “There is an odd failure to report this in the papers.”

Journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya working with her Mama Biashara charity, which gives small sums of money and advice to poor people so they can set up their own small, self-sustaining businesses which will allow them to help themselves out of poverty.

Mama Biashara’s slogan is:

A HAND UP, NOT A HAND OUT.

Copstick and Mama Biashara make no money from this and 100% of all money donated to the charity is used for the charity’s work. Copstick works for free, receives no money herself and covers 100% of her own costs.

She keeps a diary which she posts in full, when possible, on her Facebook page. These three (edited) extracts from last weekend give, I think, a fair idea of the background within which Copstick and Mama Biashara have to work.


Friday 17th November

Doris calls with news from Kisii. Yes, we are STILL trying to find a way to help the women hiding out in Kisii County (as mentioned in previous blogs/diary extracts).

Good News: between Vicky and themselves, they have found some farmers and villagers who are not tribalist to the point of violent criminal insanity and who will give them jobs. That is about thirty of them with at least a life-raft to cling to.

Bad News: there is a something between a gang and a sect with absolutely the worst aspects of each which operates in Kisii. They are called the Chinkororo. They rule the place. They arrived in one of the decent, helpful villages a couple of days ago, called everyone together, pointed at a random woman in the crowd, declared her to be a witch, doused her in petrol and set her on fire. While everyone watched. Pour décourager les autres, one assumes. If, say, a screaming, terrified child tried to run away or even look away, one of the gang would hold its head and force it to watch. Until the woman died screaming and squirming.

Vicky was sent this on a smartphone video.

Doris saw it and is still traumatised. Doris is not traumatised easily.

There are a lot of silences in our phone call.

Then I get a call from Joan, wondering where I am.

“Still sick?” She worries. “It can be malaria.”

She has some good news, though. Earlier in the week she had called me about a girl – just newly eleven years old, raped when she was 10 and now pregnant. She wanted to know if we could find a doctor to give the girl what is generally referred to here as a ‘wash and blow-dry’. The wonderful… er… hairdresser… who had helped some very young girls for us before has moved to Turkana but it seems Joan found one herself. The girl is now great, and currently home with her mother.

We are getting increasingly worried about Oliver, the marvellous Mobile Phone Whisperer who was going to spearhead our training of young women in mobile phone repair. I had asked that he come to Nairobi to meet with me so we could discuss things properly. Despite all warnings from Vixen and Doris, he went to stay with some friends in Huruma – a scary place at the best of times but, with all the political nastiness still happening, now properly dangerous.

We heard, via Vixen, that, in a night of the kind of ethnic cleansing that happens in places like that at times like this, Oliver had been beaten up while trying to leave the slum. Oliver is Luo. That is all that it takes to get you beaten up. Or worse. He went into hiding and has not been heard from since. It is a nightmare. Huruma is not the kind of place you go wandering around looking for a lost mate.

Doris wants to come over and pick up some headed letter stuff that I set up so we could give people letters of recommendation. Vixen has found jobs for about twenty women in a resort in Malindi and it looks like this could be the start of an ongoing relationship with the owner, who knows the backgrounds of our ladies and is happy to give them a chance, a good training (hotel and kitchen staff) and a really good salary. But he wants a letter of recommendation. Kenyans LOVE letters, certificates… anything on paper.

Plus Doris wants to talk.

Saturday 18th November

There is still no sign of Oliver, but what is emerging is a huge community of mums and wives who are searching for young men who have simply disappeared across areas like Huruma and Mathare. Every other day a body will turn up in some place far away, the other side of Nairobi and a flurry of hope/dread will stir. So far, no Oliver.

Luos are being kicked out of Kenol (on the outskirts of Nairobi), says Doris. They just get a visitor in the night who tells them to go or suffer the consequences.

Kabiria (where Joan lives) is on a knife edge.

Kawangware has sporadic outbursts of what can only be called ‘ethnic cleansing’. Things are not happy.

But there is an odd failure to report any of this in the papers.

I think if people were really looking, they would find that just as many people are being killed now as were killed in the 2008 riots. It is just being managed more carefully this time. Kept sporadic, geographically spaced out. Just young men disappearing from slum areas… who just happen to be Luo. The sixty odd in Kisii who disappeared while Vicky has been up there have not reappeared. People are now looking for a mass grave.

Sunday 19th November

Talking to Doris again I remember that I never DID tell you what she wanted to talk about on Friday.

We have been approached about all manner of domestic and sexual abuse. But nothing like this case. And it is all the fault of UK Kink.

Precis: middle class Kenyan (male), presumably a massive bully, physically and emotionally. Goes to Oxford. Discovers BDSM. Totally perverts it to cover and give a modicum of imagination and sophistication to his own bullying tendencies. Marries a sweet Kenyan virgin. And lives a 24/7 full-on BDSM existence. She is abused physically and mentally.

We are talking to the extent that, before he leaves in the morning, he ‘marks’ her by pissing on her and she is not allowed to wash it off. Oh yes. Because she was so innocent when he married her and is so controlled by him, she thinks this happens in all marriages.

Only now, because he left his browser open and she saw some of the pages he likes, she has she begun to realise what is happening is not normal.

On behalf of BDSM fans everywhere, I am outraged at what this man is doing. I give Doris a gallop through the basics of BDSM, garnished with personal anecdotes and heavy on consent. It takes a lot to gobsmack Doris but gobsmacked she is. Utterly.

We are going to meet up with this woman and see how she wants to proceed. I am thinking a day in a dungeon with the CopMistress and no safe word.

Great news from Brian. Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment has been VERY popular with the ladies of Homa Bay. A refuge for abused girls was suffering regular break ins by state police who would stop off on their way from the pub for a quick rape of some already abused and vulnerable girls. A full face of Mama Biashara’s Condiment is a surefire way to distract a man from any planned action in the jap’s eye area to the searing agony in his other eyes. Production is underway, so that all the women can be safe. Well, safer.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Kenya, Rape

Kate Copstick in Kenya: elections, violence and disappearing people

On Monday, Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. She keeps a diary which she posts on her Facebook page. Below are edited extracts, starting with Copstick ill in the U.K.

Monday 30th October

Kate Copstick in London – as seen by Joanne Fagan

Things are not looking good. I have felt like Death Has A Bad Headache for most of the last week. Spent yesterday in bed.

I am leaving behind an Emporium – the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush – on an emotional knife edge and a more or less empty bank account. My wad is slimmer than it has been for many years. I am practising saying: “No, I am sorry, small, gnarled, starving person, I cannot help you as I have insufficient funds”.

BA have changed the aircraft to one of those ones that carry a ‘We are not really for the poor’ message. The plane is almost entirely First and Club Class which you trail through before reaching the 25 rows of ‘cheap seats’, way back in the tail. I console myself with the fact that survivors of a catastrophic air crash are almost always found in the tail section. Staff are lovely, food is dire.

Customs in Nairobi want to know if I have anything to declare. I decide that shouting “Your election was a sham and your so-called President an insult to the starving poor of your country” is not what is being called for, so I mention I have cheese and English beer for my friend Alan. They want to know if I have more than $10,000.

Hah!! If only. If only.

Wildebeest, where I stay in Nairobi, is calm and dark and my flaps open to admit me and my bags. I sleep, waking only to munch yet another handful of Rennies Extra. My attempt to come off Omeprazole has not been a success.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Tuesday 31st October

I am, to my surprise, up at 8.30am. My tiny tent is like a sauna. Which is quite lovely. I open my flaps and head to have coffee and do some admin.

The market in Kijabe Street is an emaciated shell of its usual self. Many traders have simply not come; most have only half the stuff they usually bring. Everyone is downbeat about the lack of business and the paucity of tourists. I am welcomed like a cow carcass in a bearpit.

I talk a LOT of politics on my rounds, get essential travel information (“Do not go to Awendo it is crazy there, you will be killed!”), buy some great stuff and attempt to pack the car.

This is a different car. This one has a big bash in the front, the doors don’t really open from the inside and the boot is fused shut. The windows do open but only when David rubs the bare wires on his door together. Then we get a shower of sparks and a window opens; you rarely know which one it is going to be. We cram everything into the back seat and go to Kawangware (one of the unburnt bits) to meet Doris.

And now some good news!

The Pork Place in Kawangware has re-opened. We celebrate with some of their finest dry fry with greens. We then do shopping for Doris and David. I have to give them a strict limit because funds are so very short this trip. Doris heads to a matatu and David drops me and my many bits and bobs at Wildebeest.

I cram everything I have bought between my flaps and into the tiny tent in complete darkness. I forgot to buy a torch. And my phone is dead. I attempt to identify my five different meds by touch. And neck the assortment.

I sleep.


Wednesday 1st November

Mama Biashara’s rain catcher – very simple but very effective

I am hailed by a thin American with a tweedy cap and a non-hipster moustache. Brian is with another charity – Mama Maji – and he tells me about the manual brick presses his peeps are giving to communities in need of a way to get, store and sell water to make water tanks. The bricks are waterproof and made from soil plus 1% cement. NO need for firing. The brick press sounds amazing. And costs about £800 a pop. Which is something someone could fundraise for. Couldn’t you?

In exchange, I tell Brian about Mama Biashara’s Raincatchers and Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment (white vinegar laced generously with birdseye chillies and matured till the fumes it gives off would knock down an angry hippo).

We bottle it in little sprays and advise women to apply vigorously to the eyes and, if bared, genital area of an attacker. It has worked incredibly well in all the areas we have taken it to. Stopped attacks in Mombasa, Nairobi… even when the British Army was concerned. Guaranteed to reduce a wannabe rapist to a pink, puffy and streaming-eyed, sobbing ball of blind pain at your feet. And discourage others. It is also delicious on rice or chips if you like things spicy.

Brian wants to send it to Homa Bay, where violently sexual attacks on women on the way to the lake to fetch water are on the increase.

Vicky comes to tell me about the results of para-election(s) violence in Kisii and Homa Bay. My sources have already regaled me with tales of rioting and arson, shooting and general violence all over the area. So I am expecting the worst.

Her story takes me one step away from shrieking “Screw the lot of you!” and flouncing out for an early flight home. However, there are 60 people in Kisii County (plus countless children) who need Mama Biashara very badly.

Since the ‘election’ in August, in many areas, things have been bad and getting worse. Already, 63 men that Vicky herself knows about have disappeared. Just disappeared. No bodies, nothing. Just, suddenly, no husband, no father…

More recently, around the election rerun, tribalism in the areas not held by the party in power has been getting desperate as anyone who looks slightly like a voter floating the wrong way is hunted down.

The sixty that Vicky has come to me about are absolute outcasts. Forty women and twenty men who committed the unforgivable crime of marrying outside their tribe.

Kisii people who married a Luo faced terrible treatment. They had been working across the county border in Homa Bay. There they were beaten, their houses set on fire, their businesses set on fire and the people forced to run in the night or be killed. They ran back across the border into Kisii County – “Home”.

But there the women are paraded through any town they go to, being publicly whipped. No-one will give them shelter, much less food or a way to earn a living. So they are currently sleeping in fields, open air, in the rain and the cold. Starving and desperate. Vicky went to visit them. Vicky is also a sort of outcast. An outsider who married a Kisii. But they do not attack her (any more) because she has two children who have been brought up Kisii.

Now, believe it or not, it gets worse.

I am planning my trip to take them plastic to make shelters, cooking pots, the wherewithal to start small businesses, clothes, food, medicine etc. But I cannot.

Because, if the local Kisiis see a mzungu (or, indeed ANYONE) helping the outcasts or giving them things, then all hell will break loose. Nothing particularly bad would happen to me, probably, but the outcast community would be attacked and all donations taken from them.

So we will have to drip feed them our help. Starting with some plastic and old sacking to make shelters… then tools… cooking pots (everything must look old and worn)… food… etc etc.

We will take the stuff as far as Kisii where Vicky can get safe storage. Then a couple of the drivers of the farm lorries that go down to the county border will take the things. Vicky knows them. We will pay them a little. Every day, every trip, a little more. So hopefully these people and their children won’t die out there in the fields.

The Rennies get a hammering through the night… must be my churning bile.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and money from its shop in London. 100% of all monies collected go to the charity’s work. Copstick covers all her own expenses herself, including travel and accommodation. She takes nothing from the charity. You can donate HERE.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Politics, Poverty