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British comedy critic Kate Copstick attacked in Kenya by 17 men while public & police look on and do nothing

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Yesterday, my blog continued the saga of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s recent visit to Kenya, where she has been running her Mama Biashara charity since 2008.

This time, her trip coincided with the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. So far, she has been stopped by the police, had £800 stolen and been stalked by gunmen. Because of the perceived danger elsewhere, she and helper Doris decide to hold Mama Biashara meetings at Nakumatt Junction – Nakumatt being Kenya’s biggest chain of quite posh supermarkets. Copstick tells Doris:

We’ll meet there, because they’ve got guards and a huge car park and we’re not going to get held up, unless it’s terrorists who just blow the whole place up. It’s as safe as Westgate… It’s as safe as Westgate…

“So,” Copstick told me, “I was on my way to meet Doris at Nakumatt Junction and there’s a thing called the Nairobi Show – it’s part trade fair, part industry fair, part fairground – and everybody goes, including every petty criminal in the Nairobi area.

“When I was leaving my tiny slum palace, it was chucking-out time at the Nairobi Show, which is a bit like Millwall, Arsenal and QPR all chucking-out of the same football ground at the same time. So I had my bag strapped round me and my bum bag under my coat.

“After I took my law degree in Scotland, I nearly did a PhD in something called Victimology which says that, in the case of an apparently motiveless crime – if someone just walks down the street and is horribly attacked – there is something about the victim that attracts the criminal. Not anything conscious but in the same way that, if you get on the back of a horse, a horse will know if you’re terrified and it will do crazy things with you…

“I’ve never been scared in Kenya.

“I was really upset by the theft of the money. I was mildly un-nerved that armed gunmen were roaming Dagoretti Corner with a view to robbing me. And I’d never really experienced anything like the crowds that were in Dagoretti Corner as I walked down. All the time – every two minutes – there were young guys making pincer movements, one on either side of me – Hey! Hello shosho!

“No, no. Get off! I know you’re all thieves! Get off! Get off!

“The longer I walked, the more nervous I got. I had my bag strapped over my body and I was clutching it and was quite scared by the time I got down to a traffic island where the major junction is. I was thinking: I just want this to stop! I should never have come out! I just want this to stop!

“I’ve never ever felt like that in Kenya before.

Nakumatt Junction, where Copstick was attacked, in Nairobi

Nakumatt Junction, in Nairobi, where Copstick was attacked

“It’s a big traffic island with grass and little hedges, so I thought I’d walk across it because it was low and everyone could see it and there were no little dark corners. If I went round the traffic island, I would have been going off into the dark where there are ditches and all kinds of stuff.

“So I started to cross the traffic island and suddenly behind me there was like a herd of young guys in their late teens or early 20s – there were maybe seventeen or eighteen of them plus one very big guy. They weren’t scruffy. They were well-dressed in sportswear. And I just thought: Fuck!

“I stopped walking and I thought I’ll go back but, as I stopped walking, the big guy looked straight at me and I thought Game over.

“…because I knew I looked pathetic, scared and – to be honest – I did not look athletic, like I could suddenly turn on my heels and run.

“Then it was like a cartoon. You know like Roadrunner is there and suddenly – Whooooshh! – he’s here beside you? Like a streak of light. It was like that and this big guy knocked me back through a hedge and had his knee on my chest and had what I thought was a gun barrel pressing into my stomach. Now I think maybe it was his forefinger and middle finger poking into my solar plexus.

Do nothing! Do nothing! He just kept saying Do nothing! Do nothing! but he didn’t seem to be doing anything himself. He had his knee in my chest and I think I was just so scared. And then he must have started pulling at my bag but, of course, it didn’t come off because the strap was wrapped round my body. So, as he pulled at it, I sort-of got pulled upright and down across the other side of the path into the other hedge… I mean, their topiary was just so devastated by all this.

“The other guys were just standing round us, which I now know is a standard thing they do to stop anyone coming to help you. One guy attacking. Fifteen or sixteen standing round going: Eeaayy! Mzungu! Mzungu!

“He was pulling away at my bag and I remember hearing my voice saying: LOOK – FOR GOODNESS SAKE! – IT’S WRAPPED ROUND MY BODY! and I realised He’s panicking and he obviously didn’t have a gun or a knife, so then I just started kicking him on his thighs and hips and then he started pulling on the bum bag and I felt something give and he took a step back and they all started running off in different directions and that was when I turned slightly girlish.

“I went a bit blubbery, stood up and I could see the whole traffic island was surrounded by a traffic jam at a standstill and people were hanging out of bus windows watching… There were two traffic policemen watching… Everybody was just watching, doing nothing… And, even after the guys ran away, the only person who came up was a little 5-year-old boy who came up and pulled my coat and said Shosho. (meaning Old Lady) Did they hurt you? That was the worst thing. Being called Shosho.

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

Kate Copstick still loves Kenya

“I blubbered: They took all my money!

“And then I thought: Wait a minute…. I still had my bag. And I still had my bum bag, because the only thing he’d taken was the very front smallest pocket of the bum bag, which contained an £8 Nokia phone with no airtime on it, my Kenyan house keys – with no indication of where the house was – and three or four receipts for de-worming syrup.

“Between my bum bag and my satchel bag – because I was on my way to do a funding at Nakumatt – I had about 100,000 shillings (£800) plus my passport. I almost felt a wave of sympathy for the robbers.

“All that hassle just for some de-worming receipts.”

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The day the gunmen came to attack British comedy critic Kate Copstick

Copstick remembers her recent  trip to Kenya

Copstick remembers a day the Kenyan gunmen came

My blog two days ago told of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s recent visit to Kenya, where she has been running her Mama Biashara charity since 2008. 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 let them build a better life for themselves.

This time, her trip coincided with the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi.

In the last blog, she told of being stopped by the police, having £800 stolen and the security forces’ crackdown during the terrorist attack.

“When I went back to Nairobi,” she told me, “the police were still rounding up all the wrong people with added GBH.

“Because of that, with my Mama Biashara helper Doris – she of the bottom that would have given Rubens wet dreams forever – we went to people’s houses and organised things in a more low-key way.

“One day we were at this house with five mixed groups of commercial sex workers and guys who had come out of prison. The businesses we set up with them are just fantastic. They hate their lives so much and want to change their lives so much that they grab these chances with both hands.

“We were in this rather nice compound and they were coming to us in five small groups, so it wasn’t one of the big groups.  We had dealt with three groups when there was all this hoo-ha outside. Doris went out, came back, closed the door and told me: Don’t go out!

“When I was finishing off with the third group, Doris came back and told me that the rancid old bitch of a landlady who owned the compound had called the police and the last two groups of sex workers and ex-cons had been on their knees in front of an armed policeman begging for their lives. They had done nothing.

Members of Kenya’s General Service Unit police

Members of Kenya’s General Service Unit police in Nairobi

“Doris had explained to the policeman why the two groups were there, the policeman had said Get out of here! and they’d all run off. The third group I was working with heard the word ‘policeman’ and ran off too.

“Doris and I went out and there was this foul old bitch staring at us. I asked her in Swahili: You think you’re a Christian?

“She said: Yes.

“I said in English: Even as ye do it unto one of the least of these my children, ye do it unto me.

“She screwed up her face and said in Swahili: I don’t want thieves and whores in my compound!

“I gave her the Copstick death stare, which usually works a treat, but she just death stared back. I wanted to say a lot of things I couldn’t say fast enough in Swahili, so I told her You have a bad heart and God will see your heart.

“Off the top of my head, I could not think of the Swahili for Burn in Hell, you rancid old git.

“Anyway, we left and started looking for other safer places to do workshops.

“I was going to do one up in Uthiru (NW of Nairobi), but the police were in Uthiru, so we went to Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi. There’s a lovely old lady with a cafe there and she doesn’t mind what I do provided I keep buying tea and mandazi for everybody.

“Doris brought the people from Uthiru to Dagoretti Corner and we were doing the workshops there. Starting good businesses. Great businesses.”

“So,” I asked, “at Dagoretti Corner, you were helping the same sort of people who wanted to get out of the life they were in?”

“Yes,” said Copstick. “Commercial sex workers – male and female – and ex-convicts. The ex-cons were all married guys with kids and it’s a big, big thing for them to have another chance.

“They get put in prison for things like looking the wrong way at a policeman and, once you’re in the prison system in Kenya, if you haven’t got someone who can bribe someone else to let you out, you just stay there. You can end up doing six months in prison for nothing – just cos people have forgotten about you. When you come out, employers ask where you’ve been and, if you say In prison, obviously, they say No job.

One rather glamorised view of Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi

One rather glamorised view of Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi

“We had done a lot of funding with these people at Dagoretti Corner and then Doris started to get phone calls. There was a guy sitting there who wanted to sell quails and quails’ eggs as a business and Doris suddenly said Right. We’re finished now. We’re packing up.

“I said: No, no. There’s a couple more groups.

No, no, we’re packing up, said Doris.

“As most people realise, I am insensitive and didn’t catch the note of outright panic in her voice.

“She told me: There are men outside.

OK, OK, OK, I said. It’s Dagoretti Corner…

We need to go, she said. What are you doing?

I’m just texting my dad, to tell him everything’s OK and I’m fine.

You are NOT OK and everything is NOT fine! Doris told me. There are armed men outside.

“The phone calls had been to tell her there was a gang of six guys outside. One was at the chemist shop opposite, keeping an eye on where we were sitting… and then there were three others spread out… and two with guns waiting for us to come out of the doorway of the little cafe.

“I told Doris: Well, we’ll just stay in here; we’ll be fine.

No, it won’t be fine, said Doris, because they’ll know there’s only us in here and they don’t care if they kill the shosho (the old lady). They’ll kill everybody. They’ll just shoot everybody as long as they get the money and then run off.

“So we phoned one of Doris’ friends who borrowed a car, drove it up to the entrance and we ducked down, got in and roared off. It was unreal. I wasn’t scared, because it was so unreal, but I knew I should have been scared because Doris was shaking like a leaf and Doris is one kick-ass woman – and she has a lot of ass to kick.

“So that was the armed would-be hold-up and then, because we now knew there were armed men roaming Dagoretti Corner with a view to attacking and robbing me, we decided to avoid it.

The perceived safe haven of Nakumatt Junction

The perceived safe haven of Nakumatt Junction in Nairobi

“That whole area was obviously a bit suspect, so we decided to meet down at Nakumatt Junction – Nakumatt is their biggest chain of quite posh supermarkets.

“I told Doris: We’ll meet there, because they’ve got guards and a huge car park and we’re not going to get held up, unless it’s terrorists who just blow the whole place up… It’s as safe as Westgate… It’s as safe as Westgate…


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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