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Kenya TV channels still off air despite court order

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Three of Kenya’s largest private TV channels remain off the air, despite an order by the country’s High Court suspending a shutdown.

The government cut off KTN, NTV, and Citizen TV over plans to broadcast opposition leader Raila Odinga’s unofficial “inauguration” on Tuesday.

The court suspended the ban for 14 days while the case is heard.

There is no sign the government will comply with the court ruling, the BBC’s Gladys Kigo reports from Nairobi.

Mr Odinga lost last year’s election and his “swearing-in” was widely seen as a publicity stunt, but the authorities said it was an act of treason.

Opposition groups have accused the Kenyan government of violating the public’s right to information about important events.

When asked about the matter, Joseph Mucheru, the minister of information, communication and technology, told the BBC it was a security issue and that only the security minister could answer the question of when the stations would be able to broadcast again.

The High Court also ordered the state not to interfere with the operation of KTN, NTV, and Citizen TV pending a full hearing.

The channels were taken off the air on Tuesday morning ahead of the “swearing-in”, but continue to stream their content online.

The interior ministry said in a statement circulating on social media that broadcasting the event – described as an attempt to “subvert or overthrow” the government – “would have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent Kenyans”.

Kenyan journalists denounced the move as outrageous and in a statement called for “respect of the constitution” and an end to the “unprecedented intimidation of journalists”.

Some journalists have been camping out in their newsrooms for fear of being arrested.

Linus Kaikai, the head of NTV, said: “We were informed by very reliable sources that policemen were downstairs and what they wanted to do was to arrest us when we leave the building, so we have since that time not left the building.”

BBC analysts say KTN, NTV and Citizen TV are perceived to offer relatively independent and balanced news coverage, though they have been criticised by the opposition in the past.

In their absence, some Kenyans are turning to newspapers and social media for their news. Others are going to the state-owned KBC and the private K24 TV. The two stations usually attract low viewership due to their pro-government bias.

‘Kenyans fuming’
Analysis: Ferdinand Omondi, BBC News

Kenyans have been fuming at their inability to watch news and their favourite programmes for three days, and will welcome the court’s decision.

The affected media companies have suffered losses measured in the millions of dollars. The TV stations depend on advertising, so they could not make money during the period they have been off-air.

Human rights activist Okiya Omtatah, who petitioned the court, asked the government to pay for the financial losses that Citizen TV, KTN and NTV have incurred.

The stations command nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s TV audience. But the emergence of alternate advertising platforms, including social media, was already hurting their revenue streams. The three companies have been forced to lay off hundreds of workers in the past year to balance their books.

The Kenyan government had wanted the stations to remain shut indefinitely as police investigated Tuesday’s ceremony.

KENYA

Somali refugees in Kenya between rock and hard place

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NAIROBI, Kenya- Around half-a-million refugees stranded in Kenya face an impossible choice: either go home to al-Shabaab-wrecked Somalia under a controversial UNHCR “voluntary repatriation” program or stay and face massive debts accumulated due to food shortages at camps.

The dire situation can be witnessed firsthand at the Dadaab Refugee Complex in North Eastern province where over 486,460 refugees have taken asylum, according to figures released in January by The UN Refugee Agency.

Somalis living at the complex, which hosts thousands of makeshift refugee shelters, told Anadolu Agency the only reason they came to Kenya was because they were forced to flee the civil war back home and the threat of al-Shabaab militants who have killed many in the Horn of Africa region.

Dadaab is located 474 kilometers (294 miles) from capital Nairobi. It is an arid place with no paved roads but just swathes and swathes of barren fuscous-golden brown sand. Usually there is no sign of life en route to the camp except for lizards skittering across the sand. But sometimes people appear out of nowhere who can be seen herding camels. They are locals of the area who are mostly nomadic pastoralists and are always on the move.

As soon as one reaches the refugee complex, the picture of neglect and misery hits in the face as harshly as the scorching heat under which the extremely poor people live there.

Anyone who approaches the K1 block at the camp gets overwhelmed with requests from refugees scrambling over a barbed wire fence, urging for food, water, money or anything that one could spare for them.

Men, women and children can be seen squeezing into any spot that provides them with shade, others stare aimlessly into the distance deep in thought.

Tales of horror are in abundance here. One man said he arrived at the camp after spending three weeks in hiding after his family was killed in Somalia. Many others shared similar graphic realities.

Debts after food cuts

Several people at the camp told Anadolu Agency that after 30 percent food cuts were announced by the World Food Programme (WFP) for refugees living in Dadaab, they were forced to take loans to buy food and ended up accumulating “huge” debts of hundreds of dollars.

Many said it was because of these debts that they were now considering the recently-announced United Nations “Voluntary” repatriation program, which claims “to ensure the exercise of a free and informed choice and to mobilize support for returnees.”

Yassir Zahi said there is nothing voluntary about going back home and added he simply wants to run away from debt like many other refugees like himself at the camp.

“When the food cuts came, we were forced to accumulate debt since October 2017 because even the food was not enough for one person.

“Nothing is voluntary about me going home; I borrowed to buy food on credit and I am not alone; many have done the same, I owe the guy $300.

“All this I did to buy flour for porridge and milk and rice to feed my family; I used to sell flour but I ended up consuming it all with my family; they [money-lenders] came to ask for their money which I didn’t have and they threatened me and my family, especially my 16-year[-old] daughter,” Zahi said.

Through the voluntary repatriation program, the UN has created an avenue for people to clear off their debts “by returning back to my war-torn country,” he added.

In a 2018 report, Not Time to Go Home, Amnesty International also outlined how refugees were being coerced to go back to war at home due to the severe humanitarian crisis.

People left behind

Aamiina Osman, a 75-year-old woman, was found chained to a tree at the camp, attacking anyone who tried to come near her with a handful of sand.

Her adopted grandson Rashid Latif said she used to be happy and jovial but the terrible conditions at the refugee camp had destroyed the old woman.

“Her real family deserted her and went back to Somalia leaving her to fend for herself; they said that because she is too old she would slow them down once they got to war-torn Somalia; being deserted by the six family members made her partially mentally ill,” Latif said.

“On that night [they left], they chained four old women here [to the tree] and their families left; luckily, we found them, otherwise, they would have died; some went back to their homes but I adopted her [Osman] as my grandmother as I am an orphan and I take care of her,” he added.

Lack of funds

UNHCR’s Yvonne Ndege denied that refugees were being coerced to go back home. “The refugees are actually not ‘sent’ — they make a considered and informed decision to return or go to Somalia.

“There is a careful and detailed process that refugees who say they want to return follow before we help them return. That’s accompanied by up to date information from over 30 local organizations on the ground in Somalia constantly updating refugees on the situation back home. There are also what we call ‘go and see’ missions led by refugee leaders who go and see what’s going on in Somalia and come back with info for refugees considering return.”

She also told Anadolu Agency funding had not been adequate to help those wanting to return home.

“75,297 Somalis have voluntarily repatriated to Somalia since 2014, up to Dec 31, 2017; 35,407 returned in 2017 alone.

“There is a funding gap for the whole of Kenya. UNHCR support for refugees is only 32 percent funded, leaving a gap of 68 percent as of the 31st of December, 2017. We need $231.3M but only have $73.1M,” Ndege said.

Marco Lembo from the UNHCR said those who return get a “full package” in Somalia, which consists of conditional and non-conditional cash grants, including one-time payment of up to $1,000 per household and monthly grant of $200. He added that six months of food rations, supported by the WFP, are also given.

Somalia remains dangerous

Somali-based al-Shabaab militants continue to control cities in Somalia amid reports of them terrorizing women, men and children along the Horn of Africa region, which in turn causes massive displacement of people.

Guns have not been silenced in Somalia despite 25 years of conflict in the country. Experts repeatedly warn that going back to Somalia means returning to war and death.

But nonetheless, the Kenyan government has halted any new registration of Somali refugees and recently even disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs, creating an invisible wall to hundreds of thousands who desperately seek asylum. Kenya had also urged the UNHCR to expedite the voluntary return of refugees after shelving a decision to close the camp due to insecurity.

At Dadaab, most refugees who spoke to Anadolu Agency said al-Shabaab had played a major role in their decision to seek asylum in Kenya to begin with, but now things are so bad at their refugee complex they feel they have no option but to take the hard road back home despite the dangers.

Summing up the sentiments of thousands of refugees like himself, Zahi concluded: “Life here is a hellish nightmare, I tell you”.

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Suspected Al-Shabaab militants kill 3 in Kenyan school attack

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WAJIR, Kenya, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) — Suspected Al-Shabaab militants killed three Kenyan teachers and injured one other in an attack Friday on a school in the country’s northeastern county of Wajir, officials said.

The militants in early morning attacked the Qarsa primary school near the borders with Somalia and Ethiopia, in a town about 70 km from Wajir town, the capital of the county, killing three non-local teachers, said Mohamud Saleh, coordinator of Kenya’s northeastern region.

Authorities have been working to find another teacher who was allegedly shot in the hand and escaped with injuries.

Saleh said that ongoing efforts have been made to trace the killers, who escaped soon after the incident.

“This is (a) very unfortunate incident and the first of its kind in Wajir County,” he said, noting that the militants had planted improvised explosive devices (IED) along the route to the school.

Police said the militants seemed to have planted enough IED on roads leading to the school, making it extremely hard for ambulances and reinforcement teams to get to the site on time.

“One of our vehicles that was responding to the attack was partly hit by an IED … but all our officers are in good condition,” said Mohamed Sheikh, Wajir Administration Police commandant.

Local residents said tension and uncertainty remains high in the entire county.

Northeastern Kenya has suffered grenade and gun attacks in recent years since Kenya took its troops to Somalia to fight the Al-Shabaab militia group in October 2011.

Several attacks believed to have been carried out by Al-Shabaab have occurred in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa and Dadaab districts of northeastern Kenya even as the military reports gains against the Islamist group by capturing their military bases and killing scores of them.

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Somalia given greenlight to respond in border case

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The International Court of Justice has allowed Somalia to file a response to a case in which it has sued Kenya over a maritime border.

The move kick-starts a fresh round of arguments, which could determine the final flow of the border.

The court Monday announced that Somalia should respond to Kenya’s claim that the current flow of the border should remain intact by June 18, after which Kenya will have another six months to poke holes in the response.

“The court issued this decision taking into account the views of the parties and the circumstances of the case. The subsequent procedure has been reserved for further decision,” said a statement from the court’s registry.

KENYA’S PLEA

On February 2 this year, presiding judge Ronny Abraham accepted Kenya’s plea to file a second round of arguments, which Nairobi said would take longer to prepare. This means the two countries will have another opportunity to argue before the court.
Somalia sued Kenya in August 2014, saying the border between the two countries should extend diagonally into the sea, south of Kiunga and not eastwards as it is today. But Kenya has argued that this may also affect its sea border with Tanzania. The current border has existed largely as a result of Presidential Proclamation of 1979.

When the case was presented to court last year in February, Kenya’s preliminary objections were dismissed. Kenya had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding to have the matter resolved through the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, something which Nairobi had claimed was not yet exhausted.

AREA IN CONTEST

The area in contest is about 100,000 square kilometres, forming a triangle east of the Kenyan coast

In 2009, Kenya and Somalia had reached an MoU and deposited it at the UN. It proclaimed that the sea border should run eastwards. But the case is also influenced by the suspected oil deposits in the contested area. Somalia had argued that Kenya was prospecting in the area, something that could expose Somali resources to exploitation should it win.

In December, Kenya filed an argument before the Court saying the matter can best be handled through the UNCLOS and insisted its continued exploration, fishing and other activity in the disputed area is based on a bilateral decree issued by the countries’ leaders in 1979.

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