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Off-grid solar systems save lives

March 18th, 2020 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
In isolated, off-grid communities, SOLAR-POWERED innovations are improving livelihoods, boosting economic opportunities and even saving lives.

IN MANY health facilities in rural Sub-Saharan Africa, doctors conduct emergency surgeries with lights from their mobile phones, women give birth in the dark without necessary medical equipment and babies are at risk of dying because there’s no reliable power to supply oxygen concentrators. “In the hospital, you often didn’t have access to oxygen cylinders. So the power goes out and you’re out of luck. We had children that died in front of our eyes,” said Canadian paediatrician Michael Hawkes in an interview with Science Daily.

Experience working in a Ugandan hospital motivated Dr Hawkes and his colleagues to develop a solar-powered oxygen concentrator that provides a constant source of oxygen. Solar panels on the hospital’s roof supply the oxygen concentrator with power during the day, which pulls oxygen from the air. Then, after the sun goes down, batteries charged by the solar panels keep the concentrator running through the night. The system was piloted in Jinja and the more remote town of Kambuga in Uganda, and saved 22 of 28 children in the test phase. The researchers are now working to expand the system to 80 hospitals across Uganda. “If we could expand it, could you imagine how many children would have access to lifesav- ing oxygen therapy?” added Dr Hawkes.

According to research from the World Health Organization (WHO), around 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa still live without access to electricity, and about one in four health facilities have no access to electricity, while most others have an unreliable supply.

However, this situation is starting to change thanks to a growing number of innovative solar solutions. In Zimbabwe, for example, solar electricity now provides uninterrupted power to over 400 healthcare facilities, meaning that lifesaving medical devices, medicines, vaccines and medical files, among other essentials, are always available. The solar electricity systems were installed through the Solar for Health initiative, a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme and African governments. The initiative has been expanded to Sudan, Zambia, South Sudan, Namibia and Angola where solar systems have already been installed in over 100 clinics. It’s proving to be a cost-effective, sustainable approach to ensure health security for millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Solar power is also helping to modernise the agricultural sector in the region, where only six percent of the cultivated land is currently irrigated, even though irrigation has the potential to boost agricultural productivities by at least 50 percent. Kenyan farmer Mary Mugwathe, for example, makes use of a solar pump to irrigate her garlic, onion and tomato plants. “I wasn’t happy with the petrol pump that I used before as it frequently broke down, which affected productivity. It was also too heavy to manoeuvre and the fuel cost me over US$25 a week,” she says. “With solar energy, I’m able to farm through- out the year without any hassles. The pump is portable, so I can easily take it to the piece of plot I intend to irrigate, and run- ning the pump doesn’t cost me anything as the sun powers it.”

The farmer purchased the solar pump for US$400 from international social enterprise KickStart that allowed her to pay in small instalments over a period of one year. “Solar energy has become cheaper per watt and is, therefore, starting to compete with petrol and manual labour,” says John Kihia, Director, Field Innovations at KickStart Kenya. Kihia believes that solar has the potential to transform farmers’ lives. “Most farmers only harvest once or twice a year, but thanks to these solar pumps, they will be able to grow crops throughout the year, which will enable them to get their crop to market when the prices are high. This will greatly improve their income.”

Professor Bancy Mati – a Kenyan land and water management expert – advocates for the use of solar-powered irrigation to achieve sustainable irrigation and increase food security. “Petrol and diesel pumps pollute the environment, and projects often fail as communities cannot maintain the complicated generators; nor can they afford the fuel,” said Mati during a workshop about smart water solutions last year at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. “However, solar technology is an inexhaustible source of clean energy found virtually everywhere.”

As solar panels have become more affordable, solar pumps are increasingly used for the drinking water supply in rural areas. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for example, now uses solar-powered water systems in 21 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa; mostly in remote areas. “This solar water system has eased the stress, particularly on women who used to spend most of their time in search of water, which is now available to all,” said Haaxi Abdi Omar, a female community leader, in an interview with UNICEF Somalia.

The spread of solar power is not only supporting farmers, it’s also helping people to feel more connected, informed and engaged. Until recently, nobody in the rolling savannah of Kenya’s Kajiado County had electricity. Duncan Manga, who lives in a small house with a corrugated roof, now has his own flatscreen TV. The Maasai man purchased a so-called “solar home system” through M-KOPA Solar, the worldwide market leader of “pay-as-you-go” solar energy for off-grid customers. Having a TV for the first time in his life means a lot to Manga. “I love to watch the news and I can teach my children about the rest of the world,” he says. According to research by M-KOPA, a lot people who aquire TVs for the first time in off-grid homes report an improved lifestyle because they feel more informed.

According to M-KOPA sales agent Victor Risa, solar power also boosts economic activity. One of his customers founded a video hall where visitors pay a US$0.20 entrance fee to watch movies or football matches on a solar-powered TV. “It’s a lucrative business as 100 people visit the place per night on a regular basis,” says Risa.

While solar home systems can supply power for lights, TVs and fridges, they can’t produce enough current for energy- sapping appliances such as a grain mill or heat lamps. For this reason, solar companies such as Powerhive and Black Star Energy have taken a different approach by building solar micro- grids that not only provide enough power for a grain mill or cold-storage facility, they can also electrify a whole village.
Entrepreneur Dismas Mosongo doubled his income thanks to extra economic activities that were made possible by access to the solar electricity. “Thanks to this electricity, I’ve been able to start several small businesses, including a barber’s shop, and a small kiosk where I sell items for the home and offer phone charging to customers.”

“We believe that economic development depends on access to enough electricity to power productive activities, not merely lights and mobile-phone chargers,” says Rik Wuts, cofounder of Powerhive, which now operates 16 micro-grids in Kenya, serving around 15,000 people. Wuts also claims that the micro-grids are completely future proof. “Whenever the national grid will arrive, we can just interconnect and work in conjunction with the grid.”

On-site solutions
A growing number of companies in Sub-Saharan Africa are investing in on-site solar farms to bridge outages, reduce reliance on diesel generators, save energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Multinational Unilever, for example, launched its first on-site solar installation in Sub-Saharan Africa (through a pay-to-own loan from CrossBoundary Energy) at its tea factory in Kericho, Kenya, earlier this year. And, international food conglomerate Cargill inaugurated a solar-power facility at its site in Tema, Ghana, two years ago.

Due to high investment costs, other firms lease on- site solar farms. In Ghana, for example, a soft-drink factory leases one from solar firm Redavia. The solar farms are factory-assembled, shipped to the remote location and assembled on-site.

This article has been published in the 2019 October issue of Msafiri Magazine of Kenya Airways.

In Kenia zijn kamelen de nieuwe melkkoe

March 18th, 2020 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
Door klimaatverandering wordt Kenia droger. Keniaanse veehouders stappen daarom over op kamelen. De dieren kunnen lang zonder water en leveren goed betaalde ‘supermelk’.

Een schroeiende zon en eindeloze dorre vlaktes. Op het eerste gezicht is er verder weinig te bekennen in de velden bij Isiolo, een provinciestadje zo’n vijf uur ten noorden van Nairobi, de hoofdstad van Kenia. De lichtbruine kamelen van Mariam Maalim (45) vinden er echter toch wat te eten. Smakelijk knabbelen ze aan prikkelbosjes met reusachtige naalden terwijl de houten bellen om hun halzen zachtjes rinkelen.

“Eerder hielden mijn man en ik bijna honderd koeien, maar tijdens de droge periodes, die steeds vaker voorkomen, gaven de dieren geen melk meer en gingen er jaarlijks zelfs tientallen dood,” vertelt Maalim terwijl ze in haar lange blauwe hidjab tussen de hoogpotige dieren doorwandelt. Zij en haar echtgenoot besloten op kamelen over te stappen, die twee weken zonder water kunnen, grote afstanden kunnen overbruggen op zoek naar voedsel en ook tijdens droogte melk blijven geven.

‘Camelcino’ is hot

“Bij ernstige droogte verliest een veehouder ge- middeld de helft van zijn koeien, bij een kamelenkudde is dat meestal niet meer dan 16 procent,” vertelt Piers Simpkin, die al meer dan dertig jaar onderzoek doet naar het ‘schip van de woestijn’. Ook de hoge prijs van hun melk maakt de dieren aantrekkelijk. “Ontvang je voor koeienmelk zo’n 18 eurocent per liter, voor kamelenmelk is dat met één euro per liter meer dan vijf keer zo veel,” zegt Simpkin.

Kamelen zijn big business in Kenia. Het aantal kamelen is de afgelopen tien jaar ruim verdrievoudigd en ging van 920.000 naar 3 miljoen. Sommigen spreken daarom van een ware camel rush.

Aan die groei ligt niet alleen hun grote droogtebestendigheid ten grondslag. In Kenia en de rest van de wereld neemt de vraag naar kamelenmelk toe. In Kenia is de flinke Somalische gemeenschap in Nairobi een goede afzetmarkt en kun je in verschillende koffiebarretjes in de stad tegenwoordig terecht voor een camelcino, een cappuccino met kamelenmelk. In Dubai wordt van de melk kamelenijs en kamelenchocola geproduceerd. En wereldwijd drinken steeds meer gezondheidsfanaten de ietwat zoutige ‘supermelk’ vanwege de hoge gezondheidswaarde die eraan wordt toegekend: kamelenmelk bevat veel ijzer, veel vitamine B en driemaal zoveel vitamine C als koemelk en zou bovendien een geneeskrachtige werking hebben voor mensen met diabetes, tuberculose en maagzweren.

Volgens de FAO, de voedsel- en landbouworganisatie van de Verenigde Naties, kan de wereldwijde kamelenmelkindustrie – met meer investeringen en betere verpakkingen – zelfs een omzet van 10 miljard dollar (bijna 9,5 miljard euro) per jaar gaan opleveren.

Zelfs sommige leden van de conservatieve Masai – het nomadische volk dat altijd zo gehecht was aan zijn koeien – beginnen nu kamelen te houden. “Met kamelen heb je altijd melk in huis,” zegt Olé Nkiu (54) opgewekt. Acht jaar ge- leden kocht hij vijf kamelen nadat bij een ernstige droogte de helft van zijn 190 koeien was gestorven. De Masai, met een traditionele rood geblokte deken om zijn schouders, gebruikt zijn ‘supersterke’ kamelen ook als trekdier. “Ik zette ze in bij de aanleg van een dam waarmee ik nu water opsla,” vertelt Nkiu, terwijl hij samen met zijn broer Samuel Maya een kameel inspant en er een metalen bak achter hangt waarmee ze mest verzamelen.

De dieren bezorgen de veehouders echter ook onverwachte uitdagingen. Zo planten ze zich langzamer voort dan koeien – ze hebben een draagtijd van dertien maanden (koeien negen maanden) en krijgen maar één kalf per keer. Darnaast is het hoeden van de kamelen lastiger. “Waar koeien uit zichzelf naar huis terugkeren, moeten de moeilijk bij te benen kamelen, omdat ze in korte tijd veel kilometers afleggen en stug doorlopen, echt worden gehoed,” zeggen de twee Masai, die daarom speciale herders voor hun kamelen hebben ingehuurd.

Ook niet alle Masai zijn even gecharmeerd van kamelen. “Enkele jaren geleden trokken Somalische immigranten met kamelen naar ons gebied. Omdat we daarna werden getroffen door ernstige droogte, geloven nu veel Masai dat de dieren juist droogte veroorzaken,” zegt Maya.

Ook vrezen sommige Masai dat hun koeien door de kamelen niet meer voldoende eten zullen hebben. Volgens kamelenexpert Simpkin is dat niet zo. “Omdat koeien en kamelen verschillende vegetatie eten, kunnen ze juist erg goed naast elkaar leven.”

Koeltank van ontwikkelingsgeld

Isiolo is ondertussen uitgegroeid tot een ware kamelenhub. Maalim en zo’n dertig andere vrouwen brengen dagelijks inmiddels ongeveer 5000 liter kamelenmelk naar een verzamelpunt in het centrum van het provinciestadje. De vrouwen krijgen steun van de Nederlandse ontwikkelingsorganisatie SNV, die een melkkoeltank voor hen heeft gefinancierd. “Dankzij de melkopbrengsten kan ik mijn acht kinderen naar school sturen en gaat eentje zelfs naar de universiteit,” vertelt Maalim terwijl ze haar gele jerrycans vol kamelenmelk inlevert.

Nu nog gaat de melk in laadruimtes van passagiersbussen naar Nairobi. Maar omdat het ‘witte goud’ soms wordt gestolen en bij buspech achterblijf en bederft, willen de vrouwen met een lening een eigen koeltruck kopen. “Ook willen we yoghurt maken, de producten verpakken en naar Somalië gaan exporteren,” zegt de Keniaanse, die er lachend aan toevoegt dat bij Isiolo onlangs een internationaal vliegveld is geopend dat exporteren makkelijker maakt. “Dankzij kamelenmelk gaan we een mooie toekomst tegemoet.”

Dit artikel is eerder gepubliceerd in Het Parool, op 10 april 2017

A web of conflicts in oil-rich Jonglei

July 30th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet

One and a half year ago the South Sudanese acquired their independence. The eastern province jonglei, however, is still the scene of heavy violence. Rebel leader David Yau Yau is fighting the South Sudanese army, which, however, is not the only conflict situated in the province.

Bor/ Pibor ‘Any moment we can again be attacked’, sighs Daniel Akau Garang (32) while he rubs a cow with impressive horns with a mixture of ash and cow dung. ‘Against mosquitoes and ticks’, explains the still unmarried Dinka in black shirt and shorts. In the background the sky turns orange. The cattle camp, situated at the banks of the river just south of state capital Bor, exudes a peaceful, almost mysterious atmosphere. Men take care of the cows who just returned from the fields, women carry metal pots and children frolic among the smoky fires.

However, this peaceful scene was disturbed by heavy violence weeks ago. Seven men dressed in camouflage suits and equipped with Kalashnikovs invaded the camp, killed one of the shepherds and stole dozens of cows. Garang and his man couldn’t defend themselves. Almost one year ago they were disarmed by the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the current South Sudanese army. ‘Dozens of times we’ve asked them for protection, but they don’t do anything’, he grumbles. According to Garang the guilty ones are the Murle tribe who are living in the eastern part of Jonglei.

In Jonglei, which is populated by six different ethnic groups, occur cattle raiding and fights between tribes already for centuries. The fatality, however, increased drastic since knives and spears, used during the more than 2 decades of civil war, were exchanged for Kalashnikovs. One year ago during attacks between Murle and Nuer hundreds of people died, including many women and children, thousands of cows were raided and tens of thousands of citizens became refugees.

After disarming Dinka and Nuer, the South Sudanese government decided that it was the turn to the Murle, the third largest tribe in Jonglei. During this campaign some of the 15.000 soldiers used for this purpose committed human rights violations, including mistreatment, rapes and even a murder. The South Sudanese government downplayed the violence, saying it were individual incidents and that they resolved the case with the arrest of 32 soldiers.

The human rights violations created bad feelings among the Murle and David Yau Yau eagerly made use of this. He is a Murle rebel, presumably provided with weapons by Khartoum, who in April returned to his place of birth Pibor in the eastern part of Jonglei. Disappointed for not getting a seat in the provincial council, the former theology student revolted two years ago against the government, accepted a amnesty a year later and even received a rank as general within the SPLA. However, in April he again started an armed fight against the South Sudanese government and its army. By distributing weapons in no time he was able to form a rebel group of about 3000 Murle youth who killed dozens of SPLA soldiers in several confrontations.

The question rises why in a small period of time thousands of Murle youth join, according to many a not very charismatic rebel leader. It is good to dwell on the distrust created in history between on the one hand Dinka and Nuer, the two biggest tribes in Jonglei whose language and culture have strong similarities, opposite to the Murle who originally emigrated from Ethiopia. This suspicion has strengthened during the civil war when SPLA-commanders of the two biggest tribes misbehaved themselves against the Murle, whereby that group increasingly felt it was better off by the Arab domination than under the SPLA. Murle leader Ismail Kony started a militia so that he could, with help from Khartoum, regain the area surrounding Pibor from the SPLA. Only two years after the in 2005 agreed peace agreement he joined the South Sudanese government. Although also various Nuer-militias collaborated at that time with Khartoum, especially the Murle are considered to be a traitor.


British anthropologist Jon Arendsen, doing research in Jonglei since 1975, even presumes that in 2009 there was a plan to get rid of the Murle. In that year he saw a report which talked about Dinka and Nuer-leaders who said that after the independence of South Sudan it would be time to destroy the Murle and to occupy their land. In march that year hundreds of well equipped and dressed in new camouflage suits Nuer destroyed Murle village Lukwangole and killed 200 citizens, including mostly women and children. Still many Murle wonder how these Nuer got those new uniforms and weapons. ‘With big machine guns, government weapons, the Nuer attacked us’, tells James Malual (25) whose whole family was massacred during this attack. ‘No one did something, not the government, nor the SPLA.’ Since then many attacks and counterattacks took place and still many people don’t dare to go back to their villages.

This insecurity is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction with the Murle youth who refuse to hand in their weapons and feel underrepresented by the South Sudanese government, which contains many former SPLA-commanders. It’s the same with the SPLA who, according to the Murle, were not acting as the South Sudanese army during disarmament, but as a separate party against them. ‘If more Murle-soldiers had participated during the campaign, possibly there would be no rapes and mistreatment’, believes 18-year old Philip Koribuk. With the appointment with a Murle commander the South Sudanese government hopes they have corrected this imbalance. However, many Murle fear the new disarmament which presumably will take place at the end of this month, after the rain season. ‘With only one Murle other officers will still give other orders’, thinks 30-year old Lokohi Tindit who moved from his village Kongor to Pibor after all of his cows were stolen during Nuer attacks.

A quiet Jonglei is also important for another reason for the South Sudanese government. The soil is full of oil, gold and uranium. Although with the independence South Sudan inherited the biggest part of the oilfields, Juba shutdown the oil production in spring because of a fight with Khartoum. Three months ago Sudanese president Al Bashir and his South Sudanese colleague Salva Kirr signed a deal in Addis Abeba. Soon the oilproduction can start again. Crucial for the South Sudanese oil plans, including an alternative pipeline through Kenya, is a big oil concession which the government made two months ago with French Total and two other foreign oil companies about block B which is situated largely in Jonglei. New violence can, however, scare new investors and endanger this new concession. Perhaps this explains the presumably involvement of Khartoum, who tolerably certain provides David Yau Yau with arms. Three months ago even the UN saw an illegal airdropping close to Pibor. ‘Deliberately Khartoum is creating chaos and conflict in Jonglei to undermine this development’, says Jodi Jonglei, one of the seven Murle inside the Provincial States. Besides, Khartoum is denying every involvement with rebels in South Sudan.


Meanwhile, for many youth the social economical situation is also a reason to join Yau Yau. Philip tells that his 28-year old uncle joined the rebel leader two months ago. ‘Because he didn’t have any cows, he didn’t see another opportunity. From Yau Yau he received another weapon, could raid some cattle and marry and start a family.

Cattle are vital for the Dinka, the Nuer as well as the Murle. The give them status, milk, but are really essential to get married. This system of dowries is still a source of conflict within all three tribes. Many men have insufficient cows and try to acquire them in another way. Many times the dowry for the son is paid with the cows a family yielded for the daughter. If she doesn’t manage to have children, all the cows have to be repaid to her man, which in many times is not possible because they are already used to pay for the dowry of her brother. This not only leads to cattle raiding but also to the abduction of women and children who are often included as a full member of the new family.

Although in May leaders of the six tribes agreed to not steal cattle, women and children from each other, it is unlikely that since then the still ongoing cattle raidings are only committed by Yau Yau. Still in July four Dinka’s were arrested for cattle raiding and within the Dinka tribe the dowry prices increased a lot. A man used to pay 30 cows for his wife, nowadays he has to pay 100 cows, sometimes even 200. Presumably the reason is the Lost Boys who returned with many dollars from the United States. These are youth who at a young age fled the country during the civil war and nowadays are world-famous. High officials also seem to sometimes use tax money to pay the cows for their sons. Many Dinka deny there is a connection between the high dowry prices and the cattle raidings, because you only pay a higher price for well educated women en whenever there is competition.

Besides that, different researchers describe how nowadays local leaders have some difficulty to control youth in their tribe. Anthropologist Sharon Hutchinson, who is doing research in Jonglei since 1980, describes how elderly within the Nuer and the Dinka practice their leadership by controlling the cattle. When SPLA-militias raided many of their cows during the civil war and armed youth themselves also started to claim cows, this system of local leadership collapsed. Also within the Murle, where you will be born in so called ‘age-sets’ to which you have to obey for the rest of your life, leaders don’t succeed anymore to control the younger ‘age-sets’ and pastors complain that youth don’t go to church anymore and don’t listen to them.

Philip tells that many people in Pibor are very disappointed. ‘The Arabs were businessmen. When they controlled the country it was much better’, thinks the teenager dressed in a jeans and t-shirt, trudging through the muddy streets. ‘There was electricity, streetlights, good prizes at the market and security, Ismail Kony indeed keeped the SPLA at a distance. Now we have our own country but we suffer. There are no roads, no electricity, barely schools, no good teachers, the products at the market are priceless and it is more dangerous than ever.’

Different South Sudanese citizens criticize the SPLA soldiers for being lazy and that they don’t feel like to work after all those years of civil war. Jonglei’s Deputy Governor Hussein Mar Nyout blames it, however, at the lack of cars radio equipment and the impossible conditions in Jonglei. ‘For days they have to move through marshy terrain, certainly during the six months of rain season when the majority of the roads are flooded. Because of this they can’t be everywhere.’

Everyone, from politicians to young people, seems to agree Pibor has to develop as soon as possible. ‘By constructing paved roads, it is possible to have better security, to enable economical activity, open moor schools and the Murle will come in contact with the outside world’, tells the Deputy Governor. ‘In that way they don’t live on a island for six months a year and they will learn there are other ways to survive than to steal cows.’ 18-Year old Philip even thinks that the government has to persuade young people to become farmers.


Coming in contact with the outside world is even more important for the Murle, because of their role during the civil war they are barely represented within the Lost Boys, who are relatively well educated in the United States. Once back in South Sudan they function as a speaking-tube for their tribe.

Politicians in Jonglei more often attempt to bring the local youth in contact. Baba Medan, minister of youth and sports, stimulates wrestling games, which are very populair in South Sudan. ‘Youth of different tribes can get to know each other and therefore the mutual distrust will decrease.’ Commissioner Joshua Kony organises together with local youth leaders in Pibor traditional dances. During a speech he tries to convince youth, decked with headdresses and animal skins, not to connect with Yau Yau any longer.

However, time will tell whether the South Sudanese government, who in his short life already has build a name in corruption and nepotism, will invest in the distant, slightly revolted region of the Murle.

Garang, the Dinka who lost almost all of his cows during a recent attack of his cattle camp doesn’t mull about the fact of stealing cows from the Murle. He tries to find other ways to earn money. He trades in cows and hopes to earn enough money as a English teacher to buy the remaining cows for a dowry. The 32-year old South Sudanese smiles. ‘The property of your neighbours can never make you happy.’

Burqas and kalasjnikovs

July 30th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
Afghanistan has six hundred police women; in 2014 there should be five thousand. Even though they run a high risk of getting killed there are still women signing up, often driven by financial problems. Despite government efforts people don’t seem to take them very seriously. A lot of these female police officers don’t even have a service weapon and others are threatened by their male colleagues.

‘They refuse to give us a weapon.’ Sima stares sadly at the floor in the office in the provincial police department in Herat, the second-largest city of Afghanistan and close to the Iranian border. Her white headscarf, shining jacket, black pants and ballerinas do not make her look like a police officer. ‘There are only big male uniforms. I don’t have the money to alter one’, the thin 25-year-old girl explains, while picking at the fraying threads of the sofa.

It’s hot in the office. A thick layer of dust covers the wooden desk. The chair behind it has been wrapped together by tape. Only the folded prayer rug on the coat rack appears to be spotless. At the other end of the room two robust ladies wear oversized uniforms but have also wrapped themselves in blue burqas. ‘Outside I always wear a burqa on top of my uniform, otherwise I’ll get killed’, one of them explains timidly.

Police women are a favorite target of the Taliban. Many more male than female police officers die from the hands of insurgents. The difference, however, appears to be that male police officers get killed indiscriminately in their line of duty as representatives of a government opposed by the insurgents. Police women appear to be individually targeted and killed because they are women exercising an Islamic right to work which is opposed by traditionalists.

Most familiar is the assassination of Malalai Kakar, Afghanistan’s highest-ranking female police officer – famous worldwide for her brave struggle to reduce violence against women and children. One and a half year ago the mother of six was shot to death in front of her house in Kandahar on her way to work. While a female agent in Herat suffered the same fate, still the majority of the police women in the West-Afghan city don’t have a weapon.

Sima, fiercely: ‘At first they said I was not able to use a weapon. Though at the police academy in Kabul I was trained in shooting with a pistol as well as a kalasjnikov. After an order of the ministry of internal affairs to give all the police women a weapon, they had another excuse: people in the street would be able to snatch my pistol.’ She sighs. ‘In theory it sounds great, but in reality they look down on us. Nobody is interested in us. We are symbolic agents.’

While the police is one of the worst paid sectors in Afghanistan – the average police salary is around 150 dollars per month – Sima’s first motive to join two years ago was the money. After her husband died in a traffic accident she had to find a job to support herself and her three children. Despite her financial motive Sima expected to work on the street, fighting criminals, helping people and giving women better rights. Sadly this seems to be nothing more than a sweet fairytale.

Twice per week at the most she has to join her male colleagues to a checkpoint – officially to body search women – usually doing nothing. At the office she doesn’t get any tasks either. ‘I would love to do the men’s work. But most of the time we only sit inside. It’s unbelievable; as a literate woman I am perfectly equipped to do administrative work.’ Similar to the whole Afghan society, the majority of the police officers – seventy percent – is illiterate.


When a male agent enters the room, a burst of urine odor evaporates, presumably coming from the toilets opposite the office. Sima has to go to a checkpoint at the border of the city to body search women.

Two hours later we visit her at the checkpoint where she’s sitting in a green police container, looking glum. Her male colleagues sit outside busy doing nothing. Unfortunately Sima doesn’t want to talk to us anymore: one of her colleagues called her brother, who was not pleased about the fact that his sister had been interviewed by foreign journalists. An earlier agreed upon visit to her house gets cancelled as well.

Back in the center it’s a chaos of honking cars. Amongst blue burqas and dusty street children a female police officer attracts attention. On black pumps – wearing a spotless green uniform and headscarf to match – she’s standing in front of a rickety police cubicle in the burning sun. A black pistol dangles from her belt. With a serious glare she checks the surroundings, ignoring the astonished glances from men passing by. In the doorway of the cubicle a little boy peeks curiously outside. ‘That’s Rafi, my 7-year-old son’, she tells proudly. ‘After school he always joins me.’ Despite her small size, she radiates an – especially for Afghan women – exceptional self-confidence.

Mariam (26) is living nearby and invites us for a cup of tea. Her house is simply furnished. She’s also a widow. In a few minutes Mariam undergoes a transformation: from a severe police woman with weapon into a caring mother in a long colorful dress and headscarf. Her shy 10-year-old daughter puts a tea tray on the red carpet. In a corner cupboard – the only piece of furniture in the room – a photograph of Mariam in white uniform and big police cap is displayed. ‘I love my work’, Mariam starts her story while she sits down cross-legged on one of the pillows in the living room. Her son curls up to his mother while every few minutes he orders his older sister to get more tea. Mariam: ‘Recently during a house search two women in burqas tried to escape. While they ignored my orders, I started to yell and pointed my weapon at them. Because the women put their hands in the air, I discovered a pistol and kalasjnikov under their burqas. The men had been trying to smuggle those outside with the women.

According to Mariam bureaucratic procedures are the reason why many of her female colleagues haven’t got a weapon yet. ‘Most of them still haven’t been officially appointed by the ministry of internal affairs in Kabul.’ She also believes that some of the women are frightened deep down and don’t want to get a weapon. ‘They beg me not to go to dangerous provinces, otherwise they must go as well. They prefer to stay inside.’

Mariam thanks the gun to her boss who came into action after she received a death threat. ‘Two masked men on motorbikes shouted that they would kill me if I would continue doing this job.’ The incident didn’t frighten Mariam. ‘I searched for the men for days, determined to arrest them. When I took the decision to join the police, I considered everything, even the risk to get killed.


In the future police women are supposed to play a big role in reducing the large scale of domestic violence in Afghanistan. For this reason so-called Family Response Units have been built next to several police departments throughout the whole country. Abused women can turn to these containers – mostly manned by female officers. Also in Mazar-e-Sharif – the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan in the north close to the border with Uzbekistan – such a Family Response Unit has been built.

Inside the messy container Friba (45), Zahra (50) and Shahnaz (46) are sitting next to each other on a worn sofa. ‘In case of abuse we first of all register the complaint of the woman,’ tells Friba. ‘Mostly it concerns the husband. We invite him to come over and get him to promise not to do it again. In more serious cases, when a woman fears to be murdered by her husband, we also invite both of their parents. And we warn the husband that he will be held responsible for his actions.’

The three police women seem to be totally convinced about the effectiveness of their method. Rape-cases have to be referred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). In Mazar, however, no women work at that department – an incomprehensible situation if you think about the fact that according to the Islam Afghan women are under no circumstances allowed to speak about sexual issues with a man. Raped women most of the time turn back home without filing complaint because of that.

Friba, Zahra and Shahnaz admit that the situation is far from ideal. ‘We cannot do anything about it. It’s the decision of the chief of the police department.’ Clearly he does not put any priority to the activities of the unit. ‘Recently a woman was beaten up by her husband,’ Friba tells. ‘I wanted to go and arrest him. But I didn’t get permission to take a police car. Finally I took a taxi to at least help the woman. Her husband was not arrested until the next day.’

The story of Nazreen (30), black dress, scarf, and also from Mazar, illustrates that joining the police can even get a woman into big problems. ‘Since the beginning of my marriage – I was only 14 – my husband physically abused me. Three years ago I finally turned him in to the police. However, after one night they let him go and he flew.’

To support her three small children Nazreen joined the police two years ago. A few months ago she suddenly started to receive phone calls from male colleagues of the CID who made her indecent proposals. ‘Of course every time I refused. But one night all of a sudden CID-detectives appeared at my door. A befriended couple and a male friend were visiting. Together with that male friend I was taken into custody, on the charge of adultery. I was in prison for more than two months, a horrible experience. Female prisoners were fighting daily. There was no clean drinking water. The food was disgusting. And after every visit from police officers of the European police force EUPOL, I got threatened by the guards. During my captivity my three sons stayed with my brother and sister. But they had scarcely enough money for their own families and told me they would soon send them to an orphanage if I would be in custody much longer.’ Finally Nazreen’s mother paid 200 dollars ransom – for many Afghans more than a monthly salary. Her case is still in the Supreme Court. She can only divorce when her husband also signs the divorce papers. But he is untraceable. ‘What kind of government does this country have if it is not even capable to give me a divorce?’

Before the tragedy, Nazreen enjoyed working at the highway police. ‘I had to body search all the women on the buses coming from other provinces. I intercepted a lot of knives, pistols and opium.’

According to Nazreen women are needed badly at the Afghan police. ‘When we go to the doctor and it is a man, there are many issues we cannot talk about. The same goes for the police.’


‘It’s not only the fault of the men, another problem is our culture,’ says colonel Shafika, the highest ranking colonel of the recently set up gender and human rights department within the ministry of internal affairs in Kabul. ‘Afghan women are not used to stand up for themselves. They don’t dare to demand a weapon or to claim a position within the CID. Surely it is not my fault. I have issued an official order that every police woman should carry a weapon.’

According to Apolonia Bos, human rights advisor at the European police force Eupol, the situation of police women depends a lot on the willingness of their male superiors. Some understand the importance of women in the police force. But a lot still resist, partly because many former Taliban warriors joined the police force. ‘Some are still convinced women belong in the cellar.’ Some death threats even come from male police officers. Because of that it’s not very surprising that some female police officers wear a burka on top of their uniform.’

To increase the number of police women with 4400 within five years, first of all the security of the police women has to be improved drastically, Bos explains. ‘Malalai Kakar reported several times that she was receiving death threats. The ministry ignored her. If they had listened, she might still be alive.’

In cooperation with among Eupol the ministry has installed a phone number that threatened police women can call for immediate help. And Norwegian officers are working on their defensibility on behalf of the ministry. First the Norwegians have trained thirteen Afghans. Later these Afghans will train the Afghan police women in the area of self-defense and arm use.

But the shooting course did result in some problems. ‘For each course member we only received ten bullets,’ tells Jane Bakken of the bilateral mission Noraf. ‘After we threatened to stop the course, they gave in. I’ve never heard of these kind of problems from my colleagues at Eupol regarding the male shooting course.’ Despite the problems Jane is optimistic. ‘In our train-the-trainer course we trained ten women and three men. At first they were rather uncomfortable to touch each other for example during physical practices in the self-defense course. But after only a few days, this started to improve. Especially among the younger generation we notice a change; boys and girls more and more start to see each other as equals.

At the police academy in Kabul we meet Najiba (26), one of the police officers trained by Noraf. She’s one of the agents who is going to train the 5000 Afghan police women in self defense through whole Afghanistan. Dressed in jeans, a long black coat and scarf, she leads us to the indoor firing-range, where some girls in uniform are looking at the boys getting shooting lessons. ‘This is the way it always goes. Women are not supposed to take part in physical trainings. And they don’t dare to claim their rights.’

All of a sudden the teacher does ask one of the girls, Liza, to step forward. As fast as she can she has to grasp a pistol from the ground and fire. Every time Liza bends down a female classmate pulls back her coat so the others won’t see her bottom. The male students laugh loudly. ‘The boys shouted all the time that I’m too small and too slow for the police,’ Liza tells after the lesson. ‘I felt so embarrassed.’

According to Najiba it will take at least ten years before there will be more equality within the police. ‘It has to come from both sides. Also the women must have the guts to stand up for their rights. But this is very difficult. Also during my training I was expected to wait obediently in the corner. But I decided not to accept this culture any longer; I demanded to join the physical training.’ Najiba hopes to be a role model for other girls. ‘If they see that women can teach something to their male colleagues, it will give them a lot of self-confidence.’ During the training by the Norwegians she did certainly surprise her male colleagues. ‘I was the best in shooting. Even better than the men.’

Raped masculinity

July 30th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
Not only women, but also many men are raped in violent eastern Congo. They suffer from social stigma and receive little to no support from aid agencies. After fleeing to Uganda, they are particularly at risk due to the recently passed anti-gay law.

Kampala – ‘I would rather have died than to have been forced to experience this.’ Steven Kighoma stares into the distance with an empty look in his eyes. Soldiers kidnapped the 29-year-old Congolese in 2010 and took him to an army camp. ‘First I had to help translate, but after a few days I was tied to a pole bent over in one of the huts.’

While Kighoma covers his eyes with both hands and starts to tremble all over his body, he tells how the soldiers pulled down his pants and started to rape him over and over again. ‘I screamed. It was so incredibly painful. And while the blood ran down my legs, the militaries laughed at me right in the face.’

Forced to show his battered anus in front of everyone

Kighoma manages to escape and flees directly to neighboring Uganda. He’s heavily traumatized and suffers continuous bleeding but he’s too afraid to tell anyone. Only after seven months, when the rectal ulcers start to infect badly, he gathers up all his courage and goes to the hospital. ‘You? Raped being a man? That’s impossible’, is the doctors response who then starts complaining about refugees coming up with something new over and over again.

Having to prove his story to the doctor, Kighoma is forced to pull down his pants and to show his battered anus not only to the doctor but also to nurses, other patients and even casual visitors. Totally horrified, the doctor calls the Congolese a homosexual. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and another 39 African countries. When the doctor even threatens to call the police, Kighoma pulls up his pants and leaves, deeply ashamed of himself.

Sexual violence against men a major problem

Steven Kighoma is no exception. American scientists held a survey in 2010 among a thousand families in eastern Congo, a region that has been plagued by militia violence for years. They came to the conclusion that 24 percent of men have been victim of some form of conflict-related sexual violence – mainly rape – compared to 40 percent of the women.

‘Sexual violence against men is a major problem’, Chris Dolan states. He’s the director of the Refugee Law Project (RLP) in the Ugandan capital Kampala, that ended up finally helping Kighoma. The Brit heard about sexual violence against men for the first time in the late nineties when he was doing dissertation research in Northern Uganda. He now leads one of the few organizations that try to also help male victims.

They are automatically perceived as gay

Many male victims don’t dare to speak about their experiences with anyone. ‘They are afraid to be ostracized by their community,” Onen Ongwech, social worker at the RLP, says. ‘They are cursed according to their culture and religion, they feel robbed of their masculinity and in a homophobic society like Uganda they are automatically perceived as being gay.’

Also male victims having fled from Rwanda, Eritrea and Somalia have asked the RLP for help. Ongwech explains that it’s still a taboo to talk about sex in East Africa. “As a result, even medical professionals often don’t know that also men can be rape-victims.”

André Lufungola

A diaper full of blood

Therefore, many victims suffer alone for a long time receiving no support whatsoever. André Lufungola (40) is one of them. Rebels kidnapped him in eastern Congo and raped him in the bush on a daily basis for three months.

Once in Uganda, the police didn’t believe his story. The UN refugee agency UNHCR did nothing and aid organization Interaid referred him to the state hospital where the doctor in the end only gave him a painkiller. ” I walked around with a diaper for two years because I was seriously bleeding. And no one wanted to help me,” the shy Congolese mumbles while looking at the ground. Eventually, someone advised him to get in touch with the RLP, referring him to a private clinic. There he immediately underwent anal surgery.

Abused with metal rods and screwdrivers

Sometimes men get sexually abused in other ways as well, Ongwech continues. ‘Metal rods and screwdrivers get inserted into their anus; they are forced to penetrate a hole in a banana tree; they have to sit with their genitals over a fire or have to drag stones tied to their penis.’

While many clients don’t want to talk about their experiences initially, Ongwech is now able to recognize male rape victims. ‘At first, many of them don’t want to sit down. If they do, they often lean on one buttock, avoid eye contact, complain about serious lower back pain and tell me how they have been tortured specifically ‘by men’.’

Often abandoned by their wife

Their silence is understandable as many women even leave their husband after finding out he was raped, social worker Salome Atim explains. ‘In the African culture men are not supposed to be vulnerable’, she clarifies.

The wives of raped men have been asking her: ‘Is this still my husband? Or is he now a woman? And if he can be raped, who will then protect me?’ When one of her clients had told his wife that he was raped, the woman grabbed all her things, took their child and left. The next day the man begged Atim for pills to commit suicide. According to the social worker, around 80 percent of raped men become suicidal.

Not enough money for food

The sexual violence often causes major financial problems as well. The 38-year-old Alain Kabenga finds it very hard not being able to sustain his family. ‘I should be the strongest person – the one who manages to feed his family – but often I don’t even have enough money to buy food.’

Kabenga was a priest in eastern Congo. Government soldiers took revenge on him after he had assisted a critical journalist. ‘They tortured me for many days in an empty house. “Then they forced me to take off my clothes, they tied me to a chair sitting backwards, they put a metal rod in my anus and raped me several times’, Kabenga tells with averted gaze.

His doctor in Kampala advised him to not perform any heavy labor, because it may trigger new bleedings. ‘But that’s the only work we refugees have been allowed to do here in Uganda’, he sighs. The former Congolese priest is about to be evicted from his home together with his wife and two children because he is two months behind on his rent.

Majority of organizations only focus on women and children

One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California’s Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as El Salvador, Iran, Kuwait, the former Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka. The sexual abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq is another well-known example.

‘Although these are not insignificant numbers, the United Nations and the majority of non-governmental organizations are still focusing only on women and children’, Stemple says when speaking to me by phone from the U.S.. She consulted over 4000 aid organizations that focus on sexual violence, and only 3 percent mentioned ‘violence against men’ in their documentation. Stemple: ‘Women are still automatically viewed as the rape victims and men as the monolithic perpetrator class. The fact that many counselors haven’t been trained to recognize male rape victims and most survivors keep quiet, maintains this preconception, states the American researcher.

Alain Kabenga

Donors require that 80% of the money will be spend on women

Atim acknowledges the problem of biased donors. ‘When I apply for funding, donors often demand that 80 percent of the money will be spend on women. But what if 50 percent of my clients are women and 50 percent are men? Should I then only help 20 percent of the men, send the others away and reimburse 30 percent of the money?’

‘The global view that sexual violence is only perpetrated against women and girls, is very persistent,’ Dolan also notes while adding that during the recent Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict earlier this month in London, the focus again was mostly on women and children.

The RLP director, however, does see some minor improvements. The refugee agency UNHCR, for example, has recently published a guideline – written by Dolan – on how social workers should deal with male rape victims. On the initiative of Zainab Bangura, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the UN also held their first workshop on this topic, aimed at policymakers. They were taught how to recognize male victims and how the rape of men acts as a weapon of war as well.

Terrified by new anti-gay law

Several male rape victims have formed two self-help groups in Uganda with each more than fifty members. ‘I’ve decided to become an activist to stand up for the rights of male survivors’, Kabenga who’s the president of ‘Men of Hope’ states. After he gave a speech about the topic in one of the refugee camps, many more men came forward.

At the same time, however, the men have been seriously affected by the Anti-Homosexuality law which has been signed by Ugandans president Yoweri Museveni last February. This anti-gay law legislated the imprisonment of homosexuals for 14 years to life and stipulated punishment for anyone supporting homosexuals with jail sentences of 5 to 7 years. ‘The law led to a sharp rise in attacks on gay men which also endanger us as many people automatically think that we are gay’, Kabenga explains, who was beaten up a few times as well after men recognized him from TV interviews he did with Ugandan media. Because of these incidents he stopped to organize meetings with his Men of Hope, he fears for his life and he even considers fleeing to another country with his family.

Ugandan government accuses RLP of promoting homosexuality

The new law makes it even more difficult for male rape victims to receive medical treatment because assisting gay men, is now illegal. The Ugandan bishop Charles Wamika of Jinja, applauding the new law, directed hospitals not to serve LGBT clients any longer. And as even doctors frequently view male rape victims automatically as being homosexuals, they will probably not be welcome at most hospitals.

The RLP too is under severe pressure now because of the new law. The government no longer allows the organization to enter refugee camps so they can work with their clients nor to receive them in their office in Kampala. The Ugandan government has suspended the RLP and accuses the organization of promoting homosexuality. Presumably, the government targets the RLP because it is part of a coalition of organizations that have filed a petition in court against the anti-gay law.

‘If we remain silent, nobody will ever help us’

Steven Kighoma has also become a member of one of the self-help groups. After he was humiliated by the doctor, who called him a homosexual, he stayed in bed for months barely eating to minimize his bathroom visits. Eventually, an herbalist treated him using a ginger mixture that painfully burned but in the end healed the wound. Due to the rape, the Congolese still experiences severe lower back pains for which he has to wear a corset continuously and gets special treatment using infrared lamps.

Despite his poor health conditions and facing financial problems as well, he tries to stay hopeful and has found the courage to speak up about the traumatizing experiences for the first time. But this isn’t without risk. ‘In Congo, they would kill me right away. And also in Uganda I have to fear for my life. But if we remain silent, nobody will ever help us.’

The Kenyan mentor of Chris Froome

July 29th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
The career of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome started thousands of miles away in a tiny village on the outskirts of Nairobi. Kenyan professional cyclist David Kinjah took him on trips through the mountains and infected him with the cycling virus.

While it has been fifteen years ago, David Kinjah (40) remembers it like it was yesterday. “After one of my races, a shy blond kid with a BMX-bike asked whether I wanted to teach him mountain biking. This little boy was Chris Froome.”

The then 12-years-old Froome, grandson of British emigrants, lived with his single mother, Jane Froome, in a small, one bedroom apartment in Nairobi. She had no car, no money and worked multiple jobs in order to survive. “Because she didn’t know what to do with her son on school holidays, she asked if he could stay with me for those weeks.”

And so Froome became part of the Safari Simbaz; boys from the neighbourhood, mostly orphans, who Kinjah trains in mountain biking and road cycling, but also teaches them to repair bikes so they can sustain themselves. Froome and Kinjah hit it off remarkably well. “Chris was a quick learner, easy going and soon became as passionate about cycling as I am.”

But Kinjah never would have dreamed of his white pupil riding the Tour de France, let alone becoming second in this high profile race. “In the beginning, Chris could barely reach the pedals of an old road bicycle he got from one of his primary school teachers”, the flamboyant prof cyclist with tied dreads laughs, laying slumped on a dusty couch in his living room, full bicycle frames hanging on wooden beams, helmets dangling at the coat rack and closets filled with cycling magazines.

Froome also appeared to be just as big of a fan of mountains, camping and having fun as his rasta professor. “We cycled regularly to the farm of my parents fifty kilometres away, camped in the meadow where one time cows ate half of our tent”, chuckles the Kenyan prof. But during these rides, he also makes acquaintance with Froome the stubborn fighter. “Because of Chris’ young age, I didn’t always want to let him ride the entire trail.” And so it was that during a tour to Kajiado which was a hundred kilometers away, Chris was supposed to stop cycling and continue the trail to the overnight camp site in the car with his mother. But although Chris was exhausted and slow, he categorically refused to step into the car. “For hours his mother and I talked into him, but whatever the cost, he wanted to cycle the same distance as I had. Chris was very ambitious. In my opinion sometimes too ambitious.”

This enormous ambition sometimes got Froome in trouble. “During and after races Chris regularly fainted, also when he started training in South Africa from the age of fourteen. He knew his limits insufficiently, not always paid attention to his diet and maybe was also under pressure from his team, his coach and himself.” Kinjah and Froome stayed in touch. “We were like brothers, on the phone for hours, talking about girls and secrets and laughing about those stupid, spoiled riders in South Africa who couldn’t even fix their own bikes. Chris was already a smart rider who could easily win from many South-African competitors. If our phone credit ran out, we quickly bought new credit.”

During school holidays, Froome often came back to Kenya. “We always organized a Kinjah-Froome race that got out of hand the last time. Chris claimed that he finally would be able to beat me, which I obviously didn’t believe. So we organised a race; Chris on a good bike, wearing cycling shoes, cycling gear and a helmet, me on a heavy mountain bike with normal pedals, in T-shirt, shorts and a bandana. However, when it became sunny and very hot, Chris took his helmet off, hung it on his handlebar and as we drove down the mountain with sixty kilometers an hour, it let go and landed right in front of my bike. I got launched and scraped for meters over the hot tarmac”, laughs the Kenyan, pointing one by one at the centimeter long scars on knees and arms. “This is Chris Froome, this is Chris Froome and this is Chris Froome. But he has never beaten me.”

Kinjah is extremely proud of the recent performance of Froome. “Chris owes everything to himself, for one hundred percent. If he wasn’t that interested in cycling and hadn’t been so eager to learn, he occasionally might have slipped my attention.” Though, from the beginning the Kenyan saw Froome’s potential in climbing. “Endlessly we’ve been driving up and down the mountains. He’s thin and strong, but too long for a real climber. A real sprinter he will unfortunately never be. But the longer the race, the stronger Chris gets. That’s why he’s a born tour rider. ”

That since 2008 a British and no longer a Kenyan flag is fluttering next to Froomes name, makes no difference to Kinjah. “It’s not about nationality. That’s why it’s not my purpose with the Safari Simbaz to set up a Kenyan cycling team, but to develop characters who can achieve as much as Chris. And above all, it’s a smart move. Now Chris has many more opportunities, because he’s no longer part of the Kenyan federation, which is a group of corrupt old men who still put the biggest part of the budget in their own pockets,” Kinjah says out of personal experience. Many times the Kenyan cyclist was forced to travel to international competitions without any equipment. “While the federation promised me otherwise, at the World Championships in Plouay in 2000 I had to start on a borrowed, far too big bike that I managed to arrange only the night before.” The same happened when he participated together with Froome in a Kenyan team at the Australian Commonwealth Games in 2006, they had to borrow bikes from a local cycling shop.

Therefore Kinjah is very happy with the material that Froome donates regularly to the Safari Simbaz. Out of different cabinets and drawers in his living room the Kenyan pulls pairs of gloves, helmets and four pairs of cycling shoes, all received from the Sky team rider. After he has put his head out of the doorway and screamed something to one of the next door bedrooms, within a few minutes a shy Safari Simba appears with in his hands a pair of muddy cycling shoes. “With these ones Chris drove his first Tour de France in 2008. They were a bit too small for him and tortured him those weeks. But as you can see; the shoes are not respected and are treated badly,” he grumbles at the boy next to him, who shyly stares with big eyes at the apparently sacred – but for him very ordinary – shoes. “Many of these boys have no idea. They don’t know how big the Tour is. Here in Kenya there is hardly any attention for it, except for some small simplistic reports on the news.”


Because unfortunately his internet connection is too slow for live streaming, Kinjah followed the Tour de France by social media. He’s convinced that Sky leader Bradley Wiggins deserved to win. “I understand that it was frustrating for Chris because he was in such a great shape and probably could have won the Tour this year relatively easily. Off course, I personally would have loved to see him as the captain and maybe he’ll never get such a chance again. That would be unfortunate. But it would have been very dumb if the Sky management would have changed the leadership underway. Wiggins wouldn’t have deserved this either. Froome only had to wait for him, because they are different riders. But on flat terrain Wiggins was excellent, he’s a good leader and also in the mountains in general he knew how to keep up. How he defended the yellow jersey, how deep he went, that’s incredible. Such a person deserves to win.”

Also Kinjah heard about the ‘twitter war’ between Froomes girlfriend Michelle Cound and Wiggins’ wife Catherine. But according him it was ‘extremely unwise’ how Cound publicly voiced her frustration about how her boyfriend was forced to continue to support his captain, and Catherine Wiggins again responded on this. “Of course I understand how the media enjoys this, but the ladies should have kept this private. It can distract the riders and harm them seriously. That’s why I seriously hope that Chris and Bradley are still good friends, as two UK pro cyclists within one Team Sky.”

Unfortunately Kinjah himself currently has no contact with Froome. “He’s now like a god, fully protected because everything he says and does can be misunderstood or distorted by others.” According to the Kenyan, even for Chris’ brothers, Jeremy and Jonathan, it’s currently difficult to get in contact with him. “It’s a bit like losing a friend, that’s the other side of the coin. But in the meantime Chris gives us so much energy and motivation to continue. Through him we have much more confidence in what we do.”

With videos of the Tour, Kinjah gradually tries to learn his boys about the meaning of cycling in Europe and how one of their own Simbaz currently dominates the cycling top. He further attempts to change the Kenyan cycling from within. “Instead of continuing to kick against the federation, I hope to set an improvement in motion by for example having talks with event organizers. Things in this area are also going wrong.” The Kenyan prof, for example, recently won the Race of Nakuru. However, when he wanted to cash the check of 12,000 Kenyan shillings (120 euros) a few days later at a bank, there was no money in the account. “When I called the responsible person, he asked me to wait for one week so he could collect the money. But till now, I’m still waiting,” the 40-year-old Kenyan sighs, showing the check which he keeps in his wallet.

Kinjah fortunately notices that thanks to his age and achieved cycling performance he increasingly earns respect and organizers start listening to him. “How can you ask boys to pay dozens of dollars for the registration, if they barely have money to eat and because of the lack of transport already had to ride fifty kilometers to appear at the start? More and more organizers luckily begin to understand that this is not the right way to develop Kenyan cycling and that it would be better to receive money from sponsors.”

Above all, Kinjahs dream is that Froome will come to Kenya and will take part in a race organized by his former tutor. “So many people, friends and fans of Chris, ask me to organize it. His recent tour performance is an extra reason for doing this. Personally, I would love to organize this race in memory of Chris’ mother, Jane Froome, who suddenly died a few weeks before Chris’ first Tour de France in 2008. She was the one that supported Chris through thick and thin, it was this special and greatly sympathetic woman that motivated the little boy to become a cyclist.”

Chinese looting Mozambique’s forests

July 29th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
Chinese businessmen are looting the hardwood forests in countries like Mozambique, Congo and Russia. As a result, these countries have lost millions of dollars in tax revenue and their tropical hardwood forests might disappear within just a few years.

Nito Silva wipes the wood shavings from his sweaty face while his chainsaw still growls. “I log about 40 trees per day,” he says, leaning on a tree he has just cut. The 45-year-old Mozambican, dressed in a grubby T-shirt, torn trousers and scuffed shoes, cuts trees illegally – not wearing a helmet, ear protection or safety glasses. Hundreds of tree stumps around him are proof of his hard labour.

Silva used to be a farmer growing cassava, corn and beans. Eight years ago, Chinese businesspeople visited the area and offered him a high salary for cutting down trees. They lent him a chainsaw and now come by weekly to pick up the trunks by truck, taking a bumpy 60km dirt road.

He knows what he’s doing is illegal. “But what else can I do? When I was a farmer I earned almost nothing and I have to feed seven children.”

He and his two helpers earn between 160 and 300 Mozambican meticais (between R60 and R100) a tree, depending on the type of wood. The Chinese sell the rare exotic hardwood trees such as chanate, ebony, monzo (leadwood), panga panga, pau preto and wenge for a hundred times as much back in their home country. Still, Silva’s income isn’t bad in a country like Mozambique, where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line and monthly salaries rarely exceed 3 000 meticais (just over R1 000).

Other Mozambican loggers earn less. The 28-year-old Pedro Abilio, for example, receives 2 500 meticais (about R900) for each truck of 80 logs he delivers. He loses some of this money because he officially works for a Mozambican intermediary. The wood, however, is handled directly by the Chinese, who pick up the logs every week using seven trucks that come all the way to Abilio’s remote village in the middle of the forest in Tete province.

Like Silva and Abilio, many Mozambicans are illegally logging for Chinese companies. Often, in the beginning, the Chinese lend them the money to buy equipment such as a chainsaw, locking them into dependency and forcing them to continue cutting to be able to pay off their debts. By buying from individual Mozambicans, the Chinese avoid the high costs of obtaining a logging licence and the obligation to replant trees.

“If Chinese companies would respect the rules, they would only make about 10% profit,” says Ana Alonso (65), a Spanish writer who has been campaigning against illegal logging in Mozambique for more than 20 years. According to her, bribing officials instead of paying taxes leads to a 50% increase in profits.

Moving trees

“If we get pulled over by the police, we give them some money so we can continue our journey,” a smiling “Mr Huo” says as he introduces himself. The 53-year-old Chinese businessperson, who looks like a cowboy in a green camouflage jacket and a grey hat, is the boss of Yixing Madeira, one of the many Chinese timber companies located along the main road to Beira.

On our way to this port city, we pass dozens of trucks piled with logs, often driven by Chinese businesspeople. Tens of thousands of tree trunks, heaped into high mountains, sit waiting on the compounds to be shipped to China, revealing the enormous rate at which the Chinese are emptying the Mozambican primeval forests.


Illegal deforestation is happening in a similar way in countries such as Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Gambia, Madagascar, Russia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

According to Greenpeace, this deforestation will affect not only global warming but also the amount of rainfall.


“Deforestation in the Amazon and Central Africa was directly causing reduced rainfall in the United States Midwest during the growing season,” Greenpeace states in a recent report. “And complete deforestation of the African Congo Basin is predicted to intensify the West African monsoon, while increasing temperatures of between 2?C and 4?C and reducing rainfall by up to 50% in the entire region,” the organisation adds.

According to Huo, 120 wood-filled containers measuring 20m3 each depart every week from Beira to China. Because since 2007 many types of first-class wood are no longer allowed to be exported as tree trunks, and have to be processed in Mozambique to create more jobs, Huo simply cuts the logs in half using a machine.

“This way more wood can fit into the container as well,” he chuckles while he offers us bottles of mineral water and lights a cigarette.

Strip and move on

We are not allowed to take pictures of the Mozambican workers who are unloading the trucks full of logs that have just arrived, using a forklift truck.

Huo says candidly that he prefers to buy wood from individual Mozambicans because this allows him “to make more profit”. It doesn’t bother his conscience. “All rangers, police officers and politicians are criminals over here,” he says.

He relates that rangers showed up on his doorstep recently, offering to sell him illegally logged trees. Huo laughs loudly when we ask what he’s going to do when there’s no wood left in Mozambique. “Move to the next country where there’s still wood, obviously.”

Huo is totally convinced that Mozambique will be stripped of all its hardwood forests “within just a few years”.

Death threats

“While this ecological disaster is taking place in Mozambique, the international community doesn’t seem to care much,” Alonso says.

She’s convinced that the deforestation will negatively influence global warming. “Although less well known than the forests in the Amazon region, these forests also make up the lungs of this Earth.”

But leaving the hardwood forests completely untouched would be impossible, according to her. “There are people living there. They have to support themselves.”

That’s why, since the 1990s, she has run a forest of 60 000 hectares in which she and her workers harvest and replant trees in a controlled manner.

“That’s the best way to protect a tropical hardwood forest,” she says.

Although Alonso pays her taxes, she alleges that the Mozambican government tries to block what she is doing “in all possible ways”. She claims that her forest licence, for example, was revoked for unclear reasons in 2010 and she only got it back after a two-year battle. She has also had to employ private security guards since receiving anonymous death threats.

Mozambican authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

“Several Mozambican politicians and officials are quickly becoming rich thanks to the Chinese bribes, while the inhabitants of the forest remain desperately poor,” Alonso sighs.

According to Mozambican law, local communities should receive 20% of the tax charged on Alonso’s logged trees. But according to her, this money doesn’t flow back to them at all.

‘Bribery and corruption’

The British Environmental Inves­tigation Agency also blames corrupt Mozambican politicians for the illegal logging. In a recently published report, the research institute quotes Chinese timber traders explaining to undercover researchers how to get assistance from Mozambican MPs and the country’s current minister of agriculture, José Pacheco, who has been tasked with counteracting illegal logging.

Pacheco refused to comment on the report.

The agency calculated that 93% of all logging in Mozambique has been illegal in recent years, making use of Mozambican export and Chinese import numbers. Most of the hardwood was shipped to China. China itself banned commercial logging in 1998.

Since 2013, Mozambique has been China’s biggest wood supplier on the African continent. Because of illegal timber exports, the country has lost about €113?million in tax revenues since 2007, the agency calculated – money that could have financed Mozambique’s national forest programme for 30 years.

The agriculture ministry does sometimes fine Chinese timber firms, but to Alonso actions like these are nothing but symbolic politics. “The fines are a joke compared to the

millions that the illegal businesspeople make. Civil society should take action and shouldn’t accept this any longer.”

Local environmental organisation Forum Terra leads by example. It makes communities aware of their rights and helps them to establish committees to prevent businesspeople from bribing local leaders.

They are also urged to pull over trucks carrying illegally harvested timber. “They should call the local authorities; half of the fine should be paid directly to the local community,” Forum Terra’s Manuel Passar explains.

Meanwhile, illegal logger Silva has been noticing the significant decrease in the number of valuable hardwood trees in his area. He doesn’t really care though, he says, while pouring new petrol into his chainsaw. “When all trees are gone, I will burn everything down to create farmland and will plant corn and pineapples.”

Ethiopian rising textile industry

July 29th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
Low wages, cheap power and a stable political situation have prompted foreign textile companies like H&M to start sourcing from Ethiopia. But, in many cases, the workers themselves are struggling to make ends meet.

Sewing machines rattle away in the huge GG Super Garment factory in Debre Zeyit, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Hundreds of women and a few men are sewing singlets and T-shirts, destined for the Swedish company H&M.

As a result of rising salaries and growing labor unrest in Asia, an increasing number of foreign companies have started moving their production to Ethiopia. According to factory manager Joseph Elisso, the conditions in the East African country are far more favorable.

“Ethiopia is stable and peaceful, electrical power is cheap and labor costs are very low,” he explains.

Entry-level salaries for workers in Ethiopia’s textile industry range from $35 to $40 (32 to 37 euros) per month – lower than Bangladesh’s minimum wage of $68 per month and far below the average wage of $500 in the Chinese textile sector. Ethiopia doesn’t have a minimum wage, and due to high unemployment, workers are often forced to accept whatever wage they are offered.

Not enough to live on

Although Ethiopian workers are generally happy that increasing foreign investment is bringing jobs, many are battling to make ends meet. “I only get 850 Ethiopian birr (about 38 euro) per month and struggle to cover all my expenses,” Tigist Teshome says. The 23-year-old factory worker, dressed in a checkered pinafore, is living with friends to share the costs. “I would like to live on my own, but rent alone is already 600 birr. How will I manage to pay food and clothing?” she asks.

In Duken, about a half hour drive from the Debre Zeyit garment plant, there’s a big shoe factory run by Chinese company Huajian. Around 3,800 Ethiopian men and women are busy hammering soles on shoes, sewing pieces of leather together, operating machines and checking the final products.

“Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi invited us to set up a factory in Ethiopia because the employment rate is very low so they need labor intensive industry,” Song Yiping, a manager with Huajian, says.

The company plans to produce 2 million pairs of shoes this year, mostly for American and European customers like Guess, Naturalizer and Toms. Ethiopia has one of the largest heads of cattle in Africa and leather is widely available in the country. The company is planning to expand production, boosting the number of workers to 50,000 in 10 years.

Although Huajian has created many news jobs, the company’s employees complain their
wages are too low

. “My basic salary is just 600 birr (26 euros) and only when I work 10 instead of eight hours a day I get 750 birr (32 euros) a month, which still isn’t enough. My rent alone is already 400 birr,” says 24-year-old leather cutter Abu Ibrahim. “Also, our Chinese bosses shout at us in Chinese all the time and sometimes we aren’t even allowed to go to the toilet,” he adds.

Manager Song, however, says the low pay reflects the low productivity and quality of work. “The workers’ lack of skill has impacted quality. Many shoes were rejected by our customers and we had to pay 4.5 million euros as compensation in the first two years,” Song states.

Military drills for more discipline

The Huajian company, which was founded in China in the 1980s by former military officer Zhang Huarong, has also adopted a rather unusual method to motivate its staff. Every day, all the workers have to line up in the parking lot in front of the factory to perform a military drill, including marching, shouting, saluting and singing. “In the military they do marching to become disciplined and obey orders. We want to create the same effect,” says human resources manager Zeng Lizhuo.


Not all workers appreciate this activity, though. “I have to walk long distances to fetch water at home, so I don’t like to do even more physical exercise at work,” 25-year-old worker Abebeye Makonen, dressed in a red T-shirt and skirt, says. She also hates the “Huajian song” that the workers are obliged to sing in Mandarin during the daily drill.

According to Zeng, the song is to unite the workers. “They sing that they make Huajian better and better to move forward and forward,” he says.

Workers too scared to start a union

Although Ethiopia’s constitution guarantees workers the right to associate, most factories, including Huajian, do not have trade unions. At Huajian, workers who tried to start a union were fired, according to Abu Ibrahim. “There were a couple of employees who tried to start a labor union, but when they were collecting money for this, Huajian dismissed them. Now everybody is too scared to start a union,” the leather cutter says.

The way workers are treated at the Huajian factory is not unusual. About 75 percent of all Ethiopian companies still refuse to permit trade unions, says Angesom Yohannes from the Industrial Federation of Ethiopian Textile Trade Unions. “Most owners, especially the Chinese, don’t want a trade union because they know that the next step will be collective bargaining, and certain benefits will be taken away from the owner or the factory,” Yohannes adds.

He and his colleagues from the union nevertheless negotiate with individual factories in an attempt to secure better wages for the workers. After negotiating for three years, the union achieved a 25-percent wage increase in a collective bargaining agreement with the Turkish factory Ayka, which employs 7,000 Ethiopians. “We achieved this salary increase following pressure from Ayka’s German client Tchibo,” Yohannes says.

More pressure from outside

However, the union only has five full-time staff members and lacks the manpower and political weight to lobby for all factories. But Yohannes says pressure from customers abroad, like in the case of Tchibo, can have a big impact on strengthening workers’ rights. He hopes H&M will also put pressure on GG Super Garment to raise salaries.


Dereje Feyissa Dori, research professor at the International Law and Policy Institute in Addis Ababa, believes that Ethiopia won’t become a second Bangladesh, with dangerous working conditions. Factories aren’t housed in shacky flats like in Asia, but in large production halls. Dori believes that Ethiopia’s relaxed attitude towards foreign investors regarding labor rights won’t last. “The government is so desperate to attract foreign investment. It doesn’t want to scare or chase investors away by putting too many conditions, but it will become more strict in a couple of years,” Dori says.

Ethiopian factory workers aren’t optimistic about the future, according to Ibrahim. He says working conditions at Huajian are becoming worse. “In the beginning they allowed us two breaks per day, but now only one, while we have to work 10 hours a day,” the leather cutter says, adding that he’s not holding out for the government to take action. “Politicians don’t help us either. Because they are happy with all the investments, they will always choose to side with the foreign companies.”

Bred for the trophy

July 29th, 2017 Posted by feature-post No Comment yet
The world was outraged by the recent killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. Lion trophy hunting, however, is an even bigger sport in South Africa where lions are bred especially for the hunting industry, trophy hunters shoot nearly thousand lions a year and Asians nowadays even buy their bones. “In the future, lions might only to be seen in cages.”

PRETORIA – A mounted lioness stares at us from her pedestal when we enter the office of African Sky Hunting in Pretoria. This company organizes expensive hunting safaris for rich trophy hunters to shoot antelopes but also elephants, leopards and lions in South Africa. “An American client, who shot fifteen lions in total, considered this lioness to be too small and so he donated her to us”, marketing manager Andrew Harvey chuckles.

South Africa is the epicenter of the so-called ‘canned hunting’, which involves lions born and raised in cages or small enclosures. When they are ‘booked’ by a hunter, the fully-grown, captive-bred lion is taken from its pen to an enclosed area of at least 2,500 acres for a minimum of 96 hours. After this time the tourist is allowed to hunt down and shoot the animal dead using rifles or bows. Grown up in a pen, most of these lions don’t run and are easier targets to hit than wild lions.

For 30,000 dollars hunters choose their lion by looking at pictures

Canned lion hunting is big business in South Africa. Trophy hunters pay around 9,500 dollars to shoot a lioness. Prices for a male lion start at ‘just’ 20,000 dollars and may even go up to 90,000 dollars. “That price may be paid for a big male with an unblemished head and long black manes”, Harvey says who adds that by paying 30,000 dollars his clients are allowed to choose ‘their lion’ by looking at lion pictures. This is relevant, as most trophy hunters like to take a selfie after shooting their prey and once more pay thousands of dollars to a taxidermist to mount their lion or to make a rug out of it and take it home.

“It’s common now for trophy hunters to want more spectacular scenes,” says taxidermist Katharina Hecker, dressed in jeans and white jacket, while she meticulously drapes the skin of a newly shot male lion on a white plastic mold. The big cat has been positioned with its front legs on the back of a buffalo mold. Around us, dozens of kudus, impalas, zebras, giraffes, ostriches and elephants – also mounted -, gawk at us while they are waiting to be shipped to their owners around the world.

Many Europeans shoot lions as well

While canned hunting is most popular among Americans, who traditionally are passionate hunters, many Europeans also shoot lions, including Danes, Spaniards and some Dutch. Seven lion trophies have been exported from South Africa to the Netherlands between 2007 and 2012, for instance.

While on holiday in South Africa, a growing number of Europeans is also tempted to go lion cub petting. These little cubs with soft fur and mischievous brown eyes are irresistible to most people while being a good moneymaker for the petting lodges: every day, thousands of visitors pay at least thirty dollars for ten minutes of ‘interaction’ with the baby lions.

Taking away two week old cubs from their mother

Most of these tourists, however, are unaware of the dark sides of cub petting. Most lodges, for example, remove cubs from their mother when they are only two weeks old, while in the wild they stay together for at least two years. “Otherwise they will become too wild, making it too difficult for us to hand raise them in order to make them tame”, Priza, a zookeeper from Ukutula Lion Park, one-and-a-half hours of driving from Pretoria, explains.


She doesn’t mention the fact that by removing the cubs, mothers are also able to breed again, to produce about two to three litters of cubs in a year while in the wild a lioness will only reproduce cubs every second or third year.

These cubs are going to be shot by trophy hunters

Once too old for petting, many lions are further used by taking them on hikes with tourists. But what happens when the two-year-old lions get too big and wild for hugging and walking? “Most of these lions end up in the canned hunting industry”, Linda Park of the South African organization Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) says during a demonstration in front of the Lion Park in Johannesburg. Hundreds of South Africans are holding up banners with slogans like ‘Save our Lions’, ‘Bred for the Bullet’ and ‘Pet to death’. “The petting lodges should inform their visitors that these cubs are later going to be shot by trophy hunters”, states protestor Colin Smith (52), dressed in T-shirt and shorts.
Most lodges deny any link with the canned hunting industry and claim to send their adult lions to reliable zoos and parks. This is impossible, according to Park: “All the zoos and parks in the world would be overloaded after just one year.” Without generating an income by keeping mature lions is extremely costly as mature lions eat at least 25 kilos of meat per week. “The canned hunting industry provides the solution,” says Park.

A Canadian tourist launched the #wheresricky campaign

Rodney Fuhr, director of the Lion Park in Johannesburg, admitted to the American news channel CBS News last year that they have sold lions to hunting lodges in the past.

Also the Ukutula Lion Park fell into disrepute after a tourist adopted the one-year-old lion Ricky in 2013 and was promised to receive regularly updates about ‘his lion’. When Ukutula failed to provide these updates, even after several inquiries by the Canadian tourist, he came to the conclusion that his lion probably was no longer alive and launched the successful #wheresricky campaign on twitter to inform tourists about the dark sides of cub petting.

Tiger bones in Chinese medicine replaced by lion bones

In the meantime, the number of South African lion breeders increases (see box), maybe also because they´ve got an additional selling market. Asian traders started taking an interest in South African lions in 2008, when the number of tigers declined to extinction. In traditional Chinese medicine, tiger wine, made using powdered bones, allegedly cures many illnesses including ulcers, cramp, rheumatism, stomach pain and even malaria. The beverage is claimed to also have the ability to boost virility.

Despite the lack of scientific proof, the potion is very popular, so with tiger bones being increasingly scarce, vendors are replacing them with the remains of lions. Traders quickly realized that South Africa, home of 6,000 captive lions, could be a promising source of the mystic ingredient.

3,800 kilo of lion bones shipped to Asia in six months’ time

There has been a sharp increase in the sale of lion skeletons to Asia, rising from 0 in 2007 to 197 in 2009 and to even 519 in 2011, numbers of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna) show. More than 3,800 kilo of lion bones was shipped to South Eastern Asia in only six months in 2012, states a recently published report from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) of Oxford University.

“Although trophy hunters sometimes take the scull home as a souvenir, we taxidermists don’t need the bones for a lion trophy. We only use the skin which we span over a plastic mold”, taxidermist Hecker explains while using her fingers to fold the skin into creases on the head of the mounted lion. She adds with a smile that breeders started digging up the lion bones they had buried here and there for lack of an outlet, in order to sell them to Asians.

One lion carcass worth 70,000 dollars

Prices of lion bones rise rapidly, as a result of the growing Asian demand. While traders paid only a few hundred dollars for a lion skeleton a few years ago, nowadays a breeder receives around 2,000 dollars for a lion carcass, according to WildCRU. Someone who uses the lion bones in traditional medicines in Asia, might even be able to earn up to 70,000 dollars with one lion carcass, states Pieter Kat, founder of conservation organization LionAid.

Advocates of the lion ranching industry say that by breeding lions for hunting, they’re helping conserve the species. “For every captive-bred lion hunted, we save animals in the wild,” says Pieter Potgieter, chairman of the South African Predator Association (SAPA). If there were no captive hunts, he says, there would be more sport hunting and poaching of wild lions. Potgieter also believes that skeletons from captive-bred lions in South Africa are helping to supply the demand for lion bones in Asia, in effect protecting lions in the wild.

‘Wild lions have stronger qualities than captive bred ones’

Luke Hunter, head of the global big cat conservation organization Panthera, strongly disagrees. “There is no evidence that captive breeding of lions helps to diminish the demand for wild lions. Thousands of captive tigers are bred in meager facilities in Asia for wildlife trade. Yet the high demand for wild tigers remains the same.” Kat from LionAid adds that Asian medicine values the bones coming from wild animals more than those from lions bred in captivity. “They will say that wild animals are of superior quality compared to farm raised animals. This is an additional concern because of this a premium price will always be put on wild animals versus those raised on breeding farms in South Africa.”

Likewise, the IUCN Red List –classifying the lion as ‘vulnerable’ –states that although carcasses of captive lions currently supply the bone demand in Asia, the growing demand might threaten wild lions as well. How long will it take before the demand exceeds the legal supply?

‘The same people smuggle poached rhino horns’

Asian traders will not hesitate to buy the bones of wild lions, conservationists fear. “The traders who export lion bones legally are the same people smuggling horns and ivory of poached rhinos and elephants to Asia”, Park states. She is concerned that the legal trade in lion bones from South Africa fuels the demand, stimulates Asians to invest in this industry and will ultimately devastate wild lion populations.

Above all, Park fails to understand how breeding animals in cages and bringing hunters to shoot them can have something to do with conservation. “At this rate, we seriously have to take into account that in the future lions are only to be seen in cages.”

EU still allows the import of lion trophies

The numbers of lions in the wild have plummeted in Africa, from an estimated 200,000 a century ago to some 30,000 nowadays. Lions require large areas to roam, and outside national parks and reserves, they often clash with livestock farmers and local communities. The IUCN Red List classifies the animal as ‘vulnerable’, but the hunt of both captive and wild lions is still legal in countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Tanzania (in Kenya and Botswana it’s forbidden). Advocates of the trophy hunting industry claim that it’s good for conservation as the money raised from the sale of hunting permits is used for conservation.

In 2007, the South African government tried to ban canned hunting by requiring an animal to roam free for two years before it could be hunted, severely restricting breeders and hunters’ profitability. But lion breeders challenged the policy in South Africa’s courts and a high court judge eventually ruled that such restrictions were ‘not rational’. The number of trophy hunted animals has since soared. In the five years to 2006, 1,830 lion trophies were exported from South Africa; in the five years to 2011, 4,062 were exported, a 122% increase, and nowadays nearly 1,000 lions are fatally shot every year by trophy seekers in South Africa, which is more than two lions per day. Most of them are bred in captivity.

Many South Africans smell money and the number of lion breeders grew from 170 breeders with in total 3600 lions in 2008 to nowadays 200 breeders with in total 6,000 lions, which is double the number of lions in the South African wild, states the ‘Management Plan for Lions’, a report that was recently published by the South African government. According to Harvey from African Sky Hunting, lions are easier to breed than a housecat.

While some lion breeders claim that captive breeding enhances the overall gene pool, because some of those lions can be introduced into struggling wild populations, several biologists stated that captive-bred lions and their offspring are poorly suited for survival and release back into the wild, in a 2012 report in the journal Oryx.

Globally, the resistance against canned hunting is growing. Australia, for example, banned the import of lion trophies earlier this year. “They raise these majestic creatures only to shoot and kill them, for pleasure and for profit,” Greg Hunt, the environment minister, said who called canned hunting ‘cruel’ and ‘barbaric’ and hoped other countries would adopt similar measures to help prevent the decline of lion numbers. Several airlines, including South African Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa and Emirates, announced to that they will no longer allow lion trophies on their cargo planes. Most trophies, however, are being shipped to their owners. The European Union still allows the import of lion trophies.