Archive for the ‘Photojournalism’ Category

Paperless: Living in Limbo   Leave a comment

A defining practice of Western governments is to construct groups of outsiders as Other to restrict immigration.

In Norway one such group – which has no ethnic or religious boundaries – defined as Other are paperless immigrants who have lost their asylum status. Individuals who make up this group remain in the country illegally after the government twice ruled against their asylum applications; the problem for many of them is that given the situations they fled it’s not possible or is dangerous to return to their homelands.



Najah Alnasrawi, 46, an Iraqi asylum seeker, waits for the brother of a friend to drive her to a location where she has some of her belongings stored.


From 2000 until 2010 such refugees openly lived and worked in Norway. However, in 2010 regulations were changed which made it illegal for twice rejected asylum seekers to remain in Norway. Increasingly, because of nationalism in Europe, and North America, governments are unwilling to deal with challenges posed by asylum seekers. In Norway this is evident by its policy of doing less for asylum seekers to establish that the country is not a good place to come. Asylum seekers as Other are a liability, a threat, don’t belong.

Najah Alnasrawi, a 46-year old Iraqi, arrived in Norway in October 2015 and received her second rejection for asylum two years later. Consequently, she like other twice rejected asylum seekers adopted a nomadic lifestyle to avoid arrest, deportation or becoming a burden to friends. She lived for several days at a time (a week or two if lucky) at the homes of friends she made while assigned to Norwegian refugee camps; these are friends who received asylum. “I never remain at one residence too long for fear of wearing out my welcome,” said Najah. While she had an assigned room at a refugee camp, she – like others in her situation – did not sleep there for fear the police would show up and arrest her. An official at a camp confirmed it isn’t unusual for the police to show up looking for someone who immigration authorities have decided it’s time to leave.



Najah gathers her belongings from behind the sofa while chatting with Majda Awad, 62, left, a Palestinian from Turkey and Hafida Bazi, 30, from Morocco; the three friends met at a refugee camp in Norway – only Majda has been granted asylum. Najah, since her second rejection (in October) for asylum in Norway, has taken on a nomadic lifestyle; she lives for several days – a week or two if she’s lucky – at a time with friends she made at refugee camps. Here she’s at the apartment of Majda, who permits her to sleep on the sofa, where she stores her belongings on its side and underside. Majda has family visiting for the holidays from Sweden and told Najah that she needs the space.


Officially it is not known how many rejected asylum seekers live in Norway. A representative with People in Limbo, a Norwegian NGO that works on behalf of rejected asylum seekers, indicated their numbers were estimated to be in the thousands and difficult to determine because of the underground existence of such people. Rejected asylum seekers are also referred to as “paperless” – lacking residence or work permits.



Najah an Iraqi asylum seeker, moves her belongings into the home of a friend for another temporary stay; the microwave was given to her by a concerned and supportive friend. Before her second asylum rejection Najah’s room, at a refugee camp, contained several household items. However, given her nomadic lifestyle she distributed everything to friends – on this day she gave away the microwave.


The paperless have no opportunity to integrate into Norwegian society for fear of being caught, so are denied access to jobs and health care. Najah interacted almost entirely with people from Arabic countries – people who provided a sense of community as well as a place to stay. Interestingly, she received a small monthly stipend from the Norwegian government as long as she remained in the asylum seeker system; she did so by signing a register at her assigned refugee camp once a month.



Najah attends a party with friends from several Arabic countries. Despite her inability to safely socialize outside the Arabic community, Najah makes the most of her situation by performing in a local theater and volunteering at cultural and pro-immigrant events that are sponsored by non-governmental organizations.



Protesters (Norwegians and rejected asylum seekers) gather outside the Parliament to demand the Norwegian government address the needs of refugees who live paperless (lacking a residence permit that entitles them to be in Norway); without a permit asylum seekers can neither work nor access health care.



Haudar Hammodi, 45, center, a twice rejected asylum seeker from Iraq, and other protesters gather outside the parliament to demand the Norwegian government address the needs of refugees who live paperless. Haudar has lived paperless in Norway since 2008.


According to Najah, the Norwegian government viewed her as having fled a problematic domestic situation (which she admits to) and did not believe her story. She told immigration officials that she’d been in an abusive 20-year marriage, and after demanding a divorce the abuse became unbearable with her ex-husband claiming she’d bought shame to his name. She stated that the physical beatings and threats were such that she took a one-year leave of absence from work to avoid going outside. Eventually after fleeing to Turkey, she was forced to again flee (February 2015) because its largely Muslim population viewed her as not being respectable because she left her husband. A family member who traveled illegally to Europe convinced Najah to do the same. However, she discovered that contrary to what she’d heard Norway was not a favorable environment for asylum seekers. Its center-right government won a historic re-election during September 2017. It became the first right-wing administration to gain two full terms; it’s the most right-wing elected administration in Norway’s history and has been advocating both anti-immigration rhetoric and policies. Given the unwelcoming nature of the government twice rejected asylum seekers’ lives are filled with fear and uncertainty. Najah longed for the financial security and professional stimulation she enjoyed in Iraq as a journalist. As a mother of four she missed her children – ages 8, 18, 22 and 24; two are studying on scholarships in Hong Kong and Canada. A third is a dentist in Iraq.



With knowledge that the government is closing the Hurdal Refugee Camp, Najah returned to her room to begin removing some much needed items. As a twice rejected asylum seeker she – like others in her situation – does not sleep at the camp for fear of arrest and deportation.



Najah keeps photographs of her children and a handmade sign with the letters FYMK (which stands for the first initial of her children’s names – Forqan, 24, Yaqeen, 22, Mohammad, 18, and Karkash, 8) in her room at the Hurdal Refugee Camp.


While contemplating the mess her life had become Najah recounted a conversation she had with an immigration official: “I’m an educated woman who was working on a Masters in psychological counseling in Iraq. I had a good job. Why am I here crying everyday for my daughter (8-years old) who is in Iraq. You’ll give me money to return ($2,000 USD plus a paid flight). My ex-husband wants to kill me. I can’t return yet you tell me to return. I’m not lying. I told the truth. Here in Norway I have no job, no family and no money – I miss my daughter. You think I prefer to be in Norway. Well, then I’m crazy since I don’t have a reason to stay. Why am I here? You think I like this weather?”



Najah waits at a bus stop, near Hurdal Refugee Camp, along with two asylum seeker friends from Afghanistan – both have been twice rejected. The three arrived and met at a Norwegian refugee camp in October 2015. The younger of the Afghans (left) is 18-years old. He’s planning to “escape” Norway and seek asylum elsewhere.


She considered leaving but said it was not feasible. “Some people had told me that Norway is better for asylum, but I’m thinking about leaving. Many other rejected people have done so but it’s difficult, very hard. Maybe it’s easier without friends, without money if you’re a man. I’m a woman. If I go I’m lost again,” she stated. “I don’t want to be so vulnerable again. I’m scared. It’s difficult for me to trust anyone,” she said referring to the ordeal she endured traveling from Turkey to Norway. From the outset the journey was dangerous she explained: in Turkey a small rubber boat, carrying 30 to 50 refugees, took on water and began to sink; they were headed for a small island off mainland Greece. They quickly returned to shore and several hours later boarded another small rubber boat. She would travel through seven additional countries before arriving in Norway.

Najah’s options for going elsewhere were bad because Norway seized her passport. A common practice with many European countries is to retain the passports of asylum seekers to prevent them from “asylum shopping” (being rejected one place and going to another).



Najah listens as an elderly Iraqi man (as she described him), with Norwegian citizenship, offers her a solution to her status as a paperless person: “Marry me”. He has a pacemaker and needs a caretaker. At this hastily arranged meeting in a cafe he assures her, in front of five of his Arabic friends, that theirs would be a friends only relationship based on her having a permanent place to live and being his caretaker – no touching, intimacy or sex. She refused because as a rejected asylum seeker she’s not eligible to marry in Norway.



Najah views the landscape outside her window as Jocelyn Houghton, an official at the Dikemark Refugee Camp responsible for an information program, stands nearby.



Dikemark is a former psychiatric hospital which once held 800 patients in a complex of 20 buildings; a section of it is used to house asylum seekers.



Najah breaks down in tears after settling into her room at Dikemark Refugee Camp. She was not happy with the overall state of the facility, particularly the shared bathroom and kitchen. “This is the fourth refugee camp I’ve been moved to since I arrived in Norway (October 2015); I want to be treated like a human being; it’s unfair,” stated Najah. Like many other twice rejected asylum seekers, she will not stay at the camp. To do so invites arrest from the police who occasionally go to camps to remove – for deportation – twice rejected asylum seekers. She has a roommate (they haven’t met) who’d already checked into the room but who also sleeps elsewhere.



After securing most of her belongings in her room at the the Dikemark Refugee Camp, Najah  tearfully walks to a bus station to return to Oslo. There she will stay with a friend.



Najah reviews her asylum case with lawyer Ahmad Taha, a Norwegian born Iraqi; on this occasion she signed with him to represent her.



After a long day spent traveling to and from the Hurdal Refugee Camp, Najah falls asleep on the train to Oslo.


On Friday, 6 April 2018, at 4:00 a.m., two police officers used a key to enter Najah’s room, at a refugee camp, turned on the light and announced, “you’re under arrest.”

Two weeks before the arrest she lost her room at the Dikemark Refugee Camp, along with a monthly stipend from the government, because of her refusal to sleep at the camp. Shortly thereafter she was given a room at a different camp where the arrest took place three days after she moved in. Twenty-four hours after her capture she was placed on a flight to Iraq. However during a stopover in the Netherlands it was discovered that her paperwork wasn’t adequate to continue the journey, so she was returned to Trandum Detention Centre in Norway.

During the first five days of incarceration Najah was under the influence of valium, which was provided by a doctor at Trandum. The effects were evident as her speech was painfully slow and her facial appearance drowsy. After the shock of her arrest wore off she was able to decline use of the drug, and with a clear head reflect upon the uncertainty that had characterized 2-1/2 years of life in Norway: “It has been a hopeful yet painful experience. A return to Iraq means embracing – against my will – an environment that’s familiar, unwanted and dangerous.” Najah is now in Iraq.




Trandum where Najah was held before being deported.



Forty-eight hours after being arrested Najah (under the influence of valium) wearily shakes her head side-to-side in frustration inside the Trandum reception area.

Additional photos from Paperless: Living in Limbo can be viewed at


Burundian Refugees – Rwanda   Leave a comment


Alex Niyungeko, 41, holds his son Samuel Rai,3, while seated with his wife, children and brother during a memorial service for his father.

Journalist Alex Niyungeko, 41, is one of tens of thousands of displaced Burundians living in Rwanda. His secretive departure from Burundi, he stated, was fueled by police attacks on his family. In January Mr. Niyungeko’s father, Ntirubuza Tharcisse, 79, died from natural causes in Burundi, and he was unable to return for the funeral; he held a memorial service in Kigali, Rwanda, and the church was packed with Burundian refugees.


Mr. Niyungeko is the chairman of the Union of Journalists of Burundi. In that capacity he ran afoul of the chief of police (Domitien Niyonkuru) for the capital of Bujumbura. Since April 2015, when the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced plans to run for a third term in office, sparking weeks of street protests by the opposition who said his bid was unconstitutional, protests have been banned. At the time Mr. Niyungeko said, “I told journalists to do their professional work and report on the protests.”


The next day the office of his union was raided by the police and closed. He stated, “I was roughly handled and several of my colleagues were beaten. On the scene I confronted the chief of police and asked him how could you as an educated man close our office? What crimes have we committed?” In describing the exchange Mr. Niyungeko conveyed what followed: “The chief became angry and said I have no explanation – I only have an order and you have humiliated me in front of my men.” Several of Mr. Niyungeko’s contacts within the police department told him that he would be killed. Nevertheless, he issued a public statement condemning the closing of his union’s office. He secured his family (wife and three children) at a location away from their home and went separately into hiding.


The police discovered the location of his family and twice attacked them with tear gas grenades, according to Mr. Niyungeko. After the second attack he put them on a flight to Rwanda. He feared it wasn’t possible for him to leave via the airport – because his name was on a watch list – so with the help of friends he crossed illegally into Rwanda via vehicle.






Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Posted January 30, 2016 by documentedAwareness in Photojournalism

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Dilemma of Education   Leave a comment

Northern Uganda is still recovering from twenty years (1986 – 2006) of armed conflict that led to a major humanitarian crisis: 1.8 million people – almost the entire population of its Acholi sub-region were displaced.

An estimated 25,000 to 28,000 children were abducted during the period as the result of an insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army, 80-percent of whose fighters were children. According to the Ugandan government 250,000 children dropped out of school during the peak of the war, as a result of the closure of 737 schools in northern Uganda.


Eight years after the 2006 ceasefire agreement the region is still in recovery mode. Poor quality of educational infrastructure and the lack of qualified teachers are major problems for the large numbers of returning children. Other obstacles for children wishing to go to school are the long distances they must walk, poor prospects for post-primary education, and the key role of children in livelihood strategies of income for labour constrained households. Consequently many families are faced with a dilemma when it comes to education: do they spend much needed family income on school uniforms, books and school fees to send their children to inadequate schools, or keep them home and permit them to concentrate on developing livelihood skills such as farming.


In Pader district (northern Uganda) Alex Opira, headmaster of Acutomer Primary School with an enrollment of 365 students, stated, “the challenges to schooling also include inadequate scholastic reading materials, the lack of housing accommodation for teachers who live far away, and high dropout rates due to negative attitudes by parents who don’t value education, as well as early marriage for girls.” According Mr. Opira, “the education ministry is trying to address our needs but has thus far failed to do so; we’re told by the government that it wants to help but doesn’t have the money – it has similar request for educational funding from other counties.”


Students in northern Uganda are far less likely than their peers in Kampala to be  provided a basic quality education. Given the lack of preparedness to compete in Uganda, to say nothing of a highly competitive world, children in the region – especially girls – are in danger of being left very far behind.






Dilemma of Education


Dilemma of Education




Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Mysterious & Devastating – Nodding Syndrome   Leave a comment


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

Lubiri Village (Pader District), Uganda – Nodding Syndrome (NS) is a mysterious and devastating neurologic condition which stunts growth, causes its victims to nod (repeatedly dropping their heads forward), have epileptic seizures (resulting in badly bruised faces and bodies), and causes cognitive deterioration. In severe cases it can result in death. Also at an advanced stage the syndrome causes its victims to wander aimlessly, hence families will tie the person with a rope or chain to prevent them from getting lost, injured or in the case of a young woman raped.


The condition mostly affects children 5-15 years in northern Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania – although apparently there are no active cases in Tanzania. According to Komakech Paul, a senior clinical officer at the Atanga Health Centre III in Lubiri Village, Uganda, NS is concentrated in Pader, Kitgum, Lamwo, Lira and Gulu districts in northern Uganda. It has been active in the region since 1997 and the first really bad cases began to appear in 2006, said Mr. Komakech. “It’s associated with river blindness which is linked to blackflies. Blackflies breed in fast flowing fresh water. Sub-counties in the aforementioned districts, which are along the Aswa, Pager and Agago Rivers, are where the families affected by NS live. The link to river blindness is an assumption that’s still being investigated,” stated Mr. Komakech.

New research, presented in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, suggest that blackflies, infected with the parasite Onchocerca volvulus (the parasite that causes river blindness), may indeed be capable of passing on a secondary pathogen that is to blame for the spread of NS. This new study is from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. It documents how the use of insecticides and application of larvicides to rivers (keys to controlling the blackfly population) have affected the rates of NS in areas like northern Uganda.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

This supports claims by officials at the Atanga Health Centre III, that the area has not seen any new cases of NS since the government launched an intervention program in 2012. Under the program river dosing was started: chemicals that kill blackflies have been used to treat rivers (it continues today). As a second part of the program village health teams administered ivermectin (the anti-parasitic drug used to prevent river blindness) to people in affected communities. The drug clears filarial worms from the body; the larvae from the worms enter humans via blackflies stated Mr. Komakech. Health officials at the Atanga Health Centre III are attributing the absence of new cases to these interventions.


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

Nevertheless, despite the absence of new cases health officials have an existing population of young people who require treatment for NS. The primary drug of treatment is sodium valproate. Unfortunately not all patients respond to the drug. It is not a cure. While some children have recovered to the point that they lead normal active lives, if they cease taking the drug they revert.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

The aforementioned new study while not providing a cure does provide possible answers regarding how NS is spread. The report on the study cites the following: NS epidemics come and go because indigenous populations may become immune to the NS pathogen over time, but that when forced migration moves a non-immune population into an area with a large number of blackflies, NS cases erupt. “Population displacement resulting from civil conflict has preceded NS outbreaks in both northern Uganda and South Sudan,” states Robert Colebunders, MD, PhD and head of HIV/STD Unit, Department of Clinical Sciences at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Antwerp.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome

So while the new study is informative the search for a cure continues. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the United States, has been actively involved in trying to discover a cure for NS since 2011, said Mr. Komakech. He went on to describe how officials with the CDC took ten Ugandan children from one family (in Lamwo district) to the U.S. to be examined: five of the children had NS and five were unaffected. The results have not yet been released. “We’re working with something that’s still not well known and our community desperately needs to be informed,” concluded Mr. Komakech.

Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Mysterious and Devastating - Nodding Syndrome


Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at













Ethiopian Coffee Farmers – Farmer Field School   Leave a comment


Buoyed by rhythmic chants the farmers swung their labor intensive agricultural hand tools in unison, each motivating the other to move swiftly, tirelessly and happily as they prepared a field for seeding at the farmer field school (FFS) in Fogi Village, Ethiopia.


It is late morning and the sun bathes the farmers with its rays, yet despite the heat and hard work it is apparent these men and women could not be happier. As members of a farmer field school they’re linked by camaraderie and an urgency to improve the lives of their families. Eighteen members of the Wolda Misoma Group (a Savings and Internal Lending Community Group – SILC) own and operate this school, created with the assistance of the Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association (EWNRA), as part of the Livelihood Diversification for Smallholder Coffee Farmers program in Ethiopia. The program is funded by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) and supported by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). This five year program, which has also been implemented in Kenya and Rwanda, is designed to increase food security and access to financial services through the introduction of small ruminant (sheep or cow) rearing/fattening, oxen fattening, bee keeping (honey production), Savings and Internal Lending  (SILC) groups and Farmer Field Schools (FFS).


Farmer field schools fall under the category of farmer groups which are informal organizations whose members have similar interests. Farmer groups also include SILC, Seed Growers, Marketing, and Irrigation Users. During an interview with members of the FFS, Getu Jebo, 25 (head of the school, married with five children), and Bikila Tero, 25 (married with four children), they discussed how the school grew out of the Wolda Misoma (SILC) Group. Before the creation of the school EWNRA trained field agents (such as Mr. Tero) to organize SILC groups in the area. Afterwards EWNRA searched for a strong SILC group through which it could execute its idea for a farmer field school. The idea for the FFS came from a need to ensure the sustainability of different interventions, implemented by the Livelihood Diversification for Smallholder Coffee Farmers program.


This meshed perfectly with Wolda Misoma Group members who recognized the importance of diversifying crops and income while providing their village with vegetables. “In this area consumption of vegetables has not been a firmly established part of our diet. We saw vegetables when we visited urban areas but we didn’t understand their importance. Our attitude has changed because of the FFS,” stated Mr. Tero. He and Mr. Jebo agreed that all of the group’s members have benefited from the school learning how to grow a variety of vegetables, e.g., carrots, cabbage and onions, while also becoming more efficient as coffee farmers through the use of improved spacing techniques.


The members were excited about the idea of starting a FFS and receiving training that would otherwise be unavailable individually. So after calling their interest to the attention of EWNRA, this implementing partner made an agreement with local government administrators and secured rented land (0.35 hectare for three years for 3000 Birr – 19 Birr equals $1.00) for the school. Initially EWNRA provided training to four FFS members who then shared the knowledge with the group. The project has provided the school with seed, farming tools, watering cans and experts on how to properly plant, manage and harvest crops.


The school provides the added benefit of educating passing locals who observe how vegetables are grown and replicate the lessons at home. Every tuesday and thursday the eighteen members work collectively in the field from 9:00 a.m. until noon. Daily they work in pairs, each responsible for watering three beds of coffee seedlings mornings and evenings; there are 33 coffee seedling beds.

 The school embodies the concept of “each one, teach one.” “We commonly work happily together. We use songs to motivate one another and to tease, particularly if someone is having a low-energy day,” said Mr. Jebo laughingly. Everyone is rewarded for their efforts with free vegetables; if there’s a surplus harvest it’s sold at the market.

“In the future we plan to expand production to utilize all of the school’s land to include maize, and fence the area off through the creation of a live fence,” stated Mr. Jebo. The live fence would be made using elephant grass which could also serve as feed.


The concept of “each one, teach one” is indeed the essence of the farmer field school.

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Empowering Youth In Kenya   Leave a comment

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

In December 2013 approximately 400 youth bunge (Swahili for parliament) members from Garissa, Kenya met to elect local representatives. Garissa is a predominantly Muslim (Somali) town. It is a hub in the ongoing humanitarian food aid program into the northeast of Kenya.


The country’s youth bunges serve as a counterweight to political apathy and unemployment while helping to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow. The youth come together from different villages to join as bunge members. The bunges serve as a youth-owned, youth-led and youth-managed space for young Kenyans to develop leadership skills and promote decision-making about their priorities.

 Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

The bunge model was introduced by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), based on significant research into the causes of Kenya’s post-election violence during 2007/2008, where youth were both victims and perpetrators. “The research showed that youth had no confidence in civil society or in the existing public or private institutions in Kenya. They wanted to run their own organizations and to help strengthen Kenya’s post-election recovery. Simply put, they wanted to be empowered,” says Dwaine Lee, director of the Education and Youth Office at USAID/Kenya.


Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

According to Kenya’s 2009 census over a third of the national population, that numbered 40 million, are youth (defined by the government as 18 to 35) and the vast majority are out of school with no regular work or income. Bunges give them an opportunity to coalesce around what they need and expect from Kenya’s elected leaders.

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Elephant Orphans and Ivory   3 comments

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Since 2012 the poaching of elephants in Africa has been on the rise, fueled mostly by Far East countries, notably China where much of the material ends up on sale. The number of elephants being poached is now at the highest it has been for two decades, according to a United Nations backed report. Orphaned elephants are one of the effects of the ivory trade.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Elephants also become orphans after they become trapped in wells or due to human related disasters. The most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world is The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Trust has 26 orphaned elephants at its elephant nursery in Nairobi, Kenya.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Baby elephants are extremely difficult to care for and so are attended to 24-hours each day. They are attended to by a team of “Keepers” who represent a family and replace the orphan’s lost elephant mother. Working as a team the “Keepers” prevent the orphaned elephants from becoming too attached to just one person; the animals mirror humans in terms of emotion.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Eventually all elephant orphans are rehabilitated back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo National Park when grown, a transition that is made at each elephant’s own pace; it usually takes between eight to ten years. They live for approximately 70 years in the wild. The Trust’s fostering program is key to the success of its orphans’ project. For a minimum donation of $50 (per elephant) individuals may foster an animal for one year. The program is of great importance given the problem of poaching.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Despite a 1989 ban on international trade in ivory elephants continue to be killed for their prized tusks. According to a BBC report, last year saw the highest number of large seizures of illegal ivory for more than two decades. In several African countries a fierce battle is being waged by African law-enforcement and conservation groups against poachers.

 Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Kenya is a major transportation hub for ivory. Reportedly, nearly 85% of ivory seized from around the world, that could be traced, had come from or passed through East Africa, much of it via the international airport at Nairobi. Its destination? “Ninety per cent of all the people we have arrested at the airport ferrying ivory are Chinese,” said Julius Kipng’etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. “The destinations of all contraband ivory are always neighboring countries around China.”

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

EU Supermarkets Blamed for Kenya Food Waste   Leave a comment

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

The landscape of a farm, just outside the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, is occupied by half a dozen women harvesting French beans for European Union (EU) supermarkets. After collection the women will pre-grade the beans, discarding 10 to 20-percent because of standards set by EU supermarkets. Thereafter a pack-house (where the beans are cut and packaged for shipment), for one of the top exporting horticultural companies in Kenya, will examine and discard another 15 to 35-percent. This practice has contributed to claims that European Union supermarkets are to blame for food waste in Kenya.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

According to an executive with a Kenyan horticultural company, who insisted neither he nor his pack-house be identified because of possible repercussions from EU companies, “we waste on average between 15 to 35-percent of our crops because of the high specifications set for appearance (size, shape and color) by EU supermarkets.” He went on to explain, “if you took all the vegetable and fruit exporters in Kenya and collected all the produce we’re forced to discard because of EU standards, we could feed all of Kenya’s poor and hungry. One hundred percent of our French bean crop is produced for their market. It’s not a Kenyan food. We’re trying to get our people to eat it but the local market will only take small quantities. If the EU would lower its specifications the food we grow would be of greater value, and we could then invest more into feeding Kenyans.” Unfortunately donating the rejected produce isn’t practical for farmers because of transportation and storage costs; it’s used as feed for pigs and cows.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

According to the Kenyan government, 30-percent of Kenyan children are undernourished and 10 million people suffer from food shortages and poor nutrition. Wasted food also represents a major loss of water, energy, fertilizers and land.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

At the pack-house, which received delivery from the farm described at the beginning, approximately a third of each French bean is cut off before being packed in small packets; the beans have a slight curve and packets for EU supermarkets are short and straight.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

In February the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held a three-course meal, in Nairobi, to highlight a campaign to cut massive levels of global food waste. Hundreds of ministers, diplomats and other high-level officials dined on food grown by Kenyan farmers but rejected by United Kingdom supermarkets due to cosmetic imperfections. It was done in support of the global Think.Eat.Save.Reduce Your Foodprint – an initiative launched in January by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners such as Feeding the 5,000.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

Food waste is a global issue. A UN study indicates that globally one-third of all food produced, 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted or lost annually, while 925 million people around the world are threatened by starvation.

“Post harvest is the problem in the world, not production,” said the Kenyan executive who refused to be identified. “We can be so much more efficient with feeding people with what we already produce.”

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste
Additional work by Ric Francis may be viewed on his website

Kenya Presidential Election   Leave a comment

Kenya National Elections 2013

After a week of electoral uncertainty, due to technical glitches with Kenya’s electronic voting system, Uhuru Kenyatta is declared the presidential winner. However his main rival, Raila Odinga, vowed to challenge the “tainted election” in the Supreme Court.


President-elect Kenyatta is set to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over violence that followed the 2007 polls. He, and his running mate, William Ruto, are accused of fueling the communal violence that saw more than 1,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes. One of the areas where such violence occurred was the Kibera Slums, which was particularly tense as the country awaited a decision on who would be the 2013 presidential victor.

Kenya National Elections 2013

Kenya National Elections 2013

All week groups of mostly men gathered on the streets to talk politics and watch the ballot count on storefront televisions. Fear of possible violence caused some families to pack up their belongings and head “up country” (a term used to describe one’s ancestral homeland). Such fears proved to be unfounded as the vote remained peaceful. How Mr. Odinga now handles his supporters will determine whether his dispute stays in the courts or spills out onto the streets.

Kenya National Elections 2013

Disputes in Kenya tend to play along tribal lines. Mr. Odinga is a Luo and president-elect Kenyatta is a Kikuyu (Kenya’s largest ethnic group). In 2007 Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, defeated presidential candidate Odinga in a highly disputed election. Echos of such divisiveness came up on Friday when members of “Women for Peace” attempted to take their message to the streets of the Kibera Slums. They were forced to abandon the march after being warned they were approaching a block where they would be attacked by men who viewed them as partisan (representing the wrong tribe and presidential candidate). What began as a cheerful march with them singing songs of peace ended in dejection as they abandoned the march entirely. Their group is a coalition of women from different Nairobi slums: Kibera, Mathare, Huruma, Mkuru, Dandora and Korogocho.

Kenya National Elections 2013

Kenya National Elections 2013

While the mantra across Kenya is “amani” (peace), some campaigners are warning against a “peace coma” – a failure to address past injustices which would prevent Kenya from moving on. People say they will wait for the legal process to run its course. Some point to the new constitution and recent judicial reforms as a reason for the relative calm compared with five years ago, when Kibera was a flashpoint. But there are worries about the future. Many hope Mr. Kenyatta will uphold the new constitution and co-operate with the ICC, as he fights charges of crimes against humanity. Mr. Odinga hopes to save Kenya from the challenges of a Kenyatta presidency.


Kenya National Elections 2013

Additional work by Ric Francis may be viewed on his website

Nairobi’s Mathare Slums   1 comment


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi’s Mathare slums, situated three miles east of the city’s central business district, are considered one of the worst in Africa. They are home to over 600,000 people occupying an area of two miles long by one mile wide. The residents struggle with limited access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

George Gawo, 28, left, stands in what once was his mother’s bedroom. On the right is Peter Gawo, 28, his brother, standing in another section of the family’s burned down three-room shanty. The Gawos attribute the destruction to political violence.

The Mathare slums are notorious for criminal activity, particularly by gang members; it’s  called the most dangerous community in Nairobi. Recently the area has been plagued by fires which have left hundreds homeless. Suspicious fires on Christmas eve, which resulted in over 300 shanties burned and three deaths, triggered what the police have termed retaliatory fires by rival gangs.

Residents expressed fears of further attacks as tension remains high in the area. “The houses were razed because of hatred among people. People on this side and people on the other side are not getting along, but I don’t know what is causing these differences. So many people have been affected,” stated a resident who identified himself as Maish. Many residents fearing for their lives refuse to speak with reporters to avoid being identified by the groups responsible for havoc in the area.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Police have ruled out any political or tribal causes for the burned shanties. However there are those in the community, such as George Gawo, 28, a Luo (Kenya’s second largest ethnic group), who disagree with the police and believe they conducted a poor investigation.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

George Gawo stands amid the ruins of shanties destroyed by a fire.

“There are local leaders who aspire for power. They influence gangs to do such things. Five years ago similar fires occurred in Mathare a few months before the elections, so that the majority tribe forced out the minority. Luos were forced to leave after their homes were torched. Kikuyus (Kenya’s largest ethnic group) were then able to vote their candidate into office,” said Gawo. In 2007 Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo, in a highly disputed election.

With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013, tribal conflict and violence are a major concern. Hence, many Mathare residents are uneasy about the recent fires. Gawo along with seven siblings and their mother have taken refuge with neighbors and friends following the burning of their three-room shanty. He and three family members were home when the fires started; they quickly fled with no time to grab any possessions. “Many people were in church for overnight prayers so injuries were not many. We lost everything and had to borrow clothes from friends, said Peter Gawo, 23.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

In the weeks that have followed only a few people have started rebuilding; landlord Muthoni Kamau, 65, stood nearby supervising as three of her tenants removed debris from their shanties. She said twenty of her rented shanties were burned to the ground but was thankful that none of her tenants were injured. Kamau, a Kikuyu, would hear nothing of tribal violence being responsible for the fires. She agreed with the police assertion that the fires were the mindless act of hooligans. Despite the disagreement all agreed that violence was far to common in Mathare.

Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at

Nairobi's Mathare Slums
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